MINUTES of the meeting of the Special Delegates at Vereeniging, South African Republic, on Thursday, May 29, 1902, and following days.
The Meeting commenced at 9 a.m., and, at the request of the Chairman, was opened with Prayer by the Rev. J. D. Kestell.
Having declared the Meeting open, the Chairman requested the Commission, which had been delegated to negotiate with Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner, to report on what they had done.
The acting State President S. W. Burger, on rising to do so, first requested the Secretary of the Meeting (Mr. D. E. van Velden) to read the following report of the COMMISSION:--
Pretoria, May 28, 1902.
To the Governments of the Orange Free State and South African Republic.
In accordance with the instructions received by us from the two Governments, we proceeded to Pretoria to negotiate with the British Representatives on the question of peace, and have the honour to report as follows:--
Our meetings with the British Authorities lasted from Monday, May 19, till Wednesday, May 28, and the delay was principally due to the long time required for cable correspondence with the British Government.
At first we made a proposal in which we tried to establish a restricted independence by the surrender of a portion of our territory as a basis of negotiation. Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner, however, decidedly refused to negotiate on that basis, and informed us that if that proposal were cabled to the British Government, it would be detrimental to the negotiations.
At the same time we were informed that, as had already been intimated to both Governments, the British Government were prepared to negotiate only on the basis of the Middelburg proposals, subject to alterations as to details.
In order to prepare this proposal in a final form, Lord Milner requested the assistance of some members of our Committee, to which we acceded, with the understanding that the assistance of these members of the Commission would be rendered without prejudice.
As the result of the labours of this Sub-Committee, Lord Milner submitted a draft proposal, in which we insisted in the incorporation of a new clause, which was embodied therein (Clause No. 11). The draft proposal which is attached to this was then cabled to the British Government, and was altered by them and communicated to us in a final form. This final proposal is attached hereto.
We were informed on behalf of the British Government that this proposal could not be further altered, but must be accepted or rejected in its entirety by the Delegates of both Republics. At the same time, we were informed that this acceptance or rejection must take place within a definite time.
We thereupon informed Lord Kitchener that this final decision would be communicated to him by next Saturday evening at the latest.
During the formal negotiations some informal discussions also took place with reference to the British subjects in the Cape Colony and Natal who had fought on our side. As the result of these informal discussions, we received a communication from the British Government which we attach hereto.
We have, &c.,
LOUIS BOTHA, C. R. DE WET, J. H. DE LA REY, J. B. M. HERTZOG, J. C. SMUTS.
Acting President S. W. BURGER said: If some point or other in the documents that have just been read to you is not clear, one or other of the members of the Commission will give the necessary explanations. You will observe that the Commission tried to negotiate more or less in the spirit of this meeting. The Representatives of the British Government declared that they could not negotiate on any other basis than the surrender of the independence. We have now before us a document upon which the British Government thinks peace can be concluded. The question before us now is: how must we set to work? I think there are three courses open to us upon which we must decide before Saturday evening. The three courses are:--
(1) To continue the struggle. Is this possible for us under the circumstances in which we find ourselves; what are the prospects; and what will the consequences be? This we must consider.
(2) Accept the proposal of the British Government and conclude peace thereon.
(3) Surrender unconditionally.
On these questions the Meeting must now decide.
On the proposal of General S. P. du Toit, seconded by Commandant Mentz, it was resolved that minutes of the discussions be kept as briefly as possible, and also that all proposals and resolutions be recorded.
Mr. J. DE CLERCQ (Middelburg): I would like to have some elucidation of Clause 2. Whom does it include?
General SMUTS: The words are: "in the veld." It is thus plain that other persons are not included in it.
Mr. DE CLERCQ: What, then, becomes of persons who have been banished?
General SMUTS: Clause 3 provides for persons who, according to the British, have been banished.
Commandant JACOBSZ: Clause 2 deals with "burghers." I should like to know whether officers are also included.
General SMUTS: "Burghers" includes officers also. "Rebels" is the term in contra-distinction to "burghers."
General S. P. DU TOIT: In clause 4, I read: "The benefit of this clause will not extend to certain acts." May I know what acts are here referred to?
General BOTHA: As communicated by Lord Kitchener to the Commission, three persons are excluded from the benefit of Clause 4 of the peace proposals. They are namely: Mr. van Aswegen for the shooting of Captain Mears; Mr. Cilliers for the shooting of Capt. Boyle; and a certain Muller for the alleged murder of a certain Rademeyer in the district of Vrede. These three persons will have to stand their trial on the conclusion of peace.
Chief Commandant DE WET: Lord Kitchener arranged this matter informally with General Botha without reference to me, as I think he should have done, because two of the cases mentioned are of Free Staters. It is not down in black and white, that the three persons mentioned will be the only exceptions, and if more exceptions are made later I do not wish to be held responsible.
General BOTHA: I should like further to explain this matter. This point in Clause 4 was raised by the British representatives. Lord Kitchener asked to see me personally and informally, and at the suggestion of General de la Rey I went to him. Lord Kitchener then informed me that certain three alleged murders in the course of the war had attracted much attention in England, and that the British Government, on account of the feelings of the English people, did not see their way open to leave these three cases untried. The three cases already mentioned here were then communicated to me by Lord Kitchener. On a later occasion I took General Smuts with me, and Lord Kitchener repeated in the presence of both of us that only these three persons would be excluded from the benefit of Clause 4.
General HERTZOG: I am quite prepared to accept Lord Kitchener's word given to Generals Botha and Smuts.
General BRAND: Why are the names of these cases not inserted in the peace proposal?
General HERTZOG: They could not be inserted because as laid down by the British Government it could not be altered.
General DE LA REY: Only the three persons mentioned are excluded from the benefit of Clause 4, and because we were afraid that there might be more cases General Botha went and satisfied himself.
Chief Commandant DE WET: I did not wish to remain silent on this point, because there was only the word of Lord Kitchener and no other guarantee that other persons will not be prosecuted. I, of course, entirely believe what Generals Botha and Smuts have stated.
General HERTZOG: I am fully satisfied on this point.
Mr. C. BIRKENSTOCK (Vryheid) asked with reference to Clause 1 whether having regard to the large number of Kaffirs in many districts it would not be dangerous for the burghers to part with all their arms.
General BOTHA replied that the Commission had seen Lord Kitchener informally on this point, and pointed out this danger to him, and he had then agreed that in the districts on the boundaries where there were many Kaffirs, the landed proprietors and their sons could retain their arms under a licence, and that if there was a laying down of arms, he would send persons immediately to return the arms to these landed proprietors under a licence.
General DE LA REY: On this point I spoke out freely to Lord Kitchener. I said that I would never agree that burghers in the frontier districts should be entirely disarmed, and thus made lower than the Kaffirs. Lord Kitchener then said that he would take the arms from landed proprietors with one hand and return them immediately with the other.
Mr. BIRKENSTOCK: Clause 2 says: "The prisoners of war will gradually be brought back to their homes." Has a time been fixed, or will it be done in the course of years? I have heard that the British have an objection to sending back 30,000 persons.
General SMUTS: The Committee tried to get a time fixed within which all prisoners of war must be brought back, but the British had a great objection to binding themselves, because it would depend upon the number of transport ships they would be able to obtain to convey the 30,000 prisoners of war back, and also because it would not be advisable on account of the scarcity of food in the two Republics to bring back so many people at once.
The meeting then adjourned till two o'clock in the afternoon, when the proceedings were resumed.
Mr. L. JACOBSZ: Does Clause 2 provide for the return of the deputation and other persons in Europe?
General SMUTS: The members of our deputation and other burghers in Europe, if they wish to return, also fall under this Clause.
Mr. BIRKENSTOCK: What property is referred to in Clause 3?
General SMUTS: The word "property" includes every form of property.
Commandant VAN NIEKERK (Kroonstad): What course will be pursued with reference to the farms which have been sold?
Mr. J. L. GROBLER (Carolina): How many farms have been sold?
General SMUTS: Twenty farms, as stated unofficially.
Mr. J. L. GROBLER: Where?
General SMUTS: In the Orange Free State.
General HERTZOG: The Commission spoke informally to Lord Milner about the farms which have already been sold or confiscated by the British. He replied that they could not be returned to the former owners, but that the purchase-price would be refunded to them. About twenty farms had been thus sold, all situate in the Orange Free State.
Landdrost STOFBERG: Does Clause 5 signify that the medium of instruction will be Dutch?
General SMUTS: There is nothing against it in this Clause. According to this Clause the Dutch language will be taught, but it is not stipulated that Dutch will be the medium of instruction. My own impression is that the language in the schools will be English, but if the parents desire it, Dutch.
Landdrost STOFBERG: It means therefore that the language medium will be English, but that Dutch will also be allowed.
General HERTZOG: Lord Milner declared that he wanted only one language in South Africa, and that was English. English will be the medium.
Landdrost STOFBERG: A foreign language therefore?
General DU TOIT: What will be the Constitution of the Civil Government?
General BOTHA: It will be that of a Crown Colony.
General KEMP: Is no time fixed within which Civil Government must be introduced?
General BOTHA: No.
General DU TOIT: In Clause 9 mention is made of war taxes. Will there be no other taxes?
General BOTHA: The British Government says that they will not defray their expenses out of a tax on the farms.
Commandant ALBERTS: No war tax--therefore there will be other taxes?
General SMUTS: Yes, certainly, but they will be imposed on all inhabitants.
Mr. P. R. VILJOEN: If anyone has a Government note or receipt must he prove how he obtained it?
General SMUTS: Clause 10 is directed against speculators who have bought up notes.
Commandant JACOBSZ: What course will be pursued in cases where notes have passed from hand to hand?
General BOTHA: The Clause is directed only against speculators.
Mr. BIRKENSTOCK: Do the words: "to assist those who are not able to assist themselves," mean that widows, orphans and maimed will be assisted?
General BOTHA: Yes.
Mr. BIRKENSTOCK: A pension, for instance?
General BOTHA: No pension.
Commandant FLEMMING: Was nothing said about receipts issued by the British themselves?
General DE WET: Lord Kitchener said that they would not be paid out till after the war, but not to speculators.
Commandant FLEMMING: There is therefore hope for British receipts?
General DE WET: Yes.
Mr. NAUDÉ: Is a man a burgher who became such after the commencement of the war?
Advocate L. J. JACOBSZ: No one is a burgher who became such after the war had begun.
Mr. BIRKENSTOCK asked a question with reference to creditors.
General BOTHA: In reply to Mr. Birkenstock I may say that we discussed that question formally, but the British representatives would not bind themselves with reference to the new Government's future policy, but asked us to trust that new Government to protect debtors.
General DU TOIT: Does Natal hold another view regarding the rebels?
General DE WET: Yes.
General DU TOIT: If the rebels remain outside the boundaries of their Colonies will they then be free?
General SMUTS: Yes, if they remain outside the Cape Colony and Natal.
Commandant OPPERMAN: Will their property be confiscated?
General SMUTS: In the Cape Colony there is no law providing for confiscation.
General BOTHA: Lord Kitchener said to me that at the coronation of the King he would recommend a general amnesty.
The Chairman at this stage asked the meeting to confine itself to the following questions:--
(1) Whether it would accept the document at present before them.
(2) Whether it would decide to continue the war.
(3) Or, whether it would decide to surrender unconditionally.
Mr. J. DE CLERCQ (Middelburg) said: I have already expressed my opinion on the question as to whether we shall continue the war. If we cannot proceed, then the question is whether we shall accept the proposals of the British Government, or whether we shall surrender unconditionally. It cannot be denied that these proposals are not so good as we wished, but the question is whether in the circumstances we can get anything better. If we surrender unconditionally and return to the burghers and they ask us: "What have you obtained for us on surrendering?" and we reply: "We have done nothing except surrendering you and ourselves unconditionally to the enemy," then we shall be in difficulties, and how shall we be able to justify ourselves? The burghers expect that we shall obtain the best terms possible for them, and I say that it is a greater honour for a people to negotiate than to surrender themselves unconditionally. If we get terms we shall be better able to satisfy the people than if we can only inform them that we have handed them over to the mercy of the enemy. I do not believe that anyone will be able to convince me that unconditional surrender will be better for the burghers. Unless I can be convinced of the contrary, I think it will be best to accept the proposal of the British Government.
General NIEUWOUDT: I think that the matter is now plain, and propose that we immediately proceed to vote whether we shall continue the war or not. If the majority is not in favour of continuing the struggle, then we can discuss the question whether we shall accept terms or surrender ourselves unconditionally.
This proposal was seconded by General Froneman.
Mr. C. BIRKENSTOCK: We must not act with undue haste in this important matter. Every Republican knows what the sentiment of freedom is, for which everything has already been sacrificed, and therefore it is not so easy to approve of, or to reject, a document such as the one now before us. I cannot agree with General Nieuwoudt that we should immediately decide as to whether we shall or shall not continue the war. We must consider the question of our independence as something sacred. We should consider whether we can continue the war, or whether we cannot continue it, and whether by proceeding we can obtain better terms. Are we now able to continue the war? Are there not at least two or three districts that cannot proceed with the struggle? Co-operation is the all-important matter for us. To think that a portion of the country can continue the war alone is certainly wrong. Let us calmly consider whether our strength and resources are such that we can maintain the struggle for a year. If we cannot do so, let us rather accept terms, for half a loaf is better than no bread. With my heart I cannot part with our independence, and it is hard for me to make our people so unhappy, but for the sake of the people and of the widows and orphans we must make the best we can of the matter.
Commandant JACOBSZ also could not agree with the proposal of General Nieuwoudt, because the matter was far too weighty to be disposed of so hastily.
Mr. P. R. VILJOEN (Heidelberg): The document that lies before us is painful. We are so tied up by it, so "knee-haltered," that it appears to me that we shall never get loose again. But I must admit that if we continue the war we may later be hobbled instead of "knee-haltered." I have already been informed that all my properties have been confiscated. If this had happened to my properties only I would not mention it, but I fear there are more people whose properties are threatened in the same way. I think we must instruct the Governments to conclude peace on the best terms.
General S. P. DU TOIT (Wolmaransstad): We are passing through critical moments. We must respect each other's opinion because everyone thinks that he has grounds for his views, and here especially it is expected that everyone will express his opinion honestly and freely. If that is done we shall be able to decide what course to pursue. We must not be over-hasty, because we are on the eve of a most important decision, and if a delegate declares that he is not able to prosecute the war any further we must not consider him cowardly or unfaithful. His Honour the Acting State President S. W. BURGER, said: There are three questions before us, but I think that we must for the present put aside the question of unconditional surrender, and only discuss the document before us or the continuance of the war. When I left my commandos it was my opinion, and that of my burghers, that unless we retain our independence we must continue to fight, and my instructions were to that effect. But my burghers gave me those instructions because they were not acquainted with the true conditions of the country, as I have learnt them here now. We received but few reliable reports from other parts. We fixed our eyes on God and on the leading commandos in the Eastern portions of the country. If the burghers had known that those leading commandos cannot continue the war they would have thought differently. We cannot deny that there are commandos which, if the war must proceed, must take some great step or other. We always expect that when it comes to voting the minority must submit to the majority. This is the general principle, and also the best in times of peace. But we are here under other circumstances. If it were decided here by a majority of say, twenty, to continue the war, then I ask: why do the others vote in the minority? Is it because they are afraid, or tired out, or do not wish to co-operate? No; it is because they cannot proceed any further. And can the majority then go on alone? No, they are too weak for that. If we cannot all continue to co-operate, it means that we cannot continue with the struggle. And therefore I say that here to-day the majority must bow to the minority. We must speak out freely, for no one of us here stands now under the orders of General Botha or of General de la Rey. Everyone stands here with his own vote, and is himself responsible. I am of opinion that if we continue the war our people will die a national death, and also run a great risk of dying a moral death. On what grounds can we hope to prosecute the war to a successful issue? If such grounds can be pointed out to me, I shall very willingly decide to go on manfully, but as far as I can see there is no hope for us. I feel that we cannot continue, and if I had to continue now I would do so in a very disheartened manner. If I return to my commando and inform them that the British proposal has been rejected, they will ask me on what grounds have we done so, and what reasons have we for hoping for better results. Then I must be able to state our grounds, and I cannot say that I have read this or that in a cutting from a newspaper, or that the opinion or this one or that one is so or so, or that there is hope that war will break out in Europe. If I were to do that they will say: "You have built on sand." I do not see my way open to do that, and if it were done, what I fear with heart and soul will come to pass, namely, that small parties of burghers will make terms for themselves with the enemy, and surrender, and where shall we then stand? Almost all the burghers of some districts have already been captured, and our position becomes daily worse, and it depends upon us whether our people will be preserved, or whether we shall later be so reduced that there will be an unconditional surrender. What will then become of us and of our officers? Will they not be banished? I am not thinking of myself. If I knew that by being banished I could save my people, I, and many with me, would willingly sacrifice ourselves. It is plain to me that if we decide to continue, unconditional surrender will follow of itself, and the Lord preserve us from that. Our people will then simply die as such, because there will be no one to help them. I will never lay down my arms if the majority decides to prosecute the struggle. No. I will occupy myself somewhere, and operate here or there with other Generals. But we cannot take such a decision unless we have good grounds. Mention is made of faith. Yes, and we had faith, but in my opinion faith must have its grounds. When Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac he knew that, even if Isaac were killed, God's promise would nevertheless be carried out. If we believe that God will ultimately deliver us, we must use our brains.
I do not see a chance of continuing the war, but must associate myself with those who say: "I have done what I could for my people and myself, and now I can do no more." I see no other course open to us than to accept the proposal before us.
Commandant RHEEDER (Rouxville): The British refuse to allow our Deputation to come out to see us. Many ask on what grounds we can continue the war, and to them I reply that this refusal is one of the grounds, because, on the face of it, it is obvious that something good is brewing for us. Let us take everything into consideration. If we accept these terms we have a dismal future. And what can we expect from the coming generation, who cannot now understand what is being done? Later they will read that there were still so many burghers in the field, and that the conditions were such and such, and then they will read that a free people surrendered. If the next generation should say: "There were so many burghers in the field, and yet we are not free; where is our country?" we shall have to reply: "We laid down our arms when we should have fought." We shall have to say that we did that because our faith deserted us, because we feared the enemy's strength. I think that we have better prospects now of good results from the continuance of our struggle than when we commenced. When we are forced as a People to lay down our arms, then I shall be satisfied to bow to the will of the Lord, but I cannot be satisfied to proceed to surrender as a divided people. Our families are prepared to suffer for another year to retain our freedom, and how shall we meet them if we now make peace on these terms? Our State President is so indispensable to us, and now the Lord lays His hand upon him, but this trial is a proof to me that the Lord is still with us. If a commando cannot remain in its district, it can go somewhere else where it can exist. We must not give up the struggle until we get back our independence.
Acting State President S. W. BURGER remarked: Commandant Rheeder says that we must go on with the struggle, but he has not pointed out the way to us, nor mentioned any ground upon which we can continue.
Commandant RHEEDER: The time for surrender is past. If we wished to surrender, we should have done so while the burghers still had all their possessions. Now they have nothing more, but we have still space enough, and, therefore, we must fight until we have our country back.
Commandant P. L. UIJS (Pretoria): So much is said about our Deputation and about what they have perhaps done for us or can still do, but we must remember that they are in continuous communication with the Netherlands Government, and I am convinced that the correspondence between the Netherlands Minister and Lord Lansdowne was sent to our Government with the cognisance of the Deputation. I think that we must banish from our minds the hope of obtaining any benefit through the mediation of our Deputation. The correspondence in question between the Netherlands and British Governments probably took place with their co-operation.
The Meeting was adjourned till 7.15 that evening.
At 7.15 the Meeting resumed, and was opened with Prayer.
Commandant CRONJE (Winburg) said: I only wish to say a few words. It has been rightly stated that we are passing through a serious stage--in my opinion the most important stage--in the history of the South African people. The Delegates represent the South African people, and we must now decide for that people. It is asked: "What are our prospects?" but I ask, "What were our prospects when we commenced the war? Were there grounds then?" It was indeed believed that right was might, and trust was put in God. And God helped us. If we want grounds, we must look back. When the enemy entered our country, everything was dark and gloomy. There was a time when more than 4,000 men surrendered. They said: "Our struggle is hopeless." Those who would not surrender with the 4,000, but continued the struggle, were called mad. Two years ago the difficulty was raised that there was no more food. A year ago the same difficulty was raised, with the addition that the enemy was too strong, and that we would have to give in. And yet the fight was continued. We, as representatives of a free people, must not act hastily to repent a few days later of a step we have taken and upon which we cannot go back. I never had hopes of intervention, and it was never said by the Government or by the Generals that they had hopes of intervention. I have always said that we must put our trust in God. When I return from here I shall be able to say to my burghers that the ground upon which we are going on with the struggle still is: Trust in God. We have no right to give up the struggle now. In some parts of the Free State, also, there was no food, and yet deliverance was always at hand. We have sent our Deputation to Europe, and President Kruger is there now, too. I ask: "Have we, then, no more faith in them?" If they find that there is no chance for help for us in Europe, will they not inform us to that effect soon enough? I ask you, who would acquaint us thereof sooner than they? And we must note that the enemy will not allow us to have any communication with our Deputation, or that one of the members should come out here. It is said that by continuing the struggle we shall exterminate our people, but I say that by accepting this proposal we shall utterly destroy our people. We have nothing more to lose now, but everything to gain. We may be able to retain our independence yet, which is so dear to us. In the verbal message from our Deputation they say we must not treat with the enemy without giving them notice. And when President Kruger left, it was his request also that we should not negotiate without his cognisance. I say we have no right to conclude peace on this basis. By doing so we shall deliver a death-blow to the Africander race. I think that there is something brewing in Europe. Five years ago there was an Armenian question, and it took five years before the Powers stepped in and made them conclude peace. I wish to ask you not to take a step which you may regret later. Let us ponder before we part with our freedom. I must also point out that our comrades in the Cape Colony are not safeguarded by the terms offered. They will have to leave their country, and they have lost all they have. Those who remain with us will have to be supported by the British, their enemies. Then the farms of some burghers have been sold, for which they will receive nothing. With reference to the £3,000,000 offered for compensation, that is not even sufficient to cover a fifth or even a tenth part of our losses. For these and many other reasons the British proposals are quite unacceptable to me, and we cannot and may not do anything else but vigorously continue the struggle.
General FRONEMAN (Ladybrand): What I wish to say breathes the same spirit as the words of the last speaker. My country is dear to me, and I cannot think of parting with it. An answer is insisted upon to the question: "What grounds have we for continuing the war?" But I ask in turn: "What grounds had we when we commenced the war?" I have taken part in the struggle since it began, and have never had more grounds for continuing it than now. My division was also entirely exhausted, but the Lord has made provision again. I was present when 4,000 burghers gave up the struggle in despair, and I was also present at the surrender of General Cronje, and all I can say is that we commenced the war with prayer and with faith in God. We have suffered, but it was the Lord Who allowed this war to come over us. We prayed that the war might be warded off, but God disposed otherwise. One of our Generals has rightly said that the Lord would reveal Himself only after all human resources have been exhausted. Although we only number hundreds where the enemy has millions, we must nevertheless stand firm in our trust in God. If we accept this proposal, our name as "Republicans" is lost for ever and always. We, two small Republics, are offering resistance only to defend the possession which we have received from our forefathers, and I can never think of giving up our dearly bought rights. Even if I were the only one, I would never give my vote for that. I have consulted my burghers and also their wives, and they said to me: "Bring us peace." I then asked what kind of peace they desired, and their reply was that our independence was not to be sacrificed. I thus have a clear instruction, and before I can part with our independence, I shall first have to return to my burghers to consult them.
Field Cornet B. H. BREYTENBACH (Utrecht) said: On the question whether the war must be continued a reply of "yes" or "no" must be given. The general condition of our country has been laid before us by the Delegates, and the Meeting now stands before the stubborn fact that the war cannot be continued. Hitherto not one of the facts which indicate that we cannot prosecute the war has been removed or controverted. The facts still stand, and I thus ask on what grounds can we decide to go on with the war? I am not going to proceed blindly or in the dark. We, as responsible persons, cannot step blindly over facts. If we are going to continue, we must have good grounds for believing that the future will bring us light. If not, my instruction is to vote for a settlement for peace. It would, in my opinion, be criminal of me to vote for the continuance of the war, if our circumstances remain as laid before us here. Our attention is directed to the grounds we had when we commenced the war, and we are asked what our hopes and prospects were then. I say, whatever they may have been, what have we gained? We must now declare that there is no progress in our cause. On the contrary, are we not gradually going backwards? I say "Yes," and we may not go on unless the facts and difficulties laid before this meeting are removed. It is plain that at least 11, and perhaps 14, commandos cannot continue the struggle, and if we decide to continue, it speaks for itself what the consequences will be. What will it profit us to resolve to go on if we have no people to fight? Who can take the people by the throat and say to them: "Do this or that"?--especially if we ourselves see the true state of affairs. If we decide to continue, the war will in any case cease of itself in the course of a few months, and the end will be far more fatal and pitiful than if we make peace now.
Commandant W. J. VILJOEN (Witwatersrand): Some are in favour of continuing the war, others are against it. I do not stand here with a ready-made opinion, but with a mind that is open to be convinced by facts. Those who are for peace have given facts and grounds upon which they base their opinions. The others only speak of faith. A year ago we decided to continue the war on faith, and now, having fought for another year, we are convinced that we must make peace. If it is desired to proceed, the way must be indicated and the grounds stated which can convince us that we act wisely. Otherwise we must make peace now.
General DE LA REY: It is my custom to speak briefly. I do not use three words where one is sufficient. I went to meet the people with definite instructions neither to approve of nor to reject what might be said at the meetings, and I have adhered to them. There are now here 8 representatives from my districts, with one from the Cape Colony, and they represent almost the half of the South African Republic. I need not say anything about the spirit of my burghers, but everyone can understand that after the recent victories they are courageous, as all the Delegates can testify.
With reference to our cause, I do not wish to shut my ears and eyes to facts. If there is deliverance for the Africander people, then I am with them, and if a grave must be dug for that people, then I go into it with them. You can talk and decide here as you choose, but I tell you that this meeting is the end of the war. But the end may come in an honourable or in a dishonourable way. If we decide to continue the war without grounds before us, the end will be a dishonourable one.
You speak of faith. What is faith? Faith is: "Lord, Thy will be done--not my will to be the victor." I must kill my will, and I must act and think as He directs and leads me. That is what I understand by the faith in which God's children must live.
There are three courses open to us this evening, and one of these must be chosen by the Delegates. Which course must be chosen? You may accept the proposal of the British, or you may decide on unconditional surrender. If you do the latter, know, then, that the matter is not disposed of, for then the question arises: "What will become of our people?" After those people have fought so faithfully, after all the sacrifices they have made, to hand them over now unconditionally into the hands of the enemy? That must not be! Do consider clearly where the decision you may take will lead you to. If it was desired to surrender unconditionally, the time for that would have been while the people still had all their possessions with which they could help themselves, but not now that the people have been deprived of everything. There is not one in a hundred who can help himself now. It is therefore hard for me to think of unconditional surrender.
There is another course which can be followed: to go on with the struggle. But I am convinced that if we do that, one district after the other will lay down their arms--will have to lay down their arms--and the war will thus terminate in a dishonourable manner. If you can indicate a way to me, or show me grounds upon which we can hope for good results, I am prepared to go and fight again.
I have a responsibility, a very great responsibility, resting upon me. The proposal before us, the terms which the British wish to grant us, are not of great value, but yet they stipulate a few things. The prisoners of war must be brought back, the Government must provide the families with food and other necessaries, until they can care for themselves. The terms also provide that many hundreds will not be considered as criminals and be convicted as such. If any one can say: "We can go on," I and my officers can do so, but I shall never allow such words to pass over my lips, because I may not decide for one part of the country only. I must consider our condition as a whole. We have had some successful encounters, but I put myself the question: "What have I actually effected by these victories?" Since they have been fought, the enemy has sent down about 40,000 mounted troops against me, which have deprived me of all my cattle. During the last three months I have lost more than 600 men, killed, wounded, or captured. It is plain to me that the enemy wish to attain their object at whatever cost.
Many speak of hope from the Deputation in Europe. About a year ago the Deputation wrote us that they expected our deliverance only from our own perseverance, and now a year later we must not continue saying that we have hope from the Deputation, who themselves had no hope of intervention. If they have not been able to do anything in two years, they will never be able to effect anything.
When I speak thus you must not think that I do so from cowardice, because I can assure you that I fear no man or power in the whole world. Neither do I wish to take it amiss in anyone here who thinks or speaks differently. There are some who have come with a definite instruction to hold out for independence only. But I am now well informed on the condition of affairs over the whole country, and I challenge any Delegate to go with me on a platform before the people. I am convinced that, out of the three courses open to us, the people will approve of the course which I am going to choose, because I shall prove to them that in following that course I have done or obtained something for them at the last moment. And is that not better than to say to the people: "You must continue fighting, but the future is dark and without hope, and I cannot point out to you even a small ray of light"? By deciding differently, we shall force our people who were so faithful to become "handsuppers," and in that way the war will come to a dishonourable end. Therefore, Delegates, reflect on what you are about to do.
Landdrost BOSMAN (Wakkerstroom): I am thankful that General de la Rey has spoken out so frankly. It will give more than one of us light on what we have to decide. As several speakers have already remarked, the matter before us is very important and difficult, because not only does the future of our people rest upon us, but that future depends upon what we shall decide.
I must say frankly that I am against the continuance of the war, and my reasons are briefly these: It is stated that we did not commence the war with the hope of intervention, but with faith in the Lord. I cannot quite agree with that, and I say that we did begin the war with the hope of intervention, and now we find that that hope will not be realised. If we did not cherish that hope, why did we send the Deputation to Europe? And why, while we were still in Natal, was it stated in war reports that the Deputation were doing good work? That was said to encourage the Burghers. Many took up arms in that hope. Who was the cause of that hope originating amongst the people I do not know, but many Volksraad members spoke as if our independence had been guaranteed by European Powers. The truth of what I say was proved when the meetings to elect delegates for this meeting were held. I was present at several of those meetings, and at each one of them the burghers insisted that we should try to get into communication with our Deputation. Why should they have done that if there was no hope of intervention? That hope dwindled away when we noticed that there was no ground for it. It is thus plain that we did not commence the war with faith in God alone. A further proof of this is that we hoped and expected much from what our comrades in the Cape Colony would accomplish. That hope has also vanished, now that General Smuts has declared that we must not expect much from the Cape Colony, and that there will be no general rising there.
Another reason why I am in favour of peace is because our commandos have been much weakened. From 50,000 men our number has fallen to 15,000, and that number is fast decreasing. Another reason is the scarcity of foodstuffs. Last year this scarcity was also spoken of, but that was nonsense. Now it is only too true. You can now ride from Vereeniging to Piet Relief, and only here and there will you come across a few cattle. I may say that you will see scarcely any cattle. Then we must think of the suffering of the women and children still with us, and especially of those in the Concentration Camps.
If we decide to continue, many of the 15,000 men still under arms will be lost to us, and our numbers will decrease month by month. Many say we may not so trample on the blood already shed as to make peace by surrendering our independence, but that for the sake of that blood we must continue the struggle. This is a serious matter, and I hope that I shall never be guilty of trampling on such costly blood. But there is something more costly than the blood which has already been shed, and about which we can do nothing now, and that is the blood of burghers and of women and children which will still have to be shed if we decide to continue. And that blood will be given for a cause, which, so far as human beings can see, is hopeless. That is a much more serious matter to me. If we continue the war, we become the cause of still more widows and orphans who will have no one to care for them.
I did not intend to speak on the religious side of the question, but it has been touched upon, and for that reason I also wish to say something upon it. It is difficult for us to find out what course God wishes us to pursue in this matter. We do not know whether it is God's decree that we must retain our independence or not. It may be God's will that we should give it up. What we know for certain is that God desires us to do right. Everyone who does right is on the right road. There is no doubt about that. I am convinced that if I vote for the continuance of the struggle under the existing circumstances, and in that way cause more suffering, then I am not on the right road, and thus not on God's way. On the other hand, when I see no hope or prospect of prosecuting the war with good results, and I vote for giving up the struggle, then I am on the right road, and thus also on God's road.
There is another course open to us--namely, unconditional surrender--but I cannot vote for that. If we do that, then one of the first things that the enemy will do after the restoration of peace will be to represent to our people that their leaders did not do what they could have done, and I am of opinion that thereby mistrust and suspicion will be raised in the minds of many of our burghers. Therefore, after all that we have suffered and done, I think that, however hard it may be, we can now do nothing else but choose what is best and most acceptable to us. Our feelings and love for our country and people rise up against that, but if we allow ourselves to be led by our feelings, and by our love, without using our reason, we shall find ourselves on the wrong road. Everything will work together for our good.
I conclude by warning all that we can only too easily mistake a will-o'-the-wisp for a star, and that we should thus decide very honestly and carefully.
Commandant H. S. GROBLER (Bethel): There are three courses open to us, and if ever an important choice had to be made, it is now. As far as I am concerned, I must say that it is in my opinion impossible for us to continue the war. My district must be abandoned, and if I, as an officer, cannot state other reasons to my burghers upon which we can go on, how can I expect them to continue? There are about 12 districts in the South African Republic which must be evacuated if the war is to go on. That means that we shall have to resort to our furthermost boundaries and leave the enemy in possession of the heart of our country. But by fleeing about we shall not be able to retain our independence. We must fight for that. It is asked what prospects we had when we commenced the war, and it is answered: Faith. Yes, we must have faith, but the means must be there too. Then we had burghers, cannon, food, and war material, but now we lack all those means. It appears to me that the time for fighting is past, and that we must think about the people. I am a born son of the soil, and have once before fought for my independence, so that it is very hard for me now to think of giving it up; but with the facts before us, I shall have to vote for the acceptance of the British proposals. Our families are in a pitiable condition, and the enemy uses those families to force us to surrender. The burghers who have sent us to this meeting are in an equally pitiable condition. What will it avail us to resolve to continue the struggle if the burghers cannot hold out any longer? We must also not lose sight of the fact that, by accepting this proposal, we get our prisoners of war back. What would otherwise become of them? And we burghers in the field are threatened with the sale of our properties, which hangs as a sword over our heads. If that threat were carried into execution, what would become of us? Further, our burghers and families in the Concentration Camps are dying a moral death. These are all facts which force me to accept the proposal before us. If we can prosecute the war vigorously and with a chance of success, I shall be the first to say: let us do so for the sake of our burghers, our families, and ourselves.
Commandant VAN NIEKERK (Ficksburg): It is impossible for me to vote for the acceptance of this proposal. The last word of my burghers to me was: "Do not part with our independence; we are prepared to die for that," and that is our opinion still. Grounds are asked for the continuance of the struggle, and it is difficult for me to state such grounds, but I can point out that there is a difference between this proposal and the Middelburg proposal of a year ago, and that is a proof to me that the enemy is now more prepared to meet us, and the longer we hold out, the better terms we shall get, until we obtain what we want. Let us thus not be too hurried, but stand firm as men and hold on. I am convinced that if we hold out for our independence we shall soon be in a better position, and that the enemy will again approach us for the purpose of opening negotiations.
General J. G. CILLIERS (Lichtenburg): I have already informed the meeting what my instructions were from the burghers with reference to our independence. Naturally, I do not feel myself bound by those instructions, because I am here to make the best of the circumstances for my people, and I am sure that I have the confidence of my burghers.
The other evening it was asked whether we are justified in continuing the struggle. I then answered: Yes, if we considered the justness of our cause, we are indeed justified. But when we consider our cause further and take our general position into consideration, then the question arises whether we are not perpetrating a murder on our people if we continue the war. The position in both the Republics has been made clear to us, and that condition is very pitiful. As far as my district and burghers are concerned, we with some other districts are still in a position to continue the war, but must I not consider the situation in other districts? And shall we accuse those men who have up till now stood faithfully with us of cowardice because they cannot go on any longer? No, we may not do that. I, of course, long for peace with the retention of our independence, but we cannot get that, and nobody can get that for us. We have delegated a Commission who enjoy our fullest confidence, and they have tried to get all that they possibly could from the British Government, and there lie the terms now upon which we can conclude peace. Who of us is in a position to-night to say we can continue the struggle and thereby obtain something better for our people than these terms now before us? It is thought that the Deputation are doing good work because the enemy will not allow us to get into communication with them, but the last we heard from our Deputation was to the effect that our salvation lay in our having to fight to the utmost, and till our last cartridge has been fired. If, now, we were to go so far as to sacrifice the last man and to fire our last cartridge, what have we then? Is such a message from the Deputation encouraging to you? To me it is by no means encouraging.
Further, some argue about Faith, and it is said that we commenced the war in faith. To that I wish to say that we must not believe one thing and not the other. We must not believe that if we persevere we shall obtain the victory. We must also believe that it is possibly God's will that we must for a time bow to the power of the enemy. Our Commission to the Representatives of the British Government have done their best to obtain as much as possible for the people, and I see no other way than to accept the proposal before us. It is indeed true that the voices of our families call to us: "Do not give up the struggle on our account." But they also say: "Do not go on if the future becomes dark to you." If my burghers had known what I know now they would have given me a different instruction. Must we demand more sacrifices from the burghers and families if we see no light for the future? However hard it may be, we cannot fight against impossibilities. We must only consider what is best for our people and take care that we give no one the opportunity to say: "You could have saved us, but you have left us in the lurch." Just because our cause is dark and difficult, we must use our minds and keep only the welfare of our people in view. I can only agree to accept the proposals that lie before us.
Chief Commandant DE WET then said: I feel myself compelled to express my feelings too. The last speaker declared that the last word we had from our Deputation was that we must fight till the last man was dead and the last cartridge fired. I must say that I never heard of such a message. What I know is that the Deputation let us know last year that they saw no hope of intervention, but that we should hold out till the last means of resistance had been exhausted. But I did not understand from that that we must continue till the last man was dead and the last cartridge fired.
I wish to express my feelings briefly but candidly, and I must go back to the beginning of the war. I must say that when we began the war I had not so much hope of intervention as now. In saying this, I do not wish to intimate that I now have hope of intervention, but that we did not then know whether we had the slightest sympathy in England or in Europe. And now we have found out that we have indeed sympathy, and although no one intervenes on our behalf, our cause is nevertheless strongly supported, so that even English newspapers give reports of "pro-Boer" meetings over the whole world. This information we obtain from Europe through a man sent hither by the Deputation, and I have no reason to say or to think that our informant is not trust-worthy. He brought the last letter from the Deputation, and thus certainly enjoys their confidence. This man is acquainted with public feeling in Europe towards the two Republics, and informs us that our cause is daily gaining ground in Europe and even in England. The question may now be asked: Why have the Deputation not sent us a report on these conditions? The reason is clear as daylight to me. We sent the Deputation to seek help for us. They went to ascertain from the other Powers what could be done for us, and thus came to know what the policy of those Powers was. Will they now be able to lay bare that policy to us? No, certainly not, because there is a great danger that their letters will fall into the hands of the enemy. Even though the Members of the Deputation were here themselves, I doubt whether they would be free to explain to us the future policy of the European Powers. It is therefore significant to me that the Deputation is silent, and this should not discourage, but rather encourage us.
If there is any man who feels the pitiful condition of our country, then I am that man. And I believe every word that has been said here about the conditions in the various divisions. It is asked: What prospect have we of continuing the fight with success? To reply to that I must go back to the beginning of the war, and ask what hope and prospects had we then? My reply is: Only Faith, nothing more. And that Faith we still have. How weak we were in comparison with that Power, our enemy, with its three-quarters of a million of soldiers, of which it has sent some 250,000 to fight us! How could we have entered into such a struggle if we had not done so in Faith? We could only speculate on help from Natal and the Cape Colony. Some said that Natal and the Cape Colony would stand by us, but now we miss the persons who said that. They are lost to us, but we have not lost them on the battlefield, for they sit amongst the enemy, and many of them are even in arms against us. However, I never built on that help, although I hoped from what history teaches us that we should not stand alone to defend our rights by force of arms.
I feel why some, taking into consideration our position, seek for tangible grounds upon which we can justify a continuance of the struggle; but then the question arises again: What tangible grounds had we when we began? Has the way become darker or lighter to us? It is still all Faith, and we know what a small people can by Faith triumph over the most powerful enemy. And if we, a small people, overcome by Faith, we shall not be the only people that has done so. Those who say that the struggle must be given up want tangible grounds from us for the continuance of it, but what grounds had we at the commencement? Has it become darker now? On the contrary, the history of the last 22 months has given me strength. A year ago General Botha wrote to me, and correctly too, that the scarcity of ammunition gave him anxiety. We also had that anxiety, because our ammunition was exhausted as well. There was a time when I feared and trembled when a burgher came to me with an empty bandolier and asked me for ammunition. But what happened? Since September last ammunition in large and small quantities has miraculously poured in, so that, to use an expression of the late General Joubert's, I was agreeably surprised (Ik met een blijde schaamte moest staan). And what happened with ammunition occurred also with horses. We always obtained a supply from the enemy. I do not take it amiss in those who want grounds for our Faith. I have mentioned some grounds, but those are only a thousandth part of what might be mentioned. I may add this further reason. The enemy has approached us. I agree that this proposal is an improvement on the Middelburg proposal of last year. The enemy have made further advances. How have they not approached us since the commencement of the war, when they forced themselves into our country? When our Governments negotiated with Lord Salisbury at the beginning of the war in April, 1900, the British Government would hear of nothing but unconditional surrender. To-day England is negotiating with us. Before we accept this proposal, let us once more take up this struggle, and do our duty--do what our hands find to do, and I have no doubt that the enemy will afterwards approach us again with more favourable proposals, if they do not leave us our entire independence. The Deputation said to us: "Persevere," but I do not think that they can lay bare to us on what grounds this advice was based. Remember, too, that in the first (Boer) war the South African Republic stood alone against the powerful England, without any assistance. There were wavering ones then also--the so-called loyalists. It was then also a struggle in Faith only, and what was the result? They fought in Faith only and won. Is our Faith, then, going to be so much weaker than that of our forefathers?
It is asked: What about our families? Certainly we must care for them, but only as far, and as well, as we can. More we cannot do. It has been said that we must let the men lay down their arms to save the families, but it is a hard matter to say to a Boer: "Take your family, go to the enemy, and lay down your arms." However, we could do that rather than to see an entire people fall.
We can learn much from the history of America. It has been said that our circumstances cannot be compared with those of the Americans, and yet a comparison is not out of place. Even the powerful England had to give in to them. It may be said that America is much larger than the two Republics, but we are not bound to the territories of the two Republics. The Orange Free State offers many difficulties on account of her situation. The railway passes through the entire country, and on the borders we have the Basutos, a powerful nation. We have no Bushveld like the South African Republic, and have thus to find our way through the British forces.
The matter is a very grave one for us, but we cannot part with our arms. Everything else is of minor importance to me, but if we give up our arms we are no longer men. Let us persevere. Three or six or twelve months hence or later, a time may dawn when we may be able to do everything with our arms. But if we give up our arms and such a time dawns, we shall all stand as women.
Now, I wish to ask you: Why has Lord Kitchener refused to allow our deputation to come out? And why did he say that we could see from the papers that there was nothing brewing in Europe? Which papers, however, did he refer to? The Star, The Cape Times, The Natal Witness, and other Jingo papers, which, you must moreover bear in mind, are all censored. If we can accept his word that the deputation can bring us no favourable news it would have been to the interest of England to let the deputation come out, or to allow all newspapers through. But there is no question of allowing certain European and even certain English newspapers through. If we therefore give up the struggle now, we do so in the dark. We do not know what is going on in the outside world. We cannot say that the enemy are making their terms more and more onerous, because that is not so. They are conceding.
Considering all this, and also the fact that the tension in England can be looked upon as an indirect intervention, I believe that we should continue with the bitter struggle. By standing manfully we shall get our just rights. When the time arrives that we cannot go on any further, we can again open negotiations. Let us keep up this bitter struggle and say as one man: We persevere--it does not matter how long--but until we obtain the establishment of our independence!
General C. F. BEYERS (Waterberg) said: The matter presents itself to me thus: Which must I follow: my conscience or my reason? To that I have only one reply--I must follow my conscience, because if I fall, and I have followed my reason and not my conscience, I do not know whither I go. But if I follow my conscience I am at any time prepared for my death. History, as you all know, tells us about many men who have been martyrs, and who have been burnt for the sake of their faith, but it seems to me that only in books do we read of such great things, and that they do not occur any more in our time. I respect everyone's opinion on our great cause, which is most important and serious, but we must not forget to observe how much welfare and salvation was born out of all the great sufferings of the heroes of old, although when the martyrs died it seemed as if everything was lost with them. But observe how much welfare and salvation arose from the circumstance that those men laid down their lives for what they considered right. Are we not convinced that our cause is right? If we did not have this conviction at the beginning of the war we would not have taken up arms. Then we were all prepared to give our lives for our cause, but now that the hour of death has arrived we recoil. I cannot express myself differently.
Our national existence is spoken of, but the Lord will care for that. That is not a matter for us. Our cause was right, and will remain right, and might shall not triumph over right. For that reason I wish to persevere in the struggle. I wish to see that right triumphs, even though that triumph is realised only after my death.
It is said that we shall never get such an opportunity again for negotiating. General de Wet has touched upon this matter, and I agree with him, and others, that we shall always be able to negotiate again. This is proved by what has already taken place, and I may further point out that there was a time when General Botha wished to see Lord Roberts, and when the latter replied that it was not necessary. And now the British are negotiating with us; in fact, they opened up these negotiations.
I am open to conviction, but if I had to vote how I should be able to vote only for the continuance of the war. Facts are stated, but none of the difficulties mentioned are to my mind insurmountable. The difficulty about the women and families we can surmount. Similarly the difficulty about food, horses, ammunition, &c. But there is one matter that troubles me, and that is the spirit that seems to be animating our people. From the speeches it appears that there is a large portion of our people who will go over to the enemy, and surrender; and when such a spirit animates the burghers it is impossible to take them by the neck and say: Go and fight. What I want is that if the majority decide to continue the war, that decision must be taken with enthusiasm. The great danger, however, that I foresee is that such a decision will lack enthusiasm. I will even go so far as to say that some of our brothers in the Free State, although they declare that it is a matter of faith, and in spite of what General de Wet and others may say, are also animated by a spirit which will drive them to go over to the enemy, however good and brave they may be.
General de la Rey challenges anyone to come on a platform with him and to put the true condition of the country before the people and to induce them to reject this proposal of the enemy. That is so. The spirit of which I speak is infectious, and if burghers on Commando learn that the spirit of their fellow-burghers elsewhere is in favour of giving up the struggle, many will become disheartened. When once a spirit gets hold of a people it works marvels, and this fact we must take into consideration. I know it will be of no use to continue the war if everybody around me lays down his arms. It would be ridiculous for me to go on. We must be very sensible in this matter, and have no disunion. You know repentance always comes too late.
I repeat, my conscience is Number 1 with me, and as long as that remains so I must vote against this proposal.
After Prayer the meeting was adjourned to the following day.
FRIDAY, MAY 30TH, 1902.
At nine o'clock the meeting resumed after a Prayer by the Rev. J. D. Kestell.
Acting State President S. W. BURGER said: Before we begin I consider it my duty to inform the Delegates and the members of both Governments, that President Steyn had to tender his resignation as President of the Orange Free State yesterday, on account of illness, and that he was forced to give the enemy his parole to enable him to obtain medical treatment. General de Wet has been appointed in his place as Acting State President, and, on behalf of the members of my Government, on behalf of you all, and on behalf of myself, I wish to assure him of our deep sympathy, and to express our heartfelt regret at the loss of a man who has hitherto been the support and the rock of our good cause. His retirement is a great loss to us all.
Chief Commandant de Wet thanked the Acting State President of the South African Republic for his sympathetic references, and assured the meeting that as far as his poor powers enabled him he would do everything in his power for the Africanders.
Mr. J. NAUDÉ (Detached Commando under General Kemp) desired some information about the rebels, and an explanation of the document in which the British set forth how they would treat the rebels, if their peace proposals were accepted.
General Smuts furnished the desired information.
Mr. NAUDÉ further asked whether it rested with the Delegates to decide to surrender the independence, or whether they could only carry out their instructions.
General BOTHA replied, that from the documents before the meeting it was very clear in the opinion of the Governments, as expressed to Lord Kitchener and to Lord Milner at their first meeting, that only the people or their special Delegates had the power to decide on the independence. They had gone to the people, and the people were now represented by the Delegates here in this meeting.
Mr. NAUDÉ said: I thus understand that, when the members of the Governments left Pretoria to have the special Delegates elected they knew that the persons elected would have to decide whether the independence would have to be given up or not. I find myself now in a difficulty, and I must say that some Delegates have (by an oversight, perhaps) been misled. I have been chosen with a definite instruction, and with all respect for the explanation of our legal advisers, who say that we can speak and act here according to circumstances, I must say that I have come here with a definite instruction from my burghers to instruct the Governments not to sacrifice the independence. Further, the burghers gave the Government the right to negotiate, but then it was to be stipulated in the negotiations that they could retain their arms, that the rights of the Dutch language should be guaranteed, which rights are of such great significance to the people, and a means by which they could again become a people. But in the terms offered these questions are entirely ignored. I also notice that provision is made for those burghers who have property, but very little provision is made for the poor man. And the burghers whom I represent are not rich. They are not landowners. Three million pounds are indeed offered, but how much is that among so many? Nor is it stipulated that the Government notes which have been issued must be paid, so that the poor will get very little. I cannot therefore vote for the acceptance of the proposals before us.
As regards our prospects, I wish to bring to your recollection the address which the Commandant General delivered to the burghers at the Warmbaths towards the end of 1900. The situation was very gloomy then. He said: "We have nothing more to lose and everything to gain. Let us thus go on." No ground for perseverance were then given or asked. And to say now that we are not going a step further without grounds and facts before us is in conflict with what we have hitherto done. We have seen how in the past relief was always at hand. When Pretoria fell the outlook was darker than now, but there was then a spirit which animated the people. There was faith and a trust that we must persevere. And there is no one now who has been put to shame because he maintained the struggle. I can state no definite grounds upon which we can build, but when I consider the past, I can say to my burghers that we can still continue the struggle, and we will do that too. There is nothing more for us to lose, whereas we have the opportunity of persevering with our arms in our hands till better days dawn.
General DE LA REY: I must remark that I never misled anyone at any meeting. Every document that was handed to me by the Government I caused to be read out at every meeting, and on that the people had to decide. The last speaker asks whether the responsibility rests on him to-day to decide on the question of independence. My answer is: "Yes, and not only on him, but on every one of you." The responsibility rests upon you generally. You do not represent a certain village or district, but the whole country, and it is the duty of everyone to decide according to the general condition of circumstances all over the country.
Mr. NAUDÉ: I am not indifferent in this matter, and I do not wish to shirk my responsibility; on the contrary, I will gladly bear it. But I am not here in the same position as a member of the Volksraad, who is entrusted to deal with all matters. I have a definite commission to submit the views of my burghers, and do not feel myself justified to take upon myself the responsibility of deciding upon the surrender of our independence.
General HERTZOG: Although I am not a delegate, I wish to state which course I would pursue if I were one. The Delegate is here for the people, and what he should ask himself is: Suppose that that portion of the people which has delegated me was fully acquainted with the situation in both Republics, how would that portion decide? That appears to me to be the point upon which the Delegates must decide.
As regards the great question before us, I wish to be fair and view it as clearly as possible from both sides. The one party says: "Stop the war," and they continually ask on what grounds can the struggle be continued? But I think it is for you, who say: "Stop the war," to state your grounds. Those who wish to go on say: "We are at war; show us why we are to stop." It is also asked what prospects have we if we go on. This would have been a very good question when we commenced the war. It is argued: We have grown weaker. On that I ask: "Has the enemy not grown weaker too?" That is clearly the case, especially financially. England has already spent over 200 million pounds, and she can spend another 100 million. Yes, if the people wish it. But how long will the people wish it? Have we not the right to assume that England is already in difficulties financially? No one who is acquainted with English history can do otherwise than feel the significance of an imposition of a tax on wheat. That is not done unless matters are serious. In 1831 there was a revolution over this tax. It presses very severely on the people, and the people are beginning to feel that they are incurring debt for which they will have to suffer later.
With reference to the Deputation it is said: "They have been away two years now, and have effected nothing yet; how can we still hope that they will be able to effect something for our good?" But I say just because they have already been two years in Europe, we are nearer the time when a great war must break out. It is a known fact that the nations are arming themselves more and more and building ships of war, which is all done in preparation for the day when war will break out in Europe. A year ago the Deputation sent us a telegram which amounted to this: "Keep on." Why will the enemy not allow us to hear from our Deputation? It would have taken the members of the Deputation only a fortnight to come out and be with us. It is said that it would constitute an irregular military procedure. But is this meeting not also an irregular military procedure? I am thus forced to the conclusion that there is something behind this refusal. We know who the three members of the Deputation are. Mr. Fischer is a man who fought against the war up to the last. He even went to the South African Republic for that object. So is Mr. Wessels. They are both men in whom you can place your full confidence; and have all their interests, and large interests, in this country. Mr. Wolmarans I do not know personally, but it is generally known that he is a man upon whom you can depend. I am convinced of it, that these men will give the fullest attention to our interests. If they saw that we were being ruined by holding out, they would inform us to that effect. But they let us continue. What their reasons are for doing so I do not know, but I depend upon them.
I am open to conviction, and if I can be convinced that our struggle is hopeless, I shall side with those who wish to give it up. There is another aspect to the question; but let me first say that it grieves me that on every public meeting the question of religion is touched upon. It is continually said that this or that is God's finger. Now, although I also have my belief, I say that neither you nor I know in the least what is the finger of God! God has given each one of us reason and a conscience, and if these lead us we need not follow anything else.
I must further say that we are undeniably in a pitiful condition. Food is scarce. We are exhausted, but still we all live. Almost all our horses have been taken, so that what we require we have to take from the enemy. Thousands of our people are prisoners-of-war. We have some thousands of our own people, who are in arms against us. Our women and children have been cooped up for almost two years in the Concentration Camps, where they die by thousands. Not only do they die, but they are exposed to destructive moral influences. The Kaffirs are armed against us, and only recently 56 burghers were murdered by Kaffirs. Truly, our prospects are not bright. In how far all this must weigh with the Delegates, I leave to you. As far as I am concerned, I must confess that all these things have made a tremendous impression on me. No one with a heart can feel differently. I shall always respect Commandant General Botha, because he has proved to have a heart that feels all these matters, and because he has had the courage to lay before his people and before us with great honesty precisely how matters stand.
We are here under exceptional circumstances. Awful wars have already been fought, but I do not believe that a war has ever been waged in which the people have proportionally suffered so much and sacrificed so much as our people have done in this war. In the American War of Independence the people did not suffer a third of what we have suffered. But all this has not yet turned the scales as far as I am concerned. We consider all these matters, but we must consider particularly what awaits us if we give up our country. What will our future be? Will there then be such satisfaction in the Orange Free State and in the South African Republic that we shall be able to say: We will await the day of deliverance from God's hand? If I knew that there would be a rising in a few years, I would rather fight on till I am dead. If I conclude peace I want a lasting peace.
There is a matter that weighs more heavily with me than all this, and that is the holding of this meeting. I regret from the bottom of my heart that it ever took place. This meeting gives us a death blow. I also experienced hard times, when my burghers surrendered in hundreds, but I always found comfort in the thought that I was not fighting alone, and I knew that when I had a hard time of it, my comrades in the struggle elsewhere had an easy time. However, I do not wish to blame anyone for the holding of this meeting, because I am convinced that everything was done with the best intentions. Now, what has been the result of this meeting? The Commandant General has had to express his views, and expose the situation, and this has had the effect of disheartening some of our burghers. If we now decide to continue, hundreds and thousands will go over to the enemy who would otherwise have remained with us. I would have suggested that the discouraged ones leave us, but now those who were not discouraged have also become so.
Although all these facts have made me dubious, I am not yet convinced that we should stop the war. If I were a delegate, I should say: "Go on," because I think that if we are in doubt we should lay down this as an axiom: "Proceed on the road we are on." In the proposal before us we get nothing at all of what we have the right to lay claim to.
General L. J. MEYER (Member of the S.A.R. Government) said: According to General Hertzog, the persons who went to the various commandos to have delegates elected explained the situation of the country to the people. But that was not done. We said to the burghers: "You must elect someone whom you can trust as a delegate to the meeting at Vereeniging. To him the situation of the country as a whole will be laid bare, and then he must act according to circumstances."
Now I want to express my views also. The question of independence is so dear to every Africander that this word can hardly be spoken. Our condition, however, has now become such that we must express our opinions on this matter. I am well acquainted with the condition of the commandos north of the Eastern Railway to the other side of the Sabi River, and I can assure you that every commando finds it very difficult to obtain food. All officers complain that clothing, horses, and food are scarce. All burghers long for peace, if they can retain their flag and their Mauser, but after the accounts which have been given us here, every responsible person must feel that a great portion, if not the half, of the South African Republic is not able to continue the war. Now if half of the South African Republic must be abandoned, the burghers must move from there to the other districts, and it is clear that those districts which still have food have only barely sufficient for their own commandos. What will happen if the burghers from the other parts of the Transvaal resort to those districts also?
Our burghers have done what almost no other nation has ever done. Our bitterest enemies acknowledge this. Then we still have to contend with the large hordes of Kaffirs who go about to murder and plunder. The people expect from us that we will save what can still be saved. Everyone takes the matter up seriously, and it is so serious that if we pass an ill-considered resolution we shall exterminate the Africander people. It has rightly been remarked that everything is dark. If I was sure what to do I would be very glad. The Lord, however, has given us reason, and in my opinion we have now got to such a stage that we must do what we can to keep the head of the Africander people above water, so that later on they can develop again.
The position of our families is a very tender point with me. They are dying out in the Concentration Camps, and must submit to much misery. We have already sacrificed much blood, and if we had hopes and ground for a favourable result we could sacrifice still more. My blood, which is no better than the blood of so many others that has been shed, can also be shed, but my conscience tells me that we may not allow one more man to be shot, if there is no hope for us.
If we were to decide now to go on, we should never get the opportunity to negotiate again. The end would be that we should all be dead or captured or shall have surrendered to the enemy. It is asked what will future generations say, if they read that we decided to make peace and to give up our independence? My reply is: We do not fight for name and honour, but for our people. What will future generations say, if we do not save what can still be saved? They will say that we fought bravely, but without wisdom.
With reference to the terms offered, I must say that I expected more. The three millions are nothing, but yet there is a promise that our people will later have a vote again, and be allowed to govern themselves, and further--God will help us. Some are of opinion that we must show our manliness by continuing the struggle. It may, however, be more manly to conclude peace. In the Volksraad I was in favour of granting the franchise, after a five years' residence, but that proposal was rejected by twenty-one votes to seven, and three of those seven persons are now here with us. We did not vote as we did because we were afraid, but because we did not wish to drench the soil with blood, and we knew that England sought cause for war. Shall we now continue to shed blood?
Before Lord Roberts entered Pretoria the Government considered whether the time had not arrived to put an end to the war. That was, of course, a secret. But the Orange Free State would not agree, and I am convinced that we would have obtained better terms then than now. The people were then not so ruined and exterminated. The Government in its wisdom decided to continue the war. A year later the two Governments met each other again at Waterval, in the Standerton district. It was again resolved to go on with the war. Later we again suggested that we should make peace proposals to the British. President Steyn agreed, but no agreement had yet been arrived at with reference to the time and conditions, and the enemy operated against us with such great forces that we could not make any progress in the matter. Now, as far as human judgment goes, there is no chance for us to continue the war. There is no hope of intervention, for the big Powers do not make war so easily. We have now come to such a pass that we must save the seedling, otherwise I fear it is all over with the Africander people. It is argued that we must go on because so many have already given their lives for their country, but everyone must admit that unless a miracle is worked, we shall not get the enemy out of our country by force of arms. We have taught the British how to wage war. Our own people are with them, and show them how to trek in the night, and where the footpaths are.
Much reference is made to the American War of Independence, but this war cannot be compared to that one. The enemy had only 40,000 troops in America, whereas they have 240,000 here. And then Americans a large country, and had harbours through which to import, and had in addition the assistance of France. I am convinced that our struggle cannot be maintained.
Commandant VAN NIEKERK (Kroonstad): With reference to the Cape Colonists, I wish to say that we expected much help from them, and they did assist us largely. Must we now jump out of the door and leave them in the lurch? Many of them have already been banished, some shot, and others hanged. It is sad to think of laying down our arms. The promise that landed proprietors can retain their arms is more of a comfort than a reality. If I consider everything I must say--let us rather offer passive resistance, but concede nothing.
General BOTHA was the next speaker. He first explained his attitude at the various meetings of the people, and said that he had caused them to elect Delegates with power to act. He continued: When the war began, we had about 60,000 burghers, and we further relied upon help from the Cape Colony. We expected that that Colony would not allow her railways to be used to convey troops to fight against us. I also hoped that the Powers would interfere, but they were silent spectators of how Britain waged war against us, and how she introduced all kinds of new methods into that warfare--methods contrary to international law. Further, we had provisions in abundance, and commandos could be supported for weeks in the same place. However, matters have now so changed that a man must consider himself fortunate if his family is away. It is argued that to save the families still with us, the husbands of such families can surrender with their families. The husbands, however, of most are unfortunately already in the hands of the enemy. Whom can I send to care for those whose natural protectors are already prisoners of war? These families are thus thrown upon us, and we must care for them. As long as we had plenty of food, the enemy gladly received our families into their Camps, but now that they are in want, and they (the enemy) can do something for them, their kindness has come to an end. What shall we now do with these families? That is the great difficulty.
It is stated that we do not rely on help through the medium of the Deputation in Europe, but when the enemy refuses to let the Members of the Deputation come out to see us, it is at once said that that is a proof that the Deputation are doing something to our advantage. Reliance is thus placed upon the Deputation, because they can only tell us that there is hope of intervention. The Deputation have already been in Europe for more than two years, and our State President is there too, and up to this day the Deputation have not yet succeeded in getting itself acknowledged by any other Power than the Netherlands Government. They were accredited by us to all the Powers, but it appears that they did not consider it advisable to hand in their credentials to any Power except to Holland, naturally because they were given to understand that they would not be acknowledged. Now, if a Power refuses to acknowledge our Deputation, what help can we as a nation expect from such a Power? There is another point. Before President Kruger left us we received letters from the Deputation, from which it clearly appeared that they could do nothing for us, and in which they informed us that they would return and land in Delagoa Bay. The Government, however, in consultation with President Steyn, who was with us then, decided to ask the Deputation not to return, even though they could effect nothing, because, if they came back, it would be a death blow to our people, who were always still expecting something good from the efforts of the Deputation. I say these things, so that the people may not be misled. In my opinion, we have nothing else than the sympathy of the European nations, and than that we shall get nothing else, but that will not save us. A year ago we were in communication with the Deputation, and all they could then tell us was that we should persevere, on the ground of all the personal and material sacrifices which had already been made, until all means of resistance were exhausted. Well, we have done that, and it is very plain to me that there is no hope of any help from the Deputation. But I wish to go further. We know that there is one friendly Power, and that it wishes to help us as much as possible. That Power is the Netherlands Government. What did the Netherlands Minister write to the British Government on the 1st of January, 1902? He wrote as follows:--
"The Government of her Majesty the Queen is of opinion that the exceptional circumstances, in which one of the belligerent parties in South Africa is situated, and which prevents it from putting itself into communication with the other party by direct means, constitutes one of the causes of the prolongation of the war, which continuously, without interruption or termination, harasses that country, and is the cause of so much misery."
Thus wrote the Power in Europe who is best disposed towards us, a few months ago; and in that same letter they suggested that our Deputation should come out here with the object of meeting the leaders of the people, in order to bring about peace. It was certainly never the intention that peace would be concluded on the basis of the independence of the Republics. Can we thus cherish any hopes of assistance from European nations? I am convinced that we can arrive at a decision in this matter without worrying ourselves for a moment with the idea that we shall obtain help elsewhere. A war in Europe is, of course, possible, but the war we are engaged in has opened the eyes of all the Powers, so that every European Government now avoids war as much as possible. I will even go so far as to say that it is in the interest of more than one Power that this war continues.
A great difficulty is also the unfaithfulness of our own burghers, and much injury is done us by those who lay down their arms. A year ago we took a resolution at Waterval, in the Standerton district, to continue the war vigorously. We kept it up for a year, and fought and sacrificed. What have we gained by it? I say we are now so broken up and weakened that if matters go on like this a little longer we shall no more be able to assert ourselves as a party. It is maintained that this proposal goes further than the proposal made to us at Middelburg in March, 1901, but I do not think that that argument is correct, because we did not negotiate on that proposal. We simply replied that we could not negotiate on the basis proposed. If we had negotiated then we might perhaps have obtained better terms than now. But even granted that the present proposals are more favourable, what have we not sacrificed for such improvement? Twenty thousand women and children have been laid in their graves in the Concentration Camps. Almost the half of our burghers are prisoners of war; we have had to bury hundreds of our comrades. When I review the past year, I must say that we have lost ground tremendously. We can only gauge the future by the past. We now stand face to face with the fact that we shall have to abandon a large tract of our country, and I do not see any chance of retaining our independence in that way. We commenced with 60,000 men, and now we have only 15,000 in the field. Our Information-bureau in Pretoria informs me that the enemy has already 31,400 of our burghers as prisoners of war, and that 600 have already died in the prisoner-of-war camps. Three thousand eight hundred of our burghers have fallen during the war. Is it not a serious matter that so many fell in the course of two and a half years? What must not the sufferings of our women and children in the Concentration Camps have been at the death of so many of their number?
The question is asked, and rightly too: What about the Cape Colonists who have thrown in their lot with us? I have always said that if we lose our independence it will be our first and foremost duty to care for them because they have got into trouble through us. I was always prepared to say: "Banish me, but give terms to the Cape Colonists." And now there is a chance for us to-day to save those comrades. Would it therefore be advisable to miss that chance, and simply to say that we must persevere in the struggle? I say it is not advisable. The other members of our Commission and I did our best at Pretoria for those Colonists. Let us now take what we can get. If we decide to continue, it would only be honest to these Colonists to say that they must stop fighting and accept these terms. A few thousand men become free with the temporary loss of the franchise. If we can get no better terms for them they cannot blame us, nor will they do so if the facts are put before them.
I am referred to what I said about a year ago at the Warmbaths, but let me remind you that, when I spoke there, the commando of that division was 2,000 men strong. What is the situation there to-day? The commando consists of only 480 men. I said then that the war must continue till famine stared us in the face. Now I do not stand here to dishearten anyone, but I must acquaint you fully with all circumstances, and I tell you that there are districts in our country where famine truly and actually stares the commandos in the face, and many of the Delegates can testify to this. Our great strength always lay in this, that we could keep a commando, however small, in each district, which compelled the enemy to divide its enormous armies over the entire country. But if we must give up portions of our country we must trek to other parts; in other words, we must concentrate, and therein lies great danger for us, because that will enable the enemy to concentrate their large forces against us, and our fall will speedily follow. Some say we can go to the Cape Colony. I also know something about that. Chief Commandant de Wet could not get into the Cape Colony in good times with good horses and with a large force. How shall we get there, now that winter is approaching and our horses are so poor that we can only ride at a walk, and the distance for most of us is so much further? I tell you we shall not get there. On the way there, most of the commandos will dwindle away.
The question is asked: "What will the future bring us if we surrender?" Well, that is a most vital question, and for every Africander who has done his duty, surrender is a terribly bitter cup. But we must take the situation as it is, and, however bitter, we must choose the better of two bad roads. It is maintained that we must persevere, but unless we can do so for ten or twelve years, I do not see any grounds for hoping that we shall be able to retain our independence, and I do not see any chance whatever of keeping up the struggle so long. What chance have we of persevering so long? If in two years' time we have been reduced from 60,000 men to a fourth of that number, to what number shall we have sunk in another two years? A hopeless perseverance may also later bring us to a forced surrender, which will be very fatal to us. Let us use our reason, and not stand in relation to each other as two parties. Let us try to find a common way. I shall remain in the field as long as fighting goes on. Personally, I have no objection to persevere.
It is further asked: What will become of our widows and orphans if we make peace? But I in turn ask: Who will care for them if we are later forced to surrender? Even though we conclude peace now we remain in existence as a people, though under the British flag, and if we in surrendering stand by each other we can, after the surrender, also stand by each other, and devise means to assist the widows and orphans. If, on the other hand, we entirely cease to exist, we can do nothing more. We cannot, for instance, even send people to Europe to seek financial help to build up the fortunes of our people again.
There are three ways open to us, and I shall submit to the decision of the majority, but I shall feel it keenly if we are not unanimous in our decision. I must say I can see no salvation for us in the continuance of the war, but only the extermination of our people. The other two ways are: Surrender with, and surrender without conditions.
I always held the opinion that when the day dawned that we could not maintain the struggle any longer, it would be best to stop without making any terms, and to say to the enemy: "Here we are. We cannot go on any longer. Banish the leaders, deal with the people as you wish; we refuse to submit." But the question is whether we can to-day adopt that course and act accordingly. I think we cannot. Our people have been totally ruined, and will therefore be entirely exposed to the mercy of the enemy. They must be financially assisted, and if the enemy do so they can stipulate what they like and demand an oath to their taste from every one they help. The enemy will then also be able to carry out all their proclamations, and so destroy our national existence. They can banish all the leaders, and further, they can refuse to let the prisoners of war return until such time as it suits them. In these terms the return of all prisoners of war is at least stipulated, and all the enemy's proclamations against our persons and property nullified. I am thus of opinion that it will be better for us to accept these terms than to surrender unconditionally. Our cup is bitter, but do not let us make it more bitter still. If we are convinced that our cause is hopeless, it is a question whether we have the right to allow one more burgher to be shot. Our object must be to act in the interest of our people.
General HERTZOG remarked that in his opinion the extract from the letter from the Netherlands Government to Lord Lansdowne read by General Botha had not been well translated. Instead of "... the war which raged in the country without object or termination," the translation should be: "... the war, which without interruption or termination rages in that country," and that this made a difference.
The meeting was adjourned till two o'clock that afternoon.
At two o'clock the meeting resumed.
General MULLER (Boksburg) said: The burghers suspect something from Lord Kitchener's refusal to allow the Deputation to come out, and have instructed me to try and come into communication with the Deputation. Some of my burghers commissioned me to stand for our independence, but others gave me a free hand, to act according to circumstances, and, if there was no other course, to accept the best possible terms. I have always pointed my burghers to the Lord, and told them that as we were at present situated it was impossible for us to succeed in the struggle in our own strength and by means of our own arms, but that we should trust in God, and that He would help us in His own way and in His own fashion. If I now return to my burghers and inform them that I have not been in communication with the Deputation, and that the proposal before us has been accepted, there will be awful dissension--I cannot think of surrender. It will be a painful matter for me, if I must vote for making peace on these terms, but, taking into consideration what I have heard here about the situation in the other districts and from the Commandant General, it will be difficult for me to go and continue the fight alone, although I and my burghers are still prepared to go on. They also have a hard time of it, and all necessaries are scarce, but provision is always forthcoming. If we cannot agree with reference to the terms before us, I can suggest only one course, and that is, that we all together make a compact with the Lord. Then we shall have something to stand on, which we can make clear to the people. We commenced the war with faith in the Lord. Where then shall we stand with regard to Him if our faith now forsakes us?
I wish to say, further, that the three million pounds, which the enemy offers, will go only to the burghers who have remained in the field, and to the prisoners of war. What will become of all the other thousands of poor in the country? I represent some of the poorest in the land. They have lost everything in the war, and no provision is made for them. With the instructions I have and according to the dictates of my conscience I do not know whether I can vote for this proposal.
Commandant DE KOCK (Vrede) pointed out that the 30 Free State Delegates represented 5,000 or 6,000 burghers, and the 30 Transvaal Delegates 10,000, and General Smuts' 3,000 burghers of the Cape Colony, and asked what the position would be if the 30 Free Staters, who represented a minority, decided to continue the war? Would those representing the majority have to submit?
The CHAIRMAN replied that although the Free State Delegates represented a smaller number of burghers, the Free State had an equal vote with the Transvaal in this matter.
General J. C. SMUTS spoke as follows: Hitherto I have not taken part in the discussion, although my views are not unknown to my Government. We have arrived at a dark stage in the development of the war, and our cause is all the darker and more painful to me because I, as a member of the Government of the South African Republic, was one of the persons who entered into the war with England. A man may, however, not shrink from the consequences of his acts, and on an occasion like this, we must restrain all private feelings, and decide only and exclusively with a view to the permanent interests of the Africander people. These are great moments for us, perhaps the last time when we meet as a free people, and a free Government. Let us thus rise to the magnitude of the opportunity and arrive at a decision for which the future Africander generation will bless and not curse us. The great danger before this meeting is, that it will come to a decision from a purely military point of view. Almost all the representatives here are officers who do not know fear, who have never been afraid, nor will ever become afraid of the overwhelming strength of the enemy, and who are prepared to give their last drop of blood for their country and their people. Now, if we view the matter merely from a military standpoint, if we consider it only as a military matter, then I must admit that we can still go on with the struggle. We are still an unvanquished military force. We have still 18,000 men in the field, veterans, with whom you can do almost any work. We can thus push our cause, from a military point of view, still further. But we are not here as an army, but as a people; we have not only a military question, but also a national matter to deal with. No one here represents his own commando. Everyone here represents the Africander people, and not only that portion which is still in the field, but also those who are already under the sod and those who will live after we have gone. We represent, not only ourselves, but also the thousands who are dead, and have made the last sacrifice for their people, the prisoners of war scattered all over the world, and the women and children who are dying out by thousands in the Concentration Camps of the enemy; we represent the blood and the tears of an entire nation.
They all call upon us, from the prisoner-of-war camps, from the Concentration Camps, from the grave, from the field, and from the womb of the future, to decide wisely and to avoid all measures which may lead to the decadence and extermination of the Africander people, and thus frustrate the objects for which they made all their sacrifices. Hitherto we have not continued the struggle aimlessly. We did not fight merely to be shot. We commenced the struggle, and continued it to this moment, because we wished to maintain our independence, and were prepared to sacrifice everything for it. But we may not sacrifice the Africander people for that independence. As soon as we are convinced that, humanly speaking, there is no reasonable chance to retain our independence as Republics, it clearly becomes our duty to stop the struggle in order that we may not perhaps sacrifice our people and our future for a mere idea, which cannot be realised. What reasonable chance is there still to retain our independence? We have now fought for almost three years without a break. Without deceiving ourselves we can say that we have exerted all our powers and employed every means to further our cause. We have given thousands of lives, we have sacrificed all our earthly goods; our cherished country is one continuous desert; more than 20,000 women and children have already died in the Concentration Camps of the enemy. Has all this brought us nearer to our independence? On the contrary, we are getting ever further from it, and the longer we continue, the greater will be the gap between us and the object for which we have fought. The manner in which the enemy has carried on this war and still carries it on has reduced us to a condition of exhaustion which will ultimately make the continuance of the war a physical impossibility. If no deliverance comes from elsewhere, we must certainly succumb. When a year ago I, on behalf of my Government, communicated our condition to His Honour President Kruger in Europe, he expressed the opinion that, with a view to the situation in the Cape Colony, and to the feelings of the European peoples, we should continue with the struggle till the last means of resistance was exhausted. With reference to foreign politics, I only wish to direct your attention to the indisputable facts. (The speaker here discussed fully the political developments in America and of the principal European Powers during the last two years, and then proceeded.) For us the foreign situation is and remains that we enjoy much sympathy, for which we are, of course, heartily thankful. That is all we get, nor shall we receive anything more for many years. Europe will sympathise with us till the last Boer hero lies in his last resting-place, till the last Boer woman has gone to her grave with a broken heart, till our entire nation shall have been sacrificed on the altar of history and of humanity.
With reference to the situation in the Cape Colony, I have stated fully on a former occasion what that is. We have made mistakes, and the Cape Colony was perhaps not ripe for these events. In any case we cannot expect any general rising there. The 3,000 men who have joined us are heroes, whom we cannot sufficiently honour, for having sacrificed their all for us, but they will not regain our independence.
We have now for twelve months acted on the advice of President Kruger, and have tried both the means indicated by him, and in both cases we have become convinced that, if we still wish to fight, we have only ourselves to depend upon.
The facts laid before this meeting by the Delegates from both the Republics convince me that it will be a crime for us to continue this struggle without the assurance of help from elsewhere. Our country has already been ruined to its foundations, and by our continuance, without any reasonable prospect of success, we shall hopelessly ruin our people also.
Now the enemy approaches us with a proposal which, however unacceptable, is coupled with the promise of amnesty for the Colonial comrades who have joined us. I fear that the day will come when we shall no more be able to rescue the so-called rebels, and then they will have just grounds to reproach us that we have sacrificed their interests also for our already hopeless cause. And I am afraid that the rejection of the proposal of the British Government will cause us to lose much sympathy abroad and greatly weaken our position.
Comrades, we decided to stand to the bitter end. Let us now, like men, admit that that end has come for us, come in a more bitter shape than we ever thought. For each one of us death would have been a sweeter and a more welcome end than the step which we shall now have to take. But we bow to God's will. The future is dark, but we shall not relinquish courage and our hope and our faith in God. No one will ever convince me that the unparalleled sacrifices laid on the altar of Freedom by the Africander people will be vain and futile. The war of freedom of South Africa has been fought, not only for the Boers, but for the entire people of South Africa. The result of that struggle we leave in God's hand. Perhaps it is His will to lead the people of South Africa through defeat and humiliation, yea, even through the valley of the shadow of death, to a better future and a brighter day.
Commandant A. J. BESTER (Bloemfontein) said: I have been delegated by a commando of 800 men, and although General de Wet clearly explained our position to them, these 800 men declared that they would not submit to England. My commando has been taking part in the war since the commencement, and we have sacrificed everything already that was dear to us, all for our national existence and independence. Eight months ago my commando was in very bad circumstances. We were badly supplied with horses and clothing, but now we are furnished with all we want, almost as well as when we commenced the war. Every burgher has at least two horses, and some have five, and they are all full of courage. Where they get the courage from is a riddle to me, because dark days have passed over them.
Arguments with reference to our circumstances are piled up, but I must point out that we did not commence with arguments. In 1880 the South African Republic dared to rise against the powerful England. The view then taken was that the Africander, who had settled here, and who had shed his blood for his country, had a just claim to this country, and by the London Convention the enemy had acknowledged that right, that claim. Now the enemy has broken that Convention, and we took up arms in the hope that right would triumph. The war was forced upon the South African Republic and her confederate, the Orange Free State, and why? For the sake of the franchise? No, but for the gold of Johannesburg. That is what England wished to have, just as formerly she wanted the diamond fields of Kimberley and scooped them in.
We commenced the war knowing that London alone had about 5,600,000 inhabitants, and we barely 200,000, but we relied on the justness of our cause, and on the firm conviction that a just cause could never be put down. The facts which have been summed up against the continuance of the war cannot be reasoned away, but neither can the fact be reasoned away that for two years and eight months we had pitted against us the greatest Power, with unheard-of forces, with Kaffirs and with even our own people against us, and yet they cannot exterminate us. And how does the enemy fare? A force or 500 or even of 1,000 men dare not trek out, or 200 burghers make mincemeat of them. We have already performed such deeds that they cannot be otherwise described than as miracles. We must only be unanimous. I stand or fall with my freedom.
Mr. C. BIRKENSTOCK asked whether the proposal of the British could not be accepted under protest.
General J. C. SMUTS replied that the meeting could authorise the Governments to sign the proposal under certain conditions.
Commandant A. J. BESTER was of opinion that it was not necessary to discuss the matter further, and proposed that the discussion be closed.
His proposal received no seconder.
Commandant J. E. MENTZ (Heilbron) said: I represent the Vechtkop division of the Heilbron district. I believe there is nothing else for us to discuss than the questions: Shall we continue the war, or shall we accept the terms before us? In my opinion, unconditional surrender is out of the question, and I must say that after my experiences, and taking into consideration the general condition in which, according to the communications made to us here, we are in, I do not see a chance of going on further with the struggle. The conditions in Heilbron, Kroonstad, and parts of Vrede and Bloemfontein are most pitiable. Not five cattle have remained over in these districts for the families to slaughter. In my division, there are between 200 and 300 women and children, and the husbands of most of them are prisoners-of-war. Many are widows, whose husbands have sacrificed their lives, and now they are helpless. If the war must continue I shall have to leave my district; but will it be right and honest of me to leave the families there to the mercy of the enemy? There is, indeed, a chance of getting cattle through the block house lines of the enemy, but in about half a day the cattle are retaken from us. I can assure you that when I left my commando they had nothing to live on except a little mealies. Our horses are also poor, and we have no forage for them. Since March the enemy has continually been surrounding us, and we have been very much harassed. We are beginning to be so hard pressed that we are obliged even by day to break through the cordon which the enemy draws round us. A week before I came here I had to fight my way twice through a cordon, and 40 of my burghers, whose horses were poor, were captured.
I was surprised to learn that our Deputation wished to return, because we were always hoping that they would be able to do something for us. I am afraid that if we do not accept these terms we shall crumble away bit by bit. I see no other prospect for us if we continue the struggle, and fear that the longer we continue the worse we shall fare.
General J. KEMP (Krugersdorp) spoke as follows: Although I have already expressed my opinion, I wish to do so again. This is a grave moment for every Africander, because if we take a wrong step, it can have fatal consequences for our people. As far as my division is concerned, I still see a chance of going on with the struggle, and the instruction of my burghers was: "Stand for the independence." In spite of the legal opinion given here, I must ask: Where shall I stand, if I vote for this proposal, and my burghers do not approve of it, since they gave me a definite instruction? The document before us is so vague and unintelligible, that it will enable the enemy to suppress us altogether. The three millions for payment of Government Notes and receipts will not cover a third of the amounts owing. I say that the enemy will make the payment of these three millions so troublesome that the poor will see very little or nothing of it. The Dutch language will be allowed where the parents of the children desire it, but what does that avail against the declaration of Lord Milner, that he wants only one language in South Africa? It is plain that it is intended to entirely suppress and Anglicise the whole Africanderdom. We have struggled so long for our independence, and although our situation is difficult and dark we may not give up the fight. Two years ago everything was just as dark. If we accept these terms, our people will go under entirely, while by continuing we may still be able to right matters. If we stand together we are invincible; if we accept these terms, then all our suffering and struggling and sacrifices will have been in vain. I must carry out my instruction and stand for our independence.
Acting State President S. W. BURGER said: I intended not to say a single word more on this question, because I have already expressed my opinion, but in these grave moments there are a few points I wish to put forward. There are in this meeting two parties, as it were, and that is to be regretted. We must stand together as one man, one in heart, one in opinion, and with only one object in view--the future salvation and welfare of our people.
I notice that most of those speakers who plead for the continuance of the war are still young men, and it is perhaps the first time that they have had to decide on such a weighty matter. I ask you: Can we under the existing circumstances prosecute the war? And to that I must reply that, according to my views, based on what I have seen, on what I have heard here, on what I have experienced myself, there is no reasonable possibility for us to prosecute the war with the expectation that the result will be favourable to us. We are referred to the war of 1880-1881, but that cannot be compared with the present struggle. I took part in it from beginning to end. We were then a small people, and we triumphed--yes, but not with our arms. There were other circumstances, which gave us the victory. President Brand, of our sister State, who remained neutral, assisted us, and Gladstone in England stood by us, and did us justice. There were then better men in England than now. It was not by the sword that we gained the victory.
It is argued that we have carried on the struggle for more than two years, and that we can still go on. But if we observe with what we commenced, and how we are situate now, it must be seen that we are going to certain ruin, as has already been explained. If I take into consideration the means we had and our numerical strength when we commenced, and our present condition, then I can cherish no hope of gaining the victory. Every man we lose makes the enemy stronger, and the troops against us have not been reduced, but increased, since Lord Roberts entered Pretoria, and the enemy is being taught by us, and by our people who fight for them, how to carry on war against us. I do not even wish to mention all the Kaffirs which the enemy have on their side and who help them. If you do not see facts it is impossible for me and others to open your eyes to them.
It is stated that we commenced the war with faith and trust in God, but is that quite correct? Let each one ask himself whether he had such faith and trust only. Was there not also a spirit of self-confidence, of trust in our own arms, and our efficiency to handle those arms? Was there not also a contempt of our great enemy? There was also a spirit of war amongst the people without considering what war could bring us. Only victory and not defeat was thought of. No one may deny this. But the question is, what must we do now? I do not think much of the document that lies before us. What is offered us in it does not urge me to make peace. On me, as acting Head of the Transvaal, there rests a great responsibility, especially towards all those who with me have hitherto tried to do their duty to their country and people, and if I am convinced that by the continuance of the war we dig a grave for our people for ever and aye, can I then vote for the continuance of it? Am I not called upon to guard the interests of that people committed to my guidance by my reason? I say it is my holy duty to stop this struggle now that it has become hopeless, and not to allow one more man to be shot, and not to allow the innocent, helpless women and children to remain any longer in their misery in the plague-stricken Concentration Camps. We are now called upon to sacrifice our freedom, just as Abraham was called upon to sacrifice his son; and faith is to walk on the path on which we are led, however dark it may be.
If we decide to continue, two facts stare us in the face. The one is, that many burghers will be compelled to lay down their arms, and the other, that we shall have to abandon parts of the South African Republic, as well as of the Orange Free State. Is that progress? If parts of the country are abandoned by us, they, of course, fall entirely into the hands of the enemy, who will certainly make use of that circumstance.
It is asked whether we shall not later on get an opportunity again for negotiating if we desire to do so. I say: No. We must not lose sight of the position in which the enemy stands towards us, and their power. If we separate now without making peace, the enemy will never again acknowledge us as a party, and a later opportunity for negotiation will in my opinion be out of the question. This is probably our last meeting. The time for unconditional surrender is past, and in reply to the question, What will become of our people if we accept these terms? I say: "There remains a root, and that root will again sprout up as a child, and the time will arrive when we shall again have the right to speak in the government of our country. Let us thus preserve the root, because, if that is eradicated, it is all over with us. Chop off a tree, and it will sprout again; but root it out, and it is no more. And surely our people have not deserved to be rooted out.
Other speakers have clearly pointed out what the continuance of the war will bring us. Those who are in favour of its prosecution speak only of hope. But on what do they build that hope? On our arms? No one says that. On intervention? No, every one declares he does not believe in that. Upon what, then, is the hope founded? Speaking of intervention, I wish to say that I do not believe or expect that any Power will help us. My experience is that the Powers make use of the difficulty in which England is situated in South Africa to settle all their outstanding questions with that country. They profit by this war, and will therefore not lift a finger for us.
There are men among you who will not hear of giving up the struggle. But they follow the dictates of their hearts, and not of their heads. However painful it is, I must say, with the facts before us, we must give up the fight.
I very much regret that, since the Orange Free State, our confederate, threw in her lot with us, the Transvaal should to-day exhibit the greater weakness, and is obliged to say that she cannot go on any more, while many of our Free State comrades still wish to maintain the struggle. But you must know that the enemy have latterly specially applied themselves to subjugate the Transvaal first, and for that purpose have concentrated all their forces upon us. However painful it is to me, my reason tells me that we cannot go on any further, but that it is better to bow to a foreign flag and to save our people, than to continue and to allow our people to be entirely exterminated."
Mr. L. J. JACOBSZ (Acting State Attorney of the South African Republic) said: I have not yet expressed an opinion, because I am not a fighting burgher. I have, indeed, suffered great privations and been in great danger, but I consider that as nothing compared to what others have suffered. I also maintained silence from fear that my views might make a wrong impression on others, and in that way prejudice our cause, while those who do the actual fighting know what they can still effect.
I have heard all the discussions, but I have heard nothing that has made me change the opinion which I have long held and which I expressed at Klerksdorp, viz., that we cannot continue the struggle any longer. My opinions have been voiced by our military leaders. We have heard the opinions of Generals de la Rey, Louis Botha, and J. C. Smuts, and also of some of the Free State Delegates, and I fail to see how it will be possible for us, if we should decide to continue and return to our burghers, not to convey to them the impression made on us by these opinions. And if these opinions become known, what will the result be? Dissatisfaction and paralysis will at once follow, with the result that the burghers will not be able to prosecute the struggle any further. Those opinions are based on facts, and will undoubtedly dissipate the courage which so many still had. We all know what the condition of our country is. The country cannot support the commandos any longer. This has been proved. And, further, what is the condition of our women and children? We have officially been informed that over 20,000 have already died, and there is another more important matter, viz., the immorality in the Concentration Camps, about which we hear from various sources. This is the worst cancer which can attack a people. Our female sex stands under the influence of the enemy, and is beginning to deviate from the morals of their and our forefathers, and that deviation touches the root of our national existence. No one can argue that away.
If we were more or less certain that by perseverance we should succeed in our object, then let us persevere and defy all privations and dangers. Many of us have hoped for and built on intervention, but personally I see no ground for such hope.
I have great sympathy for men like Commandant Bester, who do not even think of laying down their arms, but we stand face to face with facts, and we must not proceed with our head against the wall. It is argued that we must have faith, but faith must have grounds, and what grounds have we? We cannot compare our people to the Israelites of old. Israel had definite promises. General de Wet has attempted to adduce some grounds, but they were, in my opinion, not satisfactory or sufficient.
The idea of accepting terms from the enemy never occurred to our Government at first, and an unconditional surrender is what will be agreeable to our feelings, but what our reason dissuades us from. For the sake of our people, we must take what we can get in order to help them, even though the three millions is so trifling and the terms before us so disappointing. The Commission delegated by us did what they could, and all the members have our perfect confidence. Our people are longing for peace, and if they know that we did our best, they will be satisfied.
I want to add further that I am of the same opinion as Advocates Hertzog and Smuts with reference to the difficulty of some of the Delegates, that they have a definite instruction, and must vote accordingly.
Commandant J. J. ALBERTS (Standerton) spoke more or less in the strain of his former speech. He was in favour of terminating the war by sacrificing some territory, but if that was impossible, the war should in any case be concluded.
General DE WET was of opinion, with a view to the limited time within which the Meeting had to decide, that, if possible, proposals should be submitted to the Meeting.
General G. A. BRAND held the same view.
Field Cornet D. J. E. OPPERMAN (Pretoria) said: I have no definite instruction from my burghers, except that I must make the best of the situation when we have considered all the circumstances. It is well that in this important matter we have men of different opinions, which they express, because in that way we become well posted on all matters, and are thus enabled to arrive at a good decision.
Unconditional surrender we can put out of our minds, because, in my opinion, we have gone too far for that. It is as difficult for me to decide to continue the war as to accept these terms before us. Before I came here I was of opinion that we should continue the struggle because we have already experienced too many hardships and too much bitterness to have to give up our country to the enemy after all. My burghers will stand by me if I tell them that we must go on, but if they are informed of the condition of affairs over the entire country as we know them now, then I do not believe that they will follow me or any officer in maintaining the fight. My great difficulty is the condition of the families with us. Formerly, when we still had food in abundance, the enemy gladly took the families into their Concentration Camps, but now that they know that our supply of food is almost entirely exhausted, they refuse to receive any more families, in order to force us to surrender on account of their fatal condition. All provisions with which we supply them are looted by the enemy, who leave them deprived of everything. My conscience will therefore not allow me to say that we must continue the war, because that will mean that the families will have to die of hunger. We men can make some arrangement to help ourselves, for we can move about from one place to another to look for food, and if it came to a push, we could take provisions from the enemy; but the women and children are helpless victims. According to the dictates of my conscience, therefore, I must vote for the acceptance of these terms before us in order to save our families, but I shall record my vote only under protest and with notification that I give it thus for the said reasons.
On the motion of Field Cornet B. J. VAN HEERDEN, seconded by Field Cornet B. J. ROOS, it was unanimously resolved to close the discussion, after which the Meeting was closed with Prayer till the following morning.
SATURDAY, MAY 31ST, 1902.
At 9.30 o'clock in the morning the Meeting was opened with Prayer.
The following two proposals were handed in:--
(1) By General NIEUWOUDT, seconded by General BRAND:--
"This Meeting of special Delegates from both the Republics having considered the proposal by His Britannic Majesty's Government for the restoration of peace, and considering--
"(a) The wishes and the instructions of the Burghers in the Field;
"(b) That they do not feel themselves justified to conclude a peace on the basis laid down by His Majesty's Government before having been placed in communication with the Delegates of the Republics at present in Europe, Resolves--
"That they cannot accept the proposal of His Majesty's Government, and instructs the Governments to communicate this Resolution to His Britannic Majesty's Government through their Representatives here."
(2) By General P. R. VILJOEN, seconded by General H. A. ALBERTS:--
"That this Meeting resolves to accept the Proposal of the British Government."
State Secretary F. W. REITZ now addressed the Meeting, and said: I consider it a duty to myself, as State Secretary and as burgher, to my nation, and to posterity, to say that if this Meeting decides to conclude the war and to accept the British terms, they will have to make provision for the signing thereof, because I shall affix my signature to no document by which our independence is relinquished. But I must also say that if this Meeting does not see its way clear to go on with the war, they ought not to accept any terms from the enemy, but should simply say: "Here we are, here are our people. We cannot continue the war any further; take us." I do not wish to hurt anybody's feelings. On the contrary, I have the greatest respect for the feelings of those brave men here who have fought so well and so faithfully for their country and people, but I consider that it would be wrong of us to make terms with England.
The CHAIRMAN remarked that the State Secretary was out of order.
General P. R. VILJOEN said: I have prayed that God may grant that I shall not trample on the precious blood that has been shed, on the blood of my own son, but after all that I have heard here I have become convinced that we must terminate this war. I have tabled a proposal from which the future generations can see that we are obliged and forced to sacrifice our independence. I only trust that we shall be unanimous in our resolution.
[Illustration: Facsimile of the original proposal by Commandant H. P. J. Pretorius, seconded by General Chris. Botha, to accept the British Peace Proposals.]
General DE WET said: The time is too short to admit of further discussion on these proposals, and we must arrive at a decision. I propose that we appoint a committee, consisting of Advocates Smuts and Hertzog, to draft a proposal embodying the views of this Meeting. I do not say what the proposal must embrace. Let us then adjourn for an hour, and let the Delegates of the South African Republic and of the Orange Free State meet each other separately, in order to try to come to unanimity. We must arrive at a unanimous decision, because that will be of incalculable value to us for the future.
General BOTHA: I think we must adopt General de Wet's suggestion. We have fought and suffered together; let us now decide together. In this matter we can and must devise means to be unanimous.
General DE WET'S proposal was unanimously adopted by the Meeting, and the Orange Free State Delegates withdrew to the tent of General de Wet, while those of the South African Republic remained in the tent in which the meeting was held.
Fully an hour later all the Delegates met again, and the following resolution drafted by Generals HERTZOG and SMUTS was read:--
"This Meeting of Representatives of the people of both the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, held at Vereeniging from May 15 to 31, 1902, has with regret taken cognisance of the proposal made by His Majesty's Government relative to the termination of the existing hostilities, and of its communication that this proposal must be accepted or rejected without alteration. It deplores the fact that His Majesty's Government has absolutely refused to negotiate with the Governments of the Republics on the basis of their independence, or to permit their Governments to communicate with their Deputation. Our People have, indeed, always been of opinion that not only on the ground of Right, but also of the great material and personal sacrifices made for their independence, they had a well-founded claim to that Independence.
"This Meeting has seriously weighed the condition of their Country and People, and has specially noted the following facts:--
"1. That the Military policy followed by the British Military Authorities has led to the entire devastation of the territory of both the Republics with the burning of farms and villages, the destruction of all means of subsistence, and the exhaustion of all sources necessary for the support of our families, for the existence of our troops, and for the continuation of the war.
"2. That the placing of our captured families in the Concentration Camps has led to an unheard-of condition of suffering and disease, so that in a comparatively short time about 20,000 of our dear ones have perished in those camps, and the horrible prospect has arisen that by the continuance of the war our entire race may in that way die out.
"3. That the Kaffir tribes within and without the boundaries of the territory of both Republics have almost all been armed, and have taken part in the struggle against us, and, by perpetrating murders and committing all kinds of atrocities, have brought about an impossible state of affairs in many districts of both the Republics, as has only been recently proved in the Vrijheid district, where on a single occasion 56 burghers were murdered and mutilated in an awful manner.
"4. That by the proclamations of the enemy to which they have already begun to give effect the burghers who are still fighting are menaced with the loss of all their movable and immovable property, and thus with entire material ruin.
"5. That through the circumstances of the war it has long ago become impossible for us to retain the many thousands of prisoners of war taken by our forces, and that we can thus do comparatively little damage to the British Forces while the burghers who are captured by the British are sent out of the country, and that after the war has been raging for almost three years there remains only an insignificant portion of the fighting force with which we commenced the war.
"6. That this struggling remnant, which constitutes only a small minority of our entire people, has to fight against overwhelming odds of the enemy, and is, moreover, practically in a state of famine and privation, wanting even the indispensable necessaries of life, and that in spite of the application of our utmost endeavours and the sacrifice of all that was dear and precious to us, we cannot reasonably expect ultimate victory.
"This Meeting is therefore of opinion that there is no reasonable ground to expect that by carrying on the war the People will be able to retain their independence, and considers that, under the circumstances, the People are not justified in proceeding with the war, since such can only tend to the social and material ruin, not only of ourselves, but also of our posterity.
"Forced by the above-mentioned circumstances and motives, this Meeting instructs both Governments to accept the proposal of His Majesty's Government, and to sign the same on behalf of the People of both the Republics.
"This Meeting of Delegates expresses the belief that the conditions thus created by the acceptance of the proposal of His Majesty's Government may speedily be so ameliorated that our People will thereby attain the enjoyment of those privileges to which they consider they can justly lay claim, on the ground not only of their past history, but also of their sacrifices in this war.
"This Meeting has noted with satisfaction the decision of His Majesty's Government to grant a large measure of amnesty to those British subjects who took up arms on our side, and to whom we are bound by ties of blood and honour, and expresses the wish that it may please His Majesty to extend this amnesty still further."
This proposal was moved by Commandant H. P. J. PRETORIUS (Jacobsdal), and seconded by General Chris. BOTHA.
General NIEUWOUDT withdrew his proposal, which was, however, immediately adopted by General C. C. J. BADENHORST (Boshof), and seconded by Commander A. BESTER (Bloemfontein).
The Meeting then adjourned till two o'clock.
At two o'clock the Meeting was resumed.
The proposal of Commandant H. P. J. PRETORIUS, seconded by General Chris. BOTHA, was then put to the vote.
The voting was as follows:--
H. A. Alberts. A. J. Bester (Bethlehem). L. P. H. Botha. G. A. Brand. H. J. Bruwer. J. F. de Beer. C. J. Brits. H. J. Bosman. Chris. Botha. C. Birkenstock. C. F. Beyers. B. H. Breytenbach. F. R. Cronje. D. H. van Coller. J. de Clercq. J. G. Cilliers. T. A. Dönges. C. C. Froneman. D. F. H. Flemming. H. S. Grobler. J. L. Grobler. J. N. H. Grobler. F. J. W. J. Hattingh. J. A. M. Hertzog. B. J. van Heerden. J. N. Jacobs. F. P. Jacobsz. J. F. Jordaan. J. J. Koen. H. J. Kritzinger. A. J. de Kock. P. J. Liebenberg. J. A. P. Van der Merwe. F. E. Mentz. C. H. Muller. T. K. Nieuwoudt. H. van Niekerk. J. J. van Niekerk. D. J. E. Opperman. A. M. Prinsloo. H. P. J. Pretorius. A. Ross. L. J. Rautenbach. P. D. Roux. F. J. Rheeder. B. Roos. D. J. Schoeman. T. Stofberg. S. P. du Toit. P. L. Uijs. W. J. Viljoen. P. W. de Vos. W. J. Wessels. P. R. Viljoen.
J. J. Alberts (S.A.R.). J. Kemp (S.A.R.). J. Naudé (S.A.R.). A. J. Bester (Bloemfontein), (O.F.S.). C. C. J. Badenhorst (O.F.S.). C. A. van Niekerk (O.F.S.).
By 54 votes to 6 the proposal was adopted.
When this resolution had been passed there were not many tearless eyes in the tent.
Acting President S. W. BURGER then addressed the following words to the Meeting: We stand here at the graveside of the two Republics. Much remains for us to do, even though we cannot do what lies before us in the official positions which we have hitherto occupied. Let us not withdraw our hands from doing what is our duty. Let us pray God to guide us and to direct us how to keep our people together. We must also be inclined to forgive and to forget when we meet our brothers. We may not cast off that portion of our people who were unfaithful. With these words I wish officially to bid farewell to you, our respected Commandant General, General de Wet, Members of both Executive Councils, and Delegates.
With this the last meeting of the two Republics terminated. It was closed with Prayer.
[Illustration: Facsimile of the document on which the voting on the proposal by Commandant H. P. J. Pretorius, seconded by General Chris. Botha, was recorded.]
The Secretary, Mr. D. E. van Velden, was then instructed to request Lord Kitchener's representatives in the camp--namely, Captain P. J. Marker and Major Henderson--to come to the tent in which the meeting was held in order that the decision of the Meeting might be communicated to them.
They speedily arrived, and under a death-like silence General Botha informed them that the Meeting had accepted the peace proposals of the British Government.
Immediately afterwards the British Authorities made the necessary arrangements for the conveyance by rail to Pretoria of the members of both Republican Governments to sign the Treaty of Peace in accordance with the instruction of the Meeting.
That night, shortly before 11 o'clock, the said Governments duly arrived at Pretoria.
On arrival at the Railway Station they were conveyed in great haste to the residence of Mr. George Heys in Maré Street, which was occupied by Lord Kitchener, and served as the Army Headquarters in South Africa.
For a few moments the members of the two Republican Governments, who were accompanied by the two Secretaries, Rev. J. D. Kestell and Mr. D. E. van Velden, were left alone in the spacious dining-room, as they wished to read the resolution of the Delegates once more in order to satisfy themselves that it was correct.
When this had been done, Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner entered.
The two Representatives of the British Government sat at the head of the table next to each other at the south side of the apartment. On the left of Lord Milner sat Acting President S. W. Burger, State Secretary F. W. Reitz, Commandant General Louis Botha, General J. H. de la Rey, Mr. J. C. Krogh, and General L. J. Meyer. On Lord Kitchener's right sat Acting President C. R. de Wet, General C. H. Olivier, General J. B. M. Hertzog, and Acting Government Secretary Mr. W. J. C. Brebner.
The Peace Treaty had been typed in quadruple on parchment. One copy was intended for the King of England, one for Lord Kitchener, one to be preserved in the Archives in Pretoria, and one in the Archives in Bloemfontein.
There was perfect silence when Acting President S. W. Burger took up the pen.
It was five minutes past eleven on May 31, 1902.
Acting President Burger signed. After him the members of the Government of the South African Republic. Then Acting President de Wet and the Members of the Orange Free State Government. Lord Kitchener followed, and last of all Lord Milner signed.
Before signing State Secretary Reitz rose in his seat, pen in hand, and stated that he signed only in his official capacity, and not as F. W. Reitz.
President Steyn was not there. Physical prostration due to his serious illness prevented him from doing what he had always said he would never do, viz., put his hand on paper to sign away the Independence of his People.
The document was signed.
Everything was silent in the apartment where so much had taken place.
For a few moments everyone sat still.
As the members of the Governments of the now late Republics stood up, as men stupefied, to leave the apartment, Lord Kitchener rose, and, going up to each of them, offered his hand, saying, "We are good friends now."
They then left the apartment and proceeded to the adjoining house (the residence of Mr. Carl Rood), which had been placed at their disposal.
After the resolution of the meeting had been communicated to the British Representatives, the Delegates met again, when the following proposal by Commandant Jacobsz, seconded by General Muller, was unanimously adopted:--
"This meeting of Delegates, considering the pressing necessity to collect means to provide for the wants of the suffering women and children, widows and orphans, and other necessitous persons who have been reduced to a state of indigency by the war,
"And considering the desirability of appointing a Head Committee, whose duty it shall be to take the necessary steps to make provision herein and to decide finally about the Administration and application of the means to be collected,
"Resolves to appoint Messrs. M. T. Steijn, S. W. Burger, L. Botha, C. R. de Wet, J. H. de la Rey, Rev. A. P. Kriel, and Rev. J. D. Kestell (Secretary), a Head Committee, to make all such further arrangements for carrying out the said objects as may appear desirable and practical to them, and especially to add new members to their number, to appoint Sub-Committees and an Executive Committee, which is authorised to draw up Statutes and amend the same whenever necessary."
It was further proposed by Commandant Jacobsz, seconded by General Muller, and carried by the meeting:--
"This meeting further resolves to delegate General C. R. de Wet, General Louis Botha, and General J. H. de la Rey, of the said Head Committee, to proceed to Europe to collect the said funds."