Author : Sefako Makgatho
Petition to King George V, from the South African Native National Congress
16 December 1918
To His Most Gracious Majesty King George V of Great Britain and Ireland including the Dominions and Colonies, and Emperor of India.
May It Please Your Majesty-
- We, the Chiefs and delegates assembled at Johannesburg, this 16th day of December, 1918, in the Special Session of the South African Native National Congress, a political body representing the various tribes of the Bantu people in South Africa, record the expression of our satisfaction and thankfulness in the triumph of righteousness in this great war by the victory of the forces of Great Britain, her noble Allies, and the United States of America.
- We beg to convey to Your Majesty our affectionate loyalty and devotion to Your Majesty’s person and Throne and the sincerity of our desire that Divine Blessing and prosperity may attend Your Majesty and all Your Majesty’s Dominions in the dawn of a better age.
- We further express the hope and wish that during Your Majesty’s Reign all races and Nations will be treated fairly and with justice, and that there will be no discrimination on account of colour or creed; and will enjoy the right of citizenship, freedom and liberty under your flag.
- It would scarcely be necessary to recite the active part played by ourselves-Your Majesty’s subjects-in the prosecution of the Great War, but the occasion and the purposes of this Memorial justify such a recital: –
- It will be remembered that up till August 1914 the National Congress had a Deputation of its men in London to petition Your Majesty to exercise the right of veto against the Natives Land Act 1913, and at the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, Congress prompted by a sense of loyalty to Your Majesty’s Throne and the British Empire made representations to the Governor-General of the Union of South Africa informing His Excellency that the Bantu people were prepared to render every assistance in the defence of Your Majesty’s Throne and Empire, which pledge was greatly appreciated by His Excellency, the Governor-General and High Commissioner of South Africa.
- We offered 5,000 strong men to go and fight the Germans in South-West Africa, but we regret to say that the offer was refused by His Excellency the Governor-General’s Ministers of the Union of South Africa on the on the ground that this war was waged between white people only, whereas we were as vitally affected by the results of the war as any white subjects of Your Majesty.
- Thousands of our men went to German South West Africa as drivers and to assist in the Railway construction into that Territory for military purposes.
- It will be significant to every one that during the trying and provocative times of the Rebellion in this country, we remained perfectly quiet and passive, without causing the slightest embarrassment to the Union Government, when difficult circumstances offered dangerous and ill-advised temptations to an oppressed people.
- 17,000 of our men took part in the campaign in German East Africa under the Right Honourable Lieutenant-General J. C. Smuts, Minister of Defence of the Union, and there participated in fighting and transport capacities-many of whom died with malaria fever and suffered severe hardships and privations.
- We heartily responded to the call of your Majesty’s imperial Government and the Army Council, for 25,000 men to do manual work in the French docks, and behind the trenches in Flanders. our men braved the oceans and endured the hardships of European cold weather, all under new and rough war conditions; 615 of our men sank in the S. S. Mendi while in the service of Your Majesty and the Empire. Owing to circumstances beyond our control, but we believe them to be due to the Union Government’s political prejudices, the South African Native Labour Overseas Contingent was demobilised against our wish and much to our despairing regret, while we were still prepared to send more men to assist in the World-wide war of justice, Freedom and Liberty.
- For a period of four years and since the commencement of hostilities our countrymen steadfastly maintained the supply of labour in the Gold Mines on the Rand, thus affording a continued output of gold and the availability of cyanide for purposes of war: coal Mines and Harbours and all other industries necessary for the prosecution of the war were adequately supplied with the labour of our people, which was indispensable.
- While our men were engaged in the various theatres of war, in non-combatant capacities as already shown, those of us remaining at home gave contributions in money and kind according to our means, towards the support of the various War Funds. Chiefs gave cattle, mealies and curios-all of which have been gratefully acknowledged by Your Majesty’s representatives in this country.
- Your Majesty will no doubt recognise that all the assistance given by us in this great war was entirely voluntary and made without any coercion or inducements. There was no promise of pension or bonus to our men and no provision made for their dependents out of the Governor-General’s Fund or any other War Funds.
Compensation for those injured or killed in war during employment was extremely inadequate, and yet the Chiefs and our Leaders continued to hold meetings throughout the country, exhorting people to remain quiet and loyal during the war, and also encouraging the recruiting of our men for labour, and expressing the insistent desire to be allowed to bear arms and fight as soldiers of Your Majesty.
All these acts were performed and rendered by Your Majesty’s subjects who-except in the Cape Province-have no voice in the disposition of the affairs of the country of which they are the aboriginal inhabitants, and your subjects who are admittedly loyal and law-abiding, are without any recognition or safeguard under the constitution of the Union of South Africa.
- In the appreciation of the service and loyalty of Your Majesty’s subjects recited in the preceding paragraph 4, we are reminded by Your Majesty’s message to our Chiefs and people delivered to the representatives of the South African Native Labour Contingent at Abberville in France on the 10th July 1917, saying:
“This work of yours (meaning ourselves) is second only in importance to that performed by the Sailors and Soldiers who are bearing the brunt of the battle. But you also form part of my great Armies which are fighting for the liberty and freedom of my subjects of all races and creeds throughout my Empire. Without Munition of War my Armies cannot fight: without food they cannot live. You are helping to send these things to them each day, and in doing so you are hurling your spears at the enemy, and hastening the destruction that awaits him.
“A large Corps such as yours requires drafts and reinforcements. I am sure your Chiefs will take upon themselves this duty of supporting your Battalions by ever increasing numbers. I wish them and their people to share with all my loyal subjects that great and final victory which will bring peace throughout the world.
“I desire you to make these words of mine known to your people here, and to convey them to your Chiefs in South Africa.”
And also the message of His Excellency Lord Buxton, the Governor-General of the Union, before a Mass Meeting of the Bantu people representing many of our tribes assembled at Johannesburg on the 8th Dec. 1918, on the occasion of the Peace Thanksgiving Service, as follows: – ” … My second duty which gives me much pleasure, is to thank you, on behalf of His Majesty the King, for the assistance and loyalty which you and the natives you represent throughout South Africa, have shown to him and to the Empire, during these four years of strain and stress. To thank you also for the help that you have in various ways given to him against his enemies. I was especially glad to be received today by the Members of the Native Labour Contingent, who have done such good work in Europe … But in spite of all these difficulties and temptations, the natives have remained steadfastly loyal. The war has proved to you that your loyalty was well placed; and I can assure you it will not be forgotten.”
Again we are encouraged to mention the appreciation expressed in the Parliament of the Union of South Africa on the occasion of the Mendi disaster when the Right Honourable General Louis Botha, Prime Minister of the Union said:-
“If we ever lived in times when native people of South Africa have shown great and true loyalty, it is in time like the present. Ever since the War broke out the Natives have done everything possible to help where such was possible, in the struggle, without ever doing that which was in conflict to their loyalty to the flag and the King. Nearly all my life long I have had to deal with Native questions, but I have never experienced a time when the Natives have displayed greater tact and greater loyalty than they have done in the difficult and the dark days through which we are now going. It has never happened in the history of South Africa that in one moment by one fell swoop such a lot of people have perished, and I think that where people have died as they have done, it is our duty to remember that they have come forward on their own accord, of their free will, and that they have said – ‘If we can help, we’ll do so, even if we have to show our loyalty with our hands.’ They insisted on going, and I think, they deserve every credit for the good work they have done. These people said, ‘this war is waging and we want to help’. In doing so they have shown their loyalty to their King, their Flag, and their Country, and what they have done will redound to their everlasting credit.”
Lastly we cannot refrain from mentioning the expression of appreciation by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Forces in France, of the splendid services rendered by the members of the South African Native Labour Contingent on the occasion of their return from France through the message to Lt. Col. Sir S. M. Pritchard, the officer commanding the Native Labour Contingent in France.
- We are mindful of the great main fact that Great Britain and her Allies as well as the United States of America went into war (inter alia) for the protection of small and weak nations: for the enforcement of international treaties and agreements; to liberate oppressed nations; to grant every nation, great or small, the right to determine its sovereign destiny and the free choice of its own government and flag; and to allow subject races to express their voice in the final control and disposal of their territories and to choose the flag under which they desire to be protected; to make the world fit and safe for every man to live in with freedom to choose his own destiny.
- The Bantu people of South Africa have ever been impressed with the high ideals permeating the British Constitution, and in this connection have always held the memory of the late Queen Victoria, The Good, with reverence and devotion. It was in her illustrious reign that the black people were emancipated from slavery in 1834.
In Her late Majesty’s Proclamation of Natal in 1843, any discrimination in the eyes of the law on account of race, colour, or creed, as well as slavery in any shape or form, were distinctly repudiated. Even under the two Conventions in the Transvaal in 1881 and 1884, the late Queen Victoria discountenanced slavery in any shape or form. All these Proclamations and Conventions contain principles which are still regarded by Your Majesty’s subjects as their Magna Charter [sic].
It is with painful regret that we remind Your Majesty that these Victorian principles with which our people associate with the high ideals of the British Constitution have been departed from and in the main dishonoured and ignored by Your Majesty’s representative Governments in South Africa.
We humbly submit to Your Most Gracious Majesty that the black inhabitants of this land who are Your Majesty’s subjects, on account of their race, colour, language and creed, live under a veiled form of slavery. The subject’s inherent right of freedom and the right to move at liberty is unwarrantably restricted, and the individual cannot bargain, under existing laws with his labour as he chooses. Equal opportunities for trading are denied and the avenues of civilized advancement are limited.
- We wish to inform your Majesty that the policy proposed by the successive Governments in South Africa have from time to time been detrimental to the original rights of your subjects in land ownership and occupation followed by calculated encroachments on their inherent rights to acquire land, as also the projected administrator of Native Affairs, – all of which have confirmed previous apprehensions and misgivings and have created serious alarm and mistrust accordingly.
- Your Majesty’s humble subjects pray that the Territory of Zululand should remain integral for the use and occupation of the original inhabitants in terms of Her Late Majesty’s Annexation Proclamation in 1897, and that in any event no delimitation or other encroachment on the remaining portion of the land delimited in 1902 should be allowed and that such attempt is considered by Your Majesty’s subjects as a breach then given to the people of Zululand that the delimitation then made would be final. The Union Government’s projected land Legislation threatens a further encroachment as against that undertaking.
- Your Majesty’s subjects further pray for a review of Her Late Majesty’s Proclamation of 1848 in conjunction with the Convention of 1854 relative to certain lands in the Orange Free State belonging to and claimed by the Batlokoa and the Bagolokoe tribes. These claims afford a just case for review and readjustment in the Orange Free State because the undertakings then given under the said Proclamation and Convention have been departed from without any compensation or other relief being granted to the original owners of the land. The recognition of the Orange Free State Independence as a Republic was never intended to violate or sacrifice any inherent rights of the inhabitants therein nor did Her Late Majesty concede to forego Great Britain’s responsibility in connection therewith.
- Your Majesty’s subjects further pray for a review of the Conventions of 1881 and 1884 relating to the Transvaal, wherein under Article 19, Freedom to acquire land and the setting aside of tribal land or locations were, amongst other things, assured to the Native inhabitants. These assurances have scarcely ever been carried out and today Your Majesty’s subjects in the Northern Transvaal find themselves dispossessed of land and their original holdings encroached upon.
- Your Majesty’s subjects pray for a review of the Proclamations affecting what is now termed the Transkeian Territories in the Cape Province; as also an exhaustive review of the landed rights of the peoples of Mashonaland. Each and every one of these claims are justly and reasonably subject for reconsideration having regard to the projected land Legislation of Your Majesty’s Representatives in South Africa, of which Your Majesty’s subjects are seriously apprehensive and alarmed; and a feeling of discontent and mistrust would considerably be allayed by means of a Royal judicial Commission to enquire into and to make a permanent adjustment of the several land claims and to right past wrongs and injustices.
- In pursuance of Great Britain’s war aims and her love for free institutions for all peoples under her flag and these aims being adapted and conconant with those of Her Allies and the United States of America, the only solution therefore is to have those principles applied to South Africa so that we may have a voice in the affairs of the country, and have full protection so as to check reactionary legislation and unpopular one-sided laws. To put these principles into effect it may please Your Majesty to cause a revision of the South African Constitution in such manner as to grant enfranchisement of natives throughout the Union; and further so as to make provision for the protection of the aboriginal national institutions being respected and developed, and further so as to give effect to the principle contained in the Royal Letters Patent of 1865 in Natal in regard to the franchise.
- Great Britain has committed wrong in the past by omitting to consult the wishes of the people concerned. We desire to appraise Your Majesty of the fact that when the Protectorates called Basutoland, Swaziland and Bechuanaland sought protection of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, they never surrendered their tribal land and their sovereign rights. They remain this day integral dependent Nations. Particularly the independence of Swaziland as recognized under the London Convention of 1884 in the Transvaal.
They were never conquered and they never at any time waived or surrendered their sovereign rights. They have faithfully adhered to the original terms of protection in reverend memory of Queen Victoria, under whom they sought protection. They have remained loyal. It is their wish and of ourselves that not one of these Protectorates should be transferred to the Union without the consent of the peoples concerned being first obtained.
Further, it will ever be borne in mind that these Protectorates have played a part in the prosecution of the Great War in men and money.
- Neither Great Britain, nor the Allies and United States of America fought a war for territorial acquisition, therefore the conquered territories in Africa should not be disposed of or their future destiny determined without the wishes of the inhabitants being first ascertained.
That both German South West and German South East should never be handed to the Union Government of South Africa unless its system of rule be radically altered so as to dispel colour prejudice; but that these territories and the Congo States be placed under the control of the United States of America (subject to the wishes of the peoples concerned), in trust for and to be developed in the interests of African inhabitants until they become sufficiently advanced for their own civilized government.
That the question of the control in the Congo States be re-opened so as to divest Belgium of any right thereto, since her atrocious crimes and misdeeds have caused de-population, proving that she is unable to control African Colonies.
- Having regard to the prevailing desire for independence amongst white races in South Africa under the form of Republicanism, it is recorded that we shall never consent or tolerate such independence without the consent of the Native inhabitants who are quite content to remain under British Rule.
In conclusion, we, Your Majesty’s most loyal and humble subjects, lay this Memorial before Your Majesty on this supreme and unique occasion of the cessation of hostilities with thankfulness and satisfaction that Your Majesty’s Memorialists have taken an active part in bringing about victory and peace, and in full confidence that the position of Your Majesty’s subjects under the sun will be improved and be readjusted in terms of this Memorial.
We are, &c.,
By order of
South African Native National Congress in its Special Session at Johannesburg on the 16th day of December in the year of Our Lord One thousand Nine hundred and Eighteen.
(sgd) S. A. Makgatho,
(sgd) I. Bud-M’Belle