Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 3

THE NEGOTIATIONS

The British Government and the British people do not desire any direct
authority in South Africa. Their one supreme interest is that the
various States there should live in concord and prosperity, and that
there should be no need for the presence of a British redcoat within
the whole great peninsula. Our foreign critics, with their
misapprehension of the British colonial system, can never realise that
whether the four-coloured flag of the Transvaal or the Union Jack of a
self-governing colony waved over the gold mines would not make the
difference of one shilling to the revenue of Great Britain. The
Transvaal as a British province would have its own legislature, its
own revenue, its own expenditure, and its own tariff against the
mother country, as well as against the rest of the world, and England
be none the richer for the change. This is so obvious to a Briton
that he has ceased to insist upon it, and it is for that reason
perhaps that it is so universally misunderstood abroad. On the other
hand, while she is no gainer by the change, most of the expense of it
in blood and in money falls upon the home country. On the face of it,
therefore, Great Britain had every reason to avoid so formidable a
task as the conquest of the South African Republic. At the best she
had nothing to gain, and at the worst she had an immense deal to lose.
There was no room for ambition or aggression. It was a case of
shirking or fulfilling a most arduous duty.

There could be no question of a plot for the annexation of the
Transvaal. In a free country the Government cannot move in advance of
public opinion, and public opinion is influenced by and reflected in
the newspapers. One may examine the files of the press during all the
months of negotiations and never find one reputable opinion in favour
of such a course, nor did one in society ever meet an advocate of such
a measure. But a great wrong was being done, and all that was asked
was the minimum change which would set it right, and restore equality
between the white races in Africa. 'Let Kruger only be liberal in the
extension of the franchise,' said the paper which is most
representative of the sanest British opinion, 'and he will find that
the power of the republic will become not weaker, but infinitely more
secure. Let him once give the majority of the resident males of full
age the full vote, and he will have given the republic a stability and
power which nothing else can. If he rejects all pleas of this kind,
and persists in his present policy, he may possibly stave off the evil
day, and preserve his cherished oligarchy for another few years; but
the end will be the same.' The extract reflects the tone of all of
the British press, with the exception of one or two papers which
considered that even the persistent ill usage of our people, and the
fact that we were peculiarly responsible for them in this State, did
not justify us in interfering in the internal affairs of the republic.
It cannot be denied that the Jameson raid and the incomplete manner in
which the circumstances connected with it had been investigated had
weakened the force of those who wished to interfere energetically on
behalf of British subjects. There was a vague but widespread feeling
that perhaps the capitalists were engineering the situation for their
own ends. It is difficult to imagine how a state of unrest and
insecurity, to say nothing of a state of war, can ever be to the
advantage of capital, and surely it is obvious that if some
arch-schemer were using the grievances of the Uitlanders for his own
ends the best way to checkmate him would be to remove those
grievances. The suspicion, however, did exist among those who like to
ignore the obvious and magnify the remote, and throughout the
negotiations the hand of Great Britain was weakened, as her adversary
had doubtless calculated that it would be, by an earnest but fussy and
faddy minority. Idealism and a morbid, restless conscientiousness are
two of the most dangerous evils from which a modern progressive State
has to suffer.

It was in April 1899 that the British Uitlanders sent their petition
praying for protection to their native country. Since the April
previous a correspondence had been going on between Dr. Leyds,
Secretary of State for the South African Republic, and
Mr. Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary, upon the existence or
non-existence of the suzerainty. On the one hand, it was contended
that the substitution of a second convention had entirely annulled the
first; on the other, that the preamble of the first applied also to
the second. If the Transvaal contention were correct it is clear that
Great Britain had been tricked and jockeyed into such a position,
since she had received no quid pro quo in the second convention, and
even the most careless of Colonial Secretaries could hardly have been
expected to give away a very substantial something for nothing. But
the contention throws us back upon the academic question of what a
suzerainty is. The Transvaal admitted a power of veto over their
foreign policy, and this admission in itself, unless they openly tore
up the convention, must deprive them of the position of a sovereign
State. On the whole, the question must be acknowledged to have been
one which might very well have been referred to trustworthy
arbitration.

But now to this debate, which had so little of urgency in it that
seven months intervened between statement and reply, there came the
bitterly vital question of the wrongs and appeal of the
Uitlanders. Sir Alfred Milner, the British Commissioner in South
Africa, a man of liberal views who had been appointed by a
Conservative Government, commanded the respect and confidence of all
parties. His record was that of an able, clear-headed man, too just to
be either guilty of or tolerant of injustice. To him the matter was
referred, and a conference was arranged between President Kruger and
him at Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State. They met on
May 30th. Kruger had declared that all questions might be discussed
except the independence of the Transvaal. 'All, all, all!' he cried
emphatically. But in practice it was found that the parties could not
agree as to what did or what did not threaten this independence. What
was essential to one was inadmissible to the other. Milner contended
for a five years' retroactive franchise, with provisions to secure
adequate representation for the mining districts. Kruger offered a
seven years' franchise, coupled with numerous conditions which
whittled down its value very much, promised five members out of
thirty-one to represent a majority of the male population, and added a
provision that all differences should be subject to arbitration by
foreign powers, a condition which is incompatible with any claim to
suzerainty. The proposals of each were impossible to the other, and
early in June Sir Alfred Milner was back in Cape Town and President
Kruger in Pretoria, with nothing settled except the extreme difficulty
of a settlement. The current was running swift, and the roar of the
fall was already sounding louder in the ear.

On June 12th Sir Alfred Milner received a deputation at Cape Town and
reviewed the situation. 'The principle of equality of races was,' he
said, essential for South Africa. The one State where inequality
existed kept all the others in a fever. Our policy was one not of
aggression, but of singular patience, which could not, however, lapse
into indifference.' Two days later Kruger addressed the Raad. 'The
other side had not conceded one tittle, and I could not give more. God
has always stood by us. I do not want war, but I will not give more
away. Although our independence has once been taken away, God had
restored it.' He spoke with sincerity no doubt, but it is hard to hear
God invoked with such confidence for the system which encouraged the
liquor traffic to the natives, and bred the most corrupt set of
officials that the modern world has seen.

A dispatch from Sir Alfred Milner, giving his views upon the
situation, made the British public recognise, as nothing else had
done, how serious the position was, and how essential it was that an
earnest national effort should be made to set it right. In it he
said:

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

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

'I can see nothing which will put a stop to this mischievous
propaganda but some striking proof of the intention of her Majesty's
Government not to be ousted from its position in South Africa.'

Such were the grave and measured words with which the British
pro-consul warned his countrymen of what was to come. He saw the
storm-cloud piling in the north, but even his eyes had not yet
discerned how near and how terrible was the tempest.

Throughout the end of June and the early part of July much was hoped
from the mediation of the heads of the Afrikander Bond, the political
union of the Dutch Cape colonists. On the one hand, they were the
kinsmen of the Boers; on the other, they were British subjects, and
were enjoying the blessings of those liberal institutions which we
were anxious to see extended to the Transvaal. 'Only treat our folk as
we treat yours! Our whole contention was compressed into that
prayer. But nothing came of the mission, though a scheme endorsed by
Mr. Hofmeyer and Mr. Herholdt, of the Bond, with Mr. Fischer of the
Free State, was introduced into the Raad and applauded by
Mr. Schreiner, the Africander Premier of Cape Colony. In its original
form the provisions were obscure and complicated, the franchise
varying from nine years to seven under different conditions. In
debate, however, the terms were amended until the time was reduced to
seven years, and the proposed representation of the gold fields placed
at five. The concession was not a great one, nor could the
representation, five out of thirty-one, be considered a generous
provision for the majority of the population; but the reduction of the
years of residence was eagerly hailed in England as a sign that a
compromise might be effected. A sigh of relief went up from the
country. 'If,' said the Colonial Secretary, 'this report is confirmed,
this important change in the proposals of President Kruger, coupled
with previous amendments, leads Government to hope that the new law
may prove to be the basis of a settlement on the lines laid down by
Sir Alfred Milner in the Bloemfontein Conference.' He added that
there were some vexatious conditions attached, but concluded, 'Her
Majesty's Government feel assured that the President, having accepted
the principle for which they have contended, will be prepared to
reconsider any detail of his scheme which can be shown to be a
possible hindrance to the full accomplishment of the object in view,
and that he will not allow them to be nullified or reduced in value by
any subsequent alterations of the law or acts of administration.' At
the same time, the 'Times' declared the crisis to be at an end. 'If
the Dutch statesmen of the Cape have induced their brethren in the
Transvaal to carry such a Bill, they will have deserved the lasting
gratitude, not only of their own countrymen and of the English
colonists in South Africa, but of the British Empire and of the
civilised world.'

But this fair prospect was soon destined to be overcast. Questions of
detail arose which, when closely examined, proved to be matters of
very essential importance. The Uitlanders and British South Africans,
who had experienced in the past how illusory the promises of the
President might be, insisted upon guarantees. The seven years offered
were two years more than that which Sir Alfred Milner had declared to
be an irreducible minimum. The difference of two years would not have
hindered their acceptance, even at the expense of some humiliation to
our representative. But there were conditions which excited distrust
when drawn up by so wily a diplomatist. One was that the alien who
aspired to burghership had to produce a certificate of continuous
registration for a certain time. But the law of registration had
fallen into disuse in the Transvaal, and consequently this provision
might render the whole Bill valueless. Since it was carefully
retained, it was certainly meant for use. The door had been opened,
but a stone was placed to block it. Again, the continued burghership
of the newcomers was made to depend upon the resolution of the first
Raad, so that should the mining members propose any measure of reform,
not only their Bill but they also might be swept out of the house by a
Boer majority. What could an Opposition do if a vote of the
Government might at any moment unseat them all? It was clear that a
measure which contained such provisions must be very carefully sifted
before a British Government could accept it as a final settlement and
a complete concession of justice to its subjects. On the other hand,
it naturally felt loth to refuse those clauses which offered some
prospect of an amelioration in their condition. It took the course,
therefore, of suggesting that each Government should appoint delegates
to form a joint commission which should inquire into the working of
the proposed Bill before it was put into a final form. The proposal
was submitted to the Raad upon August 7th, with the addition that when
this was done Sir Alfred Milner was prepared to discuss anything else,
including arbitration without the interference of foreign powers.

The suggestion of this joint commission has been criticised as an
unwarrantable intrusion into the internal affairs of another
country. But then the whole question from the beginning was about the
internal affairs of another country, since the internal equality of
the white inhabitants was the condition upon which self-government was
restored to the Transvaal. It is futile to suggest analogies, and to
imagine what France would do if Germany were to interfere in a
question of French franchise. Supposing that France contained as many
Germans as Frenchmen, and that they were ill-treated, Germany would
interfere quickly enough and continue to do so until some fair MODUS
VIVENDI was established. The fact is that the case of the Transvaal
stands alone, that such a condition of things has never been known,
and that no previous precedent can apply to it, save the general rule
that a minority of white men cannot continue indefinitely to tax and
govern a majority. Sentiment inclines to the smaller nation, but
reason and justice are all on the side of England.

A long delay followed upon the proposal of the Secretary of the
Colonies. No reply was forthcoming from Pretoria. But on all sides
there came evidence that those preparations for war which had been
quietly going on even before the Jameson raid were now being hurriedly
perfected. For so small a State enormous sums were being spent upon
military equipment. Cases of rifles and boxes of cartridges streamed
into the arsenal, not only from Delagoa Bay, but even, to the
indignation of the English colonists, through Cape Town and Port
Elizabeth. Huge packing-cases, marked 'Agricultural Instruments' and
'Mining Machinery,' arrived from Germany and France, to find their
places in the forts of Johannesburg or Pretoria. Men of many nations
but of a similar type showed their martial faces in the Boer
towns. The CONDOTTIERI of Europe were as ready as ever to sell their
blood for gold, and nobly in the end did they fulfill their share of
the bargain. For three weeks and more during which Mr. Kruger was
silent these eloquent preparations went on. But beyond them, and of
infinitely more importance, there was one fact which dominated the
situation. A burgher cannot go to war without his horse, his horse
cannot move without grass, grass will not come until after rain, and it
was still some weeks before the rain would be due. Negotiations,
then, must not be unduly hurried while the veldt was a bare
russet-coloured dust-swept plain. Mr. Chamberlain and the British
public waited week after week for their answer. But there was a limit
to their patience, and it was reached on August 26th, when the
Colonial Secretary showed, with a plainness of speech which is as
unusual as it is welcome in diplomacy, that the question could not be
hung up for ever. 'The sands are running down in the glass,' said he.
'If they run out, we shall not hold ourselves limited by that which we
have already offered, but, having taken the matter in hand, we will
not let it go until we have secured conditions which once for all
shall establish which is the paramount power in South Africa, and
shall secure for our fellow-subjects there those equal rights and
equal privileges which were promised them by President Kruger when the
independence of the Transvaal was granted by the Queen, and which is
the least that in justice ought to be accorded them.' Lord Salisbury,
a little time before, had been equally emphatic. 'No one in this
country wishes to disturb the conventions so long as it is recognised
that while they guarantee the independence of the Transvaal on the one
side, they guarantee equal political and civil rights for settlers of
all nationalities upon the other. But these conventions are not like
the laws of the Medes and the Persians. They are mortal, they can be
destroyed... and once destroyed they can never be reconstructed in
the same shape.' The long-enduring patience of Great Britain was
beginning to show signs of giving way.

In the meantime a fresh dispatch had arrived from the Transvaal which
offered as an alternative proposal to the joint commission that the
Boer Government should grant the franchise proposals of Sir Alfred
Milner on condition that Great Britain withdrew or dropped her claim
to a suzerainty, agreed to arbitration, and promised never again to
interfere in the internal affairs of the republic. To this Great
Britain answered that she would agree to arbitration, that she hoped
never again to have occasion to interfere for the protection of her
own subjects, but that with the grant of the franchise all occasion
for such interference would pass away, and, finally, that she would
never consent to abandon her position as suzerain
power. Mr. Chamberlain's dispatch ended by reminding the Government of
the Transvaal that there were other matters of dispute open between
the two Governments apart from the franchise, and that it would be as
well to have them settled at the same time. By these he meant such
questions as the position of the native races and the treatment of
Anglo-Indians.

On September 2nd the answer of the Transvaal Government was returned.
It was short and uncompromising. They withdrew their offer of the
franchise. They re-asserted the non-existence of the suzerainty. The
negotiations were at a deadlock. It was difficult to see how they
could be re-opened. In view of the arming of the burghers, the small
garrison of Natal had been taking up positions to cover the frontier.
The Transvaal asked for an explanation of their presence. Sir Alfred
Milner answered that they were guarding British interests, and
preparing against contingencies. The roar of the fall was sounding
loud and near.

On September 8th there was held a Cabinet Council -- one of the most
important in recent years. A message was sent to Pretoria, which even
the opponents of the Government have acknowledged to be temperate, and
offering the basis for a peaceful settlement. It begins by
repudiating emphatically the claim of the Transvaal to be a sovereign
international State in the same sense in which the Orange Free State
is one. Any proposal made conditional upon such an acknowledgment
could not be entertained.

The British Government, however, was prepared to accept the five
years' 'franchise' as stated in the note of August 19th, assuming at
the same time that in the Raad each member might talk his own
language.

'Acceptance of these terms by the South African Republic would at once
remove tension between the two Governments, and would in all
probability render unnecessary any future intervention to secure
redress for grievances which the Uitlanders themselves would be able
to bring to the notice of the Executive Council and the Volksraad.

'Her Majesty's Government are increasingly impressed with the danger
of further delay in relieving the strain which has already caused so
much injury to the interests of South Africa, and they earnestly press
for an immediate and definite reply to the present proposal. If it is
acceded to they will be ready to make immediate arrangements... to
settle all details of the proposed tribunal of arbitration... If,
however, as they most anxiously hope will not be the case, the reply
of the South African Republic should be negative or inconclusive, I am
to state that her Majesty's Government must reserve to themselves the
right to reconsider the situation DE NOVO, and to formulate their own
proposals for a final settlement.'

Such was the message, and Great Britain waited with strained attention
for the answer. But again there was a delay, while the rain came and
the grass grew, and the veldt was as a mounted rifleman would have
it. The burghers were in no humour for concessions. They knew their
own power, and they concluded with justice that they were for the time
far the strongest military power in South Africa. 'We have beaten
England before, but it is nothing to the licking we shall give her
now,' cried a prominent citizen, and he spoke for his country as he
said it. So the empire waited and debated, but the sounds of the
bugle were already breaking through the wrangles of the politicians,
and calling1 the nation to be tested once more by that hammer of war and
adversity by which Providence still fashions us to some nobler and
higher end.

Arthur Conan Doyle