Day government saved Africans from flogging over IDs

A colonial ID issued to the Makonde in the pre-colonial era. [Tobias Chanji, Standard]

Many tears have been shed on account of the national identity card.

This document that carries one's identity in many forms, including a thumbprint, has been in use for more than a century. At the time of introduction, the document was meant to curtail the movement of Africans and was supposed to be displayed at all times.

There was an attempt to use the kipande to exert maximum pain on Africans by a some whites.

Some time in August 1921, a white supremacist, Conway Harvey, wanted a law passed that would see Africans who failed to display their their kipande, or mishandled the documents, caned on the spot by government agents.

So determined was he to have the law passed that he took the issue to the Legislative Council (Legco). Conway wanted all Africans who had been issued with a kipande to be ordered to keep the document in a wooden cylindrical container, and hang it on their necks.

Hanging the document on the neck, Conway argued, would save them from getting creased. That this would save the government a lot of money in replacing torn or disfigured documents.

He pleaded with the government to adopt a wooden cylindrical container as was the case in some parts of the country.

He further proposed that since breaching Registrations Ordinances, 1915 and 1920 would constitute petty offences, offenders should be spared a prison sentence so as to save the government money in maintaining them in jail.

Instead, he proposed that those found guilty of mutilating kipande or using someone else's identity card be caned.

He was however overruled by the Chief Native Commissioner, G V Maxwell who maintained that the cylindrical container Conway was proposing for storage of kipande was awkward as it would have to be over seven inches long to accommodate the document.

"Under the ordinance, this has to be carried by the native on his person. To the more civilised native accustomed to wearing European clothes, it would be most inconvenient as as it will not fit very well in the pocket," the chief native officer replied.

The commissioner further ruled out substituting flogging with a prison term, arguing that the government was unable to agree that the power to punish by imprisonment the more serious offences under the ordinance would be abrogated.

"The extant instructions from the secretary of State would not permit of corporal punishment being ordinarily utilised for the offences under this ordinance, but I would state for the information of the Honourable member that the question of corporal punishment is under investigation by a commission chaired by the Chief Justice.