Electioneering in the Lowveld (1929)

Posted on November 25, 2014 by Cape Rebel

From No Outspan
by Deneys Reitz 

The Low Country, with its mountains and its rivers and its jungles, is beautiful and picturesque, but it makes for difficult electioneering. Nature has divided it into so many watertight compartments that I had to travel on horseback and on foot – to secluded valleys, isolated mining camps and distant forestry settlements. I ranged from the heights of Kamshlobaan, overlooking the Swaziland plains, to Komatipoort on the Portuguese border, and from up along the slopes of the Drakensberg to Tzaneen in the far north. I visited squatters and farmers on their ranches, and small communities tucked away between the rivers. There were up-to-date fruit-growing centres, and there were scattered groups hidden in the folds of the Berg, who still lived and thought in terms of the old republican days of thirty years before. It was strenuous work, carried out in addition to my activities in other parts of the country.

I found that my membership of the Parks Board was a liability rather than an asset. Once, while I was addressing a gathering under a tree on one of the banks of the Crocodile River, an old Boer farmer rose to complain that hippo from the Kruger Park had raided his farm the night before, and had consumed £200 worth of his tomatoes. He said if I did not take better care of the animals in my charge, he and his neighbours would vote against me.

On another occasion, just as I was getting into my stride, a herd-boy rushed up to say that a crocodile had pulled his master’s bull into the water; and here again, the blame fell squarely on my shoulders.

A few days later, I was travelling in a small open car with the secretary of our party. The road was a mere track with grass standing high between the ruts. Suddenly we bumped into a full-grown lion that must have been lying asleep in front of us. He leaped aside with an angry snarl, and it looked as if he meant to come at us. The engine stalled; and for a moment we faced an ugly situation, for we carried no arms. Then my companion got the two-seater started, and we moved off.

I was due to address a meeting in the Barberton town hall that evening, and I made full use of that lion. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ I said, ‘the election is going well, but this morning we had our first setback.’ The audience pricked up at this, and I proceeded to tell the story of our collision. I added that as I knew that the lion was not on the voters’ roll, we had not stopped to argue with him. The story went well, and I got a motion of full confidence.

Up in the mountains are Boer colonies, settled there for nearly a century. To these Boers, time had stopped at the end of the Anglo-Boer War in 1902. The Great War had reached them as but a distant echo from the outside world, and their politics still hinged on the forgotten controversies of the past. A man who had surrendered to the British columns in 1900 was an outcast, and only those who had fought right up to the end were held in respect.

I clambered up to meet a number of these sturdy mountaineers, bigoted and primitive, but fine and brave and obstinate. As I began to speak, a weather-beaten old veteran rose and, turning to the rest, said in Afrikaans: ‘Before allowing the candidate to proceed, we want to know where he was in the last war.’ I was about to reply that I had served in East Africa and in France, when he supplemented his question as follows: ‘What I mean is, did he serve with General Botha or in the Free State with General De Wet?’ I answered that I had served under them both, right up to the end.

I think I got most of their votes.

By the time polling day arrived, I was a physical wreck; but I was the Member of Parliament for the Low Country.

Posted in English