Lord Milner's Work in South Africa - From its Commencement in 1897 to the Peace of Vereeniging in 1902
by W. Basil Worsfold
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[Footnote 41: Mr. Rhodes was opposed at Barkly West by a candidate financed from Pretoria.]

"When one considers the state of affairs in the Cape Colony, it must be confessed the future does not appear too rosy. The majority of the Afrikander nation in the Cape Colony still go bent under the English yoke. The free section of the two Republics is very small compared to that portion subject to the stranger, and, whatever may be our private opinion, one thing at least is certain, namely, that without the assistance of the Cape Colonial Afrikanders the Afrikander cause is lost. The two Republics by themselves, surrounded as they are by the stranger [i.e. British] are unable to continue the fight. One day the question of who is to be master will have to be referred to the arbitrament of the sword, and then the verdict will depend upon the Cape Colonial Afrikanders. If they give evidence on our side we shall win. It does not help a brass farthing to mince matters. This is the real point at issue; and in this light every Afrikander must learn to see it. And what assistance can we expect from Afrikanders in the Cape Colony?... The vast majority of them (Afrikanders) are still faithful, and will even gird on the sword when God's time comes."[42]

[Footnote 42: As translated in South Africa, October 15th, 1898.]

At the same period the Dutch Reformed Church in the Colony had become what was, to all intents and purposes, a vehicle for the advocacy of rebellion. The manner in which the principles of Afrikander nationalism were combined with religious doctrine may be gathered from certain extracts from the Studenten Blad of the Theological Seminary of Burghersdorp, which were translated and published by The Albert Times. The passage following appeared on May 26th, 1899; and by November 16th the Seminary was closed, since the bulk of the students had at that date joined the Boer forces:

[Sidenote: Anti-british sentiment.]

"Must we love this people [the English] who robbed our ancestors of their freedom, who forced them to leave a land dear to them as their heart's blood—a people that followed our fathers to the new fatherland which they had bought with their blood and snatched from the barbarians, and again threatened their freedom? Our fathers fought with the courage of despair, and retook the land with God's aid and with their blood. But England is not satisfied. Again is our freedom threatened by the same people, and not only our freedom, but our language, our nationality, our religion! Must we surrender everything, and disown our fathers? I cannot agree with this. The thought is hateful to me—the thought of trampling on the bodies of our fathers as we extend the hand of friendship to those who have slain our fathers in an unrighteous quarrel.... But some may say that the Bible teaches us to love our enemies. I think, however, that the text cannot be here applied. Race hatred is something quite distinct from personal enmity. When I meet an Englishman as a private individual I must regard him as my fellow-creature; if, however, I meet him as an Englishman, then I, as an Afrikander, must regard him as the enemy of my nation and my religion—as a wolf that is endeavouring to creep into the fold. This is the chief reason why we must regard them as our enemies; they are the enemies of our religion."

At the beginning of September, when the bulk of the elections were over, 40 Afrikander members and 36 Progressives had been returned. Three seats remained to be filled. Mr. Rhodes, who had been returned both for Barkly West and Namaqualand, decided to sit for the former constituency, and the decision of the Bond to contest the seat thus vacated caused a delay in the new election for Namaqualand. The return of the two representatives of the Vryburg division was not to take place until the 15th. As all three constituencies were expected to elect Progressives—an expectation which was fulfilled—the result of the general election was to give the Bond a bare majority of one, and this in spite of the fact that a considerably larger total of votes had been cast for the Progressive than for the Bond candidates.[43]

[Footnote 43: In a house of 79, 40 Afrikander and 39 Progressive members were returned. A very careful and reliable calculation showed that, of an aggregate of 82,304 votes polled, 44,403 were cast for Progressive, and 37,901 for Afrikander candidates. More than this, while no Progressive member was returned by a majority of less than 137, three Afrikanders won their seats by respective majorities, of two, ten, and twenty. The Progressives, therefore, were entitled, on their aggregate vote, to a majority of six.]

[Sidenote: Milner's impartiality.]

These somewhat unusual circumstances gave rise to an incident which is significant of the absolute impartiality with which Lord Milner discharged the duties of his office as constitutional Governor of the Cape Colony. In view of the circumstance that the Progressives had polled a majority of the electorate, although they were actually in a minority in the Assembly, Mr. Rhodes was of opinion that the Ministry should remain in office, and postpone the meeting of Parliament until the Namaqualand election had been held. He believed, further, that in the period of grace thus obtained it would be found possible to induce one or other of the Bond members to change sides, and thereby put the Ministry again in a majority. The immediate obstacle to the execution of this plan of action was the necessity of obtaining "supply." The partial appropriation made by Parliament before the dissolution was exhausted, and the only method by which funds could be provided without the authority of Parliament was the issue of Governor's warrants on the Treasury. Lord Milner was willing to sign warrants to enable the Ministry to carry on the administration during the unavoidable interval between the exhaustion of the last appropriation and the commencement of the new session. But, in view of the constitutional principle that no ministry which cannot obtain supply is justified in remaining in office, he absolutely refused to issue warrants for any longer period. He held, moreover, that as the Namaqualand election was a bye-election, the new Parliament would be completed, and therefore competent to transact business, so soon as the two members for Vryburg had been duly returned. Lord Milner was, no doubt, aware that the Sprigg Ministry would have had a fair prospect of retaining office if Mr. Rhodes had been allowed time to put his tactics into effect. On the other hand, he can scarcely have failed to observe that there was another aspect of the question. A loyalist ministry, by showing an undue desire to cling to office, with or without the employment of questionable political methods, would run the risk of alienating the more scrupulous of the British members, and of failing to obtain the support of the moderate Afrikander, who might otherwise have been won to the Progressive and Imperialist side. But, as Governor of the Colony, he refused to allow any considerations of party interest, on this or on any subsequent occasion, to influence his judgment. While he conceived it to be his duty to give advice and criticism to public men of all shades of political opinion, he showed himself inexorably opposed to the thought of straining his constitutional powers in the slightest degree for the benefit of one side or the other.[44] Accordingly provision for the expenses of administration was made by Governor's warrants up to September 30th, and on the day following the Vryburg election (September 16th), a proclamation summoning Parliament for October 7th was issued.

[Footnote 44: Mr. Rhodes had obtained an interview with Lord Milner for the purpose of laying his views before him. But, it is said, the unwonted sternness of the Governor's expression at once convinced him of the hopelessness of his mission; and he withdrew without any attempt to argue his case. As Rhodes was a man of great personal magnetism, the incident is not without significance.]

[Sidenote: Schreiner, prime minister.]

On October 11th the Government was again defeated on a vote of "no confidence" by a majority of two.[45] On the 17th the House assembled with an Afrikander Ministry formed by Mr. Schreiner. In addition to the Premier it contained Dr. Te Water and Mr. Herholdt, both members of the Bond; Messrs. Merriman and Sauer, who were now in close association with the Bond; and Mr. (now Sir) Richard Solomon. The latter, who had been defeated in the general election, was provided with a seat upon his accepting office as Attorney-General. The Progressives continued to be led in opposition by Sir Gordon Sprigg. Mr. (now Sir) James Rose Innes was returned as an "independent," since he had found himself unable to work in association with a party in which Mr. Rhodes had a dominant influence. The new Ministry was not strong enough to resist the continued demand of the Progressives for a measure of electoral reform; but the Redistribution Bill, as now passed, took the form of a compromise so disastrous to the British population that the Bond majority was increased to eight by the new elections held in April, 1899.[46]

[Footnote 45: Both sides were one short of their full strength, but a Progressive, Dr. (now Sir William) Berry, was chosen Speaker of the House.]

[Footnote 46: The second reading of the Navy Contribution Bill, giving effect to Sir Gordon Sprigg's pledge, was carried on December 2nd, 1898, without a division.]

Mr. Chamberlain's policy, as we have seen, was based upon the belief that it was possible to win over the Dutch in the Cape Colony and the Free State to the side of the Imperial Government. But here, in October, 1898, was an Afrikander ministry in power in the Cape Colony pledged to prevent the intervention of the Imperial Government in the affairs of the Transvaal. From that moment the issue became more and more one not of right, but of might. In the Free State, as we have seen, what was virtually an offensive and defensive alliance with the northern Republic had been ratified by the Volksraad. In the Transvaal the work of armament was proceeding apace, and Dr. Leyds had been despatched to Europe, as Envoy Extraordinary of the Republic, with authority and funds calculated to enable him to enlist the active sympathy of the Continental powers on behalf of the Pretoria Executive. His place as State Secretary had been filled, in July, by Mr. Reitz, the former President of the Free State, and one of the actual founders of the Afrikander Bond; and Mr. Smuts, a younger and even more enthusiastic believer in the nationalist creed, was appointed to the office of State Attorney.[47] With the exception of Rhodesia and Natal and the native territories immediately under the control of the Imperial Government, the Afrikander nationalists dominated the whole of South Africa. Nor is it surprising that, in these circumstances, the tone of the communications passing between the Transvaal Government and the paramount Power should have become increasingly unsatisfactory.[48]

[Footnote 47: The State-Secretaryship was offered first to Mr. Abraham Fischer, of the Free State, by whom it was declined (Memoirs of Paul Krueger, vol. ii., p. 297). The Cape Afrikanders desired the appointment of Mr. Smuts.]

[Footnote 48: On May 7th, 1897, President Krueger had formally requested the Imperial Government to allow all questions at issue between the two Governments under the Convention to be submitted to the arbitration of the President of the Swiss Republic. To this proposal Mr. Chamberlain replied, on October 10th, that the relationship of Great Britain to the South African Republic being that of a suzerain Power, it would be impossible for the Imperial Government to permit the intervention of a foreign Power. On April 16th, 1898, in a despatch embodying the legal opinions of Mr. Farelly, President Krueger claims that the South African Republic is an independent State, and denies the existence of any "suzerainty" on the part of Great Britain. In forwarding this despatch Lord Milner made the apposite comment that the propriety of employing the term suzerainty to express the rights possessed by Great Britain is an "etymological question," and Mr. Chamberlain, replying on December 15th, accepts President Krueger's declaration that he is willing to abide by the articles of the Convention, reasserts the claim of suzerainty, declines to allow foreign arbitration, and demands the immediate fulfilment of Article IV. In a despatch of May 9th, 1899, Mr. Reitz asserts that the Republic is "a sovereign international State"; and on June 13th Mr. Chamberlain replies that he has no intention of continuing the discussion.]

[Sidenote: Milner's visit to England.]

In the (English) winter of 1898-9 Lord Milner paid a visit to England. Sir William Greene, who had left Pretoria on a holiday on June 29th, was also at home during the same period. Lord Milner's visit was due in part to the necessity for medical treatment;[49] but, in any case, it had become desirable that he should be able to communicate fully to Mr. Chamberlain the grave views which he had formed on the South African situation. He left for England on November 2nd, landed on the 19th, sailed on January 28th, and reached Capetown again on February 14th. During the whole of the two months that he was in England he was engaged in an endeavour to impress upon Mr. Chamberlain, and everybody else with whom he could converse, that the existing state of affairs was one which, if allowed to remain unchanged, would end in the loss of South Africa.

[Footnote 49: Owing to a slight affection of the eye.]

During nineteen months of close observation and earnest, patient study, Lord Milner had grasped the situation in its completeness. What he saw was the demoralising effect of the spectacle of the Dutch ruling in the Cape Colony, and the British being tyrannised over in the Transvaal. Looking at South Africa as a whole, there was the fact, as indisputable as it was grotesque, that the British inhabitant was in a position of distinct inferiority to the Dutch; and this although the Cape and Natal were British colonies, while the Transvaal and the Free State were states subject to the authority of Great Britain as paramount Power. It was an impossible position. What Lord Milner urged upon the Imperial Government was the plain necessity of putting an end to an intolerable state of things which showed no capacity of righting itself; of pressing for justice to the British population of the Transvaal, with an absolute determination to obtain it. That such a policy might result in war, he knew; though neither he nor any one else realised, in the beginning of 1899, how near war actually was. The reliance of the Transvaal oligarchy on the Orange Free State, now bound to them by a formal alliance, and on the party of the Bond now in power at the Cape, might tempt them to resist even the most moderate demands. But Milner no doubt hoped that, if the British Government grasped the nettle firmly, and, while treating the Transvaal with all possible diplomatic courtesy, yet left no doubt whatever of its inflexible resolution, war might still be avoided. And in any case he felt that there was no option for the British Government but to take up the case of the Transvaal British, if a shred of respect for the power and name of Britain was to be preserved in South Africa. To embark on such a policy involved two dangers: the danger of war, and what in Milner's eyes was perhaps even greater, the danger that, by advancing just claims and then, letting ourselves be "bluffed" out of them, we might yet further lessen, and indeed totally destroy, what hold we still possessed upon the affection of the South African British or on the respect either of British or Dutch. In the light of past experience the second danger may well have seemed to him the greater of the two. But, with perils on both hands, he still felt that there was nothing for it but to go forward, to make one supreme effort to save a situation which was rapidly becoming a hopeless one. To have remained quiescent, with the forces which were gradually edging us out of the Sub-Continent growing on every side, could only have ended in the overthrow, or at best, the euthanasia of British dominion in South Africa.

[Sidenote: His verdict.]

It was in the course of this visit that Lord Milner realised the magnitude of the task that lay before him. To save England in spite of herself; to keep South Africa a part of the Empire in spite of ignorance at home, in the teeth of an armed Republic and an Afrikander ministry, required not merely an iron will and mastership in statecraft, but a reasoned and unfaltering belief in the justice of the British cause. "Certainly I engaged in that struggle with all my might," he said long afterwards in his farewell speech at Johannesburg, "because I was, from head to foot, one mass of glowing conviction of the rightness of our cause."



Upon his return Lord Milner found that the storm clouds had gathered in the Transvaal. In a despatch of January 13th, 1899, Mr. Chamberlain had informed the Pretoria Executive that the proposed extension of the dynamite contract in its new form (i.e. as, in effect, a "privileged importation by one firm," although nominally "a State undertaking") was held by the law officers of the Crown to be as much a violation of the Convention as the original monopoly, which had been cancelled on the representations of the Imperial Government in 1892. Mr. Reitz's reply, which Lord Milner transmitted to the Colonial Office not long after his arrival at Capetown, was a blunt assertion that, in the opinion of his Government, the Imperial Government had no right to interfere. But in the meantime the whole question of the position of the British residents in the Transvaal had been raised directly by the agitation which had arisen out of the shooting of Edgar at Johannesburg on December 18th, 1898.[50] This event was followed by the petition for protection, which Sir William Butler (who was General-in-Command, and during Lord Milner's absence Acting High Commissioner) refused to transmit to the Secretary of State (January 4th, 1899); by the arrest of Messrs. Webb and Dodd and the breaking up of the Amphitheatre meeting (January 14th); by the attempt of the Pretoria Executive to buy off the capitalists (February 27th-April 14th); by the presentation of the second petition to the Queen (March 24th); by the agitation on the Rand in favour of the reforms for which it prayed; and lastly by the public meetings held in the Cape Colony and Natal for, and against, the intervention of the Imperial Government.[51]

[Footnote 50: "On the Sunday night before Christmas, a British subject named Tom Jackson Edgar was shot dead in his own house by a Boer policeman. Edgar, who was a man of singularly fine physique, and both able and accustomed to take care of himself, was returning home at about midnight, when one of three men standing by, who, as it afterwards transpired, was both ill and intoxicated, made an offensive remark. Edgar resented it with a blow which dropped the other insensible to the ground. The man's friends called for the police, and Edgar, meanwhile, entered his own house a few yards off. There was no attempt at concealment or escape; Edgar was an old resident and perfectly well known. Four policemen came.... The fact, however, upon which all witnesses agree is that, as the police burst open the door, Constable Jones [there are scores of Boers unable to speak a word of English who, nevertheless, own very characteristic English, Scotch, and Irish names] fired at Edgar and dropped him dead in the arms of his wife, who was standing in the passage a foot or so behind him."—FITZPATRICK'S The Transvaal from Within.]

[Footnote 51: For particulars of these events the reader is referred to The Transvaal from Within.]

[Sidenote: The Uitlanders' petition.]

Within three months of his return Lord Milner cabled the masterly statement in which he endorsed the petition of the Uitlanders[52] with the memorable words: "The case for intervention is overwhelming." Like the Graaf Reinet speech, this despatch of May 4th was written at white heat, but the opinions which it expressed were in no less a degree the mature and measured judgments of a mind fully informed upon every detail germane to the issue. So much is this the fact that all that is essential for the full comprehension of the second Reform Movement at Johannesburg—the salient features of which have been outlined above—is to be found within the limits of this brief and notable State document:

[Footnote 52: The petition, with its 21,684 signatures, reached Lord Milner through Sir W. (then Mr.) Greene, the British Agent at Pretoria, on March 27th. It was forwarded by the High Commissioner to England in the mail of March 29th. The same ship, the Carisbrook Castle, carried Dr. Leyds, who was returning to Europe after a visit to Pretoria. Sir W. Greene had returned to South Africa in the same ship with Lord Milner (February 14th), and had stayed at Government Cottage (Newlands) with him for some days, discussing Transvaal matters, before proceeding to Pretoria on February 19th.]

[Sidenote: The intervention despatch.]

"Having regard to the critical character of the South African situation and the likelihood of an early reply by Her Majesty's Government to the Petition, I am telegraphing remarks which under ordinary circumstances I should have made by despatch. Events of importance have followed so fast on each other since my return to South Africa, and my time has been so occupied in dealing with each incident severally, that I have had no time for reviewing the whole position.

"The present crisis undoubtedly arises out of the Edgar incident. But that incident merely precipitated a struggle which was certain to come. It is possible to make too much of the killing of Edgar. It was a shocking and, in my judgment, a criminal blunder, such as would have caused a popular outcry anywhere. It was made much worse by the light way in which it was first dealt with by the Public Prosecutor and then by the judge at the trial. By itself, however, it would not have justified, nor, in fact, provoked the present storm. But it happened to touch a particularly sore place. There is no grievance which rankles more in the breasts of the Uitlander population than the conduct of the police, who, while they have proved singularly incompetent to deal with gross scandals like the illicit liquor trade, are harsh and arbitrary in their treatment of individuals whom they happen to dislike, as must have become evident to you from the recurrent ill-treatment of coloured people. There are absolutely no grounds for supposing that the excitement which the death of Edgar caused was factitious. It has been laid to the door of the South African League, but the officials of the League were forced into action by Edgar's fellow-workmen. And, the consideration of grievances once started by the police grievance, it was inevitable that the smouldering but profound discontent of the population who constantly find their affairs mismanaged, their protests disregarded, and their attitude misunderstood, by a Government on which they have absolutely no means of exercising any influence, should once more break into flame.

"We have, therefore, simply to deal with a popular movement of a similar kind to that of 1894 and 1895 before it was perverted and ruined by a conspiracy of which the great body of the Uitlanders were totally innocent. None of the grievances then complained of, and which then excited universal sympathy, have been remedied, and others have been added. The case is much stronger. It is impossible to overlook the tremendous change for the worse, which has been effected by the lowering of the status of the High Court of Judicature and by the establishment of the principle embodied in the new draft Grondwet that any resolution of the Volksraad is equivalent to a law. The instability of the laws has always been one of the most serious grievances. The new Constitution provides for their permanent instability, the judges being bound by their oath to accept every Volksraad resolution as equally binding with a law passed in the regular form, and with the provisions of the Constitution itself. The law prescribing this oath is one of which the present Chief Justice said that no self-respecting man could sit on the Bench while it was on the Statute Book. Formerly the foreign population, however bitterly they might resent the action of the Legislature and of the Administration, had yet confidence in the High Court of Judicature. It cannot be expected that they should feel the same confidence to-day. Seeing no hope in any other quarter, a number of Uitlanders who happen to be British subjects have addressed a petition to Her Majesty the Queen. I have already expressed my opinion of its substantial genuineness and the absolute bona fides of its promoters. But the petition is only one proof among many of the profound discontent of the unenfranchised population, who are a great majority of the white inhabitants of the State."

"The public meeting of the 14th January was indeed broken up by workmen, many of them poor burghers, in the employment of the Government and instigated by Government officials, and it is impossible at present to hold another meeting of a great size. Open-air meetings are prohibited by law, and by one means or another all large public buildings have been rendered unavailable. But smaller meetings are being held almost nightly along the Rand, and are unanimous in their demand for enfranchisement. The movement is steadily growing in force and extent.

[Sidenote: The movement not artificial.]

"With regard to the attempt to represent that movement as artificial, the work of scheming capitalists or professional agitators, I regard it as a wilful perversion of the truth. The defenceless people who are clamouring for a redress of grievances are doing so at great personal risk. It is notorious that many capitalists regard political agitation with disfavour because of its effect on the markets. It is equally notorious that the lowest class of Uitlanders, and especially the illicit liquor dealers, have no sympathy whatever with the cause of reform. Moreover, there are in all classes a considerable number who only want to make money and clear out, and who, while possibly sympathising with reform, feel no great interest in a matter which may only concern them temporarily. But a very large and constantly increasing proportion of the Uitlanders are not birds of passage; they contemplate a long residence in the country, or to make it their permanent home. These people are the mainstay of the reform movement as they are of the prosperity of the country. They would make excellent citizens if they had the chance.

"A busy industrial community is not naturally prone to political unrest. But they bear the chief burden of taxation; they constantly feel in their business and daily lives the effects of chaotic local legislation and of incompetent and unsympathetic administration; they have many grievances, but they believe all these could gradually be removed if they had only a fair share of political power. This is the meaning of their vehement demand for enfranchisement. Moreover, they are mostly British subjects, accustomed to a free system and equal rights; they feel deeply the personal indignity involved in a position of permanent subjection to the ruling caste, which owes its wealth and power to their exertion. The political turmoil in the Transvaal Republic will never end till the permanent Uitlander population is admitted to a share in the government, and while that turmoil lasts there will be no tranquillity or adequate progress in Her Majesty's South African dominions.

"The relations between the British Colonies and the two Republics are intimate to a degree which one must live in South Africa in order fully to realise. Socially, economically, ethnologically, they are all one country. The two principal white races are everywhere inextricably mixed up; it is absurd for either to dream of subjugating the other. The only condition on which they can live in harmony, and the country progress, is equality all round. South Africa can prosper under two, three, or six Governments; but not under two absolutely conflicting social and political systems—perfect equality for Dutch and British in the British Colonies side by side with the permanent subjection of the British to the Dutch in one of the Republics. It is idle to talk of peace and unity under such a state of affairs.

"It is this which makes the internal condition of the Transvaal Republic a matter of vital interest to Her Majesty's Government. No merely local question affects so deeply the welfare and peace of her own South African possessions. And the right of Great Britain to intervene to secure fair treatment to the Uitlanders is fully equal to her supreme interest in securing it. The majority of them are her subjects, whom she is bound to protect. But the enormous number of British subjects, the endless series of their grievances, and the nature of those grievances, which are not less serious because they are not individually sensational, makes protection by the ordinary diplomatic means impossible. We are, as you know, for ever remonstrating about this, that, and the other injury to British subjects. Only in rare cases, and only when we are very emphatic, do we obtain any redress. The sore between us and the Transvaal Republic is thus inevitably kept up, while the result in the way of protection to our subjects is lamentably small. For these reasons it has been, as you know, my constant endeavour to reduce the number of our complaints. I may sometimes have abstained when I ought to have protested from my great dislike of ineffectual nagging. But I feel that the attempt to remedy the hundred-and-one wrongs springing from a hopeless system by taking up isolated cases, is perfectly vain. It may easily lead to war, but will never lead to real improvement."

[Sidenote: Enfranchisement the remedy.]

"The true remedy is to strike at the root of all these injuries—the political impotence of the injured. What diplomatic protests will never accomplish, a fair measure of Uitlander representation would gradually but surely bring about. It seems a paradox, but it is true, that the only effective way of protecting our subjects is to help them to cease to be our subjects. The admission of the Uitlanders to a fair share of political power would no doubt give stability to the Republic. But it would, at the same time, remove most of our causes of difference with it, and modify and, in the long run, entirely remove that intense suspicion and bitter hostility to Great Britain which at present dominates its internal and external policy.

"The case for intervention is overwhelming. The only attempted answer is that things will right themselves if left alone. But, in fact, the policy of leaving things alone has been tried for years, and it has led to their going from bad to worse. It is not true that this is owing to the Raid. They were going from bad to worse before the Raid. We were on the verge of war before the Raid, and the Transvaal was on the verge of revolution. The effect of the Raid has been to give the policy of leaving things alone a new lease of life, and with the old consequences.

"The spectacle of thousands of British subjects kept permanently in the position of helots, constantly chafing under undoubted grievances, and calling vainly to Her Majesty's Government for redress, does steadily undermine the influence and reputation of Great Britain, and the respect for the British Government within the Queen's dominions. A certain section of the Press, not in the Transvaal only, preaches openly and constantly the doctrine of a republic embracing all South Africa, and supports it by menacing references to the armaments of the Transvaal, its alliance with the Orange Free State, and the active sympathy which, in case of war, it would receive from a section of Her Majesty's subjects. I regret to say that this doctrine, supported as it is by a ceaseless stream of malignant lies about the intentions of the British Government, is producing a great effect upon a large number of our Dutch fellow-colonists. Language is frequently used which seems to imply that the Dutch have some superior right, even in this Colony, to their fellow-citizens of British birth. Thousands of men peacefully disposed, and, if left alone, perfectly satisfied with their position as British subjects, are being drawn into disaffection, and there is a corresponding exasperation on the side of the British.

"I can see nothing which will put a stop to this mischievous propaganda but some striking proof of the intention of Her Majesty's Government not to be ousted from its position in South Africa. And the best proof alike of its power and its justice would be to obtain for the Uitlanders in the Transvaal a fair share in the government of the country which owes everything to their exertions. It could be made perfectly clear that our action was not directed against the existence of the Republic. We should only be demanding the re-establishment of rights which now exist in the Orange Free State, and which existed in the Transvaal itself at the time of, and long after, the withdrawal of British sovereignty. It would be no selfish demand, as other Uitlanders besides those of British birth would benefit by it. It is asking for nothing from others which we do not give ourselves. And it would certainly go to the root of the political unrest in South Africa, and, though temporarily it might aggravate, it would ultimately extinguish the race feud, which is the great bane of the country."[53]

[Footnote 53: C. 9,345.]

It was Lord Milner's intention that the text of this despatch should have been made public upon its receipt in England. It contained the essential facts of the South African situation; and, what is more, it exhibited with perfect frankness the connection between Dutch ascendancy in the Cape Colony and Dutch tyranny in the Transvaal—a matter which was very imperfectly understood. The circumstance that these essential facts were before the British people, and, moreover, the circumstance that President Krueger knew that they were before the British people, would, he believed, greatly increase the effect of the strong demand for reforms which the Imperial Government had determined to address to the Pretoria Executive in response to the petition to the Queen.

[Sidenote: Hofmeyr's intervention.]

Nor was he alone in this opinion. Mr. Hofmeyr knew that a despatch of grave importance had gone home. He had gathered, no doubt, a fairly accurate notion of its tenor from Mr. Schreiner, whom Lord Milner had warned some time before of "the gravity of the situation."[54] It is not going beyond the limits of probability to assume that the Master of the Bond realised the effect which the publication of these plain truths, backed by the authority of the High Commissioner, would produce upon the mind of the English people, and that he thereupon determined to take steps to prevent a turn of affairs which, as he conceived, would be most unfavourable to the nationalist cause. Surmises apart, it is certain, at least, that five days sufficed to place Mr. Hofmeyr in a position to ask Lord Milner if he would favourably consider an invitation to meet President Krueger in conference at Bloemfontein; and that within three days more (May 12th) a definite proposal to this effect had been made through the agency of President Steyn and accepted by Mr. Chamberlain. Nor, is it any less certain that, in view of the friendly discussion which was to take place so soon, the Secretary of State decided to postpone the publication of Lord Milner's despatch. This is the short history of the Bloemfontein Conference. It was a counter-stroke dealt by one of those "formidable personalities" of which Mr. Asquith spoke, and in all respects worthy of Mr. Hofmeyr's statesmanship. Indeed, the methods which he employed for paralysing the machinery of British administration in South Africa were always subtle: infinitely more subtle than those which Parnell adopted in the not very dissimilar circumstances of the Home Rule campaign.

[Footnote 54: C. 9,345. See forward, p. 155.]

The decision to postpone the publication of Lord Milner's despatch of May 4th was a serious mistake, the injurious effect of which was felt both at the Conference and afterwards. But before we observe the incidents by which this central event was immediately preceded, it is necessary to examine more fully the political environment in which Lord Milner found himself established now that the April elections[55] had given the Afrikander party an assured tenure of power, and, at the same time, the moment had arrived for the Imperial Government to fulfil the pledge given on February 4th, 1896, for the redress of the "admitted grievances" of the Uitlanders.

[Footnote 55: See p. 125.]

[Sidenote: The Bond and the ministry.]

The Schreiner Ministry was the agent of the Bond; it could not exist for a day if the Bond withdrew its support. The Bond majority in the Legislative Assembly had been returned by the Dutch inhabitants of the Colony for the avowed purpose of preventing the intervention of the Imperial Government in the affairs of the Transvaal. The Ministry and its supporters had begun by ranging themselves definitely on the side of the Transvaal. And, therefore, in all that was done by either party from the Bloemfontein Conference to the Ultimatum, it followed, ex hypothesi, that, in their opinion, the Transvaal was right, and England was wrong. Twice, as we shall see, Mr. Schreiner, on behalf of the Cape Ministry, hastened to declare publicly that the proposals of the Transvaal were all that was satisfactory, before he even knew what those proposals were. The Cape nationalists represented themselves as "mediators." They had as little intention of mediating between the Pretoria Executive and the British Government as a barrister, heavily feed and primed with his client's case, has of mediating between his client and his client's opponent at the hearing of a case in court.

But the Bond was "loyal." The Bond members of the Cabinet—T. Nicholas German Te Water, and Albertus Johannes Herholdt, no less than William Philip Schreiner, John Xavier Merriman, Jacobus Wilhelmus Sauer, and Richard Solomon—had sworn, upon taking office, "to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty."

[Sidenote: The Schreiner ministry.]

The situation in which Lord Milner now found himself was thus one of so extraordinary a character that it would be difficult to find a parallel to it in the annals of our colonial administration. As High Commissioner, he had advocated in the most emphatic terms the exercise of the authority of Great Britain, as paramount Power, in the Transvaal. As Governor of the Cape Colony, he was bound to administer the affairs of the Colony in accordance with the advice tendered by his ministers. And the advice which ministers were pledged to give him was the direct opposite of that which he himself, as High Commissioner, had given to the Imperial Government. To dismiss his ministers—the alternative to accepting this advice—would have been an extreme measure, to be justified only upon clear evidence that they had failed in the duty which they, no less than he himself, owed to the Crown. Whether Mr. Schreiner's Cabinet did so fail is a matter that the reader must determine for himself; possibly it would be difficult to show that, collectively or individually, the Cape ministers did anything more injurious to British interests than was done by the Liberal Opposition—again collectively or individually—in England. One thing is certain: the action of the Afrikander Cabinet, whether within or beyond the letter of its allegiance, lessened—and was intended to lessen—the force of an effort on the part of the Imperial Government, which might otherwise have averted the necessity for war.

And here certain questions which will arise inevitably to the mind that pursues the narrative of the next few months, must be anticipated. What was the position of Mr. Schreiner? What was his real standpoint, and what was his relationship to Lord Milner? How was it that two Englishmen, Mr. Merriman and Sir (then Mr.) Richard Solomon, came to be in this Afrikander Cabinet, and what were their respective motives in thus associating themselves with the objects of the Bond?

[Sidenote: The prime minister.]

Mr. Philip Schreiner was the son of a German by birth, a missionary of the London Missionary Society, who had married an Englishwoman, and afterwards settled in the Orange Free State. He had himself married a sister of Mr. F. W. Reitz, formerly President of the Free State, and now State Secretary of the South African Republic. The Schreiner family was remarkable for intellectual power. Of his sisters one is the authoress of The Story of an African Farm, and a second, Mrs. Lewis, like her brother Theophilus, was an active Imperialist and a determined opponent of the Bond. Mr. Schreiner himself was educated at the South African College at Capetown, and subsequently at Cambridge, where he was placed first in the First Class of the Law Tripos, and afterwards elected a Fellow of Downing. After a successful career at the Cape Bar he was appointed Attorney-General in Mr. Rhodes's Ministry, a position which he held at the time of the Raid. He was prevented by his strong disapproval of the part then played by Mr. Rhodes from joining the Progressive party; and, having accepted the position of Parliamentary leader of the Bond, he had become, as we have seen, Prime Minister through the Bond victory in the Cape General Election of 1898. It is characteristic alike of Mr. Schreiner and of his political position that the only word of sympathy with the British connection, uttered from first to last during this election by the Bond candidates or their supporters, was the conventional reference to the greatness of the British Empire which, as we have noticed, occurred in his address to the electors of Malmesbury. With these political and social ties, Mr. Schreiner was compelled to be a South African first and a British subject second. His is precisely the kind of case where true allegiance can be expected only when a federal constitution has been created for the Empire.

"See," said Lord Milner, in his farewell speech at Johannesburg, "how such a consummation would solve, and, indeed, can alone solve, the most difficult and most persistent of the problems of South Africa; how it would unite its white races as nothing else can. The Dutch can never own a perfect allegiance merely to Great Britain. The British can never, without moral injury, accept allegiance to any body politic which excludes their motherland. But British and Dutch alike could, without loss of integrity, without any sacrifice of their several traditions, unite in loyal devotion to an empire-state, in which Great Britain and South Africa would be partners, and could work cordially together for the good of South Africa as a member of that greater whole."[56]

[Footnote 56: The Johannesburg Star, April 1st, 1905.]

With Schreiner, and such as he, loyalty to the Crown was for the moment the product of intellectual judgment or considerations of policy. All, or almost all, the instinctive feelings, born of pleasant associations with persons and places, which enter so largely into the sentiment of patriotism seem to have drawn him, as they drew his sister, Mrs. Cronwright-Schreiner, into sympathy with the cause of Afrikander nationalism. What his view was upon the particular issue now agitating South Africa may be gathered from an answer which he gave to a question put to him by Mr. Chamberlain in the course of the inquiry into the Raid (1897):

MR. CHAMBERLAIN: I suppose your view is that the Imperial Government should adopt the same policy as the Cape Government, and should refrain from even friendly representations as not being calculated to advance the cause of the Uitlanders?

MR. SCHREINER: Yes, decidedly, so far as purely internal concerns are concerned.[57]

[Footnote 57: Proceedings of the Select Committee on British South Africa (Q. 4,385).]

In other words, Mr. Schreiner was a consistent and convinced opponent of Imperial intervention. But there was a difference between his motive and that of the Bond leaders. Schreiner desired to prevent intervention, not because he did not recognise the justice of the claims of the Uitlanders, but because he believed that the Imperial Government was devoid of any right to intervene under the Conventions; while, at the same time, his instinctive sympathy with the Afrikander nationalists made him blind to the existence of any moral right of interference that England might possess, as the Power responsible for the well-being of South Africa as a whole. And so, partly by force of environment and partly by a narrow and erroneous interpretation of the principles of international law,[58] the Boer and Hollander oligarchy in the Transvaal, with all its moral obliquity and administrative incompetence, had become, as it were, a thing sacrosanct in his eyes. Mr. Hofmeyr and the Bond leaders, on the other hand, desired to prevent intervention because they were perfectly satisfied to see the British Uitlanders in a position of political inferiority, and perfectly content with the whole situation, the continuance of which, as they knew, was directly calculated to bring about the supremacy of the Dutch race in South Africa. Therefore Hofmeyr made no effort to improve the state of affairs in the Transvaal until he saw the storm bursting. And when, at a later stage, he set himself to work in earnest to induce President Krueger to grant reforms, he did so to save the cause of Afrikander nationalism and not to assist the British Government in winning justice for the Uitlanders.

[Footnote 58: For the position of Great Britain from the point of view of international law see some remarks in the note on page 580 (Chapter XII.).]

[Sidenote: Sir Richard Solomon.]

Sir Richard Solomon, who was a nephew of Saul Solomon, the prominent radical politician chiefly instrumental in carrying the vote for Responsible Government through the Legislative Council of the Cape Colony (1872), was the leader of the Bar at Kimberley. His presence, at first sight, formed a wholly incongruous element in such a ministry. On the native question, in his fiscal views, as a supporter of the Redistribution Bill, and in his sympathy with the Uitlanders, he was in direct conflict with the characteristic principles of the Bond. His one link with the Afrikander party was his distrust of Rhodes; and in view of his unquestioned loyalty to the British connection, his decision to join the Schreiner Ministry is probably to be attributed to his personal friendship for the Prime Minister. On the other hand, his ability, detachment from local parties, and the respect which he commanded, made him a valuable asset to Mr. Schreiner.

[Sidenote: Messrs. Merriman and Sauer.]

Mr. Merriman, whose close political associate was Mr. Sauer, had twice held office under Mr. Rhodes (1890-96); but his separation from Rhodes, consequent upon the Raid, had thrown him into the arms of the Bond. Some of the more striking incidents in Mr. Merriman's political career have been already mentioned.[59] Fifteen years ago more Imperialist than Rhodes, he was soon to show himself more Bondsman than the Bond. Once the resolute, almost inspired, castigator of the separatist aims of that organisation, he was now in close and sympathetic association with the leaders of Afrikander nationalism in the Republics and the Cape Colony. The denunciations of "capitalism" and "capitalists" with which he now regaled his Afrikander allies, had an ill savour in the mouth of the man who had tried to amalgamate the Diamond Mines at Kimberley—failing where Rhodes and Beit afterwards succeeded—and who, attracted by the magnet of gold discovery, for a short time had acted as manager of the Langlaagte Estate and Mr. J. B. Robinson's interests at Johannesburg. With political principles thus unstable and a mind strangely sensitive to any emotional appeal, it is not surprising that Mr. Merriman displayed the proverbial enthusiasm of the convert in his new political creed. His original perception of the imprudence and administrative incompetency of President Krueger's regime was rapidly obliterated by a growing partizanship, which in turn gave place to an unreasoning sympathy with the Boer cause, combined with a bitter antipathy against all who were concerned, whether in a civil or military capacity, in giving effect to the intervention of the Imperial Government on behalf of the British industrial community in the Transvaal. Mr. J. W. Sauer was destined to exhibit his political convictions in a manner so demonstrative that his words and acts, as recorded in the sequel, will leave the reader in no doubt as to the reality of his sympathy with the Boer and Afrikander cause. For the moment, therefore, it is sufficient to notice that, although he shared Mr. Merriman's present abhorrence of "capitalism" and "capitalists," he was for many years of his life a promoter and director of mining and other companies.

[Footnote 59: See pp. 61, 69, and 93.]

Of the two Bondsmen in the Cabinet, Mr. Herholdt was a member of the Legislative Council, and a Dutch farmer of moderate views and good repute; while Dr. Te Water was the friend and confidant of Mr. Hofmeyr, and, as such, the intermediary between the Bond and the Afrikander nationalists in the Free State and in the Transvaal.

The Schreiner Cabinet was the velvet glove which covered the mailed hand of Mr. Hofmeyr. Dr. Te Water had been Colonial Secretary in the Sprigg Ministry up to the crisis of May, 1898. He was now "minister without portfolio" in the Schreiner Ministry. His presence was the sign and instrument of the domination of the Bond; and the domination of the Bond was as yet the permanent and controlling factor in the administration of the Colony under Responsible Government. The fact that only two out of six members of the Ministry were Bondsmen, is to be referred to the circumstance that the actual business of administration had been hitherto mainly in the hands of a small group of British colonial politicians, who were prepared to bid against each other for the all-important support of the Dutch vote. With the majority of these men, to be in office was an object for the attainment of which they were prepared to make a considerable sacrifice in respect of their somewhat elastic political principles. The denial of political rights to the British population in the Transvaal, by threatening the maintenance of British supremacy in South Africa, had now for the first time created a British party in the Cape Colony—the Progressives—strong enough to act in independence of the Bond. The existence of this British party, not only free from the Bond, but determined (although it was in a minority) to challenge the Bond predominance, was a new phenomenon in Cape politics. In itself it constituted an appreciable improvement upon the previously existing state of affairs; since the British population was thus no longer hopelessly weakened by being divided into two parties of almost equal strength, nor were its leaders any longer obliged to subordinate their regard for British interests to the primary necessity of obtaining office by Bond support.

[Sidenote: Policy of the ministry.]

Mr. Schreiner's Ministry, however, in spite of a difference of motives on the part of its individual members, was unanimous in its desire to prevent that intervention of the Imperial Government for which, in Lord Milner's judgment, there was "overwhelming" necessity. The idea of inducing President Krueger to grant such a "colourable measure of reform"[60] as would satisfy the Imperial Government, or at least deprive it of any justification for interference by force of arms, was in contemplation some months before the Bloemfontein Conference took place. On January 1st, 1899, Mr. Merriman wrote to President Steyn with this object in view. "Is there no opportunity," he said,[61] "of bringing about a rapprochement between us, in which the Free State might play the part of honest broker? We, i.e., the Colony and Free State, have common material interests in our railway, apart from our anxiety to see the common welfare of South Africa increase from the removal of the one great cause of unrest and the pretext for outside interference."

[Footnote 60: Mr. Merriman's expression. See his letter to Mr. Fischer at p. 161.]

[Footnote 61: Cd. 369.]

And Lord Milner, very soon after his return from England, was sounded by Mr. Schreiner as to the possibility of settling the franchise question by means of a South African Conference. Early in March—when Mr. Smuts was in Capetown, and the Pretoria Executive was engaged in the abortive attempt to separate the leaders of the mining industry from the rank and file of the Uitlander population by offering them certain fiscal and industrial reforms, if only they would undertake to discourage the agitation for political rights—the same subject was brought before the High Commissioner by Mr. Merriman himself. In pursuance of the real purpose of the Afrikander Ministry—i.e. to obtain a fictitious concession from President Krueger, instead of the "fair share in the government of the country" required by the Imperial Government—it was proposed originally to exclude Lord Milner altogether from the negotiations by arranging that the Transvaal Government should bring forward proposals for reform at an inter-State Conference consisting of representatives of the governments of the two Republics and the self-governing British Colonies. But Lord Milner was, happily, High Commissioner as well as Governor of the Cape. As High Commissioner, he declared that at any such Conference the Imperial Government must be separately represented. Neither the Transvaal nor the Free State was willing to enter a Conference on these terms, although they were acceptable to the Cape Government; and the plan fell to the ground.

It was then that Mr. Hofmeyr intervened, in view of Lord Milner's despatch of May 4th; and President Steyn, persuaded with dramatic swiftness to accept the role of peace-maker, which his predecessor, Sir John Brand, had played with such success in 1881, secured the grudging consent of President Krueger to meet the High Commissioner at Bloemfontein.

[Sidenote: Hofmeyr's tour de force.]

The incidents which led to the accomplishment of Hofmeyr's tour de force are singularly instructive. Lord Milner's despatch was telegraphed from Capetown about midday on May 4th. It was soon apparent that there was a leakage, legitimate or illegitimate, from the Colonial Office. On Saturday, the 6th, Mr. Schreiner received warning telegrams from trusted sources in London, including "Hofmeyr's best friends"; and on this day he wrote a letter to President Steyn containing a "proposition" of so confidential a character that it could not be telegraphed in spite of the urgent need of haste.[62] On Monday, the 8th, Mr. Schreiner received more warning telegrams, and Dr. Te Water, in writing to President Steyn, expressed his hope that the proposition, made by Schreiner in his letter of Saturday, might by this time "have been accepted, or that something had been done which would achieve the same purpose."[63] On the same day the Cape papers published an alarming telegram reproducing from The Daily Chronicle[64] a statement that the South African situation was very serious, and that the British Government was prepared to "take some risk of war." On Tuesday, the 9th, Lord Milner was present at a dinner given by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly; and Mr. Hofmeyr, who was among the guests, in the course of a long conversation with him after dinner, broached the idea of his meeting President Krueger at Bloemfontein. On Wednesday, the 10th, Lord Milner sent for Mr. Hofmeyr and discussed the subject more at length; and, a little later, when he had gone to the Governor's Office, Mr. Schreiner came in with a telegram from President Steyn, in which the Cape Prime Minister was requested to ascertain formally whether the High Commissioner would be willing to accept an invitation to meet President Krueger. This telegram Lord Milner forwarded to Mr. Chamberlain, adding that the Cape Cabinet was "strongly" in favour of acceptance, and that Schreiner himself had declared that the invitation was the result of the "influence which he (Schreiner) had been using with the Transvaal Government ever since I had warned him of the gravity of the situation."[65] Mr. Chamberlain's reply (May 12th), authorised Lord Milner to accept President Steyn's invitation, and in doing so, to state that a despatch was already on its way which contained a similar proposal made by the Imperial Government—

[Footnote 62: Letter of Te Water to Steyn. See forward, p. 162, where this letter is given.]

[Footnote 63: Ibid.]

[Footnote 64: Then under the editorship of Mr. Massingham.]

[Footnote 65: C. 9,345.]

[Sidenote: The conference arranged.]

"in the hope that, in concert with the President, you may arrive at such an arrangement as Her Majesty's Government could accept and recommend to the Uitlander population as a reasonable concession to their just demands and a settlement of the difficulties which have threatened the good relations"

between the two Governments. This was the famous despatch of May 10th, in which Mr. Chamberlain reviewed carefully and exhaustively the whole situation as between the Transvaal and the Imperial Government, and formally accepted the Uitlanders' Petition to the Queen. It was not published until June 14th, i.e., after the Bloemfontein Conference had been held. It was then issued, together with Lord Milner's despatch of May 4th, in a Blue-book containing the complete record of all discussions of Transvaal affairs subsequent to Lord Milner's appointment.

In the course of the next few days communications passed rapidly between Lord Milner, Mr. Chamberlain, President Steyn, and President Krueger, with the result that, on May 18th, President Steyn's invitation was formally accepted, and on the following day it was arranged that the Conference should begin on May 31st. Never was intervention more effective, or less obtrusive. Mr. Hofmeyr's part in the affair was confined apparently to an after-dinner conversation with the High Commissioner. Nor was the directing hand of the Master of the Bond revealed more fully until Lord Roberts's occupation of Bloemfontein placed the British authorities in possession of part of the communications which passed at this time, and during the four succeeding months, between the Cape nationalists and their republican confederates. And even in these documents Hofmeyr's name is rarely found at the end of a letter or telegram. It is Schreiner or Te Water who writes or telegraphs to Steyn or Fischer, adding sometimes, by way of emphasis, "Hofmeyr says" this or that. In the meantime (May 22nd), Lord Milner had telegraphed, for "an indication of the line" which Mr. Chamberlain wished him to take at the Conference. He himself suggested that the franchise question should be put in the foreground; since it would be useless to discuss other matters in dispute until a satisfactory settlement of this all-important question had been achieved. Mr. Chamberlain replied (May 24th), agreeing with the line indicated by Lord Milner:

"I think personally that you should lay all the stress," he telegraphed, "on the question of the franchise in the first instance. Other reforms are less pressing, and will come in time if this can be arranged satisfactorily, and the form of oath modified."

Mr. Chamberlain at the same time authorised Lord Milner to inform the Uitlander petitioners that they might rely upon obtaining the general sympathy of the Imperial Government in the prayers which they had addressed to the Queen.

[Sidenote: Motives of Afrikander leaders.]

There was no doubt in Lord Milner's mind as to the real motives which had prompted the Afrikander nationalist leaders to make this effort. They recognised at length that he was in earnest, and that Mr. Chamberlain was in earnest, and they desired, above all things, to avoid a crisis which would force a conflict before their ultimate plans had fully matured. Lord Milner knew that any delay which involved the continuance of the present position—a position which was one of moral superiority for the Dutch—would unite the whole of the Dutch, with a section of the British population, against Great Britain within a measurable period. He recognised that the franchise question was the one issue which could be raised between the paramount Power and the South African Republic in which the whole of the Cape Dutch would not throw in their lot bodily with their republican kinsmen. This very anxiety on the part of Mr. Hofmeyr to prevent the decisive action of the Imperial Government was evidence of the truth of his estimate. But as a response to the appeal of the Graaf Reinet speech, this Afrikander mediation came too late. "Hands off" the Transvaal was the first plank in the platform of the Schreiner Ministry; "reform" was a second and subsidiary plank, adopted in place of the first only when they had been driven to abandon it by Lord Milner's resolution and statesmanship. But the purpose of the Ministry now, no less than before, was to hinder, and not to help, the British Government in obtaining justice for the Uitlanders. Moreover, the Transvaal armaments were well advanced, and the Pretoria Executive was too deeply committed to a policy of defiance to allow it to draw back without humiliation. Nevertheless, Lord Milner felt bound to avail himself of any prospect of peace that the Conference might afford. When, however, Mr. Schreiner, in bringing President Steyn's telegram, had said that he regarded the proposal as "a great step in advance on the part of President Krueger," Lord Milner had replied that he could "hardly take that view, as the invitation did not emanate from President Krueger himself," and contained no indication of "the basis or subject of discussion."

[Sidenote: Krueger's obduracy.]

The High Commissioner was right. The slight degree in which any appeal adequate to the occasion was likely to prove acceptable to President Krueger may be gathered from a passage in a letter of Sir Henry de Villiers to President Steyn (May 21st), in which the Chief Justice of the Cape refers to his recent experience in Pretoria when he was on this very errand of "mediation":

"On my recent visit to Pretoria I did not visit the President, as I considered it hopeless to think of making any impression on him; but I saw Reitz, Smuts, and Schalk Burger, who, I thought, would be amenable to argument: but I fear that either my advice had no effect on them, or else their opinion had no weight with the President.

"I urged upon them to advise the President to open the Volksraad with promises of a liberal franchise and drastic reforms.

"It would have been so much better if these had come voluntarily from the Government, instead of being gradually forced from them. In the former case, they would rally the greater number of the malcontents around them; in the latter case, no gratitude will be felt to the Republic for any concessions made by it. Besides, there can be no doubt that, as the alien population increases, as it undoubtedly will, their demands will increase with their discontent, and ultimately a great deal more will have to be conceded than will now satisfy them. The franchise proposal made by the President seems to be simply ridiculous.

"I am quite certain that if in 1881 it had been known to my fellow-Commissioners that the President would adopt his retrogressive policy, neither President Brand nor I would ever have induced them to consent to sign the Convention. They would have advised the Secretary of State to let matters revert to the condition in which they were before peace was concluded; in other words, to recommence the war....

"I should like to have said a word about the dynamite monopoly, but I fear I have already exhausted your patience. My sole object in writing is to preserve the peace of South Africa. There are, of course, many unreasonable demands; but the President's position will be strengthened, and, at all events, his conscience will be clear in case of war, if he has done everything that can reasonably be expected from him. I feel sure that, having used your influence to bring him and Sir Alfred together, you will also do your best to make your efforts in favour of peace successful. I feel sure also that Sir Alfred is anxious to make his mission a success; but there can be no success unless the arrangement arrived at is a permanent one, and not merely to tide over immediate difficulties."

And again, in writing to his brother, Mr. Melius de Villiers, Chief Justice of the Free State, at a later date (July 31st), he says, in allusion to this same visit to Pretoria:

"From an intimate acquaintance with what was going on, I foresaw, three months ago, that if President Krueger did not voluntarily yield he would be made to do so, or else be prepared to meet the whole power of England. I accordingly begged of Krueger's friends to put the matter to him in this way: On the one side there is war with England; on the other side there are concessions which will avoid war or occupation of the country. Now, decide at once how far you will ultimately go; adopt the English five years' franchise; offer it voluntarily to the Uitlanders, make them your friends, be a far-sighted statesman, and you will have a majority of the Uitlanders with you when they become burghers. The answer I got was: We have done too much already, and cannot do more. Yet afterwards they did a great deal more. The same policy of doing nothing except under pressure is still being pursued. The longer the delay, the more they will have to yield."

[Sidenote: Afrikander advice.]

This was plain speaking and sound statesmanship. Nor was Mr. Merriman's appeal, written almost concurrently (May 26th) with Sir Henry's letter to President Steyn, any less emphatic. It was addressed to Mr. Abraham Fischer, a member of the Free State Executive and a convinced nationalist; and it is otherwise remarkable for an estimate of the economic conditions of the Boers which subsequent experience has completely justified:

"I most strongly urge you," he writes, "to use your utmost influence to bear on President Krueger to concede some colourable measure of reform, not so much in the interests of outsiders as in those of his own State. Granted that he does nothing. What is the future? His Boers, the backbone of the country, are perishing off the land; hundreds have become impoverished loafers, landless hangers-on of the town population. In his own interests he should recruit his Republic with new blood—and the sands are running out. I say this irrespective of agitation about Uitlanders. The fabric will go to pieces of its own accord unless something is done.... A moderate franchise reform and municipal privileges would go far to satisfy any reasonable people, while a maintenance of the oath ought to be sufficient safeguard against the swamping of the old population."[66]

[Footnote 66: All these letters are in Cd. 369.]

But the Schreiner Cabinet contained, as we have seen, a representative of Mr. Hofmeyr in the person of Dr. Te Water. Mr. Merriman could see that the position in the Transvaal was one that could not go on indefinitely—that "the fabric would go to pieces of its own accord, unless something was done." Dr. Te Water was blind even to this aspect of the question. The correspondence found after the occupation of Bloemfontein (March 13th, 1900), from which these letters are taken, contains also certain letters to President Steyn that disclose both the nature of the Afrikander mediation, as it was understood by the nationalist leaders of the Cape Colony, and the faithfulness with which Dr. Te Water served them.

The Te Water correspondence, as we have it,[67] consists of three letters written respectively on May 8th, 17th, and 27th, from "the Colonial Secretary's Office, Capetown," to President Steyn. The replies of the latter have been withheld, not unnaturally, from the public eye. In the first of these letters Dr. Te Water "hopes heartily" that Schreiner's "proposition" for the Conference has been accepted, and then proceeds to impress upon him the advisability of President Krueger's yielding on the ground, not of justice, but of temporary expediency. In so doing, this Minister of the Crown completely identifies himself with the aspirations of the Afrikander nationalists, and he concludes by asking for "a private telegraphic code. The absence thereof was badly felt on Saturday, when Schreiner was obliged to write instead of telegraphing."

[Footnote 67: Cd. 369.]

"Circumstances appear to me now," he writes, "to be such that our friends in Pretoria must be yielding; with their friends at the head of the Government here, they have a better chance that reasonable propositions made by them will be accepted than they would have had if we had been unsuccessful at the late elections and our enemies were advisers.

[Sidenote: "Play to win time".]

"Schreiner, who knows more than any one of us, feels strongly that things are extremely critical.

"Telegrams from people in London, whom he thoroughly trusts, such as J. H.'s[68] best friends, received by him on Saturday and this morning, strengthen him in his opinion. We must now play to win time. Governments are not perpetual, and I pray that the present team, so unjustly disposed towards us, may receive their reward before long. Their successors, I am certain, will follow a less hateful policy towards us. When we hear that you have succeeded in Pretoria, then we must bring influence to bear here."

[Footnote 68: Mr. Hofmeyr.]

In the second letter Dr. Te Water regrets that he cannot share President Steyn's view that "all the noise about war is bluff." Then there follows a passage showing that Mr. Steyn had entertained expectations of assistance from the Schreiner Cabinet that even Dr. Te Water could not reconcile with his ideas of ministerial allegiance:

"But now I should like a few words of explanation," he writes, "as to what you mean by saying that 'The Cape Ministry will be able to do much more good.' In what respect do you think that we can be of more use than before?"

Assuming, for the moment, that President Steyn had written, "In the event of war becoming inevitable, or having broken out, the Cape Ministry will be able to do much more good than it is doing now," or words to this effect, it would appear that he shared the erroneous views of Mr. Reitz, against which Sir Henry de Villiers had protested during his visit to Pretoria. In the letter to Mr. Melius de Villiers, from which we have quoted above, Sir Henry writes:

"When I was in the Transvaal three months ago, I found that Reitz and others had the most extraordinary notions of the powers and duties of a Cape Ministry in case of war. They are ministers of the Crown, and it will be their duty to afford every possible assistance to the British Government. Under normal conditions, a responsible Ministry is perfectly independent in matters of internal concern, but in case of war they are bound to place all the resources of the Colony at the disposal of the British Crown; at least if they did not do so they would be liable to dismissal."

Dr. Te Water then continues:

"I would very much like to know your views, and if we are not already working in that direction I will try, as far as possible, to do what I can to give effect to your wishes, which may be for the welfare of all. Please let me hear immediately and fully about this."

[Sidenote: Te Water and Steyn.]

The last letter, written on the eve of the Conference, opens with a curiously significant passage. There were some things discussed between Steyn and Te Water that Mr. Schreiner was not to know. President Steyn has been getting nervous. Dr. Te Water, therefore, reassures him:

"Yours received on my return this morning from Aberdeen. Telegram also reached me. I keep all your communications strictly private: naturally you do not exclude my colleagues and our friend Hofmeyr. I have often read extracts to them, but do not be afraid; I shall not give you away."

It also contains the information that, as President Steyn had no private code available, Dr. Te Water has borrowed the private telegraphic code of the Cabinet for President Steyn's use.

"To-day, by post, I send you personally our private telegraphic code for use. I borrowed one from Sauer; we have only three, and I must, therefore, ask you to let me have it back in a couple of weeks. Please keep it under lock, and use it yourself only. It is quite possible that you will have to communicate with us, and the telegraphic service is not entirely to be trusted. I am afraid that things leak out there in one way or another."

And he then drives home the advice given before: "It is honestly now the time to yield a little, however one may later again tighten the rope."

One other letter must be given to complete this view of the circumstances in which the conference met. It was written on May 9th, 1899—that is to say, on the day on which Mr. Hofmeyr proposed to Lord Milner that he should accept President Steyn's good offices to arrange the conference with President Krueger. It is addressed to President Steyn, and, translated, runs as follows:



"I am sorry that I could not earlier fulfil my promise as to the ammunition. The reason of it is that his honour the Commandant-General [General Joubert] was away, and I could consequently not get the desired information earlier.

"The General says that he has 15 to 20 (twenty) million Mauser and 10 to 12 million Martini-Henry cartridges, and if needed will be able to supply you with any of either sort.

"On that score your Excellency can accordingly be at rest.

"The situation looks very dark indeed, although nothing is as yet officially known to us. I trust that some change may still come in it through your proposed plan. The copies re dynamite will be sent to you at the earliest opportunity. With best greeting,

"Your humble servant and friend, "P. GROEBLER."[69]

[Footnote 69: The original of this letter is now in the possession of Mr. E. B. Iwan Mueller, by whom it was published in his work, Lord Milner and South Africa. The translation is that of the Department of Military Intelligence.]

The Cape nationalists had asked the Republics to "play for time," because they believed that, with the return of the Liberal party to power in England, it would be possible to achieve the aims of their policy without the risk of a conflict in arms. The Republics were "playing for time," but in another sense. They were waiting until their military preparations were sufficiently complete to allow them to defy the British Government.

[Sidenote: The Bloemfontein conference.]

It was in these circumstances that the High Commissioner met President Krueger in conference at Bloemfontein (May 31st—June 5th). He was accompanied only by his staff: Mr. G. V. Fiddes (Imperial Secretary), Mr. M. S. O. Walrond (Private Secretary), Colonel Hanbury Williams (Military Secretary) and Lord Belgrave (A.D.C.),[70] with Mr. Silberbauer (the interpreter) and a shorthand writer. Mr. Schreiner had been very solicitous to attend the Conference; but Lord Milner, following his usual practice, had determined to keep the affairs of the High Commissionership completely distinct from those in which he was concerned as Governor of the Cape Colony. The absence both of the Prime Minister and Mr. Hofmeyr was not unnaturally a matter of "sincere regret" to Dr. Te Water, as he informed President Steyn on the eve of the Conference.[71] Nor did Lord Milner avail himself of President Steyn's willingness to take part in the proceedings; but, at the High Commissioner's suggestion, Mr. Fischer (who was a member of the Free State Executive) was invited to act as interpreter—a duty which he discharged to the satisfaction of both parties. With President Krueger there went to Bloemfontein Mr. Schalk Burger and Mr. A. D. Wolmarans (members of the Transvaal Executive), Mr. J. C. Smuts (the State Attorney), and two other officials. All of these, the High Commissioner's Staff, and Mr. Fischer were present at the meetings of the Conference; but the actual discussion was confined to Lord Milner and President Krueger.[72] As regards the business in hand, the failure to publish the despatch of May 4th had deprived Lord Milner of what would have proved a helpful influence. Mr. Hofmeyr's action had procured an opportunity for "friendly discussion." But the friendliness was to be all on the side of the Imperial Government. For the purpose of the Afrikander leaders was, as we have seen, to secure a fictitious concession on the part of President Krueger. Lord Milner's aim was to obtain by friendly discussion a genuine and substantial measure of reform; and the prospect of his success would have been greatly increased if this despatch and Mr. Chamberlain's reply to it had been before the public when the Conference took place. It was written with the object of making the British people and President Krueger alike aware how grave was the judgment which he had formed of the existing situation. With England alive to the near danger which threatened her supremacy in South Africa, and President Krueger brought to understand that the man with whom he had to deal was one who held these opinions, Lord Milner could have been "friendly" without the risk of having his friendliness mistaken for a readiness to accept the illusory concession which was all that the Afrikander mediation was intended to secure.

[Footnote 70: 2nd. Lieut. Royal Horse Guards. Exactly one year after the last day of the Conference (June 5th), he (then A.D.C. to Lord Roberts and Duke of Westminster) ran up the British flag over the Raadzaal at Pretoria.]

[Footnote 71: Letter of May 27th (in Cd. 369).]

[Footnote 72: Lord Milner left Capetown by special train at 8.30 a.m. on Monday, May 29th, and reached Bloemfontein punctually at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Here he was met by President Steyn and various officials of the Free State; and an address of welcome was presented to him by the Mayor of Bloemfontein upon his arrival at the private house which had been provided for his accommodation during the Conference. At eleven o'clock on the following morning, Wednesday, the 31st, the High Commissioner went to the Presidency, where he was introduced by Mr. Steyn to President Krueger, Mr. Schalk Burger and Mr. Wolmarans. The first meeting of the Conference took place in the afternoon at 2.30, in the new offices of the Railway Department. In the evening a largely attended reception was given by President Steyn, at which Mr. Krueger was present for a short time and Lord Milner for about an hour. The Conference closed on the afternoon of Monday, June 5th, and Lord Milner then paid a farewell visit to President Steyn. The High Commissioner's special train left Bloemfontein on the following morning at 10.30, and reached Capetown at 6.45 on the evening of Wednesday, the 7th, where he was received by a large crowd, including three of the Cape Ministers and a number of Progressive Members of Parliament. President Steyn, who was present at the station on Tuesday morning to see the High Commissioner off, did everything possible for the comfort and convenience of his state guest during the week that he was in Bloemfontein. The proceedings of the Conference, with the High Commissioner's report upon them, are published in C. 9,404.]

[Sidenote: Lord Milner's attitude.]

As it was, Lord Milner was placed in a position of great embarrassment. If he "used plain language" he exposed himself to the charge of entering upon the discussion in an aggressive spirit, calculated to make agreement difficult. If he adopted a conciliatory tone, his arguments seemed to be nothing more than the abortive protests with which the grim old President had cheerfully filled the republican waste-paper basket for the last ten years. It has been suggested that Lord Milner might have obtained a better result if he had shown himself less "inflexible"; if, in short, he had been willing to accept a "compromise." But any such criticism is based upon an entire misunderstanding of the method which the High Commissioner did, in fact, adopt. The five years' franchise—the Bloemfontein minimum—was in itself a compromise. What Lord Milner said, in effect, to President Krueger was this: "I have a whole sheaf of grievances against you: the dynamite monopoly, excessive railway rates, interference with the independence of the judiciary, a vicious police system, administrative corruption, municipal abuses, and the rest. I will let all these go in exchange for one thing—a franchise reform which will give at once to a fair proportion of the Uitlander population some appreciable representation in the government of the Republic." Lord Milner not only offered a compromise, but a compromise that enormously reduced the area of dispute. His "inflexibility" arose from the simple fact that, having readily and frankly yielded all that could be yielded without sacrificing the paramount object of securing a permanent settlement of the Uitlander question, he had nothing further to concede, and said so.

[Sidenote: President Krueger.]

No two men more characteristic of the two utterly unlike and antagonistic political systems, which they respectively represented, could have been found. At the evening reception given by President Steyn on the opening day of the Conference, a big man, in a tightly buttoned frock-coat, stood just inside the door for ten minutes, and then moved awkwardly away. Above the frock-coat was a peasant's face, half-shrewd, half-furtive, with narrow eyes and a large, crooked mouth which somehow gave the man a look of power. This was President Krueger, aetat. 74. Once, doubtless, Paul Krueger's large and powerful frame had made him an impressive figure among a race of men as stalwart as the Boers. But he was now an old man: the powerful body had become shapeless and unwieldy; he had given up walking, and only left his stoep to drag himself clumsily into his carriage, and although he retained all his old tenacity of purpose, his mind had lost much of its former alertness. It needed all Mr. Smuts' mental resources—all that the young Afrikander had so recently learnt at Cambridge and the Temple—to enable the old President to maintain, even by the aid of his State-Attorney's ingenious paper pleadings, a decent show of defence against the perfect moderation and relentless logic with which the High Commissioner presented the British case. Lord Milner went to the Conference to make "one big straightforward effort to avert a great disaster"; Krueger to drive a "Kafir bargain." The end was as Lord Milner had foreseen. To yield the necessary instalment of reform seemed to President Krueger, in this mind, "worse than annexation"; and on June 5th Lord Milner declared, "The Conference is absolutely at an end, and there is no obligation on either side arising out of it."

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