Shadrach Boyce Mama to Frederick Chesson, Dec 29 1879, C142/15-16

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Mama, Shadrach Boyce


Indigenous person




Cape Town


Cape Colony

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Bodleian Libraries

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C142-15


De Lelie Chambers
Spin Street
Cape Town
29 December 1879

F.W. Chesson, Esq
Member of the Aborigines Society
17 King William Street
Charing Cross


My serious attention has been attracted by your correspondence with the Secretary of State for the Colonies – which appearing in the Cape Argus of December the 27th 1879 and I thought it my personal duty to write to you, as your correspondence on natives affairs was mainly based on what was written by me originally to the Cape Argus, and I am the man who brought it before the knowledge of Mr Saul Solomon – and the public – I am Shadrach Boyce Mama and a young man of fine constitution of health and I am between 19 and 20 years old. I am a Kafir of Kama’s tribe a loyal chief, Kama is my uncle by birth – my own father is a Wesleyan Ordained Missionary by the late Bishop Impey – who lately resigned his office – my father Rev Boya Mawa is now in charge of New Lovedale Mission Station in Grahams’ Town District. I was educated at Heald Town Wesleyan Institution by H.W. Graham and I passed my Government Examination, and got my Government Certificate of Competency in 1877, signed by Dr Dale, the Supl – General of Education.

When I left school I was taken by the government as an interpreter in the magistrates court at East London and after a while I was transferred to Cape Town, as an interpreter for the Kafirs who were brought down here during the late tribal rebellion of the Gaikas and the Gcalekas in 1878. Principally I want your serious attention to be very much drawn to the following statement as I want you to candidly weigh all I am going to state as regards your correspondence. Mr Solomon went and read my letter to the House of Assembly which letter actually contained all what you mentioned in your letter about the ill-treatment of the Kafir women who after giving up their little children to services were unexpectedly violently (I say violently because they were escorted) taken from the ‘Kafir Depot’ by an escort of five or six Breakwater Constables armed with guns and bayonets in charge of … Henry Stevens a government officer who is a contractor of these Kafirs to colonial farmers, and the removing of Kafir women took place on the morning of the 15th May last and before my presence – and many white people were spectators of that most inconceivable sight. When mothers were separated and crying for their folks – who were in services – who perhaps they shall never see each other again. It was a sight not merely unbearable but also unspeakable. The confusion and commotion they exhibited was something more than desirable – one particular woman whose name was Nonanti, who had about four children … actually before our presence took a knife out of her pocket and attempted to cut her throat so a constable took the knife from her hands and she was throwing herself to and against the walls of the Parade there in New Market Street. The said officer in charge ordered the constables to go on in spite of the resistance and confusion the women exhibited. All this was actually done before our presence, I was very much troubled to hear some of the members in the House of Assembly notably the premier making such a strong denial of my statements, certainly as I said to Mr Saul Solomon I am prepared to prove and substantiate my statements from beginning to last, but because they do not desire to do so as they know that I will prove my case – I have got hundreds of witnesses to corroborate my statements who were the spectators from the New Market Street to the docks of that never to be forgotten treatment of those poor creatures. I say all this in a most bona fide pure and unprejudiced heart, because certainly all the natives at the present time are in utter dissatisfaction. The native policy has been changed from toe to head. A black man now knows that he is a black man. I saw we never before the Sprigg government understood and felt this sting – prejudice and harsh treatment towards us. I say my dear Sir, we never before suffered so very much under the British Flag because of our colour as we do now. Oh! The state of affairs in this colony now is something distressing. Sir, all my relations are Christian people loyal to the government and our Chief Kama (who is my uncle) is a local preacher and we have lately erected in our location a chapel in memorial of our present chief’s father, and we paid for it 3100 pounds. Kama’s people (as I think you are aware) have fought many a battle for the government, fighting actively their own brethren who are the Gaikas. So my chief object is I want you to understand that I write this as any Englishman would provided he is honest – I write because my motto almost in all matter – I am more a whiteman than a Kafir – so I adopt in doing so honesty as my policy and guide. Daily I attempt to foster into the minds of my ignorant country men all the advantages of civilized and religious life through the medium of their ‘Kafir Express’ and through personal and verbal interviews. I must also refer you to this, that as I am speaking Kama’s people – Fingoes and all other tribes are disarmed all alike no exceptions whatever now the Kafirs are of one opinion those who were loyal and fought for the Queen. They say the reason why the government disarms them is simply because they have finished the battles, fought the Queen’s enemies. And now their services are no longer required, so they are disarmed. We consider all in general this disarmament a most gross and unfair measure to be carried on. Of course we think that the government which have taken another step, viz. to disarm those who are not trustworthy and respectable. There are the Fingoes! The very loyal people to the government who fought every war by the British forces, is there any good done them to show the thankfulness of the government? No! Their reward after war was disarmament in spite of all latter petitions we have sent to the government and the colonial press against these measures. We seem to be labouring in vain because of our colour. I must briefly refer you again to these Kafirs here in Cape Town who were sent here in 1878 – according to Mr Alyff’s government notice no 222. As I said in my letter mothers were sent away after giving up their children on condition that they will be kept here till the time of their indentures expire and that no compulsion will be exercised anyhow. Well! As an interpreter for them I made them understand that not knowing and expecting nothing – they were taken by surprise and carried to Kaffraria leaving their folks behind perhaps for ever some of them, as some children are so very young that they shall never be able to know their parents and language.

Before concluding as I think I have to a certain extent explained my expressions and opinions on natives affairs of this colony and explained to you the relationships of the Sprigg government and the natives. I want to show to you all I can and would be glad at any time after this to receive any reply to my private opinions I now express to you in a bona fide and friendly spirit, hoping you will peruse every line written by me as I always respect and esteem you very much in consequence of the opinions which are always said to be expressed by you and your friends on our affairs. May god bless you!!!


Sir, I now address you on quite a different subject, praying you to excuse if I should seem presumptuous and interfering to you honour. My subject is, I am out of Civil Service on my own accord because I preferred after that case of the Kafir Women to leave and get into an attorney’s office as an articled clerk, and study law, so that I might go and practice amongst my own country men in British Kaffraria because Dulce et decorum est pro palica movi, so Mr Upington the attorney-general tried all his best to get me one to take but they could not, so after a years’ trial I resolved to get on as law agent in the magistrate’s courts. So with the little money I have got and little assistance I get from my father I have luckily got into an agents office, though I don’t know whether I shall succeed pecuniarily but I hope for success because it is the first time that a Kafir ever attempted to improve himself as I do. In fact, it would be as every well thinking man says, a good and wise think for me to be a lawyer amongst the Kafirs and take their cases before the courts of justice in the Colony and see that fiat justitia. My dear sir, by telling you all this I want to explain the whole case about myself, to express to you privately my ambition which through god’s mercy, I hope it would be successful not simply for myself but for my country men.

Sir, if I have means to day I would not doubt to go to England to accomplish my education because I am still young, willing and anxious to learn.

I studied a little of Latin and Euclid, Algebra, and other branches of studies to which I have still devoted myself here though I am going with my law. The Gentleman I am studying with is Mr Samuel …. I beg to remain with my sincere and most hearty regards towards you and your worthy friends.

Your most humble and unworthy servant
S.B. Mama
… Samuel Tonkin
Agent at Law
Cape Town

P.S. I have a great friend in Mr Saul Solomon and also Dr Colenso in Natal.