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The War in South Africa, Its Cause and Conduct By Arthur Conan Doyle Characters: 28053

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Such is a general sketch of the trend of the negotiations and of the events which led up to the war. Under their different headings I will now examine in as short a space as possible the criticisms to which the British Government has been subjected. Various damaging theories and alternate lines of action have been suggested, each of which may be shortly discussed.

1. That Mr. Chamberlain was personally concerned in the raid and that out of revenge for that failure, or because he was in the power of Mr. Rhodes, he forced on the war.-The theory that Mr. Chamberlain was in the confidence of the raiders, has been already examined and shown to be untenable. That he knew that an insurrection might probably result from the despair of the Uitlanders is very probable. It was his business to know what was going on so far as he could, and there is no reason why his private sympathies, like those of every other Englishman, should not be with his own ill-used people. But that he contemplated an invasion of the Transvaal by a handful of policemen is absurd. If he did, why should he instantly take the strongest steps to render the invasion abortive? What could he possibly do to make things miscarry which he did not do? And if he were conscious of being in the power of Mr. Rhodes, how would he dare to oppose with such vigour that gentleman's pet scheme? The very facts and the very telegrams upon which critics rely to prove Mr. Chamberlain's complicity will really, when looked at with unprejudiced eyes, most clearly show his entire independence. Thus when Rhodes, or Harris in Rhodes's name, telegraphs, 'Inform Chamberlain that I shall get through all right if he will support me, but he must not send cable like he sent to the High Commissioner,' and again, 'Unless you can make Chamberlain instruct the High Commissioner to proceed at once to Johannesburg the whole position is lost,' is it not perfectly obvious that there has been no understanding of any sort, and that the conspirators are attempting to force the Colonial Secretary's hand? Again, critics make much of the fact that shortly before the raid Mr. Chamberlain sold to the Chartered Company the strip of land from which the raid started, and that he made a hard bargain, exacting as much as 200,000l. for it. Surely the perversion of an argument could hardly go further, for if Mr. Chamberlain were in their confidence and in favour of their plan it is certain that he would have given them easy and not difficult terms for the land for which they asked. The supposition that Mr. Chamberlain was the tool of Rhodes in declaring war, presupposes that Mr. Chamberlain could impose his will without question upon a Cabinet which contained Lord Salisbury, Lord Lansdowne, Arthur Balfour, Hicks-Beach, and the other ministers. Such a supposition is too monstrous to discuss.

2. That it is a capitalists' war, engineered by company promoters and Jews.-After the Jameson Raid a large body of the public held this view, and it was this which to a great extent tied the hands of the Government, and stopped them from taking that strong line which might have prevented the accumulation of those huge armaments which could only be intended for use against ourselves. It took years to finally dissipate the idea, but how thoroughly it has been dissipated in the public mind is best shown by the patient fortitude with which our people have borne the long and weary struggle in which few families in the land have not lost either a friend or a relative. The complaisance of the British public towards capitalists goes no further than giving them their strict legal rights-and certainly does not extend to pouring out money and blood like water for their support. Such a supposition is absurd, nor can any reason be given why a body of high-minded and honourable British gentlemen like the Cabinet should sacrifice their country for the sake of a number of cosmopolitan financiers, most of whom are German Jews. The tax which will eventually be placed upon the Transvaal mining industry, in order to help to pay for the war, will in itself prove that the capitalists have no great voice in the councils of the nation. We know now that the leading capitalists in Johannesburg were the very men who most strenuously resisted an agitation which might lead to war. This seems natural enough when one considers how much capitalists had at stake, and how much to lose by war. The agitation for the franchise and other rights was a bona-fide liberal agitation, started by poor men, employés and miners, who intended to live in the country, not in Park Lane. The capitalists were the very last to be drawn into it. When I say capitalists I mean the capitalists with British sympathies, for there is indeed much to be said in favour of the war being a capitalists' war, in that it was largely caused by the anti-British attitude and advice of the South African Netherlands Company, the Dynamite Monopoly, and other leeches which drained the country. To them a free and honest government meant ruin, and they strained every nerve, even to paying bogus English agitators, in order to hinder the cause of reform. Their attitude undoubtedly had something to do with stiffening the backs of the Boers and so preventing concessions.

3. That Britain wanted the gold mines.-No possible accusation is more popular or more widely believed upon the Continent, and yet none could be more ridiculous when it is examined. The gold mines are private companies, with shares held by private shareholders, German and French, as well as British. Whether the British or the Boer flag flew over the country would not alienate a single share from any holder, nor would the wealth of Britain be in any way greater. She will be the poorer by the vast expense of the war, and it is unlikely that more than one-third of this expenditure can be covered by taxation of the profits of the gold mines. Apart from this limited contribution towards the war, how is Britain the richer because her flag flies over the Rand? The Transvaal will be a self-governing colony, like all other British colonies, with its own finance minister, its own budget, its own taxes, even its own power of imposing duties upon British merchandise. They will pay a British governor 10,000l., and he will be expected to spend 15,000l. We know all this because it is part of our British system, but it is not familiar to those nations who look upon colonies as sources of direct revenue to the mother country. It is the most general, and at the same time the most untenable, of all Continental comments upon the war. The second Transvaal war was the logical sequel of the first, and the first was fought before gold was discovered in the country.

4. That it was a monarchy against a republic.-This argument undoubtedly had weight with those true republics like the United States, France, and Switzerland, where people who were ignorant of the facts were led away by mere names. As a matter of fact Great Britain and the British colonies are among the most democratic communities in the world. They preserve, partly from sentiment, partly for political convenience, a hereditary chief, but the will of the people is decisive upon all questions, and every man by his vote helps to mould the destiny of the State. There is practically universal suffrage, and the highest offices of the State are within reach of any citizen who is competent to attain them. On the other hand, the Transvaal is an oligarchy, not a democracy, where half the inhabitants claim to be upon an entirely different footing from the other half. This rule represents the ascendency of one race over the other, such an ascendency as existed in Ireland in the eighteenth century. Technically the one country is a republic and the other a monarchy, but in truth the empire stood for liberty and the republic for tyranny, race ascendency, corruption, taxation without representation, and all that is most opposed to the broader conception of freedom.

5. That it was a strong nation attacking a weak one.-That appeal to sentiment and to the sporting instincts of the human race must always be a powerful one. But in this instance it is entirely misapplied. The preparation for war, the ultimatum, the invasion, and the first shedding of blood, all came from the nation which the result has shown to be the weaker. The reason why this smaller nation attacked so audaciously was that they knew perfectly well that they were at the time far the stronger power in South Africa, and all their information led them to believe that they would continue to be so even when Britain had put forth all her strength. It certainly seemed that they were justified in this belief. The chief military critics of the Continent had declared that 100,000 men was the outside figure which Britain could place in the field. Against these they knew that without any rising of their kinsmen in the Cape they could place fifty or sixty thousand men, and their military history had unfortunately led them to believe that such a force of Boers, operating under their own conditions with their own horses in their own country, was far superior to this number of British soldiers. They knew how excellent was their artillery, and how complete their preparations. A dozen extracts could be given to show how confident they were of success, from Blignant's letter with his fears that Chamberlain would do them out of the war, to Esselen's boast that he would not wash until he reached the sea. What they did not foresee, and what put out their plans, was that indignant wave of public opinion throughout the British Empire which increased threefold-as it would, if necessary, have increased tenfold-the strength of the army and so enabled it to beat down the Boer resistance. When war was declared, and for a very long time afterwards, it was the Boers who were the strong power and the British who were the weak one, and any sympathy given on the other understanding was sympathy misapplied. From that time onwards the war had to take its course, and the British had no choice but to push it to its end.

6. That the British refused to arbitrate.-This has been repeated ad nauseam, but the allegation will not bear investigation. There are some subjects which can be settled by arbitration, and all those Great Britain freely consented to treat in this fashion, before a tribunal which should be limited to Great Britain and South Africa. Such a tribunal would by no means be necessarily drawn from judges who were committed to one side or the other. There were many men whose moderation and discretion both sides would admit. Such a man, for example, was Rose Innes amongst the British, and de Villiers among those who had Africander sympathies. Both the Transvaal and the British Governments agreed that such a tribunal was competent, but they disagreed upon the point that the British Government desired to reserve some subjects from this arbitration.

The desire upon the part of Great Britain to exclude outsiders from the arbitration tribunal was due to the fact that to admit them was to give away the case before going into Court. The Transvaal claimed to be a sovereign international state. Great Britain denied it. If the Transvaal could appeal to arbitration as a peer among peers in a court of nations, she became ipso facto an international state. Therefore Great Britain refused such a court.

But why not refer all subjects to such a South African court as was finally accepted by both sides? The answer is that it is a monstrous hypocrisy to carry cases into an arbitration court, when you know beforehand that by their very nature they cannot possibly be settled by such a court. To quote Milner's words, 'It is, of course, absurd to suggest that the question whether the South African Republic does or does not treat British residents in that country with justice, and the British Government with the consideration and respect due to any friendly, not to say suzerain power, is a question capable of being referred to arbitration. You cannot arbitrate on broad questions of policy any more than on questions of national honour.' On this point of the limitation of arbitration the Transvaal leaders appear to have been as unanimous as the British, so that it is untrue to lay the blame of the restriction upon one side only. Mr. Reitz, in his scheme of arbitration formulated upon June 9, has the express clause 'That each side shall have the right to reserve and exclude points which appear to it to be too important to be submitted to arbitration.' To this the British Government agreed, making the further very great concession that an Orange Free Stater should not be regarded as a foreigner. The matter was in this state when the Transvaal sent its ultimatum. Up to the firing of the first shot the British Government still offered the only form of arbitration which was possible without giving away the question at issue. It was the Transvaal which, after agreeing to such a Court, turned suddenly to the arbitrament of the Mauser and the Creusot.

7. That the war was to avenge Majuba.-There can be no doubt that our defeat in this skirmish had left considerable heart-burnings which were not allayed by the subsequent attitude of the Boers and their assumption, testified to by Bryce and other friendly observers, that what we did after the action was due not to a magnanimous desire to repair a wrong but to craven fear. From the outset of the war there was a strong desire on the part of the soldiers to avenge Majuba, which was fully gratified when, upon the anniversary of that day, Cronje and his 4,000 brave companions had to raise the white flag. But that a desire to avenge Majuba swayed the policy of the country cannot be upheld in view of the fact that eighteen years had elapsed; that during that time the Boers had again and again broken the conventions by extending their boundaries; that three times matters were in such a positi

on that war might have resulted and yet that peace was successfully maintained. War might very easily have been forced upon the Boers during the years before they turned their country into an arsenal, when it would have been absolutely impossible for them to have sustained a long campaign. That it was not done and that the British Government remained patient until it received the outrageous ultimatum, is a proof that Majuba may have rankled in our memory but was not allowed to influence our policy.

8. What proof is there that the Boers ever had any aggressive designs upon the British?-It would be a misuse of terms to call the general Boer designs against the British a conspiracy, for it was openly advocated in the press, preached from the pulpit, and preached upon the platform, that the Dutch should predominate in South Africa, and that the portion of it which remained under the British flag should be absorbed by that which was outside it. So widespread and deep-seated was this ambition, that it was evident that Great Britain must, sooner or later, either yield to it or else sustain her position by force of arms. She was prepared to give Dutch citizens within her borders the vote, the power of making their own laws, complete religious and political freedom, and everything which their British comrades could have, without any distinction whatever; but when it came to hauling down the flag, it was certainly time that a stand should be made.

How this came about cannot be expressed more clearly than in the words of Paul Botha, who, as I have already said, was a voortrekker like Kruger himself, and a Boer of the Boers, save that he seems to have been a man with wider and more liberal views than his fellows. He was member for Kroonstadt in the Free State Raad.

'I am convinced,' he says, 'that Kruger's influence completely changed the character of the Afrikander Bond-an organisation which I believe Hofmeyr started at the Cape with the legitimate purpose of securing certain political privileges, but which, under Kruger's henchmen-Sauer, Merriman, Te Water, and others-raised unrest in the Cape Colony.

'This successful anti-British policy of Kruger created a number of imitators-Steyn, Fischer, Esselen, Smuts, and numerous other young educated Africanders of the Transvaal, Orange Free State, and the Cape Colony, who, misled by his successes, ambitiously hoped by the same means to raise themselves to the same pinnacle.

'Krugerism under them developed into a reign of terror. If you were anti-Kruger you were stigmatised as "Engelschgezind," and a traitor to your people, unworthy of a hearing. I have suffered bitterly from this taunt, especially under Steyn's régime. The more hostile you were to England the greater patriot you were accounted.

'This gang, which I wish to be clearly understood was spread over the whole of South Africa, the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and the Cape Colony, used the Bond, the press, and the pulpit to further its schemes.

'Reitz, whom I believe to have been an honest enthusiast, set himself up as second sponsor to the Bond and voiced the doctrine of this gang: "Africa for the Africanders. Sweep the English into the sea." With an alluring cry like this, it will be readily understood how easy it was to inflame the imagination of the illiterate and uneducated Boer, and to work upon his vanity and prejudices. That pernicious rag, Carl Borckenhagen's "Bloemfontein Express," enormously contributed to spreading this doctrine in the Orange Free State. I myself firmly believe that the "Express" was subsidised by Kruger. It was no mystery to me from where Borckenhagen, a full-blooded German, got his ardent Free State patriotism.

'In the Transvaal this was done by the "Volksstem," written by a Hollander and subsidised by Kruger; by the "Rand Post," also written by a Hollander, also subsidised by Paul Kruger; and in the Cape Colony by the "Patriot," which was started by intriguers and rebels to their own Government, at the Paarl-a hot-bed of false Africanderism. "Ons Land" may be an honest paper, but by fostering impossible ideas it has done us incalculable harm. It grieves me to think that my poor people, through want of education, had to swallow this poison undiluted.

'Is it possible to imagine that Steyn, Fischer, and the other educated men of the Free State did not know that, following Kruger's hostile policy of eliminating the preponderating Power in South Africa, meant that that Power would be forced either to fight in self-preservation or to disappear ignominiously? For I maintain that there were only two courses open to England in answer to Kruger's challenging policy-to fight or to retire from South Africa. It was only possible for men suffering from tremendously swollen heads, such as our leaders were suffering from, not to see the obvious or to doubt the issue.'

So much for a Boer's straightforward account of the forces at work, and the influences which were at the back of those forces. It sums the situation up tersely, but the situation itself was evident and dominated Cape politics. The ambitions of Africanderdom were discussed in the broad light of day in the editorial, in the sermon, in the speech, though the details by which those ambitions were to be carried out were only whispered on the Dutch stoeps.

Here are the opinions of Reitz, the man who more than all others, save his master, has the blood of the fallen upon his conscience. It is taken from the 'Reminiscences' of Mr. Theophilus Schreiner, the brother of the ex-Prime Minister of the Cape:

'I met Mr. Reitz, then a judge of the Orange Free State, in Bloemfontein between seventeen and eighteen years ago, shortly after the retrocession of the Transvaal, and when he was busy establishing the Afrikander Bond. It must be patent to everyone that at that time, at all events, England and its Government had no intention of taking away the independence of the Transvaal, for she had just "magnanimously" granted the same; no intention of making war on the republics, for she had just made peace; no intention to seize the Rand gold fields, for they were not yet discovered. At that time, then, I met Mr. Reitz, and he did his best to get me to become a member of his Afrikander Bond, but, after studying its constitution and programme, I refused to do so, whereupon the following colloquy in substance took place between us, which has been indelibly imprinted on my mind ever since:

'Reitz: Why do you refuse? Is the object of getting the people to take an interest in political matters not a good one?

'Myself: Yes, it is; but I seem to see plainly here between the lines of this constitution much more ultimately aimed at than that.

'Reitz: What?

'Myself: I see quite clearly that the ultimate object aimed at is the overthrow of the British power and the expulsion of the British flag from South Africa.

'Reitz (with his pleasant conscious smile, as of one whose secret thought and purpose had been discovered, and who was not altogether displeased that such was the case): Well, what if it is so?

'Myself: You don't suppose, do you, that that flag is going to disappear from South Africa without a tremendous struggle and fight?

'Reitz (with the same pleasant self-conscious, self-satisfied, and yet semi-apologetic smile): Well, I suppose not; but even so, what of that?

'Myself: Only this, that when that struggle takes place you and I will be on opposite sides; and what is more, the God who was on the side of the Transvaal in the late war, because it had right on its side, will be on the side of England, because He must view with abhorrence any plotting and scheming to overthrow her power and position in South Africa, which have been ordained by Him.

'Reitz: We'll see.

'Thus the conversation ended, but during the seventeen years that have elapsed I have watched the propaganda for the overthrow of British power in South Africa being ceaselessly spread by every possible means-the press, the pulpit, the platform, the schools, the colleges, the Legislature-until it has culminated in the present war, of which Mr. Reitz and his co-workers are the origin and the cause. Believe me, the day on which F. W. Reitz sat down to pen his ultimatum to Great Britain was the proudest and happiest moment of his life, and one which had for long years been looked forward to by him with eager longing and expectation.'

Compare with these utterances of a Dutch politician of the Cape, and of a Dutch politician of the Orange Free State, the following passage from a speech delivered by Kruger at Bloemfontein in the year 1887, long before Jameson raids or franchise agitations:

'I think it too soon to speak of a United South Africa under one flag. Which flag was it to be? The Queen of England would object to having her flag hauled down, and we, the burghers of the Transvaal, object to hauling ours down. What is to be done? We are now small and of little importance, but we are growing, and are preparing the way to take our place among the great nations of the world.'

'The dream of our life,' said another, 'is a union of the States of South Africa, and this has to come from within, not from without. When that is accomplished, South Africa will be great.'

Always the same theory from all quarters of Dutch thought, to be followed by many signs that the idea was being prepared for in practice. I repeat, that the fairest and most unbiassed historian cannot dismiss the movement as a myth.

And to this one may retort, Why should they not do so? Why should they not have their own views as to the future of South Africa? Why should they not endeavour to have one universal flag and one common speech? Why should they not win over our colonists, if they can, and push us into the sea? I see no reason why they should not. Let them try if they will. And let us try to prevent them. But let us have an end of talk about British aggression, of capitalist designs upon the gold fields, of the wrongs of a pastoral people, and all the other veils which have been used to cover the issue. Let those who talk about British designs upon the republics turn their attention for a moment to the evidence which there is for republican designs upon the colonies. Let them reflect that in the British system all white men are equal, and that in the Boer one race has persecuted the other; and let them consider under which the truest freedom lies, which stands for universal liberty, and which for reaction and racial hatred. Let them ponder and answer all this before they determine where their sympathies lie.

Long before the war, when the British public and the British Government also had every confidence that the solution would be found in peace, every burgher had been provided with his rifle, his ammunition, and his instructions as to the part which he was to play in that war which they looked upon as certain. A huge conspiracy as to the future, which might be verbally discussed but which must not be written, seems to have prevailed among the farmers. Curious evidence of it came into my own hands in this fashion. After a small action at which I was present I entered a deserted Boer farmhouse which had been part of the enemy's position, and, desiring to carry away some souvenir which should be of no value, I took some papers which appeared to be children's writing-exercises. They were so, but among them were one or two letters, one of which I append in all its frankness and simplicity. The date is some fourteen weeks before the declaration of war, when the British were anxious for and confident in a peaceful solution:

'Parad?s, June 25, 1899.

'My dear Henry,-I taking my pen up to write you these few lines. That we all are in good health, hoping to hear the same from you all. And the letter of the 18th is handed to me. And I feel very much obliged that I hear you are all in good health.... Here by us are the fields very dry, and the dams just by dry also. Dear Henry, the war are by us very much. How is it there by you. News is very scarce to write, but much to speak by ourselves. I must now close with my letter because I see that you will be tired out to read it. With best love to you and your family so I remain your faithfully friend,

'Pieter Wiese.'

Here is, in itself, as it seems to me, evidence of that great conspiracy, not of ambitions (for there was no reason why they should not be openly discussed), but of weapons and of dates for using them, which was going on all the time behind that cloud of suspicious negotiations with which the Boer Governments veiled their resolution to attack the British. A small straw, no doubt, but the result has shown how deep and dangerous was the current which it indicates. Here is a letter from one of the Snymans to his brother at a later period, but still a month before the war. He is talking of Kruger:

'The old chap was nearly raving about it, and said that the burghers wanted to tie his hands, and so, brother, the thing is simply war and nothing else. He said we had gone too far, and help from oversea was positively promised, only unanimity of opinion must reign here or we could neither expect nor obtain assistance. Brother, the old man and his Hollander dogs talk very easily about the thing; but what shall we do, because if one speaks against it one is simply a rebel? So I remain dumb.

'On the stoep it is nothing but war, but in the Raad everything is peace and Queen. Those are the politics they talk. I have nothing more to say here, but I can tell you a good deal. Brother, old Reitz says Chamberlain will have a great surprise one of these days, and the burghers must sleep with one eye open.

'It is rumoured here that our military officers work day and night to send old Victoria an ultimatum before she is ready.'

'On the stoep it is nothing but war, but in the Raad everything is peace.' No wonder the British overtures were in vain.

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