Thoughts on South Africa

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Excerpts from: Thoughts on South Africa, by Olive Schreiner (1923)[edit]

Schreiner, Olive. Thoughts on South Africa. Published by F. A. Stokes, 1923. Original from the University of California.




This excerpt shows the recollections of Olive Screiner in South Africa and her realization on how racism was reproduced in the early 1900's in South Africa.


"One of my earliest memories is of...making believe I was Queen Victoria and that all the world belonged to me. That being the case, I ordered all the black people in South Africa to be collected and put into the desert of Sahara, and a wall built across Africa shutting it off; I then ordained that any black person returning south of that line should have his head cut off. I did not wish to make slaves of them, but I wished to put them where I need never see them, because I considered them ugly. I do not remember planning that Dutch South Africans should be put across the wall, but my objection to them was only a little less." (p. 15-16)


This excerpt shows Schriener pointing out that the blacks in South Africa were not “slaves,” though she does show sentiment that they are inferior by citing evolution as the cause of their status in society by saying “…they have to be imported: we do not breed them.”


“It would have been as easy for the early Boers to catch and convert into beasts of draught the kudus and springbucks, who kick up our African dust into your face, and are off with the wind, as to turn into profitably beasts of burden our little, artistic Bushmen, or our dancing Hottentots; and our warlike Zulu Bantus from the East Coast would hardly have been more acceptable as domestic slaves than a leash of African lions. Then, as now, when submissive slaves are desired in South Africa, they have to be imported: we do not breed them.” (p. 116)



This passage reflects Schreiner’s sentiment that the Boers are noble, but primitive people.


“[We] might find in it much to condemn; its streets narrow; its houses overhanging, shutting out light and air, its drains non-existent; but over the doors of the houses we should find hand-made carving, each line of which was a work of love; we should see in the fretwork of a lamp-post quaint shapings such as no workman of to-day sends out; before the glass-stained window of the church we should stand with awe; and we might be touched to the heart by the quaint little picture above the church-altar; on every side we should see the material conditions of a life narrower and slower than our own, but more peaceful, more at one with self. Through such a spot the discerning man would walk, not recklessly but holding the attitude habitual to the wise man – that of the learner, not the scoffer.” (p. 105)



This Passage reflects Schriener’s attitude towards the Middle-Class society in Britain that was so distant from the issues, such as the Boers killing off the Bushman in South Africa.


“It is easier yet for the fair European woman, as she lounges in her drawing room in Europe, to regard as very heinous the conduct of men and women who destroyed and hated a race of small aborigines. But if, from behind some tapestry-covered armchair in the corner, a small, wizened, yellow face were to look out now, and a little naked arm guided an arrow, tipped with barbed bone dipped in poison, at her heart, the cry of the human preserving itself would surely arise; Jeames would be called up, the policeman with his baton would appear, and if there were a pistol in the house, it would be called into requisition! The little prehistoric record would lie dead upon the Persian carpet.” (p. 154)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).