Chapter 22: What a scandal!

Soon after we had arrived in Buntingville the infamous referendum of 1960 was held, to see whether South African should become a Republic or not. The Nationalist Government was in favour of it, but there was great opposition to it.

The first wrong thing that the Nationalists did was to pass a law in Parliament that the coloured voters, of whom there were many hundreds in the Cape, should not be allowed to vote. Dr Verwoerd had the impudence to say that it was a decision that affected only the whites. Then the Government passed a Bill that the white voters of South West Africa should be allowed to vote. If our South African coloured voters were prevented from voting, because the matter did not concern them, how on earth could it be said that the question of a Republic in South Africa affected the voters of South West Africa? But they were given the vote. Finally, the Government passed a Bill enabling all people of 18 years of age to vote, instead on only those of 21 years and older.

It is a fact widely known that in the country districts the Afrikaans-speaking children were far more numerous than English-speaking, and that many of these Afrikaans-speaking young people of 18 years and more were still in school, where the great majority of the teachers were also Afrikaans-speaking, and most of them Nationalist.

On polling day the voting started at 07h00 so Mr and Mrs Place, the store-keeper and his wife, Margery and I went in the Place’s car (the biggest of the three) to Ngqeleni, about 10 miles away where the polling station was. We arrived at the polling booth at about five to seven and were astounded to see the booth open, with no policeman in sight, but two men very busy marking ballot papers and putting them into the ballot box. When they saw us they rushed out, got into a car and took off at a great rate, but not before we had recognised them: one was the secretary of the Nationalist Party branch in Umtata, the other was the chief secretary to the Regional Director of Bantu Education, Transkei. Soon after the person responsible for the polling plus the policeman came in. We told them what we had seen but they just shrugged their shoulders and said there was nothing they could do about it! We wondered if in other centres such blatant cheating was being carried out.

When the result of the poll was published it was seen that those in favour of the republic had won by less than a thousand votes, yet Dr Verwoerd and his Cabinet accept it as a mandate from the electorate to take this very serious step.

(This is not quite accurate: the actual figures were:

Result

Number of votes

Percentage

Yes votes

850,458

52.29%

No votes

775,878

47.71%

To those of us who were of British extraction and proud of and thankful for out British connection this was a terrible blow, especially that most of us knew that it had been obtained through trickery. From then on Dr Ver4woerd, our Prime Minister, saw to it that apartheid was applied with great severity. A law was passed in Parliament that everybody in South Africa had to be placed in a Population Register, so that he or she could be given an Identity Document with a photograph of the bearer on it and stating whether the holder was of the white, coloured, ‘Bantu’ (sic) or Indian race.

This Population Register led to much discord, doubt and desperation, as it was often very difficult to decide whether a person was white or coloured, Indian or coloured, coloured or Black, etc. As a result it frequently happened that members of a family found that some were tabulated in one colour group and others in another, sometimes even husband and wife being tabulated differently. But always the last word lay with some Government official, often people of little wisdom and less interest. It was a terrible time and many fine South Africans left our country for good to live in Botswana, Rhodesia or even South West Africa.

We Principals of Black schools were sent forms to fill in for each staff members and student (I think the base-line was the age of twelve years) and to be ready for the ‘official’ photographers who had to take everybody’s photographs. We were sent hundreds of Identification Books and I had to see to it that each one was correctly filled in by or for the person it applied to. Each book had a number. When the photographers came they had forms to fill in the ID number of each person of whom they took a photograph, so that each ID book should get the corresponding photograph.

Some months later the ID books came back with the photographs pasted in and over-stamped to show they were ‘official’ but, when they were handed over, it was at once found that the ID books and photographs did not coincide, the photographs always having been pasted into the wrong ID book. Obviously the photographic officials had lost the lists which my staff and I had drawn up and double-checked to avoid any mistakes, and so had simply pasted in any photograph into any ID book so as to get rid of them all.

I at once reported this to Pretoria and their reply was that if the recipient of an ID book was not satisfied with the photograph in it he or she should simply be photographed again (at their own cost!) and put the new photograph in it. To this I replied saying that as the fault for the mistake was that of the officials of the Department and not of the recipients the Government, being responsible for the deeds of its officials, should bear the cost. The reply was that the Government disclaimed any responsibility and that if my students did not have properly completed ID books by a certain date (a month or two ahead) they would be liable to be arrested. I called a staff meeting on the issue and we decided to get a reliable photographer to take the necessary photos for each student and we paid him, from our (private) school fund.

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