‘A wicked perversion’ – the other whiteness

‘A wicked perversion’ – the other whiteness

Some white people saw Rhodes and his activities very differently from Dr Waterson (see last week’s blog). Olive Schreiner, on whom I have published much (accessible and downloadable via www.oliveschreiner.org), was perhaps his most notable opponent and she gave voice to a different way from Waterson’s of seeing the Rhodes’ Chartered Company promulgated Mashonaland and Matabeleland invasions and wars (which started in 1890 and were ‘settled’ by around 1898). An important expression of this is provided by her allegorical novella Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, a work of deep irony. It was published in London in March 1897, in the same week Rhodes was called to be questioned by a Select Committee inquiring into the Jameson Raid, a plot to invade the Transvaal that he and other leading figures were (or weren’t) involved in. Among other things, her novella named Rhodes as directly responsible for massacres and summary executions of many Shona and Ndebele. It was both scandalous and extremely successful.

Some five or six weeks later, Edmund Garrett as the Rhodes-supporting Editor of the Cape Times received a ‘review’ of Schreiner’s book, which in the event he didn’t publish, but he did send on to Rhodes (‘Toga’ to Edmund Garrett 1 May 1897, Rhodes Papers s228, 28/88-90). It is less a ‘review’ (no discussion of plot or characters, no weighing of this and that) than it is an ’emotional response’ which focuses on the author rather than her book. The charges made against the author are three-fold. First, ‘Toga’ proclaims that Schreiner’s book results from her ‘prostitution of the mind’, that she had supposedly sold her integrity to make money. Second, she is described as using a ‘feminine method of attack’ to do so, by implication a disreputable one; and this is said to be ‘personal spite’. That is, this involves the book’s naming of Rhodes as ultimately responsible for the invasions and massacres. The third charge is that the moral tale she tells in Trooper Peter is ‘a wicked perversion’, for it focuses on a ‘wounded native’ (which completely underplays the events dealt with) and ignores the fate of ‘a white woman’ who was ‘so vilely murdered’ (this was a Mrs Langford, with ‘Toga’ also providing a long, detailed and emotional account of her murder in a separate document).

The last charge here involves the way of not-seeing mentioned earlier. For ‘Toga’ the moral issue is veniality, personal spite, and one ‘wounded native’ versus one ‘vilely murdered’ white woman. For Schreiner, it is that Rhodes has moral and practical responsibility for the ‘vilely murdered’ thousands, as her novella makes very clear. ‘Toga’ is not-seeing these many black people, can see only an inverted version, the one white woman.

Last updated: 26 December 2015


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