John William Akerman to Frederick Chesson, 18 January 1878, C123/92

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Akerman, John William









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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C123-92


PMBurg Natal
January 18 1878

Dear Mr Chesson,

Yours of the 12th ultimo to hand. The enclosed documents relating to Kreli and your Society have been handed to the Times of Natal for publication here as you request.

It affords me much gratification to learn that you in London are not forgetful of your duty to British honor and rule in Natal in respect of our native laws. I shall look with anxiety and interest for the debates in Parliament on this subject. The under secy for the colonies quite misled the ‘house’ last session in replying to Mr McArthur and will I fear attempt the same thing again. I wish I were on the spot to point out his inaccuracies. Our compilation of native laws not yet published. By last mail I sent you some striking examples of the operation of these laws.

Pray let me in this letter administer a caution to your excellent society with respect to what may seem premature interference with S.A. belligerents. I can assure you that S Africa is on the verge of a political volcano. You will recollect that I have blamed Lord Carnarvon for having attempted merely to rid the British colonial minister of political difficulty in Natal without attempting to remedy social evils, although these in reality underlie and support the political trouble, such as chieftainship and tribal organizations … the true causes of war. Concurrently with this blunder in Natal Lord C (having the same object in view viz. relief from party responsibility) pressed very hard for a confederation of SA states under one governor general. The object was probably a good one but should not have been left to time and change such as consent of individuals or states, each with some self interest as a banner and in the presence of large bodies of aligned blacks but should, like the annexation to the Cape of British Caffraria, have been at once completed by imperial statute, failing an early local argument. You will coincide I think with the soundness of this opinion when I relate the sequel. The natives all through S Africa have heard of the proposed confederation (one object of which was mutual defence) and in many cases have arrived at the conclusion that this confederation meant a combination of white versus black. Hence the unrest of the whole of them Now every moment of delay in effecting the confederation, if it is to become un fait accompli, just serves to give these malcontents time to be operated upon by designing white men and to foment a spirit of opposition to British rule and extension. As a consequence there are signs more or less of upheaving from Graham’s Town to the Transvaal and Zululand. For this emergency Lord C has not adequately prepared himself. Especially with savages to be forearmed is to prevent rebellion or resistance. The commander in chief has pointed out the insufficiency of the forces at his command in the Cape Colony. A similar defect exists in the Transvaal. Were the Amazulu under Cetwayo really to go to war Shepstone could not stand a week. Much slaughter of the whites and destruction of homesteads would ensue.

Under the circumstances I desire to speak to you of caution. Your Society can forgive me if this be deemed offensive, knowing my exertions for the benefit of the races. Anything that may seem like interference between the action of our governors and colonists during a state of actual warfare; and especially during the lingering policy of Lord C and deficiency in British troops, will be construed by the natives (whose motto is vigorous action) into a confession of division and weakness and the volcano may burst upon us all like a thunderbolt. At least 5000 more troops should be sent out at once. Confederation should be forced through the imperial parliament. It is not just to cast upon the colonists the brunt of Lord C’s policy so slow so immature, but this has been done.

From the foregoing you will gather that I scarcely agree with your letter to Lord C about Kreli. Doubtless you have been misled partly in your estimate of the matter by not realising what devastation means, when applied only to straw huts and barbarous habits. I can assure you that the only way to strike terror into tribes like that of Kreli is to lay waste their gardens, …, and disperse the tribe. His behavior to Sr B Frere has been most unjustifiable and the pretence that he could not control his people most untrue. See what a few successes of his people have brought about.