On April 6th the Government of the South African Republic left Kroonstad by rail, and arrived at Klerksdorp the next day, where they received the letter from President Steyn, mentioned above, as well as the following from General de la Rey:--
IN THE VELD, April 7, 1902.
His Honour The Acting State President, S.A.R., Klerksdorp.
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of Your Honour's telegram forwarded to me by His Excellency Lord Kitchener. I leave to-day with His Honour President Steyn for Klerksdorp, and hope, D.V., to arrive there on Wednesday next.
I have the honour to be, &c., J. H. DE LA REY, Asst. Commandant General.
On the evening of April 7th Commandant General L. Botha also arrived at Klerksdorp.
President Steyn, accompanied by his Executive Council and by General de la Rey, left the farm Weltevreden on April 7th, and arrived at Klerksdorp at 12 o'clock on April 9th.
The British authorities gave accommodation to the Free State Government in the Old Town, while the Transvaal Government was accommodated in the New Town.
The first meeting between the two Governments took place on Wednesday afternoon, April 9th, at three o'clock, in a large tent which had been pitched for that purpose some little distance out of the town.
There were present, representing the South African Republic:--
The Acting State President, S. W. Burger. The State Secretary, F. W. Reitz. The Commandant General, Louis Botha. General de la Rey. Mr. L. J. Meyer. Mr. J. C. Krogh.
Also Mr. L. J. Jacobsz, Asst. State Attorney; Mr. N. J. de Wet, Military Secretary of the Commandant General; Mr. I. S. Ferrerra, Military Secretary of General de la Rey, and Mr. D. van Velden, Secretary of the Executive Council.
Representing the Orange Free State:--
President M. T. Steyn. Chief Commandant C. R. de Wet. General J. B. M. Hertzog. General C. H. Olivier. Acting Government Secretary W. J. C. Brebner.
Further: Revd. J. D. Kestell, Acting Secretary of the Executive Council, and Mr. B. J. du Plessis, Private Secretary to President Steyn.
The Acting State President of the South African Republic was elected Chairman.
After the meeting had been opened with prayer, the Chairman spoke as follows:--
As you are aware, we have for some time been desirous of meeting one another. The correspondence between the Netherlands Minister and Lord Lansdowne was sent us by Lord Kitchener, under instructions from his Government. I consider the transmission by the British Government of this correspondence as an invitation from England to the two Republics to discuss the question of peace. Having placed this interpretation upon England's action, I requested a safe-conduct from Lord Kitchener, in order to be enabled to meet the President and Government of the Orange Free State. These circumstances suggested to us that the opportune time to meet one another had arrived. When we see another Government trying to do something for us, I think that we ought to make use thereof. It was impossible for us to meet the Free State Government in another way, and though it was hard for us to make use of the enemy, our cause is of too great importance for us to consider that. I regret that we had to remain at Kroonstad for such a long time. This was certainly not desirable. Faithful, however, to our compact, we can do nothing without the Orange Free State. I considered that it was time for us, the Leaders of the People, to meet each other and discuss matters fully, with our eyes fixed on God. We must face our condition as it really is. Our object is to make a proposal for the restoration of peace. The terms of such a proposal must be discussed by us. If we had not availed ourselves of this opportunity, I would not have been able to justify my actions to the People. I believe all will agree with me that it has become necessary for us to take such a step.
The Meeting then desired to have a brief review from the three Generals of the conditions in their respective districts.
The Commandant General of the South African Republic said, that after the fight at Bakenlaagte the enemy proceeded against him with eighteen columns. Almost all the cattle in his District was taken. By the building of block houses the space on the High Veld was limited very much. The lines of block houses were only about three or four hours' ride from each other. He had to leave the High Veld to try to lead the enemy away, and proceeded to the Vryheid district. He explained how the block house lines on the High Veld ran. In the course of their last operations the enemy captured about 1,000 men on the High Veld, of which the half were good men. The speaker then enumerated the numerical strength of his commandos. He had eight commandos under him, numbering 5,200 men. Food, he said further, was scarce. There was hardly a sheep to be seen in his division, and in one district, which he mentioned, there were only 20 head of cattle. In some other districts conditions were more favourable, and they could not complain of want. There were no mealies whatever, except what was standing in the fields. The question of horses also caused anxiety. Four hundred of his men went on foot. He concluded by bringing to the notice of the Governments the fact that Zulus had been armed against him. The Swazies, with the exception of a small number, were well disposed. On the whole the spirit of the burghers was good. Only here and there could dejection be discerned.
Chief Commandant de Wet said that innumerable hostile forces had continually operated against him during the last eight or ten months. He, with his Government, were so surrounded by the enemy in the North-eastern districts of the Free State, that they had to fight their way out. Seven hundred burghers were then captured, but among them there were many grey-beards, boys, and other men not capable of serving, so that the number of serviceable burghers captured was not more than 250. As regards cattle, if one compared the present condition with that before the war, you would have to say, "There are no cattle." However, there were sufficient for the burghers and families. In the Western and South-western portions of the Free State almost all the burghers laid down their arms when the great forces of the enemy marched through there for the first time. The Commandos there were consequently very weak. They had enough corn in those districts for a full year. Cattle, however, were so scarce that bulls and rams were slaughtered. From the division where General Brand commanded, the enemy at an earlier stage of the war removed all cattle, but now they had large herds again and sufficient corn to last for a year. In the South-eastern portion of the Free State matters were much the same as in the South-western. In the districts of Boshof and Hoopstad there were many sheep and cattle, and there was no want of mealies. The numerical strength in the entire State amounted to 5,000 men, and there were many burghers in the Cape Colony. The spirit of all the burghers was splendid.
General de la Rey informed the meeting that he still had 2,000 men under arms. By means of a line of block houses the enemy had divided the Western districts, and thus made matters difficult for him. Zeerust and Rustenburg were still intact. The approach to his food-districts was also hampered by block houses, much to his detriment. There were between 1,800 and 2,000 men who fought. There were also others who had no horses. These he concealed, and if a burgher fell or was wounded, one of them was brought out to take his place. The burghers were also destitute of the necessary clothes. Mealies were still abundant, and they had a fair number of cattle, but at the present moment the British had all the mealie and Kaffir-corn fields in their possession, and if they should cut these fields off by a block house line, his food would be in their hands. With reference to the Cape Colony, he had about 1,800 men there, and General de Wet about 600. He saw a chance of still continuing the war.
The Members of the Transvaal Government then reported that they had met General Kritzinger at Kroonstad. He had received permission from the British to see President Steyn, and he had greatly regretted that the President had not been there. With regard to the Cape Colony he had not given a hopeful prospect to the Transvaal delegates. He stated that the entire force there amounted to from 1,800 to 2,000 men. There was a great want of horses, and the enemy made it impossible for the commandos to get them, as not only horses and mules, but also donkeys were taken possession of by the enemy. He also said that many Colonists had laid down their arms.
To this President Steyn and General de Wet replied that at the time when General Kritzinger made the above statements he was not competent to express an opinion on the state of affairs in the Cape Colony from personal observation, because after his rather protracted visit to the Free State he had barely returned to the Cape Colony when he was captured at Hanover, badly wounded.
The Meeting then proceeded to the discussion of the question whether they would request a personal interview with Lord Kitchener, or make him a proposal in writing.
President Steyn said that, as far as he was concerned, there was only one condition upon which he could make peace, and that was: Independence. His opinion was still the same as a year ago, and he saw nothing to make him change. It was plain to him that the enemy continually climbed down from the position they had taken up. If the enemy did not wish the Republics to remain independent, the struggle must continue. This was what the burghers also desired. Rather than make terms with the British he would submit unconditionally to them for ever.
State Secretary Reitz said that to make terms and to give up the country were two distinct matters. They should try to grasp the position in which England stood. If England consented to the existence of the independence of the Republics, she would be done for. For that reason it was probable that England would not lend her ear to the two Republican Governments if independence was immediately insisted upon. The question therefore was whether terms could not be offered. The Republics were the weaker party, and therefore they could make the offer. That would also be proof that they were prepared to make peace. They should make a proposal of some kind or other. The making of such a proposal did not signify that thereby their independence was sacrificed, but that the question of independence was not for the time being under discussion.
President Steyn was of opinion that the enemy should be compelled to state what terms they were prepared to give.
Mr. Krogh thought that a conference with the British should first be requested, but no proposals made for the present.
General de la Rey said that the Republics should make a proposal for the restoration of peace, especially after what the Netherlands Government had done. It could not be expected that the British would now make a peace proposal.
The Acting State President of the South African Republic said the war had done away with the Status quo ante bellum. Other proposals should therefore be made. The question was: what proposals? If Lord Kitchener agreed to a conference with them, he would ask: what do you propose? In his opinion the two Governments should ask and concede as much as it was in their power to do. To retain their independence, they should concede something. It was better for them to make a proposal first. If the enemy made the first proposal it would be much more difficult for them (the Boers) to get some point or other conceded, than to obtain the alteration of a proposal made from the Republican side. The matter should be considered from all sides, and its seriousness, especially, should not be lost sight of. If no change came, many of the burghers, forced by sheer necessity, would go over to the enemy. Amongst the people there were always the courageous and the disheartened. And the two elements were still amongst them. A burgher who was with them to-day went to lay down his arms to-morrow. The cause became weaker day by day. Every man who was lost was gone, and his place could not be filled up. The question was whether it was better to continue until the people were exterminated, man, woman and child, than to try to come to terms. Or, on the other hand, to continue until they obtained what they wanted, only to find that the people were extirpated. For whose benefit would the struggle then have been carried on? It should seriously be considered whether the decision taken last year should be adhered to, or whether an attempt should be made to obtain for the people what was possible to obtain. If they must surrender unconditionally, the time should be fixed for doing so, and not delayed till all were captured or killed. They should not be lead away too much by their feelings. If he acted emotionally he would say, "Continue." But they should use their heads.
After this the meeting adjourned to the following morning.
THURSDAY, APRIL 10, 1902.
The meeting was resumed. General L. J. Meyer was the first speaker. He said that if anyone intended to continue the struggle he would stand by him, but they should first consider how great the responsibility was that rested on the two Republican Governments. The principal matter that should be taken into consideration was what is to the advantage of the people. Unless a miracle occurred nothing could save the people. He knew what their condition was as regarded food and ammunition. Their cause--whatever might be said--had not improved since June, 1901, but had gone backward. They should not shut their eyes to facts. The rebellion in the Cape Colony was, after all, feeble, and the cause was not progressing there. Would it not be possible to conclude a federal union with the two Colonies? An offensive and defensive treaty? Friendship in trade? If all attempts in these directions came to nothing, could they not be satisfied with an "encumbered independence"? and if England did not want this, and refused to concede anything, the time would have arrived for the matter to be laid before the people.
Chief Commandant de Wet said he did not wish to boast when he said that the enemy had concentrated their greatest forces against him, and that he had at his disposal the smallest forces; but as far as he was concerned there could be no mention of the surrender of their independence. Their cause had progressed since last June. The places of the burghers whom they lost in the Republics were filled by recruits in the Cape Colony. He had sufficient food, clothes, and ammunition for more than a year. Before he conceded an iota of their independence he would allow himself to be banished for ever.
State Secretary Reitz asked whether they should not discuss some questions first. Should they not, for example: (1) Request an armistice; (2) Try to get into communication with their Deputation; (3) Make proposals in which the following points were raised: (a) Customs Convention; (b) Postal Union; (c) The Franchise; (d) Their Foreign Affairs; (e) Amnesty for Colonial Burghers; (f) Their relation to other Powers; (g) The Paramount Power of England, and (4) In order that they did not at once repulse the British by using the word "Independence," would it not be better to use another word instead, for instance, "Self-government"?
General Hertzog said that the Constitution of the Republics did not permit the Governments to meddle with the independence. That was most severely punishable under Roman-Dutch law. The Governments could not part with the independence of the Republics without authority from the people. They should request a conference with Lord Kitchener on the basis of their independence. All they heard was from British sources, and they therefore did not know what the true condition of affairs was. What assurance had they that England was not willing to give them their independence, if she could retain the Cape Colony?
General de la Rey also thought that they should demand their independence. They should concede only what was forced from them.
General Hertzog, seconded by General Olivier, then submitted a draft resolution to the meeting, which was referred to a committee consisting of the two Presidents, the State Secretary, and General Hertzog.
After an adjournment the committee handed in a draft resolution, which was accepted and dispatched to Lord Kitchener.
The resolution read as follows:--
Resolution passed at Klerksdorp by the Governments of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.
"The Governments of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State having met with reference to the transmission to them of the correspondence which passed in Europe between the Government of His Majesty the King of England and the Government of Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands concerning the desirability of giving the Governments of these Republics an opportunity of communicating with their plenipotentiaries in Europe, who still continue to enjoy the confidence of both the Republics;
"Considering the spirit of reconciliation (rapprochement) which is apparent on the part of the Government of His Britannic Majesty, as well as to the desire therein expressed by Lord Lansdowne on behalf of his Government to cause this struggle to come to an end;
"Are of opinion that this is a suitable time to again show their willingness to do all in their power to terminate this war; and
"Consequently resolve to make certain proposals to Lord Kitchener as representing the Government of His Britannic Majesty, which can serve as a basis for further negotiations with the object of establishing the desired peace;
"It is further the view of both these Governments that in order to accelerate the attainment of the desired object, and to prevent misunderstandings as much as possible, His Excellency Lord Kitchener be requested to meet the two Republican Governments personally, at a time and place to be appointed by him, in order to enable them to submit to him direct peace proposals, which they are prepared to make, in order thus by means of direct discussion and conference with him immediately to solve all questions which may arise, and thereby to ensure that this meeting shall bear the desired fruit."
This resolution was forwarded to Lord Kitchener under covering letter signed by the two Presidents.
In the afternoon, after a general discussion, the same Committee was appointed to make a draft of the points which could be conceded to the British.
The meeting adjourned till the following morning.
APRIL 11, 1902.
On meeting again the following morning, the Committee submitted the following document:--
"Proceeding from the basis that they do not recognise the annexation, the two Governments are prepared to conclude peace by conceding the following matters:--
1. The concluding of a perpetual Treaty of friendship and peace, including:--
(a) Arrangements relative to a Customs Convention.
(b) Post, Telegraph and Railway Union,
(c) Fixing of the Franchise.
2. Dismantling of all State Forts.
3. Arbitration in all future differences between the contracting parties, an equal number of arbitrators to be appointed by each party from their subjects, with an umpire to be chosen by both parties.
4. Equal educational rights for both the English and Dutch languages.
5. Mutual amnesty.
Mr. Krogh asked whether the following could not be included in the proposal:--"The conclusion of an offensive and defensive Treaty with England."
President Steyn remarked that if they themselves offered to conclude an offensive and defensive treaty with England, they would thereby alienate all other nations from them. England would use such proposal to kill all the sympathy other nations had for them.
The meeting did not consider it advisable to add anything to the proposal, and accepted it as submitted by the Committee.
Mr. L. J. Jacobsz inquired whether, although it was plain that the Governments were not competent to decide on questions touching the independence of the Republics, they could not raise the point. If England did not accept the proposal of the Republican Governments, and the matter had to be laid before the people, it would be well if those Governments knew what England was prepared to give instead of the independence. The question should be thoroughly taken into serious consideration by their Governments, because, in his opinion, matters had not improved, but become worse since June, 1901.
General Hertzog was of opinion that the Republican outlook had improved during the past year. As proof thereof he pointed to the good spirit that prevailed amongst the burghers. They were determined to persevere. He also pointed to the engagements that had taken place since June, 1901. Then it had also been said that the cause was hopeless, and that no engagement of any importance could still be fought. He also showed that they knew nothing of the real condition of the enemy. The Republics being so shut off made that impossible. They should bear in mind that the enemy also had a hard time of it. England could not continue indefinitely to enlist soldiers and to borrow money. He was not yet prepared to surrender his independence.
Commandant General Botha said that they could not take it amiss in one another if there was no unanimity of views. They had gathered together confidentially, and should treat one another open-heartedly. There was nothing that urged him personally to terminate the struggle. He could flee about as well as anyone else, but when he considered the circumstances, he was bound to say, "We are becoming weaker." They were being forced out of those parts of the country which were the best for them, and to which they had clung most tenaciously. He wished to prove from facts that they had become weaker. In the Northern and South-eastern parts of the Republic they had 9,570 men a year ago. Now they had there only 5,200 men, a reduction thus of 4,370 men. At their meeting on June 20th last year he had said that they should throw the responsibility of the continuance of the war more upon the people. They should then have said plainly that only faith and perseverance could save them, and that there was no other means of salvation. However, the majority of them had taken another view. What he then specially relied upon was the Cape Colony, on the strength of the reports that they received from there. Their reports were to the effect that 2,000 burghers had risen in the Cape Colony. Now, according to the statements of Generals de Wet and de la Rey, there were about 600 of his (General Botha's) burghers and of the Free State burghers together in the Cape Colony; altogether there were about 2,600 burghers under arms there. There has therefore been no further rising during the past year. He was firmly convinced that they could expect nothing from the rebellion in the Cape Colony. The time for a big rising there was past. It appeared that their men were scattered over that Colony in small groups, and effected nothing. They had to live on those people who were well disposed towards them (the Boers), and the result was that those people were treated very harshly by the enemy, and would be compelled later to assist the latter to drive those groups of rebels out of the country. Already many Colonists had been hanged. Their cause was often compared to that of the American Colonists, but it was not clear to him how that comparison could be made. The enemy (the British) had about 40,000 men in America, and America had more than one million inhabitants. She also had the support of France, and a means of importing supplies. They (the Boers) had no such means of importing what was necessary, and there was no proper communication with the outside world. The forces of the enemy in the country were much greater than the entire male population of the two Republics. Their population had now been reduced to 15,000 or 16,000 men. Had they grounds for saying that they with 15,000 men could achieve what 50,000 burghers could not do? They were becoming so weak that he was afraid that they would afterwards no longer be considered a party that had to be reckoned with. It was not impossible that they would afterwards be declared rebels, and then a mutual murdering would take place. He did not think that it could be expected of him to co-operate towards that end. They could not speak of "right," because they knew from sad experience that the stronger party did just what it wanted to. Their people were too good to allow matters to proceed so far. Scheepers was already under the sod, and whom must they shoot for him? Not an ordinary soldier, but an officer, for only officers were equal to their burghers. If the enemy continued to capture burghers as they had done during the last year, then they would within a short time become too weak to effect anything. They had indeed during the last year had such successful engagements that they could hardly account for it themselves, but it was also equally true that the best part of their country was being made uninhabitable for their commandos. In the High Veld there was no more food for their people. They could not bring food there either, because if wagons with provisions were sent thither the enemy captured the greater part of them. He had already informed his Government and General de la Rey that he would be obliged to give up certain portions of the country, and they would have to discuss whither the commandos of those parts had to go.
How must this war end? Must they wait until everyone had been captured? or should they, for the sake of their people, adopt another course? His Government, his officers, and he himself, could say: "Let the enemy carry out their proclamations concerning us. We have nothing more to lose. We have fought for nothing else than our country, and wish to have that back or nothing else. Banish us, banish the Government." But then, what about the People? The People could not be banished. Was there now not still a chance to save something for the People? He considered this point worthy of consideration. For their Leaders he thought it would be easier to continue till they died a manly death, or till they were banished to far-off islands, than to submit to the yoke of the enemy; but they had a duty towards the People.
The State Secretary thought it would be best for the People themselves to elect persons to make their views clear to the Government.
At this juncture a telegram was received from Lord Kitchener stating that he was prepared to have a personal interview with the two Republican Governments, and requesting them to come to Pretoria that same evening.