1916:4.18. 18 July 1916. Letter to Rev. Joseph Booth.
33 Alfred Road, Acton, London, W.
Dear Mr. Booth
I must tell you that I am happy to find … that you are in old England, pleading as hard as ever for the forlorn cause of the much misunderstood African. Besides the Colenso family, I cannot remember any white person who has fought so doggedly in the thankless cause of an ignorant, despised race, as you have consistently done. I have very often asked myself what encouragement or satisfaction you can hope to get for all the discomfort that I know you have had to endure, for the sake of our Race, which is helplessly ignorant, and too fettered to lend any tangible or material support.
I have read the Preamble and plan of your Association, formed at Johannesburg, while I was here (in England), and I find it accurately represents the aspirations of the Africans. We claim no monopoly of any part of Africa, and while others are warring for “a place in the Sun’” our only prayer is that in our own Continent of Africa the British Government should treat us as well as the foreigner. Surely no unprejudiced reasoner could misconstrue this into a desire to usurp other people’s prerogatives.
I am posting you my Book, pleading for the Natives of South Africa, which, as you know, does not represent your continent-wide experience. It only deals with conditions in that huge Black Man’s prison, which is officially and diplomatically styled “The Union” of South Africa, &c.
(signed) Solomon Plaatje
1916:4.19. 31 October 1916. Letter to Jane Cobden Unwin, 3 Adelphi Terrace, London.
33 Acton Road, W.
Dear Mrs Unwin,
Many thanks for your kind letter of the 25th instant which, with the week-end pressure, I have been unable to answer till now. I cannot come to the Strand as I have a pile of work to get through before going away. But I shall hope to be at your service after my return to London before the middle of November.
In reply to your questions: I was never present at any meeting where a body of Natives approved of the present policy of South Africa; and if you addressed General Botha direct, I have no hesitation in telling you that his reply will be that I have had several interviews and correspondence with him, his fellow-ministers and officials on the matter, but that I have NEVER at any time, by word, deed or implication conveyed the impression that I approved of the Native Lands Act or any of its ruinous principles.
SECONDLY: When in 1914, the Native Deputation failed to enlist the sympathy of Mr. Harcourt, the A.P. Society advised us to send a petition requesting him to guarantee certain undertakings attributed to Gen. Botha by Mr. Dower in a letter to Mr. Dube. In signing this petition we made it clear to the Society that General Botha never uttered those promises in our presence – but even now the Society would seem to attach a greater importance to Mr. Dower’s letter than to the findings of the statutory Commission.
The letter was duly sent to Mr. Harcourt. His reply appears on page 201 of my book, thus: “If Gen Botha breaks his word I have no power to enforce it. I cannot bind his successors, &c.” I am accused (always behind my back) with excluding the whole of this interesting if futile correspondence. But since you are the first to address me direct on the point, my reply is that, my book deals with facts, that is, the declared pronouncement of statesmen, and not with hearsay allegations attributed to them in correspondence between third parties. The thing began at Denison House, we signed it on their advice, it was rejected by Mr. Harcourt so what useful purpose could I serve by giving a whole history of it? Further, seeing that I alone paid for the printing of this book, out of the scant income so hardly earned by Elizabeth and myself, surely my faultfinders must admit that I was entitled to select what matter should, and what matter should not, appear at my expense.
THIRDLY: With regard to your question whether the Commission’s awards are not instalments to be gradually added to in future you will please notice that Sir William Beaumont suggested something of the kind, which was promptly rejected by his four colleagues who decided to make their findings final; whereupon, in view of this final decision, Sir William, like a good Natalian, asked that Natal should be kept out of it. And I, like a good South African, likewise claim that South Africa “should be kept out of it.”
I am leaving this week to address two meetings at Stratford-on-Avon. On my return I will touch Oxford where a friend has for months been asking me to spend a week with him. He is a native of Oxford and his father a native of Cambridge; you will thus see that in the Provinces (just like in London) I cannot get out of the University atmosphere, so that if I am not a full-fledged scholar by the time I get back to South Africa, it will not be the fault of the Natives of your beautiful island.
With many thanks for your sustained interest in our
forlorn Cause, I remain,
With kindest Regards to Mr. Unwin and yourself
Yours Very Respectfully
Sol T. Plaatje