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A Closer Union: A Letter on the South African Union and the Principles of Government. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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page: 24
page: 25

XII. Should an attempt be made at the outset to include the whole of South Africa (that is, Rhodesia, Basutoland, Swaziland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, and Nyassaland, as well as the four self-governing Colonies) in the scheme of Closer Union?

Ultimately, no doubt, these territories will become part of the Union; but as matters would have to move very slowly, and with due regard to the rights of all concerned, on the part of those having the care of those rights, and the matter being a very intricate and important one, I should say decidedly no.

You have said you would be glad to have my view on any other matters affecting the Union. There are some points on which I should care to make some suggestions.

Firstly, as to COST.

It has lately been continually rung into the ear of the man in the street, who up to the present has not given much study to the, to him, often entirely new problems suggested by the talk of Closer Union, that if page: 26 only Closer Union can be effected there will be an instantaneous and marvellous advance in wealth all over South Africa; and that if Unification be adopted instead of Federation there will be an immense diminution in public expenditure, and therefore in his personal taxation.

Neither statement seems to me true.

The depression from which we are now suffering is largely the aftermath of the war, and of that reckless indulgence in building and other speculations which followed it.

The men whose farms and property were destroyed may have by this time rebuilt their houses, they may have almost as many sheep, half as many cattle, and one-third as many horses as they had before; but their income during the last years has gone to restore these things, and we must still feel the loss of the accumulated capital they would otherwise have had to expend. Closer Union can no more restore this to us, nor unbuild the unnecessary houses and harbour works, or other constructions in which our wealth has been lost, than it can make one Karroo bush strike its roots ten inches deeper, page: 27 or bring rain to one flock of dying sheep on a drought-smitten plain. Three successive good agricultural years would do more to restore our economic condition than any alteration in the form of political organisation would do in many times that number. If the Union succeeds in establishing complete free trade between all South African States, it will undoubtedly be beneficial in the long run to the majority of the inhabitants, as all forms of free trade are; but the intolerable burden of the poor man in South Africa is not the tax on inter-Colonial trade, but the crushing taxation on over-sea imported articles; and while certain places, classes, and persons may gain by the changes resulting from Closer Union, others must lose heavily. No doubt it is not done wilfully, but the man in the street is being misled. I suppose every one has met the complement of the man who had had his salary reduced by one-fourth, and who recently remarked that he must battle through, for no doubt when Closer Union came his employer would raise it; or the Capetown boarding-house keeper, unable to earn enough bread for her children, who remarks, with a wan and pathetic smile, page: 28 “But they say this Closer Union's coming, and then I suppose things will be all right!” The conception, perhaps unintentionally but widespread, through public speeches and letters in newspapers that Closer Union is a kind of new Father Christmas who will drop a pound into every empty pocket is a delusion, and pernicious; it will be followed by reaction when the truth is discovered.

As to the statement that Unification will be cheaper than Federation, and that taxation will be diminished under Closer Union, I doubt it. I believe ultimately either Unification or Federation will cost the country as a whole more than the present system; change is always expensive; and that Unification, under which expensive new local councils would have to be set up and endless revolutionary changes made, would be more expensive than Federation; even were Federation to cost more [which I do not for a moment believe it would] merely as a training school for our citizens, bringing the duties and rights of self-government close to them, I believe we should find it pay.

We South Africans have many faults, but page: 29 the past history of all our races proves that we have not accepted as a people the doctrine that every man has his price, and that the value of all institutions can be measured in gold. We have always shown an even extreme aptitude for sacrifice when once any section of us has been convinced it was necessary. I believe that it is not by holding out the elusive bait of a pound in every empty pocket that our people will ultimately be led to make those heavy sacrifices which will be necessary on the part of many if Union is to be accomplished; but rather by inducing them to face the facts, and if they make sacrifices to make them willingly and consciously, in a cause they feel worthy. I believe this course would be both more statesmanlike and more practical.

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