"Only two questions in South Africa, rank confers duties" Read the full letter
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Letter ReferenceT120 (M722): W.T. Stead Papers/58- pages 229-230
ArchiveNational Archives Depot, Pretoria
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter DateSeptember 1896
Address FromKimberley, Northern Cape
Address To
Who ToWilliam Thomas Stead
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the National Archives Repository, Pretoria, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Micofilm Collections. Content of this letter refers to the Chartered Company’s war against and massacres of the Matabele and Mashona in 1896. Schreiner was resident in Kimberley from 1895 to late 1898.
1 [page/s missing]
3I hope you quite understood that I didn’t blame you in the least in
4the Selous matter. Your statement was perfectly clear. You did not say
5I had mentioned the treatment of women & the taking of them as
6mistresses ^& prostitutes^ by the white man as the cause of war.
8The idea continually expressed here ^by men who come down^ here is
9that especially in the case of the Mashons it was the shameful
10treatment by the white men of the women ^that^ was the cause of the war;
11& many men I know who have been staying up there are strongly of that
12opinion. I wish I could think so: but shameful as that treatment has
13been, I believe there was another & worse cause which when the history
14of this time comes to be write in future years will account for it. Of
15course people may be right; I have no doubt it ^the treatment of the women^
16added bitterness to the broken & oppressed hearts of the people, &
17accounted for the mutilations of the bodies of white men (probably in
18most cases perfectly innocent individuals who suffered for the guilt
19of others.
21It’s a sad world out here, my friend. I wish you with your sympathetic
22soul & a clear eye for truth when once you see it, could come out here.
23 I will risk a prophecy – In four years time you will feel just as I
24do about South African affairs - & perhaps more ?keenly
26Yours ever with friendly greetings
27Olive Schreiner
In 1896, the hunter and explorer Selous was writing a book on the Matabeleland and Mashonaland uprisings and was interviewed on this in September 1896 in the Diamond Field Advertiserin which he made claims about Schreiner's views. She sent Stead press cuttings about her response to claims made by Selous, as follows:

NB Please return these cutting
Olive Schreiner

Mr. Selous' statements.
To the Editor "D F Advertiser"

Sir - In your issue of this morning, in an interview with Mr Selous, the following passage occurs:-

"Mr Selous had much to say about Olive Schreiner's explanation of the rebellion. He flatly contradicted her statement that the rebellion was caused by the conduct of white men towards native girls."

As I have never, directly or indirectly, referred to the war in the north in any review or newspaper, I should be glad if through the medium of your columns Mr Selous would inform me where he believes me to have made the statement to which he refers.

In 1891 I wrote a series of articles on South Africa, in one of which, in dealing with the degrading results of illicit relationships between white men and native women I made this statement: "We have it on the most irrefragable evidence, that when, after a war a few years back, a regiment of English soldiers was stationed for many months in the heart of a subdued Bantu tribe, not only was the result of this contact between the soldiers and the native women nil as regarding illegitimate births, but it had been practically impossible for the soldiers to purchase women for purposes of degradation throughout the whole time."

When publishing this article this year, I appended to this statement the following foot-note:- "We are not referring to that which takes place when Englishmen untrammelled by any public opinion or by British rule are absolutely dominant over a crushed native race, as in the territories north of the Limpopo to-day. We shall deal with this, to an Englishman most sorrowful matter, at some future date."

This is the only statement I have ever published with regard to the relations between white men and native women north of the Limpopo, and Mr Selous' remarks later in the interview strongly bear me out.

Will he kindly state where I have asserted that the relations of the white man to the black woman was the cause of the war.

I am, &c,
Olive Schreiner
The Homestead,
September 12.

Selous replied in the following issue that he had confused what she wrote with what Stead had written that Schreiner had implied; by strong implication, he had never read the article in question but relied on Stead's comment. Schreiner then responded:

Whites in Rhodesia
To the Editor, "D F Advertiser"

Sir - I have read Mr Selous' courteous reply in your yesterday's issue; from which it appears that Mr Selous had never read the article which he criticised, and the misstatement is therefore fully accounted for.

The article is an attempt, however crude, from an impartial and scientific standpoint, to consider the gigantic evils which at the present day (whatever may be the case under future and happier conditions) halfcastism does inflict on both races in South Africa, and to study the conditions under which it most flourishes.

When republishing the articles in book form, I shall have much pleasure in appending as foot-notes extracts from Mr Selous' interview with you on the 12th, which powerfully confirm my own views on halfcastism.

With regard to the causes which have led to the present Mashona and Matabili war, I neither afirm nor deny anything. Any statement that I have asserted that the relations of white men with the Mashona or Matabili women to be the cause of this war is false. Any statement that I have asserted it not to be the cause, is equally false.

Olive Schreiner
The Homestead,
Sept 16.

The book is: Frederick Courtney Selous (1896) Sunshine & Storm in Rhodesia: Being a Narrative of Events in Matabeleland Both Before and During the Recent Native Insurrection Up to the Date of the Disbandment of the Bulawayo Field Force London: Roland Ward & Co.

Schreiner's exchange with Selous clearly stirred up existing negative feelings about Selous on the part of other people too, as the following letter (a copy, and so unfortunately unsigned) in the NELM collections indicates:

Cape Town, Nov 16th 1896

Mrs Cronwright Schreiner

Dear Madam,

Allow me to thank you most sincerely for having challenged Mr F.C. Selous' statement re the treatment of the poor, ignorant and much abused Natives of Rhodesia by the whites.

I much regret, and am surprised at Mr Selous having entered into this controversy for Mr Selous seemed to have forgotten that he, alas, has three illegitimate children yet living in the country (who, I believe, are now in Khama's country) born to him by a woman of Khama's country tribe, and with whom Mr Selous lived for several years, or, as the woman said, until she lost her youth and attractiveness, when Selous, like his equals, turned her adrift to become the prey of others.

I believe that the Rev. Hepburn, former missionary of Bamangwato, has or did have, one, if not two of his children.

If it would be of interest to you, I could mention several other names to prove that the poor native has much cause for complaint.

Any of the undermentioned names will or can give you further information respecting Mr F.C. Selous' children,-

The Rev. C.W. Helm, Bulawayo, Rhodesia
" " W Elliot " "
" " Hepburn, former missionary at Bamangwato, address unknown,
The Rev. W Sykes, " "

With many apologies, & many thanks to you for what you have done, I am Dear Madam
(Unknown to Olive Schreiner, NELM SMD30 33e)