In connection with the publication, by the Rev. J. D. Kestell and Mr. D. E. van Velden, of the official minutes of the Peace Negotiations (together with the official correspondence relating thereto) between the British Government and the Governments of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, which terminated in the Peace concluded at Vereeniging on May 31, 1902, I do not wish in this introduction to enter into details, but merely to confine my remarks to the great responsibility which rested upon us and to the question, "Was it necessary to conclude Peace?"
If it was a task of supreme importance to decide to enter upon the struggle which had been waged, if it was an arduous and difficult duty to carry on the struggle, it was much harder and more difficult to foresee what the result of that struggle would be, and still harder and more difficult to decide to give it up. With how much hope, fear, and anxiety was not the end looked forward to! And when the end came, what did it not cost us to persuade the head to do what the heart refused to perform? What was realised of that hope for which there had been such a struggle, for which so much had been suffered, so much endured, so much sacrificed--the Reader will find in this book. He will also find in it the correspondence which led up to, and was carried on during, the Peace Negotiations; the proceedings at our meetings at Klerksdorp, Pretoria, and Vereeniging; the opinions, views, and grounds upon which the leaders of the people acted, in so far as those were expressed. You will not, however, find here the struggle that took place at Vereeniging within every Delegate between the heart and the head; the intense effort which it cost us to bring ourselves to acknowledge to our powerful enemy that we had been overpowered, exhausted, and were unable to continue the struggle any longer; to acknowledge to ourselves and posterity that our sacrifices, the blood and tears that had been shed, the indescribable anxiety for wife and children, the suffering and death of the thousands of innocent women and children, the awful evils which had fallen to the lot of the rebels, had been all in vain; that we were about to lose all for which we had suffered and sacrificed. All this, I say, you do not find recorded here, but you may read it in the grey hairs of the Delegates to Vereeniging and of our people, in the deep wrinkles on their faces, and in the expression on the countenance of every Boer--that expression which cannot conceal what the soul had to endure. We had already sacrificed much, yet, in spite of all, the hope had inseparably clung to us that no sacrifice, no privation, no loss would be in vain. There at Vereeniging, however, we had to surrender what was dearest to us, we had to stand at the open grave of the two Republics, and we had to say with bowed heads: "We had not hoped, expected, willed for this, but--Thy will be done!"
We are asked: "Why did you make peace? Why did you not persevere? Was there no hope? Had the last resources been exhausted, and was all your strength spent?" To these questions I must emphatically reply "Yes"; there was no means that had not been resorted to, no strength, no reasonable hope left. As rational beings we could see no grounds upon which to continue the struggle with any hope of success. It was, however, not the arms of the enemy which directly compelled us to surrender, but another sword which they had stretched out over us--namely, the sword of hunger and nakedness, and, what weighed most heavily of all, the awful mortality amongst our women and children in the Concentration Camps. I, as Acting State President, upon whom great responsibility rested, was convinced that it was time for us to conclude peace, not for the sake of ourselves, the leaders, but for the sake of the People, who were so faithful, in order to preserve the root that still remained, and in order not to allow our nation to be entirely exterminated; out of the ruins of our country to endeavour later on to develop a South African nationality, to build up the nation again, and to preserve the unity of the People. It was our conviction that the further prosecution of the war would mean the destruction of our national existence. Whether that conviction was correct or not, we confidently leave to the judgment of posterity.
Allow me also a reply to the question: "Why did we not conclude peace sooner?" A question which by some is even put reproachfully. My answer is that, as we fought for the retention of our Fatherland and our National honour, we, as men, could not give up the struggle before we had convincing proof that we had persevered and resisted to the uttermost. That proof was thrust upon us at Vereeniging, and now every one who defended his Fatherland to the last can bear his fate with an easy conscience, and the world is convinced with us that we fought to the bitter end. With all our disappointments we had further to experience that Great Britain, in addition to the tremendous forces with which her mighty Empire supplied, also availed herself of natives and other unjustifiable means. I wish merely to mention this.
At Vereeniging we began by looking up prayerfully to God, Who decides the destinies of men and nations, and became convinced that it was the right time to make peace, and that we were on the right road by concluding the Treaty of Vereeniging. My closing words at Vereeniging were: "Comrades, we stand beside the grave of both Republics, but not at the grave of our People. We have laid down our arms and concluded the struggle which has brought death, misery, and destruction. But now we have to enter upon another struggle, much greater and much nobler. It will be our duty to labour with vigour and sacrifice at the rebuilding of our nation. Therein lies a great work before us. Although our former functions have now lapsed, our calling and duty still remain. The People who have looked up to us and remained so faithful to the end will continue to look up to us, and rightly expect assistance and advice under the altered circumstances. Let it always be our aim to serve our People."
Have subsequent events not proved that our view was correct?
Peace! How was it received?
I think the answer must be: "With deep disappointment." The victors did not exult. Was it perhaps because they involuntarily felt that from the time when they, principally upon distorted representations, unjustifiably interfered with the affairs of the South African Republic, up to the Conference at Vereeniging, they had achieved no honour? Our People, especially the women and daughters in the Concentration Camps, were deeply dismayed. I have never seen a more impressive and sadder scene than the sight of the 4,000 women and children in the Merebank Concentration Camp, Natal, when I informed them that we had concluded peace, by which we had had to sacrifice our country. The question: "Is it for this that I sacrificed my husband, my son, my child?"--which resounded in my ears from the lips of the weeping women made the discharge of this, my last duty, also the most painful one. The deep conviction was there wrought in me that it was only their faith in God that enabled these women and children to endure what they had had to endure. May their patience, their courage, their faith, be transmitted to their descendants!
I would further like to say that it was hard for us all, especially for me, to be deprived, during the Negotiations at Vereeniging, of the advice and support of President Steyn, who was forced by illness to leave us during the early days of the negotiations. The absence of his strong shoulder made our task so much harder.
S. W. BURGER.
Pretoria, October, 1907.
In response to wishes very generally expressed, an English translation of "De Vredesonderhandelingen tusschen Boer en Brit in Zuid Afrika" (The Peace Negotiations between Boer and Briton in South Africa) is now placed before the Public.
Though the greatest care has been taken to ensure that the translation conveys to the reader exactly what the Dutch original contains, the latter remains the official record, from the Boer side, of the Peace Negotiations. The translator accepts all responsibility for the English translation.
In anticipation of any critical remarks that may be made, it is only due to state that the addition to the English translation of a few facsimiles of original documents and the few verbal improvements are by no means due to a desire to differentiate between the publications in the two languages, but are merely the improvements which, as every author knows, suggests themselves and are rendered possible by the publication of a later edition.
The Reader will not always find the translation of the speeches in idiomatic English, but it may be pointed out that in most cases that defect is due to the translator having aimed at preserving, as far as possible the stamp of originality as it exists in the original.
Pretoria, September, 1911.