20 MAY 1905, Page 8

I F we had nothing more to enlighten us on the

question of Chinese labour than the debate in the Lords on Tuesday, we should not have advanced very far. That some of the predictions which were hazarded when the im- portation of yellow labour into the Transvaal was sanctioned by the Government and by Parliament have not been fulfilled, no one, we imagine, would deny. What is not so apparent is the share of the Opposition in falsifying them. It is quite possible that the close scrutiny to which the actions of the importers were subjected has ameliorated the conditions in which the imported China- man lives. It is possible, though less probable, that the new arrivals are conspicuously free from the vices commonly attributed to their countrymen. As yet, however, we have hardly the right kind or the requisite amount of information to make speculations of this kind very profitable, and we might not have returned to the sub- ject but for the opportune appearance of a little pamphlet by Mr. Thomas Burt, M.P. (Co-operative Printing Society, Newcastle and London, 6d.), describing a visit he has lately paid to the Transvaal, and the impressions which the journey made on him. As might be expected from Mr. Burt's career, his observations are singularly free from prejudice. He dislikes Chinese labour, and he gives the reasons why he dislikes it. But he does not make too much of its demerits, or conceal what there is to be said on the other side. He is throughout fair, reasonable, and willing to admit that the " experiment " is not working so ill as many of us expected that it would. And his remarks have, of course, the advantage of being suggested by what he has himself seen. The case he makes out against Chinese labour is a strong one ; but it is supported by somewhat different considerations from those of which so much has been heard in this country.

The mine-owners of the Transvaal have themselves defined the object with which Chinese labour has been introduced into the Transvaal. " No one," says Mr. Lionel Phillips—who on this point speaks with unquestioned authority—" wanted to import China- men into the Transvaal. But what were we to do ? " What the Transvaal needs is a white population, " able to earn a fair living wage, to bring up families upon a respectable basis, and to people the country here- after with British colonists." So far we are all agreed. How, then, is this to be done? By extending the working of the gold mines, says Mr. Phillips, and increasing the output to the highest possible point. This extension and increase can only be effected by the importation of China- men. White men will not work in the mines, except as superintendents. What we have to do, therefore, is to import labourers for them to superintend. This is what the Ordinance has done, and, as the mine-owners contend, the result has justified their expectations. Whether this contention is well founded is one of the points which Mr. Burt sets himself to examine. Has the result of this great experiment so far been to increase the number of white labourers ? The actual increase of whites between June and December, 1904, was 1,610. These mouths saw the importation of 20,885 Chinese. But to make this a really valuable piece of evidence we must have proof that the increase was entirely due to the advent of the Chinaman. Mr. Burt brings forward two facts which weaken this proof, if they do not altogether destroy it. The first is that in addition to the Chinese employed during these months, 9,000 more Kaffirs were also employed. Now Kaffirs need. white supervision just as much as Chinamen, so that in order to ascertain the pro- portion of the increase in white labour which was due to the Chinese, we must deduct from the 1,610 additional whites the number, whatever it was, which the employment of additional Kaffirs rendered necessary. That will reduce the Chinese share in the increase to a very much lower figure. Mr. Burt's second fact is that there was a much greater increase in the number of white labourers before the introduction of Chinese labour. In the first half of 1903 the increase of whites employed in the mines was 1,896, in the latter half of 1902 the increase was 3,710. Whatever may have been the causes of these earlier additions to the number of whites, it is plainly unsafe to assume that the much smaller addition between June and December, 1904, was due solely to the presence of the Chinese. Moreover, even this smaller increase was not maintained, for in December, 1904, while there was a further importa- tion of 5,382 Chinamen, the white workers increased by 79 only. With these figures before us, it is not surprising to learn that the percentage of white to coloured labourers in 1902 was 22.1; in the half-year ending June, 1903, it was 19.5; in June, 1904, when the first of the Chinese came, it was 17.73 ; and in December, 1904, it was 14.37.

But even if we concede all that Mr. Phillips asserts— that the only white population that the Transvaal is ever likely to contain is a population of super- intendents of coloured labour—the question remains : Why should this coloured labour be yellow rather than black ? It will hardly be denied that the introduc- tion of a fresh problem depending on colour into a country which had already a coloured problem of its own can only be defended on the plea that black labour is useless for the particular purpose for which labour is wanted. That the mine-owners think that it is useless we cannot doubt, since the average cost of importing a Chinaman is £24 10s., and he costs 25s. a month to feed ; while the cost of getting a Kaffir is about £3, and he costs 20s. a month to feed. What is the defect in Kaffir labour which makes it worth the while of the mine- owners to pay so much more for the Chinaman ? It can- not be that the Kaffir is lazy, for Lord Milner said to Mr. Burt : " When I am told that the Kaffir is lazy, I ask who is doing nearly all the hard, rough work of this country. The Kaffirs are the most industrious section of our population." The reasons which lead the Kaffir to dislike underground work seem to be, first, that it is not worth his while to go into the mines when he can work above ground, which be—and everybody else—likes much better ; and next, that mining is a very dangerous occupation. The death-rate is extraordinarily high, and theKaffirs know that it is extraordinarily high,—which the Chinese did not, until after their arrival. The first step towards getting more black labour is the lessening of the death-rate. How far this is possible we do not know ; but if it be not possible, we cannot pretend to any very ardent desire for the increase of the output "to the highest possible point." Probably, however, this, like most other drawbacks, is a thing to be " considered in the wages." There is no reason to suppose that higher pay would not have an attraction for the Kaffir as well as for the Chinaman. From January to June, 1903, the Kaffirs employed in the mines increased by 18,163, " which was at a very much faster rate than the preceding six months." And then the writer of the Report of the, Transvaal Mines Department, from which Mr. Burt is quoting, adds : " This may be largely accounted for by the fact that a revised rate of pay was adopted, which permitted the native to earn up to 60s. per month." " Largely accounted for by the fact " :- we should think it was. That better wages bring in more workmen is a familiar fact everywhere else, though it passes for a new discovery in the Transvaal. Why, then, did not this rate of increase continue ? That is a harder question to answer. The mine-owners content themselves with using the fact that it did not continue in proof of the necessity of importing yellow labour. But among the persons with whom Mr. Burt talked " there was practical unanimity that Kaffirs were obtainable at one period in much greater numbers, but that they were deliberately kept back, or the recruiting was slackened, in order to establish a case for the importation of Chinese." This, however, does not explain why the mine-owners, having some seven millions of Kaffirs in the country, prefer to bring in Chinamen rather than train the work- men they have to do better work.

In Mr. Burt's opinion, however, the mine-owners will have in the end to fall back on the Kaffirs. " I have never," he says, " myself been under the delusion that the Transvaal is a white man's country in the sense that it will ever give employment to white workmen in any con- siderable numbers. I do not think it either practicable or desirable that the gold mines or any other industry should be worked exclusively by white men, in a country where the whites are so vastly outnumbered by the coloured population." And if ho is right in this forecast, it means that the mines will in the end be worked by Kaffirs or not worked at all. The advent of responsible government will, he feels sure, be fatal to the continued importation of Chinamen. There remains, however, the question whether mining is the only industry for the Transvaal. " The ultimate answer must depend largely on the producing capacity of the land. Men can live there if the land will support them, and on that point opinions differ widely." Mr. Burt inclines to the un- favourable view ; but many Colonial farmers with whom he talked hold that " much of the land is hopeful if properly handled." In that case the best thing we can desire for the Transvaal is that the habit of looking at it as simply a vast gold mine may give place to more healthy experiments in the direction of agriculture. However this may be, Mr. Burt is clearly right when he says :—" Since black and white are fated to live together in South Africa, and since the black can do without the white much better than the white can do without the black, it is most important that the relations between them should be as peaceful and friendly as possible." The colour problem is the one that most calls for careful and wise handling.

There is much else of interest in Mr. Burt's " Visit to the Transvaal," and we strongly recommend our readers to read it for themselves.