Z. K. Matthews and the Cape Liberal Approach
Around the turn of the twentieth century, black political organization in southern Africa was dominated by a small elite of educated men. The political aspirations of this group defined black politics and remained a significant force well into the 1930s. In large part, this can be explained by the fact that many were influenced by a relatively liberal political tradition in the eastern Cape Colony where a nonracial, qualified franchise system allowed those with a minimum annual income and a minimum level of education to vote.
In the mid-nineteenth century, under British administration, the Cape Colony had committed itself to a liberal political tradition. It drew up a constitution allowing all men, without regard to race, to vote if they met a set qualification. This nonracial political system contrasted with those in effect in the Afrikaner Republics to the north. Not until 1910, when the Cape Colony joined with the neighboring republics and the Colony of Natal to form the Union of South Africa (see map), did the political structures become explicitly and increasingly racial. The racial definition of Union caused the black elite of the Cape gradually to lose influence.
The social environment in effect in the Cape Colony prior to union provided the conditions in which a promising young black boy named Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews could pursue the dream of education. Not surprisingly, he imagined a future where merit and educational achievement would be the foundations of a liberal society. With the formation of the Union and subsequent social changes, however, the ideals of the Cape elite