Settler security, insecurity and solidarity in colonial Natal with particular reference to the South Coast 1850-1910.

11 December 2014

Although British settlers enjoyed political and military control, there were factors which rendered them vulnerable. These included their proximity to the reserves set aside by Shepstone exclusively for African residence and the fear of unrest or even attack emanating from those reserves. As a safeguard, settler volunteer groups or rifle associations were established across the Colony. A spirit of community and settler solidarity was the corollary of those associations. But vexing the situation was settler dependence on African labour and the role of Africans up until the late 1880s in the provision of certain basic foodstuffs. The importing of indentured Indian labour provided relief for settler enterprise on the one hand but created a new challenge on the other, namely, the social presence and commercial competition which the Indian posed as a settler. A battery of discriminatory legislation aimed at removing those insecurities proved fruitless. Despite official awareness of the vulnerabilities to which the tiny settler population was exposed, ironically a policy of frugality resulted in the placement of token-strength police contingents in the various counties. The Anglo-Zulu War and the unrest of 1906 which culminated in the Bhambatha rebellion were the two most serious threats to settler safety and security. As such they produced a surge in settler solidarity. Yet in both cases settlers were neither threatened nor harmed. The earlier Langalibalele affair also triggered a settler response of solidarity with Governor Pine for his handling of it. Isolated and sparsely populated, the South Coast as a frontier region was subject to the same insecurities as other parts of the Colony. The solidarity which its settler population always displayed in respect of those insecurities proved additional to the solidarity that already existed as a result of the region’s long struggle for infrastructure development. Although never endangered by unrest, South Coast colonists were no different from those elsewhere in Natal in favouring discriminatory legislation against Africans and Indians. They also solidly endorsed the union dispensation as the best guarantee of future security.