I slept and had a vision; and what was it about? For lo and behold,
the sky was covered with a dark cloud on which was impressed
the number 15, and blood issued from this cloud. Thereupon I beheld
General Jacobus De la Rey returning to his Lichtenburg home
without a hat on his head, and he was closely followed by a carriage
full of flowers.
Niklaas Rensburg (the Boer Prophet).
When the war broke out, there was no question, as far as one section of the whites were concerned, as to the duty of South Africans, but the majority of the unofficial Dutch and German sections were for remaining neutral and taking no part whatever in the struggle, either for or against the Crown. Among the Backvelders there appeared to have been some misunderstanding as to whether the South Africans were subjects or merely friends of the British Government. This bewilderment became more confusing during the interval between the outbreak of the war and the meeting of the Union Parliament. All kinds of ideas were expressed in the Press. The progressive section, mainly English, urged not only that South Africa had no alternative but to join the struggle, but they actually raised volunteer corps, which they proceeded to equip for service in Europe.
The regular volunteer forces of the country went forward at an early period of the campaign, and took the German ports. In connexion with the mobilization of these forces a regrettable catastrophe must be recorded here. The long train in which the Kaffrarian Rifles, mostly English, were going from King Williamstown, via Capetown, to the front, was derailed near the Hex River, and the gallant Riflemen had eight killed and about a hundred wounded. They are sons of the old English settlers of the Eastern Province, and some are members of European families who are very popular with the Natives of the Cape, so that white and black alike felt deeply the result of the catastrophe. General Lukin, who was in charge of the advance forces, quickly went up the South-Western Coast, and forced the enemy to evacuate his ports and retreat inland towards Windhuk, the capital of the German Colony. General Beyers and the rest of the Defence Forces which were entrusted with the land operations also mobilized. The mobilization of this force took an extraordinarily long time, but it was satisfactorily explained that the marshalling of the citizen forces had to await the sanction of Parliament, which did not meet until September 10, 1914.
A special session of the Union Parliament took place on this day, at which General Botha, the Union Premier, made a great speech.
In the course of his speech General Botha said that the Imperial Government had informed the Government that certain war operations in German South-West Africa were considered to be of strategic importance. The Imperial Government added that if the Union Government could undertake these operations they would be regarded as of great service to the Empire. The Empire to which South Africa belonged was involved in one of the greatest and cruelest wars which had ever befallen humanity. General Botha continued:
The Government, after careful consideration, had decided to comply with the request in the interests of South Africa as well as of the Empire. (Cheers.) There could only be one reply to the Imperial Government's request. There were many in South Africa who did not recognize the tremendous seriousness and great possibilities of this war, and some thought that the storm did not threaten South Africa. This was a most narrow-minded conception. The Empire was at war; consequently South Africa was at war with the common enemy. (Cheers.) Only two paths were open — the path of faithfulness to duty and honour — (cheers) — and the path of disloyalty and dishonour. A characteristic of the South African people was their high sense of honour, and they would maintain their reputation for honourable dealing untarnished. (Cheers.) To forget their loyalty to the Empire in this hour of trial would be scandalous and shameful, and would blacken South Africa in the eyes of the whole world. Of this South Africans were incapable. . . .
With regard to the operations in South-West Africa, General Botha declared that there could be only one response to the Imperial Government's wishes unless they wished to contemplate a situation much more serious than that which now confronted them. The mode of operations could not be discussed in the House; it must be left to the commander of the Union forces.[General Beyers.] The Government had summoned Parliament so that the representatives of the people should know exactly what had happened.
He wished them to understand the seriousness of the position, and to accept the responsibility which they would be called upon to accept. He placed himself with confidence in the hands of the House. General Botha detailed the German entry into Union territory at Nakob. This force was entrenched in kopjes in Union territory at the present time. He also described an affair at Schuitdrift in August. In addition to this, armed German forces were on the Union frontier in large numbers before there was any question of Union mobilization. The Premier said he quoted the foregoing to show the hostile attitude adopted by Germans in the neighbouring territory.
He next referred to the White Paper on the diplomatic proceedings on the eve of war. These documents, he declared, showed that if ever Great Britain entered upon a war with clean hands it was this war. It was abundantly clear that Great Britain did not want war, and did her utmost to maintain peace; but war was forced upon them. Only when it became impossible, without loss of prestige and honour, to remain out of war did the Imperial Government take that supreme step. (Cheers.) By the Imperial Government's decision the whole Empire was involved in the war. (Cheers.) He emphasized that the war was not a war of aggrandisement or for the acquisition of land, but that it was undertaken out of a sense of duty and in discharge of solemn treaty obligations to defend other nations who were being trampled upon, and whose territory was being violated. He wished the House to realize that South Africa's future was being decided on the battlefields of Europe. . . .
He appealed to South Africans to be tolerant with each other at the present time. No one could blame the Dutch South African who did not feel exactly as the British South African felt. It did not follow that Dutch South Africans were disloyal. There was no question of disloyalty. Although there might be many who in the past had been hostile towards the British flag, he could vouch for it that they would ten times rather be under the British flag than under the German flag.
Great confidence had been reposed in the people of South Africa. They had received a constitution under which they could create a great nationality. Great Britain had given them this constitution, and ever since had regarded them as a free people and as a sister State. As an example of how the Imperial Government treated them, General Botha said that last July the Union Government wanted to raise a loan of 4,000,000 Pounds. They had raised only two millions. As things were it would be fatal to go into the money market just now, so the Imperial Government had now come to the assistance of the Union Government and had lent the Union 7,000,000 Pounds. (Loud cheers.) That was the spirit of co-operation and brotherhood which invariably animated the Imperial towards the Union Government. Notwithstanding its own difficulties, the Imperial Government had come forward and helped the Union Government out of its embarrassment. (Cheers.)
In conclusion, the Premier said he felt it was the duty of South Africa to assist in relieving the sufferings and privations inflicted by the war. The Government therefore proposed to offer South African products like mealies and tobacco for the soldiers, and brandy for medical purposes. The farmers had already come forward with offers of products, and the Government would undertake their dispatch. General Botha indicated that the matter would be dealt with more fully later, and closed his speech with an eloquent expression of his belief that South Africa would acquit herself honourably in the eyes of the world.
Sir Thomas Smartt, Leader of the Opposition, said the message which the Prime Minister by his speech had given to the Home Country would send a thrill of pride through the Empire — a thrill of pride at knowing that in the day of danger South Africa had been true to her trust and had remembered her obligations as well as her privileges of free citizenship. (Cheers.)
Mr. Cresswell, the Labour Leader, urged that an expedition should be sent to fight side by side with the Allies on the Continent.
General Hertzog said that General Botha's motion had come as a great surprise, and moved the adjournment. Other members supported General Hertzog, but the motion for the adjournment was rejected by 85 votes to 12. ==
After this short session of Parliament, enthusiastic meetings were held throughout the country. Those in the cities were mainly attended by citizens of English descent. Strong resolutions of confidence in the Union Government, and of approval in the proposed expedition to German South-West Africa, were passed at these meetings. At country meetings, however, the enthusiasm was in the opposite direction. There, the resolutions condemned the Government's military policy, and General Botha was roundly accused of not taking the country into his confidence. When the loyalists urged that the Parliamentary representatives of the critics, who, by the way, enjoy manhood suffrage, had authorized the Government policy, the growlers replied that their members did not consult their wishes.
General Botha made it as plain as the Dutch language could put it that the Germans had been in camp near Nakob in their own territory. That they left their Nakob base on the German side of the Border and came over to the Union territory for water, and proceeded to entrench themselves amongst the ridges and kopjes which commanded the water-holes, and that in addition to the duty of the Union as part of the Empire, this military trespass on the part of the German forces further strengthened the case for an expedition into German South-West Africa.
At these Backveld meetings the story about the Germans crossing the border was characterized as a bit of ministerial concoction. Clever geographical students, who mounted the platforms with maps in their hands, were reported to have demonstrated to the satisfaction of their auditors that the new map showing the German position was falsified by the railway surveyors and that Nakob Sued was clearly depicted in the old maps as laying in German territory. The Dutch reporters, however, do not state that the ridges and kopjes referred to by General Botha were also stated to be on the German side of the line according to the old maps. So that the position was like this: at first the Boers would not sanction an expedition against the Germans until the latter invaded Union territory, and when the Government proved by means of police reports that the Germans had actually crossed into Union territory the critics accused the Ministry of telling untruths. This, then, must have been the cause of so much delay in mobilization, and which Ministers had to contend against. It must be added, however, that most of the meetings mentioned took place in Transvaal. At the Cape the discontent was almost insignificant, whilst as much of it as had existed promptly ranged itself on the side of the Government when the "Free" State and Transvaal hoisted the standard of rebellion.
Matters went ahead somewhat after the meeting of Parliament. But a rude awakening awaited the people of the Union, if not the peoples of the Empire, when they got up one September morning and read the following correspondence relating to the resignation of General Beyers, the head of the Union forces: —
GENERAL BEYER'S EXTRAORDINARY ATTITUDE
Ex-General Beyers to General Smuts
September 15, 1914.
Honourable Sir, — You are aware that during the month of August last I told you and General Botha by word of mouth that I discovered the sending of commandos to German South-West Africa for the purpose of conquering that territory. I was on the point then of resigning, but hearing that Parliament would be called together I decided to wait, hoping a way out of the difficulty would be found. To my utmost surprise, however, Parliament confirmed the resolution adopted by the Government — namely, to conquer German South-West Africa, without any provocation to the Union from the Germans. The Government must be aware that by far the great majority of the Dutch-speaking people of the Union decidedly disapproved of our crossing the frontier, and that two conferences of commandants recently held at Pretoria bore eloquent testimony to this. I challenge the Government by an appeal to the people, without making use of compulsion, to obtain another result.
It is said that Great Britain has taken part in the war for the sake of right and justice, in order to protect the independence of smaller nations, and to comply with treaties, but the fact that three Ministers of the British Cabinet have resigned shows that even in England there is a strong minority who cannot be convinced of the righteousness of a war with Germany. History teaches us, after all, that whenever it suits her interests, Great Britain is always ready to protect smaller nations, but unhappily history also relates instances in which the sacred rights of independence of smaller nations have been violated and treaties disregarded by that same Empire. In proof of this I have only to indicate how the independence of the South African Republic and Orange Free State was violated, and of what weight the Sand River Convention was. It is said that war is being waged against the barbarity of the Germans. I have forgiven, but not forgotten, all the barbarities perpetrated in this our own country during the South African war. With very few exceptions, all farms, not to mention many towns, were so many Louvains, of which we now hear so much.
At this critical moment it is made known in Parliament that our Government was granted a loan of 7,000,000 Pounds by the British Government. This is very significant. Any one can have his own thoughts about this. In the absence of legitimate grounds for the annexation policy of the Government you endeavour to intimidate the public by declaring that the Government are in possession of information showing that Germany has decided, should the opportunity arise, to annex South Africa. My humble opinion is that this will be hastened if from our side we invade German territory without having been provoked thereto by the Germans, and as to the alleged German annexation scheme, this is nothing more than the result of the usual native suspicion attending such matters. The allegations made in Parliament — namely, that the Germans have already violated our frontier — are ungrounded. See the report of the Information Bureau, corroborated by Colonel Maritz [Maritz was at this time on active service, nominally as a Colonel at the head of a British regiment, but in reality as a General in the German Army, using British arms, stores, railways, and telegrams in the service of the Kaiser] and his officers, who are on and near the frontier. Apparently the Government longed for some transgression by the Germans of German South-West Africa, and have been disappointed in this, for so far not a single German soldier has crossed our frontier, as you know very well. The report is perfectly correct regarding an involuntary transgression of the frontier some time ago and the tendering of an apology for so doing.
Whatever may happen in South Africa, the war will be decided in Europe in any case, so if Germany triumphs and should decide to attack us, then even Great Britain would be unable to help us. We shall at least have a sacred and clean cause in defending our country to the utmost provided we stay inside our borders. Meanwhile, in case we are attacked, our people will arise as one man in defence for its rights. Besides, I am convinced that a commando of about 8,000 Germans, as at present stationed in German territory, will not be so foolish as to attempt an attack on our country. I have always said, and represented at Booysens recently, that if the Union is attacked Boer and Briton will defend this country side by side, and in such case I will deem it a great honour and privilege to take up my place at the head of our forces in defence of my fatherland. I accepted the post of Commander-General under our Defence Act, the first section of which provides that our forces can only be employed in defence of the Union. My humble opinion is that this section cannot thus be changed by informal resolution of Parliament, such being contrary to Parliamentary procedure. So the Defence Act does not allow us to go and fight the enemy over the frontier, and to light the fire in this way. But should the enemy penetrate into our country it will be our duty to drive him back and pursue him in his own territory.
In his speech General Botha speaks about the help we had from the Belgians and French after the South African War. That assistance is still appreciated by us and by all our people, but we must not forget that the Germans also were not behindhand, and have always been well-disposed towards us. So why should we deliberately make enemies of them? As circumstances are, and seeing no way of taking the offensive, and as I sincerely love my country and people, I must strongly protest against the sending of Union citizen forces over the frontier. Who can foretell when the fire the Government has decided to light shall end? For the reasons enumerated above I feel constrained to resign my post as Commandant-General, as also my commissioned rank. For me this is the only way of faith, duty, and honour towards our people, of which mention was made by General Botha. I have always tried to do my duty to my best convictions, and it sorely grieves me that it must end in this way.
I remain, etc.,
(Signed) C. L. Beyers.
General Smuts to Ex-General Beyers
September 19, 1914.
Sir, — It was with regret that I received your letter of the 15th inst. tendering your resignation as Commandant-General of the Union Defence Forces and as officer of the Union. The circumstances under which the resignation took place and the terms in which you endeavour to justify your action tend to leave a very painful impression. It is true that it was known to me that you entered objections against war operations in German South-West Africa, but I never received the impression that you would resign. On the contrary, all information in the possession of the Government was communicated to you, all plans were discussed with you, and your advice was followed to a large extent. The principal officers were appointed on your recommendation and with your concurrence, and the plan of operations which is now being followed is largely the one recommended by yourself at a conference of officers. My last instructions to you before I left for Capetown to attend the special session of Parliament were that in my absence you should visit certain regiments on the German border, and it was well understood between us that immediately the war operations were somewhat further advanced and co-operation among the various divisions would be practicable you should yourself undertake the chief command in German South West Africa. The attitude of the Government after this remained unchanged, and was approved by Parliament after full discussion.
One would have expected that that approval would make the matter easier for you, but now I find that you anticipated that Parliament would disapprove the policy of the Government, and that your disappointment in this became the reason for your unexpected action. In order to make your motives clearer the reasons for your resignation were explained in a long political argument which was immediately communicated to the Press and came into the hands of the Government long after publication. I need not tell you that all these circumstances in connexion with your resignation have made a most unpleasant impression on my colleagues and myself.
But this unpleasant impression has even been aggravated by the allegations contained in your letter. Your bitter attack on Great Britain is not only baseless, but is the more unjustifiable coming as it does, in the midst of a great war, from the Commandant-General of one of the British Dominions. Your reference to barbarous acts during the South African War cannot justify the criminal devastation of Belgium, and can only be calculated to sow hatred and division among the people of South Africa. You forget to mention that since the South African War the British people gave South Africa her entire freedom, under a Constitution which makes it possible for us to realize our national ideals along our own lines, and which, for instance, allows you to write with impunity a letter for which you would, without doubt, be liable in the German Empire to the extreme penalty. As regards your other statements, they have been answered and disposed of in Parliament. From these discussions it will be apparent that neither the British Empire nor South Africa was the aggressor in this struggle. War was, in the first instance, declared by Austria-Hungary, and thereafter by Germany, under circumstances in which the British Government employed its utmost powers to maintain the peace of Europe and to safeguard the neutrality of Belgium. So far as we ourselves are concerned, our coast is threatened, our mail-boats are arrested, and our borders are invaded by the enemy. This latter does not occur, as you say, in an involuntary manner and with an apology, which latter, at any rate, was never tendered to our Government. Under these circumstances it is absurd to speak about aggressive action on the part of the Union, seeing that together with the British Empire we have been drawn, against our wish and will and entirely in self-defence, into this war. As regards your insinuation concerning the loan of seven million pounds which the British Government was kind enough to grant us, and for which the public of the Union, as evidenced recently in Parliament, are most grateful it is of such a despicable nature that there is no necessity to make any comment thereon. It only shows to what extent your mind has been obscured by political bias. You speak about duty and honour. My conviction is that the people of South Africa will in these dark days, when the Government, as well as the people of South Africa, are put to the supreme test, have a clearer conception of duty and honour than is to be deduced from your letter and action. For the Dutch-speaking section in particular I cannot conceive anything more fatal and humiliating than a policy of lip-loyalty in fair weather and of a policy of neutrality and pro-German sentiment in days of storm and stress. It may be that our peculiar internal circumstances and our backward condition after the great war will place a limit on what we can do, but nevertheless I am convinced the people will support the Government in carrying out the mandate of Parliament, and in this manner, which is the only legitimate one, fulfil their duty to South Africa and to the Empire and maintain their dearly won honour unblemished for the future. Your resignation is hereby accepted.
(Signed) J. C. Smuts.
When the war broke out, the Natives of South Africa, who, in many instances, are much better in touch with the backvelders than the Dutch editors who reside in towns, fully expected a general revolt among the unofficial section of the Boers. But when Holland declared her neutrality the Natives began to breathe more freely, as that declaration led them to believe that the Boers would not now rise. When General Beyers's resignation was published, however, the Natives again felt that the outbreak was only a matter of days. In the country, especially the Orange "Free" State, our people are helplessly mixed up with the Boers, and it can readily be understood that they felt somewhat insecure, notwithstanding the Government's assurances. One native farmer sent the following letter to the author in England: —
I am glad to find that your newspaper, the `Tsala ea Batho', is as up to date in your absence as when you are at home. It was the first to publish General Botha's statement to the Natives (about the war), and again the first to comment on the treacherous resignation of General Beyers. The resignation was handed to the Government on the 15th, and the `Tsala' commented on it on September 19, before the daily papers. I think that the daily papers were still trying to reconcile their previous articles about the loyalty of ALL WHITE SOUTH AFRICANS with the resignation. The fact that General De la Rey was shot while travelling in the same car with General Beyers on the same day that Beyers resigned is cited as a further proof of the unswerving loyalty of all the Boers. One cannot understand how these white folks reason; but the attitude of the Imperial Government and of the Union Government is incomprehensible. Fancy telling the loyal Rhodesians to come and fight under a man like that! General Botha ought himself to go to the front, if a civil war is to be averted, leaving General Smuts to watch the next Dutch move and nip it in the bud.
One of the tragedies of the first few weeks of the war was the death of Senator General De la Rey of Lichtenburg, who was accidentally shot by a "Rand" policeman on the night of September 15, while travelling with General Beyers in a motor-car.
His funeral took place on September 20, at Lichtenburg, and was attended by a large number of Boers, including the Prime Minister, General Smuts, General De Wet, and other Dutch generals. Mourners and their friends came to Lichtenburg by the ordinary train and by the special train which conveyed the body from the Rand. They came in all manner of vehicles from the surrounding farms, and, for the first time, the Dutch Reformed Church at Lichtenburg opened its doors to the blacks, who came to pay their last respects to, and view the body of, a popular Boer, known among the Bechuana as Koos La Rey. A commando of 400 Burghers came from Wolmaranstad on horseback. English merchants from Johannesburg were also present, including Senator Tucker, representing the Unionist party. The body was draped WITH TWO FLAGS — the flag of the old Transvaal Republic and of the old "Free" State Republic. Besides the officiating clergy, three Dutch statesmen also spoke at the funeral service, viz., Generals Botha, Beyers, and De Wet.
The loyalists returned from the funeral service to their path of duty, while the sullen section of the Dutch remained at Lichtenburg to fan the embers of rebellion — though it must be added that the operations at Lichtenburg were more or less in camera.
At 8 o'clock on Monday morning, September 21, the day after General De la Rey's funeral, General Kemp, standing on General Beyer's motor-car, presided over a gathering of from 800 to 1,000 Boers. The Rev. Mr. Broeckhuizen opened the meeting with a short prayer. A verbatim report of this prayer appeared in the Dutch papers as follows: "Lord, we thank Thee that Thou rulest our nation through these dark days and stormy circumstances. We have buried our hero and have gathered to speak in his spirit. We thank Thee for such a man as General Beyers, beside whom his friend was shot. We thank Thee also for General De Wet and General Kemp, and that Thou hast given us such men to lead us. We stand for our people. Help us, O Lord, towards the salvation of our people and the salvation of our fatherland. Amen."
The three personalities mentioned in this prayer became active participants in the rebellion, and so did the reverend gentleman who prayed. In fact the latter sent a letter to his congregation three months later from the Johannesburg prison, resigning his pastorate at Pretoria.
In opening the meeting the chairman disclaimed all ideas about a revolution. They had come to consider calmly a decision by the Union Parliament to invade German South West Africa; but while he was speaking, some one produced a flag of the old Free State Republic, and General Kemp rebuked the person for this puerile action. Whether the rebuke was due to the fact that the Boers had not yet then made up their minds to rebel, or because Maritz's plans with the Germans on the south-western frontier had not yet matured, we do not know. Anyway, General Beyers, in supporting the chairman, added that his cause was a clean one and there was no necessity for nonsensical flag-waving. They were there, he said, to pass a calm resolution and forward it to the Government.
One Mr. van der Hoff inquired why General Beyers resigned. The chairman replied that the reasons were clearly set forth in the letter of resignation. At the request of the gathering the Rev. Mr. Broeckhuizen read the letter aloud, the reading throughout being punctuated with cheers. It does not appear, however, that General Smuts's reply was also read, presumably because there was no call for it.
General Liebenberg wanted to know what the situation was that morning; then he proceeded to say: "The enemy is already inside our borders. Some one had disturbed a beehive and the result is what might have been expected. We have three generals before us" — (apparently in addition to the speaker) — "yesterday we buried the dearest of them all. I want a reply from Generals De Wet and Beyers. We are British subjects, and it is not improbable that the Government might instruct their officers to call us out to-morrow."
General De Wet, the man of the hour, then stepped on to the motor-car to speak, prefacing his speech with the remark that he could not help remembering his brother buried the previous day. Then, in beginning his speech, he said: "Burghers and Brethren, — If there be any one present who is not a brother, let him walk away. Since nobody is leaving I conclude that we are brothers all. If there be any stepbrothers here, they are all welcome, but a traitor always reminds me of Judas." Proceeding, he said that "the Germans had been made enemies by the Government. The fire was already burning, so let us adopt a calm resolution, expressing the will of the people. Not that I wish to praise my people, but we are not going to soil our hands, no not even to show our loyalty. Let us be cool, remembering that we have many sympathizers in South Africa and elsewhere. If any one wished to gnash his teeth and hath no teeth his best course is to consult the dentist for a set. Better an hour too late than a minute too early. We do not all reside near a telephone or a telegraph office and cannot be conversant with what goes on at the frontier. Even when Generals Beyers and Kemp are asleep, keep a watch and remain cool. I believe there are numerous Christians among us. When it is time the whole of the people will rise up like to-day."
Some one wished to know if it was possible to recall the forces already at the border. That, said the chairman, would be decided later.
The Rev. Mr. de Klerk said General Beyers's letter translated the real feeling of the people. Even though Generals Beyers, Kemp, and De Wet had resigned, they still remained Generals. They honoured other officers who had the pluck to resign with General Beyers (whose names the Government had not published but had suppressed), including Lieutenant Kol Bezuidenhout. One Field Cornet to the speaker's knowledge had resigned, but his name had not been announced." The reverend gentleman then betrayed his flagrant ignorance of South African history when he said: "Our people were never known to have robbed any one of land. All (?) their land had been acquired by means of purchase or barter. The history of South Africa was a spotless one." After stating that the Afrikander must express his disdain with respect to the Jameson raid and the unrighteous annexation of the Republics, he concluded: "Blood is flowing in Belgium, but is it in the interest of South Africa to draw the sword on that account? It may be in the interests of the Empire; but the hem of my coat is nearer to my body than the coat itself. The sending of troops to Damaraland is nothing but an attack upon a people that had done us no harm. I believe it to be our duty to sit still."
Rev. Mr. Van der Merwe, who said he spoke on behalf of the young people, said all their officers should resign like General Beyers and others. He hoped that any officers present would resign before noon that day.
General De Wet pointed out that the appointment of any Jack, Tom, and Harry might follow such wholesale resignations, for although he lived in the "Free" State he held a share in the affairs of that (Transvaal) Province.
General Beyers: "I consider my own resignation a sufficient protest.
The other representatives of our people should remain at their posts."
(Cries of "No, no, no.")
Rev. Mr. Broeckhuizen implored the people to stand by their Commander-in-Chief, General Beyers, as he himself was going to do, no matter how barking lap-dogs raved. Despite any letters that some fellows might write to the papers to the contrary, the world must know that the people stood behind General Beyers. Although he was still going to suffer — (as he truly did) — they should support him till everything was in order.
As a parting shot General Liebenberg said: When peace was declared in 1902 he had such implicit faith in the late General De la Rey that he (General Liebenberg) remained quietly on his farm and was always obedient to him. He expected these troubles since 1912. And now it had become impossible to keep quiet much longer. According to the latest accounts the Germans were 150 miles across the boundary. (A voice: "We will beat them back.")
The speaker: "The same thing was said when they were in Belgium, but they are now marching on Paris."
A revised resolution was then put: it declared the reported action of the Government to be "in conflict with —
"1. The wishes of the overwhelming majority of the population of the Union." (An extravagant assertion considering that there are six million people in the Union and that the meeting only represented a section of the half a million Boers.)
A reply was demanded from the Government before September 30, so as to get it in time for consideration at a subsequent people's gathering.
When this was carried, General De Wet said in parting: "If there be still a few lap-dogs here, friends, don't take any notice of them. They have now no teeth. We are now more united than when the difference between the Government and `the People' first began." (Obviously General De Wet was here alluding to the rupture between the Government and General Hertzog in 1912, when, to the disgust of himself and his followers, the latter was forced to leave the Ministry. One reason why the Natives' Land Act was passed was in order to "dish the Whigs" and placate the Hertzogites.)
* * * * *
On September 24, General De Wet held another meeting at Kopjes, Orange "Free" State. The Resident Magistrate of Parys attended the meeting and read a telegram from the Government announcing that no Burghers would be forced to proceed to the front; that only volunteers would be asked to serve. This wire, however, did not satisfy the Burghers. They contended that the expedition to German South-West Africa was a policy of setting the prairie on fire, and it did not matter who the originator of the fire was, for when it was raging the Burghers would be called upon to quench it.
After the meeting had passed votes of condolences to Mrs. De la Rey, General De Wet said he was opposed to a war against a nation that had done him no harm. Whether or not the Government used volunteers, "who," he asked, "would be responsible for the harm that is likely to follow a provocation of the Germans? This expedition is to coax them into our country. You may go if you like," added General De Wet emphatically, "but I won't."
Now, the Boers in certain respects are not unlike the Natives; thus when a grey-haired Native, or a Boer, addresses a crowd of his compatriots and says to them, "You may do such and such a thing if you like, but I will not," it is understood by them to be a roundabout way of saying, "Take my advice and don't." And so when such a declaration is made by a man as influential amongst his people as General De Wet, it is not surprising that the crowd shouted in response, "We won't go. Let the authorities adjust the result of their own bungling. Ninety-two men in Parliament voted for the expedition without consulting their constituents, and we are not satisfied." Thereupon some one shouted, "Where is Mr. Van der Merwe?" Others said, "Call him; perhaps he is in the crowd." So the stentorian voice of a Boer equipped with a powerful pair of lungs called out, "Van der Merwe! Van der Merwe!! Van der Merwe!!!" and then announced "He is not here."
Mr. Van der Merwe is the Parliamentary representative of the district where the meeting was held.
In conclusion, General De Wet said: "Here is the Magistrate and there is the prison. If I have said anything that I cannot substantiate I will willingly surrender myself into their hands."
The motion against the expedition was then put, 512 Boers voting for it and only two against it.
* * * * *
Es ist sehr weit nach Tipperary,
Es ist sehr weit zu gehn;
Es ist sehr weit nach Tipperary,
Meinen liebsten Schatz zu sehn.
Leb' wohl, Piccadilly,
Adieu, Leicester Square,
Es ist sehr sehr weit nach Tipperary
Doch dahin sehnt mich sehr.
"Tipperary" in German.
On September 29, General Botha addressed his constituents at a Transvaal station called Bank, on the Kimberley-Johannesburg line. A thousand Burghers met the Premier as he left his special travelling saloon for the place of the meeting and gave him a rousing reception. Before General Botha spoke, he permitted his opponents (to the evident displeasure of the majority of the audience) to unbosom their alleged grievance. Appreciative addresses were read expressing confidence in the Government and approval of the expedition to German South West Africa. Addresses opposing the expedition were also read; they included one that was said to be a petition from Boer women, strongly objecting to the expedition. The reading of these addresses took up much time and must have tried the patience of the Premier's admirers who were anxious to hear the speech of the day. They called on the readers to "Shut up!" but the Prime Minister urged them to give both sides a chance.
After these lengthy preliminaries, the Prime Minister amid cheers delivered a speech justifying the projected invasion of German South West Africa, in obedience to the desire of the Imperial Government. He reminded the Boers that the expedition had been voted for by a Parliament elected by them. He added that he personally would always lead his people along the white man's path of honour and Christianity, and that he would never choose the coward's way of disloyalty and treason. The whole of the speech might be summed up in a few lines taken out of General Smuts's reply to General Beyers: "I cannot conceive anything more fatal and humiliating than a policy of lip-loyalty in fair weather and a policy of neutrality and pro-German sentiment in days of storm and stress."
The Prime Minister further asked what reliance could be placed on Germany who ravaged Belgium. He pointed out that when the late President Kruger arrived in Europe — a fugitive from his country — the French and the Belgians welcomed him, while the Kaiser would not even see the old man.
General Botha made some remarks at this meeting which displeased the coloured loyalists. Without wishing to defend the Premier, the remark, in our opinion, was justifiable. It was more of a recruiting speech than a declaration of policy, and naturally he had to appeal to the sentiments of his hearers. Nothing goes down so easily with the northern Boers as colour prejudice, and in the circumstances General Botha was justified in denouncing the neutrality party, who advocated a policy of "sitting with folded arms until German South West Africa fell into their lap like a ripe apple. The Imperial Government," he went on to say, "could send a force of 50,000 coolies [Contemptuous South African term for British Indians.] to capture the German Colony, and tell them that, after the war, they could make a coolie settlement there. Would this have been in the interest of the country? (Cries of No, no.) But instead, the Imperial Government had asked the Union to do the work, and I am proud to have been asked."
Nor could Englishmen, having regard to the circumstances, very well take umbrage at another remark of General Botha's in the same speech. It was, we believe, a clever appeal to the feelings of Backvelders when he said: "Can you rely on the Kaiser's promises? In the South African war, WHEN I GAVE THE ENGLISH A SOUND THRASHING at Colenso, what did the Kaiser do? He sent a telegram to Lord Roberts advising him how to stab me in the back, by marching across the `Free' State."
The danger that would follow a German victory in South Africa was so lucidly put by the Premier that many waverers were at once imbued with the patriotic spirit. Carping criticism, it is true, continued, but many wobbling defence officers resolved to follow General Botha to the uttermost. The opposition, on the other hand, told the Boers that the official element among them who supported the Government did so, not through patriotic motives, but for the sake of their jobs. The most credulous section among the Boers seemed to believe that the Germans would never invade British South Africa. This section at first was baffled by the contention of the neutrality party that the Government was maligning the Germans; but they were soon disillusioned.
On September 26, Colonel Grant took possession of some water-holes on the line of advance. This step was essential to the success of the proposed expedition. The enemy retired, but only to mount their artillery on some ridges overlooking the camp of the advancing British forces. From those positions the enemy shelled our troops till their ammunition was exhausted. The British casualties amounted to sixteen killed, forty-three wounded, eight missing, and thirty-five captured. These figures would be insignificant on the battlefields of Europe, but to lose so many men in only one attack in South Africa was almost appalling. This reverse having brought home to the waverers the danger of procrastination, a fresh spirit set in among the passive loyalists. But the opposition was busy.
* * * * *
On the same day that General Botha carried the day at Banks, Commandant Vermaas addressed over 100 Burghers at a Transvaal farm called Korannafontein. There were present such notable Dutchmen as Mr. Sarel Du Plessis and Mr. Cornelius Grobbelaar. They were so provocative that Commandant Vermaas asked the meeting with some warmth: "Who do you believe about the occurrences at the German frontier, the Government who receive all the police reports, or General Beyers? All I can say is that you will weep when General Botha gets shot, for I know what he did for this country. And if you disbelieve the Government, what will be the use of telling you that the Germans were the aggressors?"
Sensible speeches were delivered by Mr. D. Louw and others. This speaker deeply regretted the resignation of General Beyers, and said: "He had charge of all the Defence secrets and it cost us much money to let him travel about this country and abroad; and at a critical moment, when we are face to face with trouble he tenders his resignation." The meeting, however, insisted that the Union Government were the delinquents. The Germans, they said, had crossed the border accidentally, for which little relapse they had tendered a suitable apology. Some speakers said that the Ministry's ambitious annexation policy was actuated by a desire for posthumous fame regardless of the blood of Afrikanders, which was more precious than the deserts of German South West Africa. The issue would be decided on the battlefields of Europe, so why the premature invasion, and why the forgery of the railway map in respect to the position of Nakob where the German forces are? "Supposing the Germans win in Europe," asked one of the speakers, "what would be our position after the raid? We prefer to follow General Beyers."
While Commandant Vermaas, the Government emissary, was still speaking, some one shouted: "Three cheers for General Hertzog!" These were vociferously accorded.
At this stage one of the young bloods came out with a brand-new defence of Germany's desertion of the Boer cause during the South African war. Germany, he said, had a ten years' treaty with England and could not go to war against the British, who were there again too smart for us. When Queen Wilhelmina was in Germany the Kaiser said to her: "Tell the Transvaal not to declare war against England just yet ——."
Commandt. Vermaas: "And you call it friendship. Why promise us help when they had a treaty with England?"
After some dialogues, in which the Bible was quoted on both sides, for and against the expedition, a resolution was adopted, by eighty-nine votes to twenty-three, against the invasion of German South-West Africa.
An aged Dutch gentleman remarked that the late Republican Government made a mistake in first sending an ultimatum to the English, and in attacking German South-West Africa the Union Government was repeating the same mistake.
* * * * *
Oom: Who set this ancient quarrel new abroach?
Speak, nephew, were you by when it began?
Neef: Here were the servants of your adversary
And yours, close fighting ere I did approach:
I drew to part them; in the instant came
The fiery Tielman, who swung about his head
And breathed defiance in my ears . . .
While we were interchanging, thrusts and blows
Came more and more, and fought on part and part
Till the Judge came, who parted either part.
According to `Het Westen' of Potchefstroom, over a thousand Burghers packed the Lyric Hall on Friday, October 2, 1914, to hear General De Wet speak against the invasion of German South West Africa. Apparently this was an attempt by the Backvelders to challenge the enthusiasm of the townspeople in the various centres who had been passing loyal resolutions in favour of the expedition and of confidence in the Union Government. Not all the supporters of the Backvelders' cause could gain admission to the hall, which was packed almost to suffocation before the hour of meeting. Several prominent "Free" Staters were on the platform with General De Wet. A rabble of roughs had been brought from the outskirts of the town by opponents of the cause, so the paper says, to interrupt the proceedings and to create disturbance. They waited outside and were "responsible for a state of things which is wholly unknown in the history of South Africa."
Admission was by ticket, and everything was in order up to eight o'clock, when Commandant Erasmus took the chair. General De Wet was carried shoulder high into the meeting amid thunderous applause. The local police force had had timely notification that the meeting was arranged for, but the paper complains that only seven of them were to be seen about the building, and these seven apparently were seized with a blindness of a mysterious kind, for they saw nothing of the disturbance that occurred during the meeting, except when it was thought necessary to arrest an Afrikander.
The chairman having opened the meeting, Professor Duvenage welcomed the visitors from near and far, including the ladies in the gallery. The professor, alluding to the English meeting which took place in the town hall a few evenings before, observed it was not interrupted by any one. This meeting, he said further, had been called to discuss the South African aspect of the war. It had nothing to say about the operations in Europe; all that they wished to protest against was the invasion of German South West Africa. Hereupon dead cats, brickbats, stale eggs and other things were hurled into the hall through the windows, occasioning an indescribable commotion. Angry Afrikanders jumped out of the windows and seized some of the offenders and administered such a sound thrashing to one of them that he only escaped serious bodily harm by lying down.
The dead cats, bricks, etc., were picked up and thrown out of the window; but, as the interrupted meeting was about to proceed, some one disconnected the electric cable and plunged the building in darkness. The confusion became confounding. Matches were struck in several parts of the hall, and it was with considerable difficulty Generals De Wet and Kemp were heard suggesting an adjournment of the meeting to the Dutch Reformed Church Square. The crowd passed out of the Lyric Hall and marched in the direction of the Dutch Reformed Church Square, closely followed by the hooting band of interrupters.
A handy carriage procured from somewhere served as a platform and, under the light of Africa's silvery moon, 1,500 Burghers crowded round the improvised platform while the turbulent interrupters screeched some English national airs. General Kemp, who warned the crowd against the danger of being struck by missiles, asked them to squat on the ground, so as to be better able to hear General De Wet. The guerrilla General, having stepped upon the carriage-platform, said to the audience: "Yes, sit down flat so that those disturbance-makers may hurl their missiles at me on top of the carriage. (Laughter.) Some of those who came to interrupt peaceful Afrikanders may yet become children of death before the evening is far gone. (Boos from the opponents.)
"That may be European or Downing Street civilization, but it is unknown in South Africa; but let us hope that folks with such upbringing will yet live to change their manners. Those who are standing against the wire fence are asked to come nearer and not be afraid, if not, then let them go to their homes, wherever those may be, and leave us alone. I promise you that within a year this disrespectful crowd will have been taught to respect the rights of Afrikanders. That I promise you, and the Afrikander will do it with his own hands. (Loud cheers.) If I am wrong in this, there is your jail, your police and the Magistrate, and let them punish me if I am guilty." (Voices: "They dare not touch you!").
Proceeding the General went on to refer to an article of the `Volkstem', the Ministerial organ of Pretoria. The `Volkstem', he said "had for long been crowing King, King, but the sun will rise when the cock will cease to crow. (Laughter.) The Government has now issued regulations under which we may not speak, but, friends, bear in mind, and the `Volkstem' must know, that we have not yet a Popedom, and we are not yet in Russia, for you will search in vain for the truth in a newspaper." — (We would very much like to know the opinion hereanent of the Backveld newspaper organ in which we read of this meeting. — Author.) — "Friends, a newspaper can do a lot of harm, and much of the condition in which our country finds itself may be attributed to the `Volkstem' — that Government adulator (`de regeering se vetsmeer' document).
"Whereas our people could freely express their views, the Government now wants to prevent an expression of their bitter feelings over the land-robbery now engaged in at German South West." (At this stage, an egg thrown from the back of the crowd fell uncomfortably near the speaker and aroused some angry remarks in the crowd, but the speaker continuing said: "Never mind, friends, I have another coat. The Government talk of calling out volunteers only; but many children were surreptitiously torn away from their mothers, and many were taken against the will of the parents. I am ready to bow under the law, but not when it is broken by the Government. Our law authorizes us to defend our borders, not to wage war outside." After some more quarrels, interruptions, blows and fights in several parts of the crowd, the police arrested a Burgher. But some men who surrounded the police rescued the prisoner and, it was said, assaulted a policeman.)
Proceeding with his speech after the interruption, General De Wet said: "We can never thank the English sufficiently for their gift of self-government under a free constitution approved by His Majesty the King; but it was not implied thereby that we should go and commit a theft." More interruptions, during which it became impossible for the speaker to continue. In the turmoil cheers were given for General De Wet, who, resuming at length, remarked: "You fellows, along the wire fence, the Lord have mercy on you when I turn my back. You will be responsible if blood flows in this meeting to-night. As I have had a better up-bringing I am keeping the people back from tackling you. I have not been brought up in what they call Waaihoek at Bloemfontein. It was not General Botha's place to get this country to snatch chestnuts out of the fire for England. They bluff us with the statement that the coolies [Contemptuous South African term for British Indians.] might be asked to come and take German South West Africa for themselves. Well, let it be so. They will be in their proper surroundings there amongst the Hottentots. And if it amounts to that, Kafirs armed with assegais can be sent against them, for as it now happens the Kafir has got to work for the coolie in Natal."
After more disturbances, the General said he was not so certain that the police were doing their duty, and he would have to report them to the Government. These men were paid out of his pocket and the pockets of other Burghers, but the people got no protection from them. And when in self-defence an Afrikander remonstrates with the hooligans, he is arrested. He thought there was a Magistrate present, and can they not get protection?
Assistant Magistrate Cronin then ascended the carriage and said:
"I expect you all to give the Burghers a fair opportunity to speak."
Concluding General De Wet said: "It was not a question of Hertzog v. Botha. The burning point was German South West Africa. The reason why the people were unarmed was because the Government did not trust them. Things being so, they should not be surprised that the people had no confidence in the authorities. Many had guns but no cartridges; how then could the country be expected to defend itself?"
Mr. Paul Schutte moved the resolution which was put to the meeting, protesting against the expedition to German South West Africa. "At this time," says the Dutch paper that reported these proceedings, "the throats of the interrupters, not being made of steel, had become so hoarse and weak that their interruption was ineffective, except, perhaps, when they dealt out blows."
Mr. Paul Schutte said, in moving the resolution, that the hand of God was pressing heavily on the land: poverty, misery, and the drought finishing the people. Was it not dangerous for the Government to embark on such an undertaking without the backing of the unanimous will of the people?
Mr. Serfontein (presumably one of the two members of Parliament of that name) said he was going to speak the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
He said he would give documentary proof that a map has been forged; he did not know by whom. It is said that Nakob is in Union territory, yet according to the original Government map, that place was on German territory. "There is the map," he said, apparently flaunting it, "satisfy yourselves."
Proceeding he said: "General Tobias Smuts had declared that he knew the Government decision was against the wishes of his constituents, yet he wanted to support the Government in favour of the war. General Beyers, who knew all the circumstances, denies that Nakob is in Union territory. In these circumstances, how can we, as Christians, ask God to guide us in the undertaking?"
Professor Postma and the Rev. Mr. De Klerk, the two next speakers, quoted the Bible to show that to proceed against German South West Africa was forbidden by Providence. Mr. Furstenburg, who followed, called on the Burghers to maintain the high character of their people. After a few words of thanks from General Kemp to the audience for their attendance, the 1,000 Burghers, amid interruptions, signified their objection to the expedition by standing on one side. This act closed a most exciting meeting.
One of the opponents, the paper says, smacked a Dutch lady on her mouth and caused it to bleed. She coolly turned round and gave him such a heavy blow with her fist that he collapsed, saying in the purest English accent as she did so: "It takes but one woman to fight a Britisher." Another of the interrupters had to be taken to the hospital.
Commandant Els and Mr. Rocco de Villiers, the "Free" State lawyer, on their way to the meeting, had a mishap with their motor-car, fifteen miles distant, so that they reached Potchefstroom on foot, after the meeting.
"Three cheers for our brown people," shouted one of the disturbers.
"You have forgotten the coolies," retorted a Dutch lady.
After the meeting, the opposition formed itself into a procession and marched through the town. They also delivered short speeches confirming what had been done at a previous meeting of townspeople, which supported the expedition. They booed General De Wet and his followers, and dispersed after giving cheers for Generals Botha and Smuts and singing the National Anthem.
One item on the programme of the meeting was an address which should have been presented to General Beyers, the ex-Commander-in-Chief, but as for some reason or other he was not present, the address was sent to him instead. It congratulated him on his resignation, a step which the signatories were sure he would never regret, as it was in accord with the peace-loving and the most pious part of his people, who resent the "capture" of German South West Africa. Further, they thanked him for coming to address them and hoped he would deliver a speech that would shut the mouths of mischief-makers who accused him of being a German agent.
A similar drama was enacted at Johannesburg during the following week, when General De Wet carried his campaign of protest into the stronghold of the sections in favour of the Government expedition. His meeting at the Lewis Cinema was only in progress a few minutes when bricks, etc., came through the fanlights, and the lights went out. The meeting was adjourned to Church Square, where supporters of the Government gained the upper hand and overpowered the "neutral" party so completely that General De Wet, Mr. Serfontein and Rev. Mr. Postma could not be heard. Cheers were continually given for the King, for Generals Botha and Smuts, and the speeches were drowned by the patriotic airs sung by the throng, and the meeting proved a complete fiasco.