South Africa and Ireland (Freeman’s Journal, 1904)

1.156. The Freeman’s Journal, (Dublin), Monday, Apr 11, 1904, 4; The Freeman’s Journal, (Dublin), Saturday, 30 January, 1904, 4.

Two editorials from The Freeman’s Journal on South Africa and Ireland.

South Africa featured regularly in the news for the first half of 1904, not only as a result of the continuing after-effects of the Boer War, but also on account of a crisis over British plans to allow the importation of Chinese labour into the Transvaal, the subject of a House of Commons debate on the 17th of February (reported the following day by The Freeman’s Journal under the headline ‘Yellow Labour in the Rand’). The first of these editorials demonstrates the currency of the South African parallel in both Irish and South African minds, not least with reference to the theme of economic exploitation:


The similarity of their condition induces friendship and sympathy between South Africa and Ireland. Even before the war the analogy was close and strong. It has been further strengthened by the disastrous war. One touch of nature makes the whole word kin. Both countries suffered, and are suffering, from the “Uitlander” — the unsympathetic alien, often the absentee, in whose selfish interest the land is ruled in defiance of the majority of the people. The people and their leaders in South Africa are quick to find the parallel with Ireland, and to make common cause. South Africa for the Africanders is their version of the Irish demand for Home Rule. In the current number of the “South African News,” which is one of the chief, if not the chief, organs of the Patriotic Party, we find a full report of “the great speech of the Rev. Dr. Kolbe,” a brilliant and distinguished leader of the Party, delivered at the St. Patrick’s Day meeting of the United Irish League. Said Dr. Kolbe — “For many years, speaking at this festivity, I have tried to prove by ever-new arguments that though I have not a drop of Irish blood in my veins, still I am a very good Irishman.” To Ireland, he declared, belonged the credit of pioneer to the great principle of National Self-government. “Ireland has carried this principle a step further in national science, and by her centuries of suffering and struggle has been impressing upon the conscience of mankind that wherever nations are gathered together in a free empire the greatest national happiness and the greatest Imperial efficiency can only be secured by the maximum of self-government for each individual nation, as far as is compatible with the interest of the Empire. This principle is not yet fully acknowledged, but on the day when Ireland gets Home Rule — which I hope will be about the same time as responsible government is given to the Transvaal and to the state that once was free — it will be looked upon as an axiom in national science, for the guidance of all other empires for all time to come, and with this principle the name of Ireland will be indissolubly conjoined.” What the alien, or absentee, landlord was to Ireland, the alien, or absentee, capitalist was to South Africa — absorbed wholly in his own selfish interests, careless of the happiness or liberty of the people. “What you object to,” he told the Irish meeting, “is that the bulk of the landlords were alien to Ireland in their sympathies and that their interests were elsewhere — in other words, that they were Uitlanders. . .” But to Irishmen in South Africa the reproach of the alien in no sense applied. “Irishmen do not become Uitlanders when they leave their native land. They do no abate one jot of their love for Ireland, but they lift it up to that ideal region in their souls where they enthrone their religious faith. It is to them ‘a thing enskied and sainted,’ and it may be taken as certain that where a man finds large room for ideals in his soul his range of practical beneficence is correspondingly increased. Therefore, Irishmen fling themselves heart and soul into the life of their new country, and become Irish-Americans, Irish-Canadians, Irish-Australians, without the thought of Ireland being in the least incompatible with their newly-adopted loyalties. In the same way we shall ever welcome a continual increase in the numbers of Irish Africanders.”
¶¶The paper in which the speech is published is enthusiastic in its approving comment. “Colonists see about them everywhere Irishmen filling leading positions with honour to themselves and profit to the land of their adoption. They find them not less worthy of respect in the different relations of life than other men, and they can only conclude that it is the system of government which is responsible for the fact that the only part of the Empire where Irishmen and Britons do not get on well is Ireland. It is probable that if the colonies were polled to-morrow they would declare that in some way Ireland must be treated on the lines which have answered so well in the colonies; that she must be dealt with in accordance with the fact that really she is a colony. May the day soon dawn when that fact will be recognised and acted upon by the people and the Parliament of Britain.” The sympathy which binds Ireland to South Africa is, indeed, easy to understand. From the first the whole Irish people were vehemently opposed to the war. Their opposition was denounced as “treason to the Empire,” as conclusive proof of their unfitness for self-government. They were yelled at and howled at as pro-Boers, but the name that silenced the timid and time-serving amongst the Liberals of England was cheerfully and proudly accepted by the Nationalists of Ireland. They were pro-Boers; they were on the side of justice and freedom. They believed the war would prove a disaster to the aggressor and the aggrieved. The result has terribly justified their forecast. How many millions in groaning under the burden of taxation now share the views of the Irishmen whom they once denounced? They find the blood and treasure squandered, their country shamed in the eyes of the world, to no other purpose than to secure a boycott of white man’s labour in the Transvaal, and to provide Chinese slaves for the millionaire mine-owners of the Rand. The creation of an “Irish difficulty” in South Africa is rapidly progressing. The same means are used to the same end. A narrow, arrogant, intolerant minority, sustained in possession and government of the country; the unscrupulously employed power of England calling themselves the English garrison, but guarding only their own selfish domination, and ready, like the Orangemen nearer home, with foolish clamours and threats of rebellion if their ascendancy is not sustained by the full power of the Empire.

This second editorial, from earlier in 1904, both underlines the economic power of South Africa relative to Ireland and makes it clear that there was more than one way of comparing their historical and political situations:

In the days of Mr Kruger there was nothing that so pleased the mine owners of the Rand as the interference of Downing street with the regulations made by the Boer Government. Time changes everything. According to the Johannesburg correspondent of the “Daily Telegraph,” consternation is felt there at the announcement of Mr. Lyttelton, the new Colonial Secretary, that the Government would await a discussion on the labour question in Parliament before assenting to the Labour Ordinance. “The principle involved,” we are told, “creates fear and disapproval, irrespective of the Chinese question. The Colony,” it is added, “would willingly submit to the exercise of the veto by the Sovereign and his advisers, but is strongly opposed to the principle that the acts of the Colonial Legislature should be subject to Parliamentary revision, and there is a dread of the precedent thus created.” Irishmen will naturally smile at this proposition. For a hundred years, as an old nation, they have endeavoured to regain the rights that are here claimed by a community not more than twenty-five years old, and these rights have been denied. Yet, we shall not be astonished if the protest of the Rand magnates has more power on a fundamental question of this kind than the whole political influence of the Irish people, backed by their eighty representatives.