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A Closer Union: A Letter on the South African Union and the Principles of Government. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 29

Secondly, as to HASTE.

There seems to be to-day, on the part of some persons, a feverish, and, in its hurry and precipitation, a most un-South-African haste to see Unification accomplished instantly, and they are unwilling to examine difficulties or brook delays.

We have seen the same feverish anxiety, page: 30 and the same contempt for obstacles before in South Africa with regard to the same subjects, on the part of men as able, and from their point of view as single-minded, as any of that very able and remarkable body of men who are seeking to accomplish political unification to-day—and we have seen that they met with disaster.

You cannot hurry South Africa, and any attempt to do so may in the long run make history repeat itself. One of the ablest members of the Cape Parliament, speaking on Closer Union in the House of Assembly, instanced the rapid Federation of the United States of America as indicating that there was no cause why we should not as rapidly combine. He left out of consideration entirely the fact that America federated under the guns of the enemy! There are times in the life of nations, as of individuals, when conditions so cataclysmic overtake us that the changes which under ordinary conditions could only have required years to take place are accomplished in months, weeks, or even hours. A vessel with first, second, and third-class passengers on board might sail for months without their ever coming near each page: 31 other or amalgamating in any way, but the moment a pirate ship appeared and threw out its grappling irons all men would stand shoulder to shoulder, and in ten minutes they would be unified. It is quite possible to imagine a condition occurring in South Africa which would make Union accomplish itself with the rapidity with which a thunderclap follows lightning—but those conditions do not exist to-day.

The ease with which Australia entered on Closer Union is often instanced for our example. But nothing could be more misleading. Not only has Australia an almost completely homogeneous population, being inhabited mainly by men of one race, speech, one language, and of one tradition, but it is comparatively new. The moss had already grown green on the thatched roofs of Western Province farmhouses, and oak trees generations old had met over them, when Australia was still untrodden by white men; and even when our British settlers landed, and the treks began to go to the northern lands, Australia had hardly begun her history; and among our vast native populations we have social institutions simple in form, but page: 32 with their roots deep struck into the ages of the past, and not lightly to be uprooted and modified.

The difference between Australia and South Africa in this matter is the difference between two men setting out to make a garden: the one out of twenty acres of smooth meadow land, the other out of twenty acres of karroo, with kopjes, rocks, sluits, and ant-heaps on its surface. All the first man would have to do would be to run a steam-roller over the ground to level its small inequalities, to take out a foot rule and draw a plan—here a wall, there a flower-bed, and there a row of trees, and, giving it to the workman, order the plan to be carried out.

For the other man the problem would be far different; if he attempted to move a steam-roller over it, the steam-roller would be broken; if he tried to lay it out by rule of thumb, everywhere he would meet with obstacles; there would be no way for him but carefully to study it yard by yard: up this kopje a road might be built and a rockery made, across that sluit a bridge must be thrown, here flower-beds could be laid, and in the sandy hollows great trees might be page: 33 planted. In the end the result of his labours might be something more individual and beautiful than anything the other could produce; but there could be no haste, no rule of thumb plan; everything must be modified to meet the unconquerable conditions.

Further, in the case of the United States, Canada, and Australia, what was attempted and accomplished was never Unification, but Federation. I can recall no case in the history of the world where a body of distinct States, some of them with long histories, and all with marked characteristics, have suddenly determined to do away with the laws, privileges, and traditions which gave them their individuality. Tyrannous conquest has often done it; but the change is too sudden to be healthy. Even a wide form of Federation is difficult enough of accomplishment; and the assertion that it would be quite possible for the South African States in the course of a few months to break up their organisms successfully and healthily to become a unified State, so far from being statesmanlike, appears to me childish.

This nervous and anxious hurry to attain page: 34 Closer Union irresistibly reminds one of a posse of old aunts and mothers anxious that a certain young man and maiden should be wed, and who to attain this end are anxious to keep in the background all causes of difference between the young people, and to draw a veil over all difficulties, financial and personal, which, if faced by the young people, might give pause; and they are delighted when they have led them into the church or the registry office. The true union between man and woman may be the most desirable thing on earth, but will they really have accomplished this? Will not all the difficulties and differences re-arise in a more acute form when the persons concerned are inextricably bound? Might not differences which, had they been fairly faced and discussed beforehand, in time have melted or been satisfactorily arranged, now rise up as insuperable, when they can no longer be freely dealt with? May not the bond of external union become one of internal conflict and bitterness?

By compelling two horses to put their heads into the same nosebag, do you of necessity put them on better terms with one another? May not the mere forced proxi- proximity page: 35 mity cause antagonisms which might never have existed otherwise?

It is sometimes said that we must hurry on Closer Union because it will prevent war from ever taking place among South Africans again. But surely all history teaches us that the bitterest and most bloody wars of modern times have not always been those between unallied States, but exactly those between peoples who were united, and where one party felt the union to be unequal and not for their advantage! Not only the American War of Independence, when America strove and succeeded in breaking herself free from union with England, or the great American war of North and South, and innumerable others, show this; but the civil wars within completely unified States themselves, such as France, where a class or party feel themselves oppressed or drawn into a union of which they have not fully understood the terms, exemplifies this. The external bond between individuals or States, where it is not the expression of a subtler internal union, so far from promoting harmony, is the inevitable cause of conflict, and possibly bloodshed.

page: 36

It may be said that human life is short, and it is natural that those who have laboured and thought over this subject of Closer Union should be anxious to see it finally completed!

I take it we are not little children building sand-houses on the seashore, anxious to have them completed, the last tower shaped, and the seaweed stuck in to crown it before our nurses come to call us home to tea! If we are doing anything, we are attempting to raise a structure that will stand the test of the ages, and if we should not be the men to lay on the last coping-stone, amid a blare of trumpets, shouts of applause, and showers of titles—if quietly and almost unrecognised we have been able by our labour to ensure that one foundation-stone shall be laid a little deeper and stronger than would otherwise have been, and that the work should stand a little better the test of centuries—I do not know what more we should ask.

It is not he who puts on the last stone and ties the flag to the roof, but he who lays the foundations deep and well, who is the masterbuilder of work that is for time.

“Without haste, but without rest,” said the great German.

page: 37

“Wacht een bietje; alles zal recht komen” (“Wait a little; everything will come right”), said the old South African President.

These, it seems to me, are the mottoes which should guide us in seeking to aid the growth of that United South Africa, the outline of which is now shadowing itself in the thoughts of our people.