Early the next morning, Saturday, April 12th, 1902, the two Republican Governments, travelling in separate trains, arrived at Pretoria, and at nine o'clock a meeting with Lord Kitchener took place in his house.
Lord Kitchener expressed the desire that they should first confer informally, and that the Secretaries should withdraw.
The Secretaries then left the chamber, and therefore the discussion that ensued between Lord Kitchener and the Governments cannot be communicated officially.
However, we publish the following report, embracing what took place at the interview on April 12th, 1902, with Lord Kitchener, and at the interview with Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner on April 14th and following days, which was taken down by the Rev. J. D. Kestell immediately afterwards, as communicated to him by General Hertzog. The report was immediately revised by President Steyn and by the Government Secretary, Mr. W. J. C. Brebner. This report can therefore be considered as secondary evidence of great value.
After a few everyday observations, President Steyn remarked that Lord Kitchener might begin.
Thereupon Lord Kitchener began. He spoke in the tone of a person who had a grievance. He wished, he said, to say something concerning what he had been reported as having said in February, 1901, when he negotiated with General Louis Botha. In connection with those negotiations, he declared that he had been misrepresented, wrong motives having been imputed to him. It had been said, for instance, that he had aimed at the destruction of the Boers. He could, however, assure them that no such thing had ever been his intention. Those who said so grossly misrepresented him. (Whether what he said was aimed at General Botha, nobody can say--he mentioned no names. He spoke, however, in the tone of a person who considered that he had been unfairly treated.) "But," he suddenly said, "that is past. I only say this because no official minutes are being kept, everything must take place here informally and in a friendly manner ... I understand that you have something to propose. You can do so now."
Acting President S. W. Burger then introduced the question. He said that both the Governments had drawn up a proposal at Klerksdorp, and then proceeded to read the proposal, article by article.
(State-Secretary F. W. Reitz acted as interpreter between the two parties.)
Then President Steyn spoke. He thanked Lord Kitchener for the readiness with which he had consented to meet the Governments, and assured him that they were earnestly desirous that the war should cease. He also wished, he said, to make an explanation, and this was with respect to a misunderstanding which the British Government was apparently labouring under in regard to the position of the Deputation in Europe in relation to the Leaders of the burghers in South Africa. From the correspondence of Lord Lansdowne with the Netherlands Government, it seemed as if the Government of His Britannic Majesty were in doubt as to whether the Deputation in Europe still represented the Boers in the field. That they still represented the Boers President Steyn declared was most certainly the case. They still enjoyed the fullest confidence of both Governments. Coming to the matter at issue, the President said that the Governments and the People were very desirous that Peace should be restored. But the Peace that was to be restored should be a lasting one, and that was the reason for the proposals being of the nature submitted by the Governments. They had come there to attain no other object than that for which the People had fought until this moment.
Here Lord Kitchener interrupted President Steyn with a question which seemed to express great astonishment. He drew up his shoulders, threw his head forward to one side, and asked, "Must I understand from what you say that you wish to retain your Independence?"
President STEYN: Yes, the people must not be reduced to such a condition as to lose their self-respect, and be placed in such a position that they will feel themselves humiliated in the eyes of the British.
Lord KITCHENER: But that could not be; it is impossible for a people that has fought as the Boers have done to lose their self-respect; and it is just as impossible for Englishmen to regard them with contempt. What I would advise you is, that you submit to the British flag, and now take advantage of the opportunity to obtain the best terms as regards self-government and other matters.
President STEYN: I would like to know from Your Excellency what sort of self-government it would be? Would it be like that of the Cape Colony?
Lord KITCHENER: Yes, precisely so.
President STEYN: I thank Your Excellency. I put the question merely for information.
Lord Kitchener then proceeded to say that one should bear in mind the case of the British Colonies. "The Colonies," he said, "were proud of their own nationality. If anyone, for instance, asked a Colonist in Australia whether he was an Englishman, then his answer would be, 'No, I am an Australian.' And yet such a man felt himself to be one with the British nation, and was proud to call himself a British subject."
President Steyn then said that this comparison would not hold. In the case of British Colonies one had to do with communities which from the beginning had grown up under the British flag, with all the limitations attached thereto. These Colonies had not possessed anything which they had had to surrender, and having had nothing to lose they could have nothing to complain of. In the case of the Boers it was quite different. The Africanders in the two Republics were an independent people. And if that independence were taken away from them they would immediately feel themselves humiliated, and a grievance would arise which would necessarily lead to a situation similar to that now existing in Ireland, which situation was mainly due to the fact that Ireland was a conquered country.
Lord Kitchener replied that Ireland could not serve as a parallel, seeing that it had never had self-government.
To this President Steyn replied that the Irish had self-government, and that in a measure that had never yet been granted to any Colony, seeing that they were represented in the Imperial Parliament. Their power also in this respect was so great that the Irish vote, under a strong man like Parnell, could turn the scale in a Parliamentary question one way or another.
Lord Kitchener then said that he was himself an Irishman, and therefore better able to judge in regard to Irish affairs. He proceeded to say that what was contemplated by the British Government was self-government for the Boers, preceded by military rule for a certain period; that this military rule as a preliminary measure was indispensable at the commencement of Peace for the establishment and maintenance of law and order; that as soon as this period had elapsed self-government would be substituted for it, and that then the Boers could annul any measure or law made by the military authorities. He remarked, however, that he felt sure that much that was good would be introduced by the military government, which they would not desire afterwards to rescind. But the People would have it in their power to decide in every case.
A desultory discussion followed now, and Lord Kitchener urged that the Governments should make a proposal in accordance with what he had suggested; and both the Presidents replied that the Governments, according to the constitutions of the Republics, were not qualified to make any proposals whereby the Independence of the Republics would be touched.
When Lord Kitchener saw that he could make no progress he moved about impatiently in his chair, and said, again with the same gesture as before: that if the Governments wished he would telegraph their proposal to his Government, but he could surmise--he did not know officially what they would do in England--what he said was merely his own opinion--but he could surmise what the answer would be.
The Presidents then expressed their desire that Lord Kitchener should transmit the proposal that had been made by them; but the latter thought that it was not desirable to communicate it in the form in which it had been laid before him. He thought it could be drafted in a more acceptable form. Thereupon he took a pencil and roughly drafted the preamble of a cablegram. He read it aloud, and asked whether anybody wished to make any remark upon it, in order to make the cablegram still more acceptable, and whether they wished to appoint anyone for this purpose. Mr. Reitz was nominated, and the preamble of Lord Kitchener, with the points of the proposal (modified, as will be observed), was thus drawn up, approved of by all, and, on the adjournment of the meeting, transmitted to the British Government.
The telegram read as follows:--
FROM LORD KITCHENER TO SECRETARY OF STATE. PRETORIA, April 12, 1902.
"... The Boer Representatives wish to lay before His Majesty's Government that they have an earnest desire for peace, and that they have consequently decided to ask the British Government to end hostilities and to enter into an agreement of peace with them. They are prepared to enter into an agreement by which, in their opinion, all future wars between them and the British Government in South Africa will be prevented. They consider this object may be attained by providing for the following points:--
2. Equal rights for Dutch and English languages in educational matters.
3. Customs Union.
4. Dismantling of all forts in Transvaal and Free State.
5. Post, Telegraph, and Railway Union.
6. Arbitration in case of future differences, and only subjects of the parties to be the arbitrators.
7. Mutual amnesty.
... But if these terms are not satisfactory, they desire to know what terms the British Government would give them in order to secure the end they all desire."
After this conversation with Lord Kitchener the two Republican Governments consulted with each other, and agreed that when they again met the representative of the British Government they would very clearly declare their standpoint, namely, that in the matter of Independence it was the People alone that could constitutionally decide.
Early on Monday morning, April 14th, Lord Kitchener sent to the members of both Governments a copy of the following cablegram which he had received from his Government. He also stated that Lord Milner would take part with him in the conference.
The cablegram was as follows:--
FROM SECRETARY OF STATE TO LORD KITCHENER. LONDON, April 13, 1902.
"... His Majesty's Government sincerely share the earnest desire of the Boer Representatives, and hope that the present negotiations may lead to that result. But they have already stated in the clearest terms, and must repeat, that they cannot entertain any proposals which are based on the continued Independence of the former Republics which have been formally annexed to the British Crown. It would be well for you and Milner to interview Boer Representatives and explain this. You should encourage them to put forward fresh proposals, excluding Independence, which we shall be glad to receive."
At ten o'clock the members of the two Republican Governments again assembled in Lord Kitchener's house.
Lord Milner entered the room after the members of the Governments had assembled, and was introduced to them by Lord Kitchener. He (Lord Milner) greeted the Presidents as "Mr. Steyn and Mr. Burger." But later, during the conference, he addressed each (was it inadvertently?) as "President."
Before the conference was continued, Lord Milner spoke a few words. He also wished to remove erroneous impressions. He declared that it had been alleged that he was not well disposed towards the Boers. That was incorrect. He could give the assurance that he wished to promote the interest of the Boers; and that he, like themselves, desired peace.
Thereupon Lord Kitchener laid on the table the cablegram, dated April 13th, from the British Government. Without entering into discussion on it, the President pointed out that it was impossible for the Republican Governments to act in accordance with the desire of the British Government, seeing that, as had already been said on Saturday, they were not qualified to discuss the question of Independence before having consulted the People.
Lord MILNER: May I ask if the prisoners-of-war will also be consulted?
President STEYN: Your Excellency surely cannot be in earnest in putting this question?
Lord MILNER (in a tone of annoyance): Yes, certainly.
President STEYN: How can the prisoners-of-war be consulted?--they are civilly dead. To mention one practical difficulty: suppose the prisoners should decide that the war should be continued, and the burghers on commando that it should not--what then?--
Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner, seeing the absurdity of it, laughed aloud. They quite agreed with President Steyn, and admitted that the difficulty raised by him was to the point.
Lord Kitchener, however, wished to draw attention to the word "excluding" in the answer of the British Government. He put it that the words "excluding Independence" rendered a discussion, as to Dependence or Independence, superfluous. The question should now be discussed as if Independence were finally excluded; and assuming this, such proposals should be made as it was thought would be acceptable as well for the Boers as for the British Government.
President Steyn then pointed out again that it was beyond the power of the Government to do so. They had no right to make a proposal that even assumed the exclusion of Independence.
Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner here again agreed with the President. Both said at the same time, "We agree--we agree."
Meanwhile it had been urged several times that Lord Kitchener should request his Government to make such proposals as might be regarded as some measure of compensation, and which could, as such, be laid before the People, in case the question of surrendering their Independence were laid before them. This looked as if the Republican Governments were convinced that their cause was hopeless, and as if they, not being competent to sacrifice the independence, only waited for the decision of the people on that point. The fact, however, is that the members of the Governments never thought of such a thing, and that they were convinced that if they consulted the People, the People to a man would say: "We want to retain our Independence, and if England does not agree to that, we shall go on with the war."
The Representatives of the British Government would not, however, be persuaded that their Government should make any proposals, and after much discussion Lord Milner said that it appeared to him that they had come to a "dead-lock."
"It seems so to me too," said Lord Kitchener, "and that is just what I wish to avoid. Would the gentlemen not," he continued, "first consult about this privately? If so, Lord Milner and I can retire from the room for a while, and the result of your deliberations can, when you are ready, be communicated to me."
It was then agreed to adjourn till three o'clock in the afternoon.
At three o'clock they again met the Representatives of the British Government.
President Steyn then began by saying (in the spirit of the resolution that had been taken), that the Republican Governments, having taken the reply of the British Government into consideration, had concluded that they could make no proposal on the basis therein suggested; but as they were desirous of seeing Peace restored, they requested (1) that one of their delegates [in Europe] should obtain a safe-conduct to come hither, and that, if it were deemed inadvisable to allow him to return, he might remain somewhere in South Africa, on parole, till the war was over; (2) that an armistice should be agreed upon in order to enable the Republican Governments to consult the People regarding the question of Independence.
Lord Kitchener said, "This comes as a surprise on us!"
The question as to allowing a member of the Deputation to come over was now left unanswered. It had already been discussed in the forenoon, and then Lord Kitchener had said, that it concerned a military question regarding which he himself had to decide, and that he could not grant the request, because it would be an exceptional mode of proceeding to which he could not consent.
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.
[Illustration: Facsimile of Safe-Conduct granted to Members of the Republican Governments by Lord Kitchener.]
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 résumé 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.