Book Reviews You Are Wrong Father Huddleston

You Are Wrong Father Huddleston

 

Alexander Steward. You are Wrong Father Huddleston.  1956. Cape Town: Culemborg Publishers and Howard Timmins.

I have just read Alexander Steward's book, You are Wrong Father Huddleston, published as a rebuttal within months after Trevor Huddleston's Naught for your Comfort in 1956.  In it Steward puts a positive spin on the system of government known as apartheid and presents it as a model for peaceful co-existence in a multi-race, multi-cultural society.

In his preface he writes:

It is agreed by many even of South Africa's most severe critics

that the actual living conditions of the Bantu people of the Union

- their wages, welfare services, pensions, hospitalisation and so

on - are a good way in advance of those in other parts of the sub-

continent.  Their basic objection is not to these conditions but to

the principles, theory and ideology underlying the race policy itself.

(Steward. p. 2 of the preface)

This suggests:

i)                    that because African people are better off in South Africa than elsewhere on the continent, criticism directed at the South African government is unfair.

ii)                   that objections to apartheid being based on principles, theory and ideology, do not deal with reality. 

He also explains that:

                        ... the main purpose of the following pages will be to

show that South Africa's approach to the race problem contains,

also, cultural and spiritual advantages for the Bantu people.

South Africa is engaged upon a great and significant 

project in human relations. She has no precedent to guide her

in her problem, and errors of judgment, miscalculations and

mistakes must be expected.

It is therefore not my purpose to suggest for a moment

that her present policy cannot be improved but only  that it is a

sincere and reasonable attempt by honest men to solve, with

justice to all, a most complex problem, but one of which they have

intimate and unrivalled experience.  (Preface. pp. 2 -3)

He severely criticises Father Trevor Huddleston for being partisan and unable to assess the situation without bias.

           

                        His bias is admitted.  We have his own word for it

            "What I shall try to avoid", he writes in Naught For Your

 Comfort, "is that most common and persistent error in all

Such assessments - the attempt to be impartial.  By this I

mean that I shall write this book as a partisan."

            This he declares on page 18, and it is no idle boast. 

It is no empty intention - it is prosecuted with a vengeance

through each of the succeeding pages. ... this book is as

partisan as can be.  It bears not a blemish of impartiality.

(p. 9)

Steward wrote his book in 1956, presumably before it was recognised that  participant-observers bring their own pre-conditioning to a situation and, therefore, there can be no such thing as total objectivity.  Father Huddleston, therefore, in admitting that his work is not impartial is doing what modern historians do, that is, he makes the reader aware that his insights and observations are personal and may or may not be true for the reader.

Steward is also critical of the fact that Father Huddleston's reference is limited to Sophiatown. 

           

                        "Most of my time in South Africa has been spent in

Johannesburg," he writes, " and half of it in one of the slums

of that city of gold."

                        Such an experience, no matter how dramatic, is an

unsatisfactory base from which to judge - let alone to condemn

-        the conditions and policies of South Africa as a whole.

(p. 9)

Steward does not consider valid Father Huddleston's knowledge gained from personal, intimate experience of the people of Sophiatown among whom he lived for many years.  But is this not how social scientists gain research material for their case studies?  Father Huddleston's writing is based on observed and lived situations; he saw at firsthand how apartheid works.  His book is not based on abstract principles, theories and ideologies.

Furthermore, because Huddleston's experience was confined to the one township, Steward regards his knowledge of African people as superficial.  He believes his own knowledge to be superior: "In this respect, I am more fortunate than he, I know the Bantu of the cities but I know the Bantu of the country also." (p. 11).  Steward grew up on a farm in Zululand and gained his experience of African people from Zulus who worked on the farm. He spoke Zulu, had a Zulu friend and communicated with the Zulus who worked on the farm.

This biographical note on Alexander Steward appears on the dustcover of his book:

Alexander Steward was born in 1917 and spent his child-

hood in Zululand.  He was educated at Hilton College and

then joined the staff of the Rand Daily Mail.  He was for

several years on the crime-and-court beat during which time

he acquired a close knowledge on many of the situations and

problems with which Father Huddleston deals.

During the war he was seconded from the army to the Union

Department of External Affairs and since then has been on

service abroad.

When I compare his experience and knowledge with that of Huddleston's, it seems to me that Father Huddleston had deep knowledge of a particular situation whereas Steward had general knowledge of many situations and his knowledge of African people was gained from casual observation and hearsay rather than from intense personal experience.  In my opinion, general understandings often include taken-for-granted notions that have not undergone rigorous interrogation.

Steward believes that Huddleston belongs to a minority of missionaries whom he refers to as ‘political missionaries' who followed a certain pattern: 

           

           

                        What was this pattern?

It was a championing of the interests of the coloured people

by discrediting and ridiculing the White man (an particularly

the Boer) - his way of life, his traditions, his moral sense.  It

was also a pattern of interference from abroad; an incitement

of British public opinion, particularly, to support the schemes

and ambitions of these men of God whose primary function.

One would have supposed, was to bring the Christian message

of goodwill, tolerance and understanding to a dark and divided

continent.   (p. 6)

Steward's attitude to African people may be gleaned from the quotes of prominent people that he includes in the text.

  1. Van Loon

"Modern science may eventually make the desert bear fruit and drain the marshes.  Modern science may find ways to cure the dysentery and the sleeping sickness, which have wiped out entire countrysides in the Sudan and the Congo regions, as modern science has set us free from yellow fever and malaria.  Modern science may turn the high central and southern plateaus into a replica of the French Province or the Italian Riviera.  But the jungle is strong and persistent and the jungle has a handicap of millions of years, and all its atrocities will be back at the white man's throat and will throttle him and it will breathe its poisonous breath into his nostrils until he dies and is eaten by the hyenas and the ants."  (p. 11)

  1. Maurice Evans

"Maurice Evans asks in Black and White in the Southern States whether any white man will ever be able to understand the workings of the Black man's mind and spirit." (p. 25)

  1. H. Drummond

"H. Drummond the explorer, comments that the worlds of the Black man and the White man are as different as the colour of their skins."  (p. 25)

  1. General Smuts

General Smuts said once in a speech in London: "Black and White are not only different in colour, but in their soul also."

  1. Rev. Dr. N. Maclean

"the Rev. Dr. N. Maclean writes in Africa in Transformation that unless one has the "historic imagination" it is difficult to see the work of missions in the right relationships.  The growth of a moral sense, he says, is the work of centuries and he asks his readers to consider how long a time it has taken to evolve the moral standards of conduct which govern the actions of people in Britain to-day." (p. 25) 

  1. Albert Schweitzer

And then there is the summing up of Albert Schweitzer: The black man, he says, is his brother - but his younger brother by some 400 years." (p. 25-6)

After the introductory chapters, in which he gives us his understanding of trouble-making missionaries and the limitations of African people, Steward goes on to explain how apartheid works for the benefit of all the races in South Africa.  He justifies the need for Group Areas and Bantu Education.

I have written this account of You are Wrong Father Huddleston, not to expose Steward, after all most of us are now wiser with hindsight, but rather to illustrate where we have come from and to suggest that attitudes that bolstered apartheid have not disappeared.  If we scratch beneath the surface we will still find Stewards within ourselves.  

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