4 June 1948, Dr DF Malan addressed the voters of S Africa

4 June 1948, Dr DF Malan addressed the voters of S Africa

Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2021) ‘4 June 1948’, www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/Traces/4-June-1948/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.

1. Introduction

1.1 The year 1948 is rightly seen as a major turning point in South Africa, marking the election victory of the National Party and its rapid introduction of apartheid policies, building on and consolidating earlier segregationist laws. But there are complexities here regarding the relationship between politics and the rest of the social life and concerning where and when major change happens. There is no straightforwardly one-to-one relationship between the national level and the local, between the events of politics in metropolitan areas and the different rhythms of life in more rural areas, and also the specificity of particular people and how they saw such things and registered them in their doings and their writings.

1.2 This Trace concerns how the period of the 1948 election was recorded in a diary, kept over many years, by an Eastern Cape farmer and some of the issues involved in interpreting the character of his response. And through this it touches on the relationship between the local and immediate and the long-term and structural, how representation mediates and shapes what is written about, and the question of how and in what way large-scale change comes about.

1.3 This diary is the main item in the ME Pringle collection, located in the Cory Library. Some details about it and a first-level analysis of its contents are provided in the Archives & Collections part of the WWW website.

1.4 Mark Elliot Pringle (1880-1962) lived and farmed at Glen Thorn (and later Spring Fields), in the Baviaans River area of the Eastern Cape, where many members of the Pringle clan were located. He was one of the family’s historians and with cousins produced Pringles of the Valleys: Their History and Genealogy (by Eric Pringle, Mark Elliott Pringle and John Pringle; Adelaide, Glen Thorn, 1957). His wife was a cousin, Harriet Pringle Scott (1876-1954). They had a son, Malcolm, who died in 1914 when he was three; twin daughters born in 1913, Jean and Isobel; and a third daughter, Elspeth, born in 1917.

1.5 His diary, which starts in 1911 and finishes in 1960, is the most difficult to read of any collection that has been come across. He kept it in diary volumes with fairly small spaces for each day, he had much to write, and did so in rapid torturous writing with many abbreviations. The problem in reading it is not the size of his writing, but its scrawled character, such that it is at times almost impossible to figure out even with the most helpful of magnifying glasses.

1.6 What can be read is deeply fascinating and provides a large amount of detail about his dealings with farm workers and neighbours and people in the local town and villages, if only it could all be properly deciphered. For instance, he recorded every day’s work tasks, who was involved in them, for what periods of time, how much they were paid, and other related information. And he also recorded similar detail about his interactions with neighbours and family members.

2. An example page – January 1960

3. Some 1948 diary-entries

3.1 The diary-entries for the period immediately before the 1948 election, and the period immediately after, have been transcribed either in full or appear in summary and are provided below. The full transcriptions are indicated in bold, the summaries in roman font.

3.2 The entries are:

Weds 19 May Farming details

Thurs 20 May Long farming details

Fri 21 May Farming details, met friend in local town hall

Sat 22 May Farming details, friendly football match with Natal team, a charity collection

Sun 23 May Friends visiting, planning selling family land, wrote letters

Mon 24 May Farming details, first washday by Jane

Tues 25 May Combined Women’s Assoc bring & buy in Dewar Hall, the result was the taking of £25. We stayed in town to attend farmers Assoc meeting & a fair attendance discussed soil erosion and Bus Services. 1 Delegate for S.A.A. ?Rogers.. Letter received from Wool Board re Sharing of Woollen materials. Also send from Toot’s Office & notice of Meeting. Boys carted our mealies stalks, the last from Slaatens. Jane washed once since being paid so we owe for this one washing which started today 25th May 1948 as we were away yesterday.

Weds 26 May Polling Day. Polling was heavy United Party Nats. Packed stdlly at ?Dip. ?Tark. Mother & I went to town to vote. Posted parcel for Isobel.

Thurs 27 May Polling returns coming in & up to 7pm.

UP 65      Nts 68     Labour 5        Afr 9

Ploughing mealies land below huts.. Jan closing river fence below ?Sloothen’s land.

Fri 28 May Farming details, letter from daughter Isabel. Final polling results to hand see opposite.

Sat 29 May Farming details, visitors arrive, a lovely day

Sun 30 May Sunday service, sell or lease family land, neighbour’s sheep killed

Mon 31 May Short farming details

Tues 1 June Farming details, clothes ordered from store

Weds 2 June Farming details, wrote cheques, did business papers

Thurs 3 June Farming details, angry at charges for woodcutting

Fri 4 June Meeting in town, amounts collected for charity, having trousers shortened, paid for some repairs, letter from a friend. Isabel left for East London at 10 AM for train for Rhodesia. Dr D.F. Malan addressed the voters of S Africa on his taking office, he is leader of the Nationalist govt

Sat 5 June Farming details, buys seed potatoes, pays bills, writes letters to friends

Sun 6 June Communion service local town. Kirk association meeting, asked to represent them at Presbyterian Church meeting in King Williams Town.

Mon 7 June Brief farming detail re potatoes

Tues 8 June In Tarkastad, list of purchases, farming orders, went to East London

Weds 9 June Resolution Presbyterian Church Meeting St Andrews Hall, started 11AM good turnout. Resolutions [detail]… I spoke on the resolution [detail]…  Spoke to Avery & also Native Women’s representative at Association meeting… Had dinner in Adel Hotel with Bob…


4. Some observations

4.1 Mark Elliott Pringle’s characteristic way of writing throughout the almost fifty years of his diary-writing is to deploy a removed voice and descriptive tense. Things are done, people are managed, fences are mended, prickly pear is picked, workers are paid, meetings take place and so on, but there is comparatively little use of ‘I’ or ‘we’. And even where information about him or family members is included, it is recorded in the same rather flat style. This holds true for the diary-entries over this May and June period in 1948.

4.2 Comparing these months in 1948 with the same months in previous and later years, it can be seen that more of the ‘outside world’ beyond the particular area in the Eastern Cape where the Glen Thorn and Spring Fields farms were located was occurring than usual, and this is recorded in the same flat style. There is no sign of other such major incursions occurring but which are treated differently.

4.3 There is of course the fact that recording the election meetings, voting, radio announcements, is due to their ‘out of the usual run of things’ character. At the same time, there is no sense that Pringle is treating them as momentous or unique in anyway, with previous elections being recorded similarly. The exception is the inclusion of the address by Malan being broadcast on the radio, although this was perhaps connected more with the fairly recent availability of radios and radio reception locally (Baviaans River is in a valley, has mountains around it and is at a distance from local towns and their amenities), and their absence earlier.

4.4 The local details of the farm and the town, however, predominate in the entries, including those which contain information about the election and its result. As much space is given on 4 June to a letter from a friend and one of Pringle’s twin daughters leaving to catch a train in East London as to the election, for example.

4.5 Most of the diary-entries record farm matters. Jobs being done, people being told to do this or that, payments made and so on, are the main concern in what Pringle writes, and in most entries these appear on their own. The local town’s occurrences and Pringle and his wife’s involvement in them are recorded when they happen or the day after, but do not generally spill over into the recording of farm activities.

4.6 The local town most visited was Tarkastad, in the vicinity of Cradock and Queenstown. It was then a more thriving place than now and much frequented by the local white farming community as well as townspeople. As these entries show, there were many local groups, organisations and activities in the area generally. Pringle was deeply involved in a number of these, in particular the local Church. He was also involved in fund-raising and other work for the local hospitals, including the ‘Hospital for Native and Coloured People’, as he refers to it. His charitable activities were a life-along aspect of his life.

4.7 The events around the election are recorded though not in very much detail. They are temporary incursions from the outside, rather than being an ordinary ongoing part of things. Pringle and his wife did their civic duty by voting, also listening to the radio regarding the election results and Malan’s ‘address to the nation’.

4.8 On this, it is notable that Pringle feels he needs to explain who Malan is, as the leader of the Nationalists (which he calls it, rather than National Party). It would seem that Malan was at this point still a backroom politician and not well known generally in South Africa, or at least not among English-speakers. Also, the detailed election results were a little different from what he writes:

United Party 65
Herenigde [Reunited] National Party 70
Afrikaner Party 9
Labour 6
Independents 0
Native Representatives 3

4.9 The civil society and charitable activities that Pringle was involved in are worth thinking about a little more closely. As well as activities connected with the Presbyterian Church, it is notable that he supported and was involved with various women’s organisations. This includes the ‘native women’s representative’, who might or might not have been black herself. Quiet and remote though Baviaans River was, and indeed in many respects still is, but the people living there were by no means cut off, but rather tuned in to people and events happening locally. It is the radio and the newspaper that makes the difference, and primarily the radio.

4.10 Thinking about the Pringle diary more generally, across the decades that it was written, what is most notable is its largely descriptive and flat way of writing, and the almost complete absence of affect of any kind across most years. This holds true for things that were pleasurable or joyful, as well as for those that were more difficult or painful. In what he writes, he is recording, and obviously is recording selectively, but what he thinks or feels about any of these things cannot be discerned. This is different from the later period in the diary, when his relationship with his daughters had become remote and rather spasmodic, and also following the death of his wife in 1954.

4.11 In these diary-entries over the last years of his life, the feeling of emotional remoteness changes markedly and disturbingly, as he became more and more preoccupied with terrible events, disasters, accidents, deaths, murders, in particular as these happened to black people, when an increasing despair seeps through onto the pages. In one 1960 entry he writes, ‘What on earth is happening to me?‘, something very troubling for the reader to come across because the sense of misery is palpable and the deterioration of handwriting linked.

4.12 What kind of general observations can be made about how Mark Elliott Pringle’s diary records matters of race?

4.13 As Pringle started farming and as the diaries go up through to approximately 1918 or so, the names of particular workers recur over the years. These are men whose activities are recorded by name, whose wages are recorded by name, whose cattle are recorded by name. These are likely to have been men who were tenant-farming on Pringle’s farm as well as working for him, land which had originally belonged to the local black community. This is similar to the settled and larger group of people who can be observed on the Forbes farm Athole in the eastern Transvaal. But this changed.

4.14 Probably due to a combination of the long-term effects of the 1913 Natives Land Act being administered by compelling white farmers even where they did not want this to remove tenancies from black people, combined with a generational effect of people growing older and dying, this ceases and more indirect ways of referring to people without personal names is used in the entries. The ubiquitous diminishing word ‘Boy’ as in ‘2 Boys’, ‘6 Boys’ and so on, came to replace more personal and non-negative naming practices.

4.15 There are some exceptions to this, including among the farm workers, where it is clear that a few men still had positions of authority or favour. The main exception concerns domestic workers in and around the farmhouse. For instance, a local woman employed to do washing on a regular basis, Jane, appears often in the entries. But these are purely instrumental kinds of statements, about days she worked, and they lack the detail and the sense of personal direction by Pringle that occurred earlier in respect of farmworkers.

4.16 Finally, what to make of the despair that overcame Mark Elliott Pringle, as recorded in particular in the 1960 diary, the last year that he wrote? In part this seems due to the longer-term effects of the death of his wife and his distance from all three daughters. These are entries written by a man in despair, deeply unhappy about the state of things and the sense of something awful happening to himself.

4.17 But it seems to involve more than can be personalised in this way, because the litany of things that it arises around are almost always raced. It starts with general disasters and awful events, but over the weeks and months these cohere around things happening to black people, black people being murdered, black people being dispossessed, black people being trapped underground in mining disasters, black people killed in motoring accidents, and many more such.

4.18 The Sharpeville Massacre occurred on 21 March 1960; and while these murders are not named as such in the diary, it is impossible not to conjecture whether, among the many dreadful deaths and murders and massacres that are recorded, this epiphanous event might have played a part.

4.19 Mark Elliott Pringle comes across as an upright and undemonstrative man with a strong sense of religious faith and a commitment to carry out charitable activities, also a man who liked things to be clear-cut and unemotional and predictable. While his bluff and gruff way of recording race matters was very much of his time, it would seem that his moral and religious principles most likely led him to feel a sense of misery about what was happening in South Africa, reinforcing his emotional turmoils.

Last updated:  17 August 2021