The Role of the Missionaries in conquest

Whatever the differences and conflicts between the various elements among the Europeans, they all had a common aim: the confiscation of the land and the establishment of White supremacy. The preliminary stages of the invasion had been carried out by the Dutch over a Io period during which they had decimated the baThwa and, after a protracted resistance, driven the Khoikhoin northwards, while the rest remained as serfs in the Colony. The Dutch had then settled down to an isolated feudal existence at the Cape.

The taking over of the Cape Colony by the British at the beginning of the 19th century introduced an important change in the situation. For they represented a more advanced stage of civilization than the feudal Dutch at the Cape, namely, capitalism, with its superior organisation and more varied resources. From the time of their second occupation (1806) the main strategy throughout was in the hands of the British, backed by the vast resources of the mother country. It was British policy that dictated the course of events relative both to the Africans and the Dutch; at all times the initiative rested with them. In all the complexities of the political scene in Southern Africa throughout the 19th century, in the apparent anarchy produced by the conflicts between the various agents conquest, a single end can be perceived, the establishment of British supremacy. And this meant one thing, the establishment of the new economic system, capitalism, into which both the Dutch and Non-Europeans* had to be fitted, the one as partners, the other as the exploited. To sustain this system the toil of the Black man was imperative. In its insatiable need for profits, the tentacles of this system extended to the farthest corners of the colonial world, in Asia, India, and Africa, sucking the blood of the Black man, relentlessly without ceasing.

It is part of British strategy, with its varied resources, that the missionary finds his place. Looking at the picture as a whole, we see how the different agents of conquest contributed their share the main task and how each one carried on where the other left off.

This history, therefore, must aim at unfolding a continuous process of a developing British strategy which made use of the missionary as an important agent to achieve its aims. While it is necessary to emphasise his part, it cannot be presented in isolation; he works always in conjunction with the other agencies, sometimes retiring into the background, sometimes even appearing to be in conflict with the Government, especially when he protests on behalf of the very people who are in the process of being subjugated, yet by so doing, actually furthering the aims of the Government.

At the outset, the missionary approaches the chief humbly, Bible in hand, and asks for a small piece of land to set up his mission station. At his heels hastens the trader, the purveyor of cheap goods. Thus the Bible and the bale of Lancashire cotton became the twin agents of a revolutionary change. The peaceful penetration by the missionary and the trader -sometimes the missionary turned trader ”” is followed in due course by an “agreement” between the chief and the Governor, whereby the British become the “friend and protector” of the chief. But this agreement” is actually the procursor of British interference, of war and the looting of cattle, and ends with a so-called “treaty in which the chief “agrees” to seizure of a large piece of land belonging to the tribe. In return he receives a magistrate as well as a missionary, who is much less humble than he was when he first arrived to beg land of the chief. Now other mission stations are set up in the still uncharted territory and their train come still more traders, their tin shacks sitting squat spiders throughout the land. The invaded tribes are spit asunder; “divide and rule” under the capable hands of the missionaries carries on its deadly work of disruption. In the already confiscated territory large tracts of land are handed out to Dutch farmers or British settlers; there is unrest on the so-called frontiers; the hungry people try to retrieve their plundered cattle and the thieves accuse them of cattle-theft and send out destroying commandos to raid the sleeping villages. They are joined by the military, which scour the country to keep order among the “treacherous” tribes – as official phrase has it. Before long, gunpowder, fire and famine mark the next stage of conquest. Still larger tracts of land are seized; the farmers cry out for labour and it is there for the taking: the destitute Africans, robbed of their land, are being turned into a cheap labour force.

It is a remorseless process. If for a time the policy of the British Government seems to dictate a halt in the rather costly business of war””for though it is assegai against gun, the Africans are hard to subdue””there are always the Dutch (Trek Boers) to carry on with their land-grabbing, until, as a matter of principle, the British find themselves “reluctantly compelled” to annex the new territory order to “protect the Natives.” Hypocrisy has always been one of Britain’s most useful weapons.

Throughout all this period, more than half a century, the missionaries are at hand, preparing the way, disarming the chiefs with their message of God’s peace””at the same time the God of an all-powerful nation prepared to be their “friend.” Thus they make easy the negotiations between the Governor and the chief; they act as Governor’s advisers and assist in drawing up the terms of the “treaties.” They become interpreters and “peace-makers” while at the same time they are military advisers to the invaders. For they know the geography of the land better than the commanders themselves; on receiving permission from the chief to set up a mission station they make it one of their first tasks to explore the surrounding territory. Thereafter, when it is time to consolidate the conquest they become magistrates and self-styled chiefs till in the fullness of time the sons of missionaries become governors, magistrates and Ministers of “Native” Affairs, the inheritors of conquest unto the third and fourth generation, The key to the function of the missionary in the conquest of colonial peoples is supplied by Dr. Philip himself, the Superintendent of the London Missionary Society who was sent out to the Cape in 1819 and who can be described as the most far-seeing representative of British Imperialism in the country at that time. The Preface to his “Researches in South Africa” contains the following statement:

” ‘While our missionaries are everywhere scattering the seeds of civilization . . . they are extending British interests, British influences and the British Empire. . . . Wherever the missionary places his standard among a savage tribe, their prejudices against the colonial government give way; their dependence upon the colony is increased by the creation of artificial wants”¦ . Industry, trade and agriculture spring up” .

Here spoke the true servant of the British middle-class. Wilberforce might have called it the ” ‘basis of all politics” with respect to colonial conquest, and the arch-imperialist, Rhodes, would certainly have endorsed it. Philip, half a century before Rhodes, aimed to extended British domination to the equator. But the complete fulfillment of his imperialist vision with the establishment of a capitalist system in South Africa, had to wait till the discovery of gold and diamonds- and the final military defeat of the African

To follow Philip’s career during about thirty years of missionary control in Southern Africa is to have a picture of the political function of the missionaries while the military conquest was in progress. As a result of his activities in connection with the Khoikhoin and later the Griqua, the maNgqika and the baSotho of Moshoeshoe there grew up a persistent liberal myth which it will be our business to examine. The British acquired a special repute as “the Friends of the Natives.” Nothing is further from the truth. But it was largely due to the missionaries that this myth of British “Protection” arose.

Actually the rapacity of the Dutch for land and labour never equaled in efficiency the systematic subjugation carried out by the British precisely because the British represented an expanding capitalism while the Dutch were the representatives of a decaying feudalism operating under colonial conditions. It was the British who carried to a fine art the policy of “divide and rule.” They not only had superior forces compared with both the Dutch (the Trek Boers) and the Bantu; they also had the weapon of liberalism. The achievement of the missionaries was the first achievement of the liberalism.

Before looking further into the aim methods of Dr. Philip as largely summing up this achievement, let us get some idea of the early stages of missionary activity before his arrival. In 1799 the London Missionary Society sent to the Cape Colony its first party of missionaries, consisting of two Hollanders, Van der Kemp and Kicherer, and two Englishmen, Edwards and Edmond. Dr. Van der Kemp, who seems to have been the leader of the party, had had sixteen years experience as an officer taking up missionary work, and this possibly served him in good stead as mission manager. However that may be, the missionaries on their arrival at the Cape of Good Hope were well received by the Governor and Van der Kemp lost no time in traveling as far as the Tyumie River in an attempt to win over the Xhosa chief, Ngqika, the young nephew of the missionary, who had held his own against the Dutch for about quarter of a century. At this stage Ngqika resisted the overtures of missionary, whose chances were spoiled by some Dutchmen who hinted to the chief that this man of peace had really come the betray him.

The striking thing about the London Mission is that it flung its net so wide at the very first throw. The Rev. Kicherer and Rev. Edwards made their way north and the among the baThwa at the Zak River, though this was short-lived. The baThwa were already a decimated man, and to attempt to gather them into a community was unprofitable. In the words of J. Plessis, author of “A History of Christian Missions in South Africa” , this mission was but a “stepping-one” to the distant north. Before long the London missionaries were over the Orange River where the Griqua lived as a free and independent people. They were of Khoikhoin origin, with an admixture of Dutch blood, and were continually being joined by runaway slaves and those Khoikhoin who were escaping from serfdom under the Dutch. By 1801 the Rev. Anderson, who had come out with a second batch of missionaries soon after the first, had established a footing among the Griqua, and, as we shall see later, began that process of “divide and rule” that was to end in the downfall of the Griqua nation.

We see the foreshadowing of further events to come in the mission establishment by the Rev. Edwards in the north among the baTlhaping, a Tswana (known as Bechuana) tribe on the Kuruman River. Here Edwards, like several other missionaries, combined Christianity with trading. According to the Rev. Robert Moffat, who subsequently established the famous mission station at Kurruman, Edwards “went to barter as far as the Bauangketsi, a powerful nation north of the Molapo River, and, having amassed a handsome sum . . . retired to the Colony and purchased a farm and slaves” .

Thus Edwards was the forerunner of that better-know apostle of Christianity and Commerce. David Livingstone. A glance at the map will show us how these first journeyings of the missionaries anticipated the ultimate extent of British possessions in Southern Africa. To return to Dr. Van der Kemp. From the outset he was regarded as a most useful agent of the Government. Assisted by the Rev. Read (another member of the second batch of missionaries) he began work among the Khoikhoin at Graaff Reinet, which at that time was an outlying district to the north-east of the Colony. Now the Khoikhoin, weakened and impoverished after a protracted period of wars, were rapidly becoming a landless people forced into serfdom to the Dutch. But in the outlying districts there were several independent groups under their redoubtable leaders, the best known among them being Klaas Stuurman. It is of particular interest to us to-day to know that these stubborn fighters allied themselves with another uncompromising resister to the invaders, namely, Chief Ndlambe.

On one occasion their combined forces routed the marauding Dutch and chased them right back as far as George, where the English soldiers came to their rescue. Inspired by this example of unity, the Khoikhoin on the farms in the Graaff Reinet district joined their brothers, to the great alarm of the Governor, Dundas. It is recorded that “His Excellency, remembering the unfortunate events of San Domingo” (i.e., when Toussaint L’Ouverture, himself a slave, liberated his people from the French yoke) “remembering the terrible insurrection of slaves which broke out on that island in 1791, feared with great reason the serious consequences for this country if the progress of this evil were not speedily suppressed.” The Governor, then, feared that the spirit of revolt would spread to the Khoikhoin in the western districts and among the slaves. It was considered the more necessary to increase control over the Khoikhoin because they were a valuable source of labour, especially useful in the outlying districts where slaves were scarce.

This is where the missionaries could play their part. It was precisely at Graaff Reinet, the seat of the recent disturbance, that Van der Kemp set work. And his first function was that of divide unity Van der Kemp co-operated with Maynier, Resident Commissioner at Graaf Reinet, in breaking this unity. Having drawn a number of Khoikhoin into the Christian fold, he was able to persuade them to accompany him to Algoa Bay where he placed them in a temporary location at Zwartkops River. The missionary’s first attempt at “divide and rule” received a temporary set-back when a number of Khoikhoin joined Stuurman, who, together with his ally, the chief Ndlambe, attacked the mission station. Soon afterwards, however, the mission settlement was permanently established at Bethelsdorp.

The experiment was a significant one from several points of view.

Note that the missionaries followed the principle of segregation from the outset. (The earlier Moravians had done likewise.) The confiscated land of the Khoikhoin was restored to them (if one can use the word) only in one form, the segregated missionary settlement.

Another point is this, that the site of the mission settlement was chosen for military reasons. It was in this district nearby what is now Uitenhage that Khoikhoin resistance was concentrated, and to the north of it the Xhosa tribe of Ndlambe was situated. Behelsdorp, therefore, operated doubly for the purpose of divide and rule” : the missionary-controlled Khoikhoin could the still independent Khoikhoin, and if their resistance could be smashed, it would be easier to pursue the attack against the ma-Xhosa. And so it came to pass. The Khoikhoin resistance had been long and hard, but one by one their last leaders were captured or slain and Xhosa-Khoikhoin unity was broken. The missionary Khoikhoin, as we shall see, were recruited in the wars against Ndlambe.

Bethelsdorp missionary settlement illustrates in other ways the usefulness of the missionaries to the Government. It interesting to observe how early the pattern of the subsequent labour policy emerged. The traveller, Lichtenstein, has left a picture of Bethelsdorp as a place of shameful poverty; it was on a barren strip of land, insufficient to enable the Khoikhoin to live without going out to labour for the White man. As Dr. Philip was later to point out, such mission settlements were reservoirs of labour from which the neighbouring fanners could draw their supplies. Be it mission station, location or reserve, the principle has always been the same-that the land thus occupied does not belong to the people, nor is it sufficient for their needs. It may be added that, in addition to their other duties, the missionaries assisted the Government in procuring forced labour for the roads, and it was also their business to collect taxes from the destitute Khoikhoin.

From this brief outline of the early stages of the activities of the London Mission, some of the main functions of the missionaries clearly emerge. They carried out the policy of “divide and rule and they established the mission station for the greater control of the Khoikhoin as a labour force. On the resumption of British rule at the Cape in 1806 a government official expressed his appreciation of Dr. Van der Kemp in the following terms: “He will be of the greatest assistance in retaining the Hottentots (Khoikhoin’ present favourable opinion of the English, as well as in communicating with Gaika (Ngqika).”

It was a few years later that London Missionary Society decided to intensify missionary activity in Southern Africa and for this purpose sent one of its directors to survey the field. This was the Rev. John Campbell, a man with the Imperialist vision which embraced Khoikhoin, abaThwa, Griqua, amaXhosa, and extended as far north as the Tswana tribes, where he sent the Rev. Robert Moffat to strengthen the missions there. The little known regions of the west also drew his attention. “It would he highly gratifying to the Society and to the public at large to cause these countries to be explored, he said. On his second visit he was accompanied on his tour of the mission stations by the Rev. Dr. John Phillip who remained behind him as Superintendent of the London Missions. The main task of the missionaries throughout the rest of the century was to assist the Government in the subjugation of the Bantu. But to get a complete picture of how the missionaries worked in the interests of British Imperialism, it will be necessary to follow Dr. Philip’s career from the beginning, when he acquired renown as the Defender of the Hottentots.

The Rôle of the Missionaries in conquest

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