Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Buchan's bite: A rant

Re: this post of Boeciana's, and reposted from comments there.

"That meant that we had a cool detached view and did even-handed unsympathetic justice "

Not only is Buchan talking rubbish, he was actually closely involved in some of the dodgy goings-on, so he really ought to known better.

First, colonial legal regimes tend to be brutal and stupid. The Brits are no exception.
2 examples, both from Africa:

Kenya first, where legal arrangements were wildly unjust ab origine and remained so throughout the colonial period. Sentences varied according to race (unbelievably, this was actually legislated for - a less stupid regime would have done it by convention), black Africans were routinely subject to extra-legal punishment by whites, etc. All this is quite well documented: see among others: Correspondence Relating to the Flogging of Natives by Certain Europeans in Nairobi around 1907/08, the Report of the Native Labour Commission, 1912-13, and David Anderson’s Master and Servant in Colonial Kenya, 1895-1939 which is especially good on the variation in sentencing by race (his phrase is ‘racially determined’), and on the legitimisation of extra-legal punishment.

And Kenya is only one, rather minor, example.

South Africa was much worse, and had been so throughout the previous century, when most of the colonisation and settlement was done. The Making of South African Legal Culture 1902–1936 is good on this, while AA Mawby’s utter monster of a monograph has a nice explanation (in Vol. 1) of the history of, and motives for, the legal situation of non-whites in SA at the beginning of the XX century.

Buchan must have known all this. He had qualified as a lawyer before he went to SA as Lord Milner’s attaché (after the Boer War), and, once in Africa, he travelled widely. Furthermore, he served on Lord Milner’s land board, set up to carry out post-war reconstruction by settling British farmers on rural land stolen (partly) from the Boers (who had only just finished stealing it from the Africans), and partly from SA Africans. The land board, under his direction, did lots of extra-dodgy stuff, such as issuing compulsory purchase orders for less than market value and then seling at a massive profit, selling land to friends and loyalists for peanuts, hiding the identity of buyers from sellers to ensure that Brits got the best land, etc.
(Lord Milner distinguished himself in at least two ways: First, as one of the triumvirate that established concentration camps for Boers and Africans during the Boer War. More than 40,000 Boer and African POWs died in them. Second, in permitting white SA employers to beat their non-white employees, for which he was censured by Parliament. Again, Buchan cannot have been inculpably unaware of this).

Such, then, is the man who would prate about ‘even-handed unsympathetic justice’.I'd suggest that his equanimity about the Anglo-Scotch alliance is not unconnected to the fortunes he made therefrom.

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