As to an armistice, he now also at first said nothing; but after some moments' reflection he said, as if the thought had just occurred to him, that it seemed better for him to ask his Government to make proposals which could be regarded as compensation to the Boers for the surrender of their Independence. What he suggested was, of course, immediately accepted, and the following cablegram, drafted in accordance therewith, was sent by him to his Government:—
[Footnote 1: What the Republican Governments had repeatedly requested.]
FROM LORD KITCHENER TO SECRETARY OF STATE. PRETORIA, April 14, 1902.
"A difficulty has arisen in getting on with proceedings. The Representatives state that constitutionally they have no power to discuss terms based on the surrender of Independence, inasmuch as only the burghers can agree to such a basis, therefore if they were to propose terms it would put them in a false position with regard to their people. If, however, His Majesty's Government could state the terms that, subsequent to a relinquishment of Independence, they would be prepared to grant, the Representatives, after asking for the necessary explanations, without any expression of approval or disapproval, would submit such conditions to their people."
On the following (Thursday) morning, April 17th, Lord Kitchener requested the members of the Republican Governments to meet him again, and laid before them the following cablegram which he had received the previous day:—
FROM SECRETARY OF STATE TO LORD KITCHENER. LONDON, April 16, 1902.
"We have received with considerable surprise the message from the Boer leaders contained in your telegram. The meeting has been arranged at their request, and they must have been aware of our repeated declarations that we could not entertain any proposals based on the renewed Independence of the two South African States. We were therefore entitled to assume that the Boer Representatives had relinquished the idea of Independence and would propose terms of surrender for the forces still in the field. They now state they are constitutionally incompetent to discuss terms which do not include a restoration of Independence, but ask us to inform them what conditions would be granted if, after submitting the matter to their followers, they were to relinquish the demand for Independence.
"This does not seem to us a satisfactory method of proceeding, or one best adapted to secure at the earliest moment a cessation of the hostilities which have involved the loss of so much life and treasure. We are, however, as we have been from the first, anxious to spare the effusion of further blood and to hasten the restoration of peace and prosperity to the countries afflicted by the war, and you and Lord Milner are authorised to refer the Boer leaders to the offer made by you to General Botha more than twelve months ago, and to inform them that although subsequently great reduction in the strength of the forces opposed to us and the additional sacrifices thrown upon us by the refusal of that offer would justify us in proposing far more onerous terms, we are still prepared, in the hope of a permanent peace and reconciliation, to accept a general surrender on the lines of that offer, but with such modifications in details as may be mutually agreed upon."
[Footnote 2: For the Middelburg Proposals, see p. 210.]
The conference was not long. The Governments left the room to consult with one another. They resolved again to ask Lord Kitchener that a member of the Deputation should be allowed to come over to them, and that an armistice should be agreed upon, to enable them to consult the people.
On returning they submitted to Lord Kitchener and to Lord Milner as their reply the following resolution, which they had taken at their private conference:—
"The Governments, considering that the People have hitherto fought, and sacrificed everything for their Independence, and that they constitutionally have not the power to make any proposals affecting the Independence, and since the British Government now ask for other proposals from them, which they cannot make without having previously consulted the People, they propose that an armistice be agreed upon to enable them to do so. At the same time they request that a member of the Deputation in Europe should be allowed to come over to see them."
Lord Kitchener, without hesitation, replied that considering the matter from a military point of view he could by no means allow one or more of the members of the Deputation to come to South Africa. He asked, why that should be done, as there was really nothing happening in Europe that could help the Boers. This, he said, the Governments could see for themselves from the newspapers. He could also give them the assurance of it on his word of honour. Lord Kitchener also gave his decision with regard to an armistice. He could not grant it; but said he was willing to do what he could. He was prepared to give the Governments every possible opportunity and assistance to enable them to obtain the views of the people, by means of delegates, as requested by them. For that purpose he would give the Generals the use of the railway and telegraph. They could go to the people, and call them together to meetings where they could ascertain what the burghers thought on the matter in question, and elect delegates.
The Republican Governments then decided to lay the whole matter before their people, who would elect delegates, to decide as to the continuance or otherwise of the war, and to instruct their Governments in accordance with the decision to be taken by them.
It was decided that the South African Republic and the Orange Free State should each elect thirty delegates. This division was adopted irrespective of the number of burghers in the field in the respective Republics, because each Republic was considered as a separate Power.
A meeting then took place between Lord Kitchener and Generals Botha, de Wet, and de la Rey, at which it was decided where the various meetings would be held in the two Republics for the purpose of electing delegates. Lord Kitchener also undertook not to operate in the vicinity of the places where the various meetings would be held during the time of the meeting, and further that he would attack no commandos of which the Chief Officer might be elected as a delegate, provided the persons who conducted the meetings notified him of the election of such Officer.
It was further decided that the Delegates would meet at Vereeniging on Thursday, May 15th, 1902. A promise was also given that the Government Camps would not be attacked until the meeting began at Vereeniging on May 15th.
In the Orange Free State, Chief Commandant de Wet and General Hertzog conducted the meetings, at which the elections took place. In the South African Republic these meetings were conducted as follows:—On the High Veld by the Commandant General; in the Western districts by the Acting State President and General J. H. de la Rey; in the North-eastern districts by General L. J. Meyer and Mr. J. C. Krogh; and in the districts of Zoutpansberg and Waterberg by State Secretary Reitz, the Assistant State Attorney L. J. Jacobsz, and General C. F. Beyers.
The districts were represented as much as possible in proportion to the numerical strength of the various commandos.
Each of the Leaders who conducted the meetings was supplied with a resume of the negotiations as set forth above, as well as with a copy of the Peace proposals made by Lord Kitchener to General Botha in March, 1901 (known as the "Middelburg Proposals"), which documents were read out to the burghers at each meeting.
On the morning of Thursday, May 15th, 1902, the members of both the Governments and all the delegates had arrived at Vereeniging, and business was at once proceeded with.
Tents, &c., had been pitched there by Lord Kitchener for their accommodation during the deliberations. In the middle of this camp stood a large tent, which could easily accommodate the sixty representatives, and the members of the Republican Governments. On the one side were the tents for the Government and delegates of the Orange Free State, and on the other side for the Government and delegates of the South African Republic.
The following delegates represented the South African Republic:—
NAME. COMMANDO REPRESENTED.
1—General H. A. Alberts Heidelberg. 2—Commandant J. J. Alberts Standerton and Wakkerstroom, south-west of the Natal Railway. 3—Commandant J. F. de Beer Bloemhof. 4—General C. J. Brits Standerton. 5—Acting Landrost H. J. Bosman Wakkerstroom. 6—General Chris. Botha Swazieland, and portion of State Artillery under Captain von Wichman. 7—C. Birkenstock Vryheid. 8—Assistant-Commandant General C. F. Beyers Waterberg. 9—Field-Cornet B. H. Breytenbach Utrecht. 10—J. de Clercq Middelburg (south of railway). 11—General J. G. Cilliers Lichtenburg. 12—Field-Cornet T. A. Doenges Heidelberg (town) and Corps Capts. Hindon and McKenny. 13—Commandant H. S. Grobler Bethel. 14—J. L. Grobler Carolina. 15—General J. N. H. Grobler Ermelo. 16—Field-Cornet B. J. van Heerden Rustenburg. 17—Captain J. F. Jordaan Vryheid Corps and First Scouting Corps. 18—General J. Kemp Krugersdorp. 19—General P. J. Liebenberg Potchefstroom. 20—General C. H. Muller Boksburg and Middleburg (north of railway). 21—J. Naude Pretoria (town) and detached Commando under General de la Rey. 22—Commandant D. J. E. Opperman Pretoria (south of railway). 23—Field-Cornet P. D. Roux Marico. 24—Commandant D. J. Schoeman Lydenburg. 25—Landrost Stoffberg Zoutpansberg. 26—General S. P. Du Toit Wolmaransstad. 27—Commandant P. L. Uys Pretoria (north of railway). 28—Commandant W. J. Viljoen Johannesburg. 29—P. R. Viljoen Heidelberg. 30—Field-Cornet B. Roos Piet Retief.
The following delegates represented the Orange Free State:—
1—Assistant-Chief Commandant G. C. F. Badenhorst Boshof, Hoopstad (west), Bloemfontein, Winburg, and Kroonstad. 2—Commandant A. J. Bester Bethlehem. 3—Commandant A. J. Bester Bloemfontein. 4—Commandant L. P. H. Botha Harrismith. 5—Assistant-Chief Commandant G. A. Brand Bethulie, Caledon River, Rouxville, Wepener, and Bloemfontein (east). 6—Commandant H. J. Bruwer Bethlehem. 7—Commandant D. H. van Coller Heilbron. 8—Commandant F. R. Cronje Winburg. 9—Commandant D. F. H. Flemming Hoopstad. 10—Assistant-Chief Commandant C. C. Froneman Winburg and Ladybrand. 11—Assistant-Chief Commandant F. J. W. J. Hattingh Kroonstad (east) and Heilbron. 12—Commandant J. A. M. Hertzog Philippolis. 13—Commandant J. N. Jacobs Boshof. 14—Commandant F. P. Jacobsz Harrismith. 15—Commandant A. J. de Kock Vrede. 16—Commandant J. J. Koen Ladybrand. 17—Field-Cornet H. J. Kritzinger Kroonstad. 18—Commandant F. E. Mentz Heilbron. 19—Commandant J. A. P. van der Merwe Heilbron. 20—Commandant C. A. van Niekerk Kroonstad. 21—Commandant H. van Niekerk President Steyn's Guard. 22—Commandant J. J. van Niekerk Ficksburg. 23—Assistant-Chief Commandant T. K. Nieuwoudt Philippolis, Fauresmith, Jacobsdal, and portion Bloemfontein. 24—Commandant H. P. J. Pretorius Jacobsdal. 25—Assistant-Chief Commandant A. M. Prinsloo Bethlehem and Ficksburg. 26—Commandant L. J. Rautenbach Bethlehem. 27—Commandant F. J. Rheeder Rouxville. 38—Commandant A. Ross Vrede. 29—Commandant P. W. de Vos Kroonstad. 30—Assistant-Chief Commandant W. J. Wessels Harrismith and Vrede.
At the request of the Government of the South African Republic, and with the assistance of Lord Kitchener, General J. C. Smuts, the State Attorney, had also come from the Cape Colony to assist his Government as legal adviser.
At eleven o'clock all the delegates met in the large tent and took and subscribed to the following oath before the Acting State President of the South African Republic:—
"We the undersigned swear solemnly that we, as special representatives of the people, will be faithful to our people and country and Government, and serve them faithfully, and that we will diligently perform our duties with the necessary secrecy, as behoves faithful burghers and representatives of the people. So help us God Almighty.
"Vereeniging, South African Republic, May 15th, 1902."
After a few matters concerning the conduct of the meeting had been settled, a discussion arose on the question whether the representatives had come with definite instructions from their electors or whether they should decide here for the people according to circumstances.
President Steyn, Chief Commandant de Wet, and General de la Rey thought that the delegates had definite instructions.
Commandant-General Botha said that before they separated at Pretoria the understanding was that the delegates should decide here at Vereeniging. It could not be expected that the people could give them definite instructions, because they were not fully acquainted with the circumstances all over the country. Here the delegates should ascertain from the Governments and from their fellow-delegates what the condition was in both the Republics and in the Cape Colony, and then, taking everything into account, come to a decision.
General Meyer was also of opinion that the delegates could not be tied. Suppose, for instance, that the Governments could retain the independence of the Republics by surrendering a portion of their territory, then those delegates who had a definite instruction to vote only for independence could not vote for such a surrender, because that would not be the maintenance of their full independence. And then at the elections the leaders had also told the people that the Governments could not communicate everything to them, but that they would do so to the delegates here.
President Steyn remarked that the meeting stood before an accomplished fact, from which they could not get away, because as far as he knew the most of the delegates had definite instructions how to vote.
General de la Rey said that if they still had hopes of retaining their independence, it was a good thing that the delegates had definite instructions, because these instructions were in the most cases to retain independence. This the enemy knew, and therefore the Republican Governments had so much more power.
Acting State President Burger thought that the matter was fraught with danger on both sides. If, for instance, the majority of the representatives had been instructed to vote for terms, this would hamper the Governments very much if the enemy came to know about it. On the other hand, if it was decided here to continue the war, it would be said that the leaders kept the people in the field. Where he had been, the people had unanimously decided to give up everything, but not the independence. However, they were now together to get a general view of their whole position, and each one should then decide as he thought proper, unto which decision the minority must bow.
General Hertzog said that he had acted as General Botha had done. Where he had conducted elections the burghers had left everything in the hands of their representatives. These should know how to justify to their electors the vote which they would cast.
General Botha asked what the delegates came to do? On the basis of their independence the British did not wish to negotiate. The representatives should thus decide whether the people could continue with the struggle, or whether they should come to terms with the enemy. The people themselves could not take a proper resolution because they were not properly informed.
General Hertzog said that this was a legal matter. It was a legal principle that a delegate could not be considered a mere mouthpiece of his constituents, but that in matters of a public nature he was virtually a plenipotentiary. The delegates could thus form their opinions according to what they learnt here, provided they adhere to what was the spirit of the people, and provided they are convinced from the facts laid before them, that if those facts were known to the people, the people would have instructed them to vote as they did.
General Smuts concurred fully with the opinion of General Hertzog.
As appeared from the disposition of the delegates, they acted in the spirit of this legal opinion.
The Acting State President acted as temporary Chairman, and caused the meeting to elect a permanent Chairman.
The following gentlemen were nominated as candidates:—General Beyers, J. de Clercq, General Brand, General Froneman, and General Wessels.
General Beyers was elected Chairman with 19 votes, while the others obtained 13, 11, 10, and 6 votes respectively.
After a short address, the Chairman adjourned the meeting till the afternoon.
In the afternoon the meeting was opened with prayer by the Rev. J. D. Kestell.
Acting State President S. W. Burger then addressed the meeting as follows:—We are here under peculiar circumstances. Many who commenced this struggle with us are no longer with us. The war has claimed its victims, and many who were highly esteemed by us have fallen or have been captured, or, alas, have become unfaithful. We have only reached the foot of the mountain, and everything now depends upon you as representatives of the people. Here we shall have to decide whether, under the circumstances, we can or must continue the war. We may not deny that our position is very critical and gloomy. Let us conduct ourselves as behoves comrades who have a common cause at heart. We shall have to say much about the future. Opinions will be widely divergent, and therefore it is important that we bear with one another and be not afraid to express our opinions in a manly way. You know what gave occasion for this meeting. A copy of the correspondence between the Netherlands and British Governments was sent to us by Lord Kitchener under instructions from his Government. When the Government of the South African Republic received this correspondence they thought it should be considered as an invitation to negotiate. They also considered that the opportunity should be availed of to discuss matters with the Orange Free State, and requested Lord Kitchener to enable them to meet the Government of that Republic to consider the advisability of making peace proposals to Britain. We met and discussed the matter at Klerksdorp. Then we negotiated with Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner, and the outcome of it all was the document (with the correspondence between the two Governments and the British Government attached), which was submitted to all the commandos. We felt that we had no power to decide with reference to the question of independence, and that it was only in our power to conclude a peace by which the independence would be maintained. As to the independence, only the people could decide. And for that purpose you are here. We, the members of the Governments, are here to give you advice and explanation. As you know, the enemy will not hear of letting us retain our independence, but they are willing to negotiate for terms on the basis of the relinquishment of our independence. If we consider all we have sacrificed and suffered, and for what we have sacrificed and suffered, it is very hard for us to think of giving up our independence, but we are not here to consult our hearts but our heads. You must now give an account of the condition of our country and of our women and children. You must determine whether, after all the sacrifices that we have made, we are prepared to make further sacrifices. If we have no prospects, we cannot proceed and allow our people to be further exterminated. It will be hard after all that we have done to surrender our independence, but we must consult our heads. The Governments will do nothing without the people, and it is for you now to consider all the circumstances and decide, and if you, for instance, arrive at the conclusion that we have resorted to our last expedient, will it be right to continue? Let each one frankly express his opinion. As far as I am concerned, I do not flinch yet. But I wish to know what the people say. A year ago the Governments decided never to give up the independence, but to continue the struggle until we could do so no longer, and then to surrender unconditionally; but if we become convinced that our strength and resources are exhausted we should consider whether we should not still try to do something for our people. Or shall we continue until all the leaders and many burghers are banished or killed? By a frank expression of opinion we shall be enabled to decide what course to pursue.
Here I must draw your attention to a difficulty that has arisen. Some of you have received definite instructions from the people from which it appears you consider you cannot deviate. Others have received authority to act according to circumstances. Now I believe that this need not cause a difference; in any case let it not cause a split among us. We must be unanimous here, and if we are, then the people will also be unanimous. If we are divided here, what will the people be?
At this juncture a letter was read, written five months before by the Deputation in Europe, and safely brought out by a person whose name was not mentioned. The letter contained much, and maintained, among other things, that in Europe the Boer cause was then more favourable than ever before.
The Chairman now gave the Generals and Delegates an opportunity of laying before the meeting the general condition in their respective divisions.
Commandant General Botha said: In the Utrecht district there are not sufficient mealies to support the commandos long, and then there could be no question of supplying the horses with mealies. There was still a considerable number of slaughter cattle. In Swazieland there was no grain, nor was there any in Wakkerstroom, so that the commandos could not exist there for another month. In Ermelo and Carolina there was still sufficient corn to exist on for some little time, say two or three months, and sufficient slaughter-cattle for the winter, if the cattle and sheep belonging to the burghers were indiscriminately taken. Most of the grain belonged to the Kaffirs. What had been sown was too near the enemy, otherwise they would have provisions for a considerable time still. In Bethal, Standerton, and Middelburg there was no corn whatever, and they could still hold out for one month at the utmost. The Heidelberg and Pretoria commandos have no corn to live on. In the neighbourhood of Boksburg and Springs there was a considerable quantity of mealies—the old mealie-cobs of last year—but the commandos have been squeezed out from those parts by the blockhouses. They had absolutely no slaughter-cattle. In a great area there was no living animal except horses, and when he was with the men a few days ago, three days had passed since they had had meat. All that Middelburg (south-east of the railway) possessed of slaughter-cattle was 36 goats. Wakkerstroom also was entirely without slaughter-cattle. The condition on the High Veld as regards horses was very bad. The burghers were hard pressed by the enemy, and many were unmounted. The horses were now so weak that the commandos could not undertake a long journey. The Kaffir question became daily more serious. Shortly before his departure for Vereeniging 56 burghers were murdered in Vryheid by Kaffirs who came from the English lines. All the Kaffirs in the South-eastern portion of the Republic were more or less under arms, and this had an unfavourable influence on the spirit of the burghers. Furthermore they had a considerable number of families who were in a most lamentable condition. The entire High Veld was divided up by the lines of blockhouses, and the commandos were so cornered that they had continually to cross these lines of the railway, and then a fortnight often passed before the husbands could return to attend to their families. It had happened that women had to flee to Kaffirs to be helped by them. Many were attacked and raped by the Kaffirs. Truly the condition of these women was the saddest thing with which he had had to do in this war.
Coming to the numerical strength of the burghers, they had in the field in the South African Republic 10,816 men, of which 3,296 were unmounted, leaving thus only 7,520 men who were available for use. Since last June their numbers had been diminished by 6,084 men. The most of these had been captured, but the number included the surrenders and killed. They still had about 2,540 families. What their condition was he had already described, and what the difficulties were to support them, the delegates could imagine themselves. Summoning up all in one word the Commandant General concluded by saying that the greatest difficulties lay in the questions concerning horses and food, and the maintenance of the families.
Chief Commandant de Wet said that he would leave it to the delegates who were officers to give an account of the conditions obtaining in their respective districts. They came from far and near, and knew what the condition of matters was. He could, however, inform the meeting that the number of burghers in the Orange Free State was 6,100, of which about 400 were not serviceable. The Basutos were as well disposed towards the Boers as ever before.
General de la Rey said that he did not know exactly what was expected of him, and that it was the duty of the delegates to give an account of the condition of affairs. He could say this, however, that food was scarce in his division a year ago, and that was so still, but no one had suffered hunger yet. If a burgher had no food he had to fetch it from the enemy. He also thought it would be better to leave it to the delegates to give an account of the conditions in their respective divisions.
General Beyers said, I shall be brief. As regards food, we obtain supplies from the hostile Kaffirs, who are all, with the exception of one tribe, in rebellion against us. In Waterberg all the Kaffirs are sitting on the fence, and are in a way still well disposed, so that we cannot take anything from them, but must purchase what we want. What we require in Zoutpansberg we take. The Kaffirs fire on us, but then we shoot back. It is our good fortune that there is no co-operation between the Kaffirs in Zoutpansberg, otherwise they could make matters difficult for us. When the British forces are operating against us the Kaffirs are very troublesome, because the English use the Kaffirs. The greatest difficulties with which we have to cope are: fever, horse-sickness, and the Kaffirs. Food we have in abundance. I think there is sufficient food in the Zoutpansberg district to support the burghers of the South African Republic and of the Orange Free State for a year. The British, however, are buying up much grain there now at 10s. a bag and removing it.
General Muller remarked that everything was scarce with him, but that the burghers had never suffered hunger yet. He had cattle for two months still, if he slaughtered everything. His great difficulty was in connection with the families when the Kaffirs were rebellious. If provisions became scarce he intended to obtain these from the Kaffirs. In his opinion he could still hold out to the end of the winter.
General Froneman (Winburg and Ladybrand) had no reason to complain. They had sufficient food still. There were many women and children in his division, altogether about 80 families, who had to be supported. The Kaffirs were particularly peaceable, and always prepared to assist in supplying them with clothing out of Basutoland. When he ran short of cattle he took some again from the enemy. He saw his way clear to continue the struggle for another year.
Commandant Hattingh (Kroonstad) informed the meeting that he still had much cattle, sheep and grain, sufficient for a year. The district of Heilbron had been entirely depleted of provisions, but he had supplied them again from the Bethlehem district.
Commandant Badenhorst (portion Bloemfontein, Boshof and Kroonstad) stated that in his districts there were still thousands of cattle and sheep, and therefore he could hold out for another year. The farmers had cattle on their farms, and then there was always a chance of capturing from the enemy. On one occasion he captured 1,500 cattle from the enemy, and he also saw a chance of obtaining cattle by this means for other parts. Hundreds of cattle and thousands of sheep could still be spared in his district for other districts. Grain was not so plentiful as it had been the previous year, but they could still raise so much that they could even supply others.
General Nieuwoudt (S.W. and S. portions of O.F.S.) said that during the last seven months the enemy had destroyed everything in his districts. The Fauresmith district had been totally devastated. No cattle had been left there. There were only about 70 bags of grain left, but they still managed to live well. He had found out that even when they had nothing they managed to get along. His horses were now in excellent condition. If they could sow he saw a chance of raising food for another year. In his division there were only about three women.
General Prinsloo (Ficksburg and Bethlehem) stated that he would not be speaking the truth if he said that there was no food, in his division. He had no cause for complaint yet on that score. Latterly many forces of the enemy had operated against him, and all the cattle had been removed from the Southern Ward, but in the other Wards there was still much cattle. They could help other districts from there. Unfortunately, however, cattle could not be moved from those Wards on account of the blockhouses. Further, he thought that the Lord would provide for them. Recently one of his Commandants had discovered what he might call a gold mine, in which there were 150 bags of mealies.
General Brand (Rouxville, &c.) said that the enemy had overrun his districts very much, built blockhouses, removed cattle, and destroyed grain. Portions of his division had been totally ruined. Everything had been removed, and not even a sheep was left. It frequently happened that for two or three days they were without food, but then they fortunately captured some food again. There were only nine women in his division. He had the means to continue for another year.
General Wessels (Vrede, Harrismith, and Frankfort) informed the meeting that the Khakis had latterly dealt fearfully with him. They moved up and down in his division, and he thought that nothing would be left, but he always found food still. It was a marvel to him that sheep, cattle and grain were still to be found there. Even if the enemy removed all the cattle he saw a chance of maintaining the struggle on the grain that would be left, and he knew for certain that he would be able to capture much cattle from the enemy. Only recently he had brought 300 head of cattle from Natal, and they had also discovered a cave containing 300 bags of mealies. As regards slaughter-cattle, he thought he had enough to last them for another three months.
Commandant van Niekerk (Vredefort) had to admit that his district had been entirely devastated, and that he had been forced out of it, so that they could neither plough nor sow. However, in Hoopstad and Kroonstad they had sown 35 bags of grain. The enemy had built blockhouses right through the middle of his division. There was no cattle, but he had captured 1,000 sheep and 52 head of cattle, and thought that in some way or other he would still manage to obtain food for another year.
Commandant van der Merwe said that matters with him were much the same as in the districts of Commandant van Niekerk. Everything was scarce, but they had not yet suffered hunger.
General J. C. Smuts related how his expedition to the Cape Colony had originated, and how it had been carried out. Last year, he said, it was the opinion of President Kruger and of their Deputation in Europe that there was good hope for their cause from the Cape Colony. On that ground and also on the reports that they received from there, it was decided to send General de la Rey thither to assume the supreme command as soon as the Cape was strong enough to be considered a third party in the struggle. Later, however, they came to the conclusion that it would be best to act more cautiously, that General de la Rey could hardly be missed in the Western Transvaal, that he (General Smuts) should go with a small commando to ascertain what the possibilities in the Cape Colony were. "I went," he continued, "with 300 men, while 100 men followed me, but 100 men I had to leave behind with General Kritzinger because their horses were too poor. We had a very difficult journey, certainly the most difficult that I and my people ever experienced. I went through the whole of the Cape Colony. I proceeded to Grahamstown, then to Graaff Reinet, and down to the coast again. With a few exceptions I met all the commandos in the Cape Colony. I questioned the leaders and thus came to be well informed on everything. Commandant Kritzinger did not follow me according to agreement, and as I saw that there was a danger of disorder arising I took everything under my command. I found that there were about 1,400 or 1,500 men under arms, and not 3,000 as had been reported. To obtain the exact numbers, however, was almost impossible. Commandant Lotter was captured with his whole commando of 100 men. I have now been in the Cape Colony for about a year, and the number that joined us in that time was about 1,400. The number of men under arms had thus been doubled, and but for the losses there would now have been 3,000 men. There are now about 2,600 men under my command, but then there is another division sent in by General de la Rey under General de Villiers in Griqualand West, about 700 strong, and another in Bechuanaland under Commandant van der Merwe. There are thus about 3,300 men operating in the Cape Colony, and this does not include the men under Myburgh, Wessels, and van Reenen, of whom I know nothing.
The question now is: What help can be expected from the Cape Colony for our cause? There will be no general rising in the Cape. We had very good expectations, and thought that it would not be difficult to cause a general rising there. The people are very enthusiastic—more so than with us; but they have peculiar difficulties. The first is with reference to horses. The British have taken all the horses that could be used, and shot the useless ones. There is, therefore, a great scarcity of horses in the Cape Colony. And, further, it is extraordinarily difficult for the Colonist to rise if he has to fight on foot with the knowledge that if he is captured he will have to undergo heavy punishment. Unmounted men cannot fight in the Cape Colony. You can operate only with mounted commandos, and as we have no horses we cannot accept a tenth of those who are willing to join us. On account of this deficiency of horses, we cannot expect a general rising. Another great difficulty is the absence of grass. The veld over the entire Cape Colony is overgrown with bushes (scrub). There is no grass as in the Republics. Where you have no forage, therefore, the horses cannot exist. Where I have been latterly there is wheat, and I fed my horses on that, but now the wheat is becoming scarce, and there is no prospect of obtaining any more on account of the proclamations of the British, which prohibit all sowing. We have, indeed, issued a counter proclamation, but that has not helped. The question of horses and forage is thus a great stumbling-block for our cause in the Cape. In my opinion, the small commandos in the Cape Colony have done their best. Three British camps were lately taken by them.
The question now arose whether commandos from the Republics could proceed to the Cape Colony, and whether there was an opening for them there.—Yes, there was an opening, but the difficulty was how to get there. More of our commandos from the Republics would be able to exist in the Cape Colony if food became too scarce here, but the great trouble was how to get there. The British have now about 50,000 English and Dutch Africanders under arms.—These conditions have led me to the conclusion that there will be no general rising in the Cape Colony, and that the continuance of the war will depend more on the Republics than upon the Cape Colony."
The meeting was then adjourned till the evening.
On re-assembling, the first speaker was Commandant P. L. Uys (district Pretoria), who said that in his commando there were only 153 mounted men; the other 128 burghers were unmounted. There were still about 2,000 head of cattle, and grain enough to last them for a month. All the Kaffirs in his district were hostile, with the exception of the captain Matello. In the portion of Middelburg under him there were 26 mounted men and 38 burghers on foot.
Commandant H. S. Grobler (Bethal) stated that during all the summer he had had no rest. He still had a commando of 150 men, but no food, and he could trek nowhere, because his horses were too poor. Only recently he had to break through a cordon (kraal), and managed to get through with only 153 men, while 63 were captured. The Bethal district had been devastated from the one end to the other. There was no food left for his commandos, nor for the 300 women and children, who were in a pitiable condition. They were not only without the necessaries of life, but also exposed to danger from the Kaffirs, who had already raped some of the women, which drove some of them to take refuge in the blockhouses.
General Chris. Botha remarked that he represented Swazieland. With regard to provisions, the supply of mealies was almost exhausted. They lived on what they could get from the Kaffirs as a favour. There were no more women with them. His commando of 113 men was still in the Piet Retief district. They had no grain, and had to proceed from one Kaffir-kraal to another to purchase food, which required money. However, they still managed to live. In this way he had helped the Transvaal for two and a half years, and now that he heard that there was food in the Orange Free State he would proceed thither and help them for two and a half years. In the Piet Retief district they had grain for about two months, but no cattle, and they had to live on what they could capture from the enemy. There were 65 families still there, and it was hard to provide for them. Their position was very critical.
Mr. Birkenstock (Vryheid) said that he would go more fully into a few points relating to his district than the Commandant General had been able to do in his general review. In Vryheid during the last six or eight months they had been much harassed by large forces, and the district had been completely devastated. The presence of the families caused the greatest difficulties. Latterly the British refused to receive any more families. They were also continually in danger from Kaffirs, who were decidedly hostile to them. Horses and corn were scarce. But yet, as far as grain was concerned, they would manage, if the enemy did not again make incursions into that district. Recently in the early morning, before daybreak, a Kaffir commando had attacked a Boer commando consisting of 70 men, of whom they had killed 56. The families in that district had said to him: "You must make peace in any case," and he felt it his duty to inform the meeting of this.
General Alberts (Heidelberg) said that for the last twelve months they had had no rest in his district. During the past year they had not been able to plough and sow at all, and a commando could no longer exist there. Three times had they been enclosed in a cordon (kraal), but had fortunately always managed to get out. They had no slaughter-cattle themselves, but had received some from Commandant Roos, of the Orange Free State. His horses were in a most deplorable condition.
Landrost Bosman (Wakkerstroom) informed the meeting how matters stood in the Wakkerstroom district. They were dependent upon the Kaffirs for grain; in fact, for everything except meat. They bartered meat from the Kaffirs for mealies. But this year there were scarcely any mealies, and what there were had been badly spoilt by the enemy. With the supply they had, they would be able to manage for another two months, and out of this the families with them would also have to be supported. The supply of slaughter-cattle was also running short, and the horses were in such a poor condition that they could not be used against the enemy for a fortnight. It would perhaps become necessary for the commando to leave the district, and then the great question arose: What would become of the families there?
Mr. de Clercq (Middelburg) regretted that he had not the privilege of several members of the meeting of being able to present a rosy report. The portion of Middelburg which he represented was entirely exhausted. They had indeed some grain left, but that would last them for only a short time. They had no slaughter-cattle whatever. With the horses they still had, they could not operate. They were in too poor condition to enable the commando to escape if it became necessary to get out of the way of the enemy. The condition of the burghers was disheartening. If they should have to leave their district it was very doubtful whether they would reach their destination, on account of the condition their horses were in. There were only about 100 burghers left out of 500. They also had about 50 families with them, and these were in a miserable plight. The district would have to be abandoned, and then came the question: What would become of these families? Even now they were very badly provided for. Some women wished to proceed on foot to the British, but he had advised them not to do so until the result of these negotiations were known.
Commandant D. J. Schoeman (Lydenburg) said that until recently they had about 800 head of cattle, but these had all been removed now by the enemy. There was no grain at all. As they had no more food for the men, what would become of the families if the struggle was to be continued?
Commandant D. J. Opperman (Pretoria, South of the railway) gave an account of how matters were situated in that part of the district represented by him. His remarks were to the same effect as those of Commandant Alberts (see above).
General Liebenberg (Potchefstroom) spoke about the commandos of Potchefstroom under his command. During the past eight or nine months blockhouses had been established in his division, and he had only a narrow space of about twelve miles wide where he could exist. A considerable amount of corn had been sown, but their fields had recently fallen into the hands of the enemy, and now everything had been destroyed, burnt, and trampled down by the horses. They had still 93 families. Some women from the Orange Free State had been placed on the boundary between the districts of Lichtenburg and Potchefstroom by the British. These were in a most deplorable condition, and were almost dying from misery. These women had informed him that unless matters improved they would proceed to Klerksdorp on foot. He had advised them to wait until after the completion of the negotiations. His commando consisted of 400 mounted men and about 100 dismounted. He would be able to continue the struggle for some little time yet, and then he would have to seek salvation elsewhere.
General du Toit (Wolmaransstad) informed the meeting that provisions were very scarce with him, and that they had 500 families to support. The horses were in a very poor condition, but by making detours he could always manage to get out of tight corners. His commando was not large—it consisted of only about 450 mounted men—and the cattle they had were in good condition, but grain was scarce.
Commandant de Beer (Bloemhof) stated that he had 444 mounted men and about 165 unmounted burghers. Grain was not plentiful in his district, nor cattle, but Bloemhof had never had much cattle. The families with them were not yet suffering very much from scarcity of provisions, and he thought he would be able to continue the struggle for another year.
General Kemp said that he had under his command portions of the commandos of Krugersdorp and Rustenburg, and portions of the commandos of Pretoria and Johannesburg. In the Krugersdorp district they could not sow any more, and the majority of the cattle had been taken from them. And yet they were not suffering from want. Indeed, he thought they should never be in want if they had such a large commissariat upon which they could draw, namely, the Zoutpansberg district, where General Beyers was in command. He took from the Kaffirs what he required, but what he took was not the property of the natives, but what they had stolen from the burghers. He could hold out for two years longer.
Chief Commandant de Wet asked why those commandos in the eastern portions of the Transvaal could not do the same as those under command of General Kemp, and re-take their property from the Kaffirs?
General Botha replied that the native tribes with which General Kemp had to do could not even remotely be compared with the tribes with which they had to deal in the south-east. There the natives were in contact with the British. Whatever they looted from the Boers they handed over to the British, who sold the loot. If cattle were therefore taken from the Kaffirs in the south-eastern districts, they would be taking cattle the lawful property of the natives. Besides this, he had to point out that the Zulu was an entirely different kind of native from the Kaffir with whom General Kemp had to do. The Zulus were much stronger, and, further, the Republic had an agreement with the Swazies that they (the Boers) would not trek into their country with a commando to fight against them. They had to govern themselves as long as the war lasted. Most of the cattle of the Swazies also had been moved to behind the Lebombo mountains and to Zambaansland, and were therefore beyond the reach of the commandos.
General Chris. Botha also declared that no cattle belonging to the burghers in the eastern parts of the Transvaal were in possession of the natives.
Mr. J. L. Grobler (Carolina) next related how matters stood in his district. They had always had cattle and grain, but the British had cut off the best part of their fields by means of blockhouses. What they had now sown would stand them in good stead if nothing happened to prevent them reaping. The Kaffirs were not well disposed. He thought they could still hold out for seven or eight months, if nothing unforeseen occurred. They still had 300 horses for the burghers, but they were weak, and there were a good many burghers for whom they had no mounts.
Mr. Naude said that he was delegated by a portion of the Pretoria commando and by the detached commando under General Kemp. They sowed and reaped as usual. Fortunately he had no women and children to deal with. His commandos had no large supply of cattle, but yet there was no want.
After this the meeting was closed with prayer, and adjourned to the following morning.
FRIDAY, MAY 16TH, 1902.
The delegates met again shortly after nine o'clock.
The meeting was opened with prayer by the Rev. J. D. Kestell.
General Chris. Botha asked whether it was not desirable to attempt to get into communication with the Deputation in Europe.
After some discussion on this matter, the following two proposals were made:—
I. Assistant Chief Commandant Froneman, seconded by Commandant Flemming:—
"That the Republican Governments be instructed to thank the Governments of His Majesty the King of England and of Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands, through Lord Kitchener, for interesting themselves in connection with the opening up of peace negotiations, as appears from the correspondence between the said Governments, and to express their regret that His Majesty's Government did not accept the proposal of Her Majesty's Government to place their representatives in Europe, who still enjoy their full confidence, in a position to come to the Republics, and also that Lord Kitchener has refused a similar request made by our Governments."
II. Acting Landdrost H. J. Bosman, seconded by Commandant J. N. Grobler:—
"The Representatives of the people here assembled resolve to record their regret that the request of their Governments to meet one or more of the members of their Deputation had been refused by Lord Kitchener, and instruct their Governments to try to send the Deputation a cablegram informing them that a meeting is now taking place to discuss the possibility of bringing about peace, and further to instruct their Governments to thank the Government of Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands for interceding in the interests of peace."
On being put to the vote, the first proposal was carried by 36 votes to 23.
The Chairman now laid before the meeting for discussion the document which had been drawn up by the Republican Governments relative to the negotiations in March and April last, and which had been read to all the commandos at the election of delegates.
Mr. P. R. Viljoen (Heidelberg) then addressed the meeting. He laid stress on the great seriousness of the matter before the delegates. The ground whereon they stood, he said, was holy ground. And, indeed, it was so when they considered how it had been soaked with the tears and the blood of their fathers and of so many others in the present struggle. It was extremely hard for him even to think of relinquishing the independence after all the blood and tears that had been shed, and all the hardships that had already been endured, but from the information given them yesterday it was a matter they had to look in the face. It had been plainly shown that if they wished to continue the war they would be obliged to abandon some ten districts. By doing so they would be more concentrated, and that was exactly what the enemy wanted, for then they would be able to concentrate all their forces against the Republican commandos. According to what had been reported in this meeting, matters appeared to be going comparatively well in the Orange Free State. Here in the Transvaal, however, they were differently situated. The outlook was very dark, and it appeared to him that they should try to end the war. If there was a chance of retaining the independence then they could still continue, and they would be willing to undergo the bitterest suffering. But the question was whether there was any prospect of their retaining their independence. They knew nothing of how matters stood in Europe. The report from the Deputation that had been laid before the meeting was six months old. If there were any events in Europe in their favour it would have come to their knowledge by this time. It was plain that they should try to obtain peace in an honourable way. But how? They should still try to retain their independence, and for that purpose it would be as well if they instructed the Governments to ascertain once more what the British Government would give if they (the Boers) relinquished their independence, and that they should know this before they took a final decision. He did not see much chance to continue the war. Though it was bitter for him to have had to speak as he had done, he had felt that it was his duty to do so.
Mr. de Clercq (Middelburg) said he held the same opinion as the last speaker. They were confronted with great difficulties. The question was whether they should or should not continue the war. It was necessary to look into the future, and if they did so they must ask themselves what would be the consequences of a continuance of the war, and what the consequences would be if they terminated the struggle now. He drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that they had at present about 15,000 men against 250,000 of the enemy. They should also consider what had been said about the scarcity of food and horses and the other difficulties. All these matters made it difficult to prosecute the struggle, and before he could decide in favour thereof it would have to be shown him that the continuance of the war would mean the retention of their independence, and if that could be done, he was prepared to make still further sacrifices. But if there was no probability of retaining their independence, and if by the continuance of the struggle all would ultimately only be killed or captured, could there be a more lamentable termination? He considered that the most sensible course was to save what could still be saved. Their national existence should not be sacrificed. Who knew what was still to fall to the lot of their people in the future? But if everything was eradicated, they would cease to exist as a people. Was it a good thing that they should allow a people that had struggled as the Africander people had done to share such a fate?
Commandant Rheeder (Rouxville) said that though the circumstances were dark, yet there were some rays of light. If, however, they gave up their independence, where then could they look for a ray of light? He was prepared to give his last drop of blood for his country. It had been asked whether they should continue until they were eventually annihilated. But he would ask: Should they not continue until they were all delivered? There were three things possible: deliverance, annihilation, or surrender to the enemy. The retention of their independence must take the first place. They should fight on until they were dead, captured, or delivered.
General Kemp (Krugersdorp) remarked that the matter was most serious. It was beyond doubt that to a certain extent their circumstances were dark. But when they commenced the war the chances were not on their side. They should continue. If they considered what the war had already cost them, how much blood had been shed, they could not give up the struggle. As far as he was concerned he wished to continue until he was dead or saved. They should not look at the dark side only. In some districts food was indeed scarce, but they could still find food everywhere. Those districts where they were threatened with famine they should give up. So many had been captured or killed, but that gave him so much the more courage. Because the struggle had cost them so much it could not be given up. If once they were vanquished, it was all over with the Africander people, and all chance of a revival would be gone for ever. Why should they not continue to place their trust in God? They had no right to distrust the God Who had helped them hitherto.
Mr. Breytenbach (Utrecht) thought that they should not brag. All this tall talk did not help them. They should consider each other's feelings. He also had received an instruction from the burghers whom he represented, and that instruction was that if he could adduce proofs after this meeting that they were able to continue the war, then Utrecht would continue to fight; but if he could not do that, Utrecht would fight no longer. And he could not. They should take a note of what had been said here yesterday. There were ten districts in the Transvaal that could not keep up the struggle any longer. Could they give up these districts? They should not consult their hearts only, but also their heads, and what did his head tell him? That they could not continue the war. If they decided that the struggle must go on, they should be able to carry out that decision as they had done from the beginning. But they could not. It had been said that they should trust the Lord, but they could not enter into the decrees of Providence. They could to some extent understand what God's answer to their prayers had been. With the Mauser and with Prayer they had commenced the war, and what had God's answer to those prayers been? He had led them on ways on which they had not expected to be led. If they continued now, they would, in his opinion, be dealing a death blow to the nation. They had seen that ten districts could not keep up the struggle any longer; should they now say: "We must continue and leave those districts to their lot?" Would it be right to let those districts, with the men, women and children who were still in them be lost? No; they should try to save what could still be saved.
General P. Liebenberg (Klerksdorp) concurred in the views of Mr. Viljoen and Mr. de Clercq. If they could secure their independence he would gladly pay for it with his blood. The future appeared dark to him. They should keep their eyes on God, but also use their brains, and consider where their present course was leading them to. The commission he had received from those whom he represented was: "Secure our independence if it is in any way possible, but be careful and see to it that our national existence be not destroyed." If they could not do otherwise they should save what could still be saved, and obtain peace on the best terms.
Commandant P. L. Uys (Pretoria) spoke as follows: Comrades, we are faced with a most serious matter. If we continue the struggle I must leave my district, and hand over the families there a prey to the Kaffirs, because the British will not receive them. My mounted men I can always save, but if I did so what would become of the unmounted men, and what of the women and children? And under these circumstances it is a question whether all the mounted men would follow me. It now rests with the delegates and no longer with the Governments to decide this matter. Never yet have I experienced a day like this, on which I am called to such a great task. This is no time to criticise each other. We cannot blame one another, but must bear with one another. The Bible has been quoted here, but if we do this we must not omit the text in which reference is made to the King who ought to consider whether he was competent to proceed with 10,000 men against him who was marching on him with 20,000 men. A further consideration is, what will become of the widows and orphans if we do not come to terms, and thus no longer remain their natural protectors? Oh, we must open our eyes and observe that God's hand is stretched forth against us, and not continue to add to the number of widows and orphans.
General J. N. H. Grobler (Ermelo) spoke in the same strain.
The meeting was then adjourned until the afternoon.
On resuming in the afternoon, a letter was read from General Malan, who was operating in the Cape Colony, and also one from General Kritzinger. General Malan reported on his operations, and General Kritzinger advised that the struggle be given up.
General S. P. du Toit was the next speaker, and said: The matter before us is so serious that I hardly know how to discuss it. We must bear with one another and remember that we stand here as responsible people. I have been delegated to this meeting by a portion of the people who have suffered heavily, and I have a definite instruction. The people wish to retain their independence, but if that is impossible, then I am instructed to do the best I can. The state of matters in my division is, indeed, not so bad as to oblige us to give up the struggle, but the question is not only what must I do with a view to the condition in my district alone, but I must also take into consideration how other districts are situated. We must be specially on our guard against disunion. What will the future be if a portion of this meeting decides to make peace and another portion to continue the war? What will be the position of those who return to continue the war? Should we not rather all co-operate to obtain from the enemy what we can, and try to retain a portion of our independence? The eyes of the enemy are upon us, and what will be the effect if we are divided? We must consider whether we should not approach the enemy with proposals, and in that way enter into negotiations with them. If we cannot prosecute the war we must see what terms we can get. Let us, above all, guard against internal disunion. If we as one man can decide to continue the war I shall support the resolution, but if we cannot be unanimous I am in favour of conceding more to the British than what our Governments have already offered. I mean we should do what we can to restore peace, and I would like to add that I am greatly disappointed in regard to the course matters have taken in the Cape Colony. It appears to me that the situation was not properly represented to us from there, but I am glad that we are now well informed.
Mr. F. W. Reitz, State Secretary of the South African Republic, said: The future of our country depends upon this opportunity. It is known what the Governments have already done, and the question I put myself now is whether there is still something that can be offered to the enemy consistent with the retention of our independence, and I think there is. Should we not offer the British the Witwatersrand and Swazieland? We can also sacrifice our foreign policy and say "We desire to have no foreign policy, but only our internal independence." We can then become a protectorate of England. What have we got in the Witwatersrand? After the Franco-Prussian war France surrendered Alsace and Lorraine to Germany to retain her independence. What has the wealth from Johannesburg done for us? That money has only injured the noble character of our people. This is common knowledge. And the cause of this war originated in Johannesburg. I could adduce more arguments, but let me only say that the money obtained from there was to our detriment. It would now tend to our advantage to be rid of Johannesburg. We shall then have heard the last of Liquor-jews and other matters. I do not grudge England that inheritance. And then what have we in Swazieland? Our object was to get nearer the sea, but I do not believe that even from that point of view it has now any more value for us. We have had more loss than gain from Swazieland. As regards a protectorate, what does that mean? It means that England undertakes the obligation to defend the country against foreign attacks. And with reference to our foreign policy, only difficulties have originated out of that for us. Washington said that his country must have no foreign policy, and his country became strong enough to say that other Powers must not interfere with America.
General Muller (Boksburg) agreed with State Secretary Reitz. If they made a proposal in the terms suggested by Mr. Reitz they would also prove to the world that they were not fighting for gold or for honour, but only to be free. His burghers were prepared to surrender the Witwatersrand and Swazieland, but nothing of their independence. Rather than do that they would fight to the finish.
Field Cornet Roux (Marico) said: My instruction is that I can concede much, but we must retain our independence. I stand or fall by that.
Landrost Stofberg (Zoutpansberg) said: Disunion must not even be mentioned with us. We must strive to be unanimous. I make this remark with reference to what General du Toit said. Zoutpansberg has said to me: "Our independence we will not surrender. We are prepared to concede much, but not that." If we can satisfy the British in some way or other and retain our independence, I will support such a course. Some of the burghers are of opinion that the Gold Fields can be surrendered for a time, and others point out that gold was the cause of the war. The gold has indeed injured us all, and I agree that we can give up the Gold Fields. What has the gold done for us? You may say: "It has enriched us." Yes, but it has been much more of a stumbling block. If there had been no Johannesburg, there would also never have been a war. Is it not better for us to be a poor but independent people than rich and a subject nation? The gold is only a temptation, and has a pernicious moral influence on our national character. Let the Gold Fields be given up. We shall in any case retain the Johannesburg market.
Commandant Mentz (Heilbron) I must ask the indulgence of the meeting, as I regret that I am not able to present such a rosy report as my fellow delegates from the Free State. From ten to fifteen columns are trekking about in my district, devastating everything. There is but little grain, but my greatest trouble is the families who are still with us. We have 200 families, and how and on what must they live? Some months ago I had 200 burghers. Now I have only 80. If we must continue the war I with my men can leave my district, but what must I then do with my 200 families? My instruction was: "Do not surrender the independence," but more than half the burghers who gave me this instruction have been captured, and subsequently others have asked me to try to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement, and to act according to circumstances. I am at one with the proposal of State Secretary Reitz. Let us even give up a portion of our country if we can thereby retain our independence. I recollect when I was still a child the late President Jan Brand saying: "Give up the Diamond Fields! You will profit more from them than England; you plough and sow and farm." This we can do now, too.
Commandant Fleming (Hoopstad) said that Hoopstad had been considerably devastated, and few cattle had been left, but there were still other cattle with which they had escaped. Matters in his district were not in such a state that they could not continue the war. There was also sufficient game for them to live on. The burghers had said to him: "We have sacrificed wives and children, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, money and blood, and if we must now surrender our independence too, we give up everything, and rather than do that we will fight to the finish." However, he had to admit that the burghers were not acquainted with the conditions in other parts of the country and in the Transvaal, and now that he knew what these conditions were he could support the proposal of State Secretary Reitz to give up a portion of the country to save the independence. They should, if possible, make an end to the war out of sympathy with the poor families who suffered so grievously from the enemy and from the Kaffirs.
Acting State President Burger spoke as follows: The Governments must receive an instruction from the delegates after they have heard and considered everything. We should now make a fresh proposal to the British and see what will come of it. If our proposals are rejected then we stand exactly where we were before. If any one of you is attached to his independence, I am too, and I shall very seriously consider the matter before I surrender it. If any one of you has sacrificed everything and is prepared to sacrifice still more I am prepared to do so too. Some say: "We must retain our independence or continue to fight. We can continue the struggle for another six months or nine months or a year." But supposing we did that, what would we gain thereby? Only this, that the enemy would be stronger and we weaker. If I take everything into consideration I must say it appears to me impossible to prosecute the war any longer. We can, indeed, proceed and say: "Let come what will," but who of us can declare to-day with an upright and clear conscience that we can continue the struggle with any chance of success? God works miracles, but who can assure me that He will do so in our case? It is argued that European complications may arise, but that is a mere hope without foundation. We must view the matter from all sides, and there is this other point to which I wish to draw your attention. In a wonderful way the Lord has hitherto preserved and spared us, and kept us standing, so that we are still acknowledged as a party, and can speak and negotiate for our people. Now we should ask ourselves whether this is not the last chance we shall have of being able to do so. If this opportunity is allowed to pass, I fear all chances will for ever be gone for us to negotiate as a party for the entire people. Commandant Rheeders said that we must fight till we are dead, captured, or saved. That would be manly and would redound to the honour of ourselves and of our descendants; but must we act from lust of glory? Would that be sensible and right towards our people? Can we let the people be annihilated for the sake of honour and fame for ourselves? If I sacrifice my person for my people it would bring me true honour, but not otherwise. If after discussion and consideration we become convinced that we can only continue the war for a little while longer, it is our duty to make an end to it now. What would further unnecessary torture avail us? Have we not now arrived at that stage when we should pray: "Thy will be done"? and then when we feel what His will is, surrender ourselves to it? That is a prayer of faith, and one must be prepared to abide by His will. We have already effected supernatural things at which the world stands amazed. Shall we now allow a people, who have sacrificed even women and children, to be exterminated? If we do not arrive at a proper peace now, then when the last shot shall have been fired, and the war terminates in another way, what will become of our women and children and of our prisoners of war? We shall have rejected the proposals of the British Government, and what right will we have to intercede for these unfortunate people? We must think seriously over this. If we see that we have no ground for hope upon which we can continue the war, then we must now try to get for our people the best that can be got. We were proud and despised the enemy, and is it not perhaps God's will to humble us and cast down the pride in us by allowing us to be oppressed by the English people? The time will come when we shall again exist as a people. If you decide to proceed with the war, I shall stand or fall with your decision, although I would not approve of it. I think we should draft a proper peace proposal, in which we concede as much as possible, in order to retain our independence. If England refuses to accept our proposals we can consider further what course to pursue. Reference has been made to the confiscation of farms, but there can be no confiscation, as long as we are in possession of the whole country. However, if we have to abandon ten districts of the Transvaal, and some in the Orange Free State, then, according to legal advice, those confiscation Proclamations could be carried into effect, and where would we then stand? I say it would be criminal of us to continue the struggle till everything is destroyed and everyone dead if we are now convinced that it is a hopeless struggle. Our people do not deserve to be annihilated.
After this the following proposal was handed in by General Kemp, seconded by Mr. Naude, which was unanimously adopted:—
"In order to expedite the business this meeting resolves to appoint General J. C. Smuts and General Hertzog as a committee to draft a resolution in consultation with the two State Presidents, and submit same to the meeting to-morrow."
The meeting was then adjourned until the evening at 7.30 o'clock.
After a short service conducted during the adjournment by the Rev. J. D. Kestell, the meeting re-assembled at 7.30 p.m.
General Celliers (Lichtenburg) reported as follows: Circumstances in my district are favourable. We have abundant provisions and our horses are good. The burghers are also well organised. But I wish to take into account the circumstances in which the other districts are situated. My burghers are just at present a little fiery, and say: "Stand firm for the independence." But when they said that, they were not acquainted with the circumstances elsewhere, and the question is: To what extent can the other districts who are worse off than we are, co-operate with us? Well, the other districts say that, if the war is continued they cannot join in maintaining the struggle. I wish to act on the lines that will be best for my people and for the future. Now, what would be best—to say we shall fight to the finish, or to approach the enemy with a proposal, the acceptance of which will preserve us as a people? A further question is: Are we as leaders of the people justified in making further sacrifices? Personally, I must reply: "Yes, certainly, because we commenced with our trust in God, Who has preserved us miraculously hitherto." It was painful to me to hear a comrade say to-day that God's hand was against us. As far as I am concerned I say we must proceed, but as it appears that all of us are not able to keep up the struggle, we must jointly try to pursue a course by which we can in some measure retain our independence. If we give that up, what can we offer instead to the women and children who have suffered so grievously?
General Froneman (Winburg and Ladybrand) spoke as follows: I have not much to say, but it appears to me that matters in my division are viewed too favourably. The condition is not so rosy there as might be deduced from what has been said here. I am, however, tied by an instruction. In a word, my burghers have said to me: "We wish to hear of nothing else but the retention of our independence, and that intact." They do not wish to trample on the blood that has already been shed, but to persevere until deliverance comes. I sympathise with the comrades from those divisions where matters are so serious, but our deliverance is from the Lord. It grieves me to observe a doubt amongst some of us whether God is indeed with us. I would only ask: Has there ever been a greater miracle than this, that we have been able hitherto to maintain the struggle against such overwhelming odds? What has maintained us to this moment? It is the faith of those who in privacy prayed God to ward off the war, and who when they saw that such was not God's will, but that He ordained that there should be war, trusted in Him, and fought bravely. The Lord has indeed hitherto helped us. The enemy cut us off entirely from the outside world, and yet these two small Republics have been enabled to maintain the struggle. Is that not a marvel? I should like to hear what Generals Botha, de Wet, and de la Rey have to say, for they can throw much light on the subject for us.
Commandant General Botha said: I am glad to have this opportunity of expressing my views. It has been observed that we must not be divided, but when I consider the information that has been given us here, then there cannot but be a difference of opinion, because in those divisions where the circumstances are favourable the delegates cannot flinch at anything. They must declare that they will maintain the struggle for our independence. If the delegates from those divisions, where they cannot hold out any longer, differ from the others with reference to the possibility of continuing the war, we must not ascribe that to indifference or cowardice or slackness, but to facts which have wrought a sincere conviction in them. Where I differ from one or other of you, I do so simply on facts. If I should maintain silence as to the true state of affairs, and matters went wrong later on, I, as Head, could be accused of having suppressed facts. Difference of opinion, however, need not cause any division. We have commenced this war together and prosecuted it with unanimity. There should, therefore, be no mention of discord. It is my duty and the duty of everyone to bow to the decision of the majority. Even though I may differ in opinion, the decision of the majority is my decision.
Some of the speakers have said that they, as delegates, are tied by the instructions received from their burghers, notwithstanding the legal advice given us here, that such an instruction is not binding. If we should adhere to an instruction given to us by a portion of the people, that was not acquainted with the position of affairs over the whole country, then we should not be acting honestly towards that people in general. We stand here before the question whether our people shall die a national death, or whether they shall live, and I am of opinion that no one can judge as to what course we should pursue unless the facts as to the true conditions obtaining over the entire country are laid before him, and only in this meeting will these facts come before us. Let us therefore not say that we are tied by an instruction.
On the great question before us, I would first ask: How are we now situated? For more than two and a half years we have fought for our just rights, and what do we see if we take a retrospective view? Are we making progress, or are we gradually going down the precipice? I have been in correspondence with my officers in all parts of the country, and have received information from them as to the condition of affairs, but I must tell you that from all that information there is nothing to show me that our cause is progressing, not even by the smallest stride. Instead of the large fighting force we had last year, we have now only 10,000 men. In the course of the last year we have lost 6,000 men either through death or capture.
When I consider our decline during the past ten months, I must say that the enemy has in that time learnt to fight better against us, and to do our people more damage. Ten months ago there was not a single blockhouse in my division; now lines of blockhouses intersect the entire division. You can cross these lines only at night, and then only with difficulty. The whole division is cut up into large areas. We are now obliged to split up our forces into small groups, so that the enemy may not be able to ascertain where the commando really is. Through being so intersected by these lines of blockhouses, which we cannot cross by daylight, we run a great risk of being captured, and, indeed, many burghers are captured.
It has been remarked that we can still obtain provisions here and there. Meat is almost our only food now, and everyone knows what it means to cross a blockhouse line with cattle. Latterly the commandos have been supporting themselves principally on cattle looted from the enemy, but recently the enemy has sent almost all their loot cattle down to Natal. The cattle, for instance, that was at Ladysmith has been removed to Estcourt, so that there is now very little opportunity for looting. To a large extent also we have lived on cattle purchased from the Kaffirs, but the enemy has now removed even the Kaffirs with their cattle. The danger is that these districts, forced thereto by hunger, will later be obliged to say, that however bitter, they must conclude peace on any terms. We have tried to obtain cattle from other districts, but that has been proved to be no longer possible. Our position has thus in this respect become much worse. The blockhouses are not the only cause of this, but the decline is also to be attributed to the weakening of our horses, which are driven about so by the overwhelming force of the enemy, that they are in a very poor condition and weak, the more so because we have no more forage for them.
They are so poor that it is difficult, almost impossible, to travel any distance with them. Another reason is also, that most of the burghers have now only one horse which must always do service, so that there is no chance to let it have a proper rest. It has been suggested that those commandos that can no longer exist in their own districts should proceed to other parts of the country, but I may say that the majority of our horses are not able to cover a long distance. If that is attempted many burghers will be captured on account of their horses giving up.
I always heard that the Cape Colony is waiting for a suitable opportunity to rise in great numbers, but according to information now obtained by me from General Smuts, I am convinced that the cause is hopeless there. General Smuts also says, after having seen our horses, that it is absolutely impossible for us to reach the Cape Colony, as our idea was. We cannot, therefore, rely on the Cape Colony any more. Our cause has been a failure there. Colonials are also so harshly treated that they have not the chance or desire to rise. There are not many Colonists under arms, and it appears to me that lately there are more Africanders against us, than fighting for us.
In the beginning of the war I hoped and believed that the other European Powers would not allow one Power to become master of the Goldfields. But we cherished a false hope. In the letters received from our Deputation last year they wrote us, that we should not hope for intervention, because there was for the time being no prospect of it. From the correspondence between the British and Netherlands Governments it appears that our Deputation was accredited only to the Netherlands Government, and therefore that Government alone was in a position to take upon itself to procure the termination of the war. The Deputation was accredited by both Republics to all the European Powers. It appears, however, that only to the Netherlands Government did they hand in their credentials. This fact has a particularly great significance for me. It proves that they were advised not to present their credentials to other Powers. We know that the Deputation would have left no stone unturned to help us, but after they have been in Europe for two years they had had to inform us that they had obtained no help for us, and further, that they could hold out no prospect of help. We must therefore cherish no hope whatever of help from Europe. And it is apparent that if no nation came to our assistance when the enemy introduced a new principle into warfare, namely, to remove women and children by force, crowd them in camps, and let them die in thousands, then we need not ever expect any help from other nations. Their inaction makes me think that they do not care what becomes of us, even though we all die. They ought to have known that if the British were tacitly allowed to introduce such a new principle into warfare, that principle would establish a precedent. We have only the sympathy of the European Powers, and that sympathy threatens to smother us, and there the matter remains.
I now come to another matter which lies very near to the heart of each one of us, namely, our families. If this meeting should decide to continue the war, then some provision or other must be made for them. We shall have to decide what to do with them. When I think over this matter my mind is at a standstill. Their condition is most pitiable, and they are exposed to all kinds of danger. I have lately tried to send them in to the British, but without success, because the British would not receive them. The position has now become such that I am beginning to think that the fathers of these families must accompany them into the British lines, because then the enemy receives them. But even this suggestion offers a great difficulty, namely this, that we have with us many wives of prisoners-of-war, and what can we do with them? Where could we find men to "hands up" with them? These families are in a terrible condition, and something must be done for them.
It has been said that we must fight "to the bitter end," but no one tells us where that bitter end is. Is it there where everyone lies in his grave or is banished? In my opinion we must not consider the time when everyone lies in his grave as the "bitter end." If we do so, and act upon that view, we become the cause of the death of our people. Is the bitter end not there, where the people have struggled till they can struggle no more? Personally, there is nothing that hinders me to prosecute the war still further. My family is well provided for. I have good horses, and when I consider what the enemy has done, then I say: "Rather die than surrender," and that is also my inclination. But I must not regard myself, but my people and the other men who must fight.
I assure you that our position is serious, and when I lay matters bare to you, I do not do so to discourage you, but to give you a clear insight into them, as it is my duty to do, because you must take a very important decision here. I have always thought that when matters came to such a pass with us, that we were driven by hunger to surrender we should, before going under, and while we were still a nation, accept terms. We cannot wait until our numbers are reduced to a few thousand men and then try to negotiate. It would then be too late. If we wish to negotiate, now is the time. If the Lord God wills it, then, however bitter, we must come to terms. We cannot simply go on blindly and say that we trust in God. Miracles can happen, but it is not for me or for you to say what God's will is with us, or that the Lord will allow us to retain our independence. If we proceed, it will be a bitter cup for us to see that the one commando after the other is forced to surrender. Our responsibility will only be the greater if we go on and ultimately yet lose. We hear continually of the death of this one or that one, and it is asked who will care for the widows if we make peace now? But does not this question remain if we prosecute the war?
If we have to give up eleven districts—and that means the half of the South African Republic—then as far as I can see the war must end disastrously for our people. If a great victory is gained over us we shall not be able to stand it. All will immediately be over with us. There is a military reason why we have been able to carry on such a great war for such a long time against such overwhelming forces, and that is, because we have commandos in each district, which compels the British to divide their forces. But if we abandon eleven districts, as we shall have to do shortly, that will mean the concentration of our forces, which will give the enemy an opportunity of concentrating their troops against us, and the consequences thereof will be fatal for us.
In only one portion of our country, namely, in Zoutpansberg, is there still food, but how do we obtain our provisions there? It must be taken, and thereby we create more enemies. Our safety in Zoutpansberg lay in this: that hitherto the Kaffirs were divided, but if the enemy were to pour into that district the Kaffirs will join them against us. I therefore foresee danger for our commandos if they proceed to Zoutpansberg.
I feel that our people have defended themselves and have fought better than any people in the world. Our little nation has already sacrificed proportionately more in this struggle than any other nation known in history, and I should regret it bitterly if this people should be destroyed, or have to fight till all are dead or captured, and the independence lost. If we become convinced that it is impossible for us to proceed, that it is impossible for us to retain our independence, then we must inform the people to that effect, and they can then decide what they wish to do. By continuing blindly we shall certainly fall. During the last year more than 20,000 women and children died in the concentration camps, and their suffering there was terrible. Then there are also some of our own people, who have taken up arms against us, and if matters go on as at present there will shortly be more Africanders fighting against us than for us.
The question now is: What must we do? There are only a few courses open to us. If we can retain our independence by the surrender of a portion of our territory, then, however hard it may be, let us do so. The State Secretary has made a few suggestions in this respect, and however detrimental it may be to us to have a Government within a Government in the country, it would nevertheless be better than to lose everything, for humanly speaking it is impossible for us to retain our independence by force of arms. Swazieland is a great country, and yet it is of no value to us, and we can well give it up. And let us also surrender the Witwatersrand—that cancer in our country—if we can save ourselves thereby. If by these means we do not succeed in our object it is for you to say whether the war must still be continued or not. The conditions show me plainly that we are going backward. In the Orange Free State we have only 6,000 men under arms, and in the South African Republic only 10,000. Compare these with the numbers with which we commenced. Are we not going down the precipice? Let us not co-operate to that end. Let us rather do what we can to save our people if we must lose our independence. If we must give up the struggle, are we then to say to the enemy: "We have fought for our independence only, and since we cannot get that, here we are, do with us as you please." That we can do for ourselves as leaders, but we cannot say that for our people. We must interpose for our people. We must try to get for them what we can, because they are absolutely ruined, and if we make no terms we place them unconditionally in the hands of their bitterest enemies. Would that be desirable? If we cannot retain our independence, let us try to get responsible Government. Then we will be governed by leaders from amongst ourselves who can keep their hands over the heads of the people. Let us also try to secure the rights of our language, the Dutch language. You know how long it took before the rights of that language were in a measure acknowledged in the Cape Colony. Shall we not try to get those rights acknowledged here now we have the chance? Let us stand firm for these two points, and for the payment of all direct debts, as is done in the Cape Colony and Natal. We need not trouble ourselves about smaller matters for they are of such a nature that a Government must attend to them in the interests of the people.
Some argue that we must accept no terms, because we would thereby bind ourselves for the future, but that we should go over into a condition of passive resistance. But can we do that? It is a fact that when the war ceases there will be famine in the country, and what will be easier for the British Government than to supply the people with food on condition that the men take the oath of allegiance? Therefore I think that it is much better for us, the leaders, to try and stipulate certain terms for our people. Should we not now co-operate to that end, or should we wait until we are entirely overpowered and then have to wait some thirty years before we can be on our legs again. In my opinion there can be no question of unconditional surrender. You cannot say that you will accept no terms. We may not say: "Do with us what you please." If we do that, then our children will be a standing protest against us. Let us respect each other's opinions. I cannot, and may not, on account of your opinions, suspect anyone here to-night, who hitherto in spite of all hardship and bitterness, has faithfully stood under arms, of being afraid. Only by standing firmly together and taking one another by the hand can we extricate ourselves from the deep abyss in which we now stand. Believe me, it is bitter for me to have to speak as I do, and if you can remove my difficulties I shall be sincerely thankful.
General de la Rey said: I shall be brief and only touch upon a few points. You can understand that after the success that has crowned our arms lately, I have a definite instruction from the burghers in my division to stand by our independence. And they have grounds for such an instruction. The burghers have, indeed, lost over 300 men from deaths and captures, but they have performed deeds of heroism. I do not say this to boast, but to make the position of myself and of my fellow delegates clear to you. These victories have naturally had a particularly good effect on the burghers and also upon the enemy. I do not wish to convey that these victories have such an effect upon the enemy that they will cause the scales in this struggle to turn in our favour, but I say it to show that no one can take it amiss in the burghers if they give such instructions as they have done.
However, since my arrival, and since I have learnt how matters are situated in other districts, I feel the difficulties that are brought forward against the continuance of the war. Under my command I have also districts, such as Potchefstroom and Krugersdorp, where the burghers cannot maintain the struggle, but they have the opportunity there of withdrawing to other parts where they can exist. I have always been of opinion that I may not lay down my arms as long as I have any food, even though that food consists of nothing else but mealies. But it appears to me that certain districts will be compelled by hunger to surrender. Therefore I am pleased that leaders speak openly here, and do not arrogantly say: "We can still continue," and then, when we return, lay down their arms, and put everything upon the shoulders of only some of us.
Referring to intervention, I may say that the Commandant General and other members of the Government know what my views have always been on that matter. I was certain of it that there would never be any intervention for us, and said so before the war. If Britain becomes the owner of the Republics, then South Africa would be owned partly by Germany and partly by England. If Britain becomes the owner of a portion, then the German possession was guaranteed. That would not be the case if the Republics won the struggle. The German possessions would then also be in danger. Will German statesmen therefore intervene to check England to their own detriment? We need not, therefore, give intervention even a thought.
There is another point. It is argued that we must fight to the bitter end. The Commandant General has asked whether that bitter end has arrived. I think each one must decide that for himself. It must be borne in mind that everything—cattle, goods, money, man, woman and child—has been sacrificed. In my division many people go almost naked. There are men and women who wear nothing more than plain skins on the naked body. Is this not the bitter end? Only the fighting burghers are supplied with the necessary clothing, which they take from the enemy. Therefore I think that the time for negotiating has now arrived. If this opportunity is not availed of, the door will be closed. England will never again allow us to meet in this way, or give us an opportunity to conclude an agreement.
The question is: How shall we negotiate? I hardly know how to proceed. It is the duty of this meeting to instruct the two Governments, and I advise you to be sensible. If we cannot obtain what we desire I am prepared to fight to the finish, whatever that may be.