Charles Orpen to Frederick Chesson, 24 April 1878, C144/57

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Orpen, Charles








Orange Free State

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C144-57


Smithfield, Orange Free State
24 April 1878

F.W. Chesson Esq
Aborigines Protection Society
17 King Williams St Strand London WC

Dear Sir,

I think you for you reply of 7 March last. It was my brother Joseph who corresponded with Dr Hodgkin. I have seen a short notice in late papers here that you have addressed the Colonial Office on the subject of woman slavery in South Africa. I enclose copy of an article which appeared in the Cape Argus 14/5/74 on the same subject which I am very glad you have taken up. It is quite necessary the people in England and the Home Government should be enlightened upon what has been permitted in South Africa regarding the purchase of wives with cattle or in other words, the sale of daughters and female relations, and letting out of wives for breeding purpose with a view to purchase by sellers of more wives for themselves and raising more daughters for sale. I know that Sir B Frere has interested himself in collecting information upon this subject and the kindred subjects of polygamy and circumcision of males and females which customs are practiced by most of the kafir tribes. He may and very probably will bring some of his discoveries regarding those matters to the notice of his responsible ministers and the Cape Parliament and the Home Government but your diligence and aid will do much towards the ventilation of these matters and the solution of the problems which these native practices present. Nothing much can be done with the kafirs before the emancipation of his female is attained. Next month will shew whether Sir B Frere has sufficiently mastered the particulars of these subjects to be able to express his views thereon in a public manner as the Cape Parliament will be in session. I have done all I could towards the collection of particulars of cases and I doubt not that you will be able to procure from Natal and the Cape Colony abundant corroborative evidence. You must not think that all here, nor that all S African governments are aware of the abominations practices by the kafir tribes. All ought to know but there has always been too much of laissez faire. I feel sure however that a cure will be attempted now that Sir B Frere is gathering that knowledge which is required for a proper solution of the native question which has so many faces. The unfortunate kafir war still continues but I hope for good out of all the evil. At the bottom of the whole lies the abominations practiced about marriage and women. The kafirs I believe are pleased with the falling of relatives in war as those who escape inherit the female relatives.

Yours faithfully,
Charles Sirr Orpen

Ex Cape Argus 14/5/74

Mr [T Thipson?] maintains that female slavery exists in Natal and in proof of that statement says in a letter to the Times of Natal of the 25th ulto: I will put the issue of female slavery or no slavery upon a fact which Mr Shepstone will no doubt well remember: not because I suppose it to be a singular one, but because it is, or ought to be, critical, that is decisive. In Klip River County some years ago, a kafir man bought a kafir woman, and let her out (according to what I hear is their abominable custom) to another kafir man. The husband and wife (for such they were physically and we may hope morally) had two daughters. When these grew up to maturity and to be marriageable, they were claimed by the proprietor of the mother … to be sold for his benefit. The parents objects and … came before Dr Thomas Tear Kelly, Resident Magistrate of the county. He gave sentence in favour of the natural father and mother and of humanity: but upon appeal it was reversed by the Secretary of Native Affairs, and the girls were torn from their parents, and sold into slavery accordingly. Dr Kelly himself told me of this case at Ladysmith I could scarcely believe it: and to make sure, drew up a statement of the facts in writing, and gave it out of my own hand into that of Mr Shepstone, asking him if it were correct. After keeping it some days he returned it to me without a word. I then sent it to Dr Kelly, asking if it were correct, and he did not deny iy. I have his letter to that effect.