Development of Dutch Rule

[Sidenote: Development of the Two Republics]

From 1854 to 1877 the two Republics developed along very different lines. Their general principle of government was the same, but it was not administrated in the same way. In form their constitutions were nominally republican; in practice they became essentially arbitrary and absolutely antagonistic to British and Colonial ideas of government. The coloured people who, in hundreds of thousands, were established around the Dutch, had few civil rights and no political ones. They were the prey of small military bodies, the source of an enforced labour which could not in practice be distinguished from slavery, the object of personal contempt and with little protection from public law or private conscience. Citizenship was practically limited to the Boer, in the Transvaal; and in the Orange Free State, through the stringent military conditions connected with the privilege, the same result followed for some years. The right of participating in the Government of the country was thus confined to one class, the burghers or native-born Dutch citizens. These alone could elect the President, the Executive Council and the Volksraad, or popular Assembly.

[Sidenote: Important Differences]

There were important differences, however, in the further evolution of the Republics. Something of this was due to the modified feeling of the Orange River Boers towards England, to their proximity to the Cape and to the fact of English settlers being scattered amongst them with the natural result of friendly association and occasional intermarriage. They, therefore, approximated in character and type to the Dutchmen of Cape Colony. The Boer of the Transvaal, on the other hand, was entirely isolated, of unmixed stock and with sentiments of hostility toward everything British as strong and stern as they were when he first left Colonial territory. Both Republics were allowed to develop their own institutions in their own way and were, as the Bloemfontein Convention of 1854 declared, "to all intents and purposes a free and independent people." No slavery, or trade in slaves, was to be permitted, however, and what might be termed Imperial rights of control over native questions was retained along lines enunciated as follows, by Sir M. E. Hicks-Beach, in a despatch dated November 20, 1879: "Neither by the Sand River Convention of 1852, nor at any other time, did Her Majesty's Government surrender the right and duty of requiring that the Transvaal should be governed with a view to the common safety of the various European communities." The same principle, of course, covered the Free State position and, later on, was applied in connection with Moshesh and the Basuto question.

[Sidenote: Early Organization]

Without roads and bridges, churches and schools, or the ordinary machinery of government, the Dutch of the Free State commenced the work of organization in 1854, and the ultimate result reflects considerable credit upon the ignorant burghers of those scattered communities. As in the Cape Colony and the Transvaal the fundamental law was the old Roman system as modified by the Legislature of Holland prior to 1652. The official language was Dutch, and the Courts were constituted after the Dutch fashion. For a short period Josias Hoffman was President, and then Jacobus Nicolaus Boshof was elected to the position. Relations with Moshesh and the Basuto tribe constituted the chief trouble of this early period. The continuous object of this ambitious ruler was to recover certain territory which had once belonged to tribes of which the remnants now acknowledged his rule. The Boers wished to retain regions which had in great part appeared as wild and empty wastes when they had settled there. Apart from the general question, both sides were aggressive and warlike. Each hated the other, and the intermittent struggles which ensued were of the usually merciless character. But Moshesh was too much for the Boers in skill and craft, and, in 1858, the Free State President, after appealing in vain to his Transvaal brethren for aid, turned to Sir George Grey, who was then Governor of the Cape. Sir George accepted the position of mediator, studied the situation closely, and came to the apparent conclusion that the claims of Moshesh were in a measure just. To him, therefore, he gave a piece of territory which the Boers believed to be theirs, and handed over to the latter an outlying mission station which had hitherto acknowledged Basuto authority. Mr. Boshof promptly resigned the Presidency, and was succeeded by Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, a son of the famous general. He devoted himself to effecting a union with the Transvaal republics of the time, but was unsuccessful, owing to conflicting interests and jealousies and to the declaration from Cape Town that such action would dissolve the Conventions with Great Britain.

[Sidenote: Chronic Condition of War]

Meantime, and during the greater part of the years from 1854 to 1868, the Boers of the Free State were in a chronic condition of war with the Basutos. There were few direct conflicts, and the troubles consisted mainly in raids, the burning of houses or kraals, the stealing of cattle, or the kidnapping of children. The Basutos fought in much the same Fabian manner that the Boers themselves practiced, and met invaders concealed behind rocks or cairns or the ever-present kopje. The region ruled by Moshesh was a compact and round-shaped territory lying between Natal, Cape Colony and the Free State. Its surface was broken by steep hills or mountains with more or less flat summits admirably fitted for villages or kraals, and with every requisite for defence in the form of perpendicular wall-like sides. [Sidenote: The Basutoland] Between these natural fortresses were the sweeping and fertile valleys where the Basutos grew their corn and raised their cattle, and which for years it was the delight of the Boers to raid; as it was the primal pleasure of the Basutos to pour down in sudden forays from their rocky fastnesses upon Dutch territory. This constant interchange of robbery and pillage embittered the character of both peoples, but naturally had the most degrading effect upon that of the Boer. For a presumably civilized and Christian race to be engaged year in and year out in the seizure of cattle from a savage enemy and in the occasional enslavement of children or the shooting down of stray individuals and small parties of a mobile enemy could not but have an evil influence upon a character so peculiar as was that of even the best and most enlightened of the emigrant farmers.

[Sidenote: Basutoland Overrun]

After a decade of this sort of intermittent struggle, however, the Boers were encouraged by familiarity with that part of the Basuto country which lay in the valleys and fields to try the task of storming some of the strongholds of the enemy. With the aid of a few small cannon, the first attempts were successful and surprisingly easy. Thus encouraged, within the three years following 1865, the greater part of Basutoland was overrun and the best cornfields captured. They were promptly "annexed" to the Free State, and then attention was devoted to the French missionaries, who had, meanwhile, been doing a splendid work amongst the natives. They were turned out of the country in which half a million of dollars had been expended upon their stations; their homes were plundered and the private property of men who had, in some cases, been laboring for thirty years in the region was confiscated; furniture, books and other items of value were destroyed, and all redress was refused. Permission was afterwards given to re-occupy their stations, not as such, but as farms for which $500 was in each case to be paid the Boer Government. Much of the conquered territory was also surveyed and sold. But the power of the Boers was a very fitful one. With a weak Government at home they were unable to hold the regions which they captured from time to time, and the result was a re-occupation by the Basutos, an attempt to cultivate their fields, further reprisals, and more attacks upon the mountain strongholds. Upon one occasion the Boers destroyed all the growing crops of an extensive section. But Thaba Bosigo, the central fortress of the country, could not be subdued by any force available.



[Sidenote: Basutoland under British Rule]

In 1867 one last struggle occurred, and then Moshesh, weakened by age and realizing that his sons were much as other natives were, and did not possess the ability to hold the country together when his own end had come, turned to Sir Philip Wodehouse, the Governor and High Commissioner at Cape Town, and asked that his people be proclaimed British subjects. This was done, partly from a wise unwillingness to have the Free State so immensely strengthened as it would have been by the possession of Basutoland, partly by a natural objection to have so large a number of natives dispersed over the country without home or special object, and partly by dislike of the policy which the Boers had been for years pursuing in regard to savages generally and missionaries in particular. The Free Staters were intensely annoyed. They had lost the opportunity for a lasting revenge upon their enemy and the possibility of possessing the Switzerland of South Africa. In the light of after events the action of Sir Philip Wodehouse seems almost Providential, and is certainly one of the few instances where British statecraft was really brought into play in this part of the world. Were the Basuto strongholds in possession of Dutch sharpshooters and fortified by German science and artillery, the struggle of 1899-1900 would be infinitely more serious than it is at the time of writing.

[Sidenote: "The Hollanders"]

The Boers of the Free State bitterly resented this annexation. Although now governed by the wisest Dutchman who has come to the front in South Africa--Jan Hendrik Brand--(afterwards better known as Sir John Brand) who had succeeded Pretorius as President in 1865--they were also greatly influenced by a small and compact body of men, known as Hollanders, who had obtained possession of nearly all the offices of emolument in the State. These Hollanders afterwards drifted largely into the Transvaal where they had fuller and freer scope for anti-British sentiment and policy; and for isolation from the British ideas and principles which gradually and, in the end, powerfully, controlled the policy of President Brand. Meantime, however, these adventurers from Holland had much influence in the Free State. In 1858, when the Basutos had driven back the farmers and were threatening their homes and cattle during one of the ups and downs of the long struggle, a number of the Boers, and even some of the Hollanders, were in favor of seeking annexation to Cape Colony, and actually a resolution to that effect went through the Volksraad. But five years later, when fifteen hundred and fifty signers of a memorial asked the Volksraad to press an agitation to this end, the situation in regard to the Basutos had meanwhile changed, and the Hollanders opposed the proposition strongly. The movement was never seriously revived. Speaking in this connection at the prorogation of the Cape Parliament in September, 1868, Sir Philip Wodehouse declared that: "Entirely on my own responsibility, giving expression only to my own opinions, I may say that I regard the measures which severed from their allegiance the European communities in those regions to have been founded in error."

[Sidenote: The Boers Protest]

This Hollander party refused to enter into any negotiation with the High Commissioner concerning the Basutoland annexation, indulged in much talk about French and Russian intervention, and finally despatched two Commissioners to London armed with a long and emphatic protest. Fortunately for all concerned, the British Government approved of the policy pursued by Sir Philip Wodehouse and authorized him to take such further action as, to his knowledge of local conditions, might seem desirable. This wisdom of this course was so unusual and striking in connection with South African affairs that a tribute of respect seems due to the Colonial Secretary of that period--the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The annexation was, in fact, in the immediate interest of the Free State as well as in the future interests of Great Britain. It gave the exhausted republic a rest from protracted and injurious conflict. It afforded an opportunity for the statesmanship of the new President to assert and express itself. It facilitated the development of a friendliness between Cape Colony and the Free State which, so long as President Brand lived and ruled (1865-88), did much for the general good of South Africa and something for the improvement of individual character amongst the less implacable farmers of the little republic. There was indeed much for a statesman to do. Ideals of Government amongst the best of the Boers were still so crude as to be almost laughable. Masses of useless paper money were in existence. Farms or ranches had been neglected, many cattle destroyed and heavy debts incurred.

[Sidenote: Discovery of Diamonds]

Just at this moment the discovery of diamonds effected a revolution in South African affairs. As this incident is variously described by many writers, and as its importance is so great from an historical point of view, I propose to pin my faith upon the record given by Dr. George M. Theal. His position as a civil servant and Historiographer to the Cape Government would, perhaps, lay the most impartial of historians open to occasional allegations of favoritism in dealing with annals so permeated with Dutch and English rivalry as are those of South Africa. But there can be no question as to his accuracy in treating of such questions of fact as this.[1] He states that: "One day, in 1867, a child on a farm in the north of Cape Colony was observed to be playing with a remarkably brilliant pebble, which a trader, to whom it was shown as a curiosity, suspected to be a gem of value. It was sent for examination to a qualified person in Grahamstown, who reported that it was a diamond of twenty-one carats weight and that its value was £500. Search was immediately commenced in the neighborhood by several persons in odd hours, and soon another, though much smaller, was found. Then a third was picked up on the bank of the Vaal River, and attention was directed to that locality. During 1868 several were found, though as yet no one was applying himself solely to looking for them. In March, 1869, the 'Star of South Africa' was obtained from a Korana Hottentot, who had been in possession of it for a long time without the least idea of its value except as a powerful charm. It was a magnificent brilliant of eighty-three carats weight when uncut, and was readily sold for £11,000."

[1] The Story of the Nations Series. South Africa, p. 322.

[Sidenote: Ownership and Territorial Rule]

The lower Vaal then became the scene of a bustling, restless and struggling population of miners and speculators. Wealth and diamonds go together, and with them naturally came questions of ownership and territorial rule. The latter was and had been in dispute for many years. The southern bank of the river was probably Free State territory, but the ownership of the northern bank was in grave doubt. No actual government had been established there, although the Transvaal, the Free State, the Batlapin tribe of natives, and the Griqua captain--Waterboer--all claimed portions of the ground. There was naturally much disorder at the mines, both north and south of the River, under such conditions, and, finally, as the bulk of the miners were British subjects, the High Commissioner at Cape Town decided to interfere, and proposed a general arbitration. President Brand declined the suggestion, but President Pretorius of the Transvaal acceded, and a Court was established at Bloemhof, on the northern bank of the Vaal, with Mr. Keate, Governor of Natal, as final Umpire. From the information then available there seems no doubt that the Award issued by Mr. Keate in October, 1871, was just. He acted, and could only act, upon the evidence presented to the Court, and, as the Free State refused to work up or present its case, and as Waterboer was enabled by the use of a clever advocate to prepare a fairly strong one, the region in dispute was finally awarded to him. He had already offered his claim to the territory to the British authorities, and, as soon as the legal decision was announced, Sir Henry Barkly, as High Commissioner, proclaimed the Diamond Mines and what had long been familiarly known as Griqualand West, to be a British dependency. Afterwards, during the holding of a special Court for the settlement of individual ground-claims, a minute search into the history of the region south of the Vaal revealed an unsuspected flimsiness in Waterboer's title, and the judgment of the Court thereupon threw out all titles based upon Griqua grants. This very impartial verdict--under all the circumstances of the case--at once gave President Brand a position in the matter which he did not hesitate to use. He went to London and laid his case before the British Government, which replied that the possession of the country in question was a necessity to the paramount Power in South Africa, but that he would be given $450,000 as a settlement of the Free State claims. This he accepted.

[Sidenote: A Momentous Decision]

The decision was as momentous in its results as the annexation of Basutoland. Without the possession of Griqualand West, the British Government and settlers, and Cape Colony itself, would have been shut off from expansion to the north. The unclaimed country from the Limpopo to the Zambesi would have been open to the raids and eventual occupation of the Boers of the two Republics. The diamond mines of South Africa--with their hundreds of millions' worth of precious stones--would have been in the hands of England's enemies as well as the gold mines. Matabeland and Mashonaland and the empire created by Cecil Rhodes to the north and west of the republics would have been alien ground. The development of British South Africa would, in a word, have been effectually confined to the limited region south of the Orange River and the Drakensberg Mountains. The Keate Award, therefore, and the dispute between the two Dutch Governments and that of Great Britain, turned upon more important issues than the discovery of diamonds. The Boers did not really want the latter, but it is fairly evident now that they fully appreciated the importance of holding the only route to the north which still remained open to British acquisition. Had President Brand shared in the hostile sentiments of many of his own people and of his compatriots over the Vaal toward Great Britain, he would never have sold his claim even for the sum which did so much to place the finances of the Free State upon a sound footing. From this time forward to the end of the century, however, the Orange Free State enjoyed a condition of progressive prosperity. Roads, public buildings and bridges were constructed. A fairly good system of Dutch public schools was established in the villages, though it did not greatly affect the farmers on their wide ranches. [Sidenote: Railway from Cape Town] A railway was run through the country from Cape Town to Pretoria, largely at the expense of the Cape Government, while branch lines in time connected the Free State system with Durban, in Natal, and with Port Elizabeth and East London, on the southeast coast of Cape Colony. President Brand was re-elected to his position until he died in 1888, leaving the highest of reputations as a wise administrator, a warm friend of Great Britain, and a sincere admirer of British institutions. After his time other influences predominated, and the first evidence of this was in the election of Mr. F. W. Reitz--previously Chief Justice of the State--as his successor.

[Sidenote: Condition of the Transvaal]

Meanwhile, the Transvaal State, or South African Republic as it called itself, was passing through an infinite variety of more or less painful experiences. The region possessed by the Boers north of the Vaal is a great tract of fairly fertile and level land broken here and there by rugged hills. The climate is varied, but upon the whole pleasant and healthful. Its wheat-producing capabilities are famed throughout South Africa. Coffee and tobacco also thrive. But cattle-raising was and is the primary pursuit of almost the entire white or Dutch population. The Boers of this region did not arrive there all at once, or found their State upon conditions of mutual interest and a basis of common principles. Their one tie of union, their single basis of co-operation, was hatred of the English. Whether trekking north from Cape Colony under Potgieter and fighting the Matabele for a country to live in; or leaving Natal in utter disgust at the proposed free institutions of the new British administration; or crossing the Vaal from the Orange River Sovereignty to escape from even friendly relations with British communities; they were, and remained, the most implacable, the most ignorant, the most isolated and unmanageable of the emigrant farmers. At first the Boer population numbered only some sixteen thousand, and in 1837, after the destruction of Moselkatze and the Matabele power on the south side of the Limpopo, an unsuccessful attempt was made to form a common government. A little later four republics--Pochefstroom, Zoutpansberg, Lydenburg and Utrecht--were established, but without much effect so far as practical government was concerned. A period of wild license followed, and was marked by much cruelty towards the natives as well as anarchy and strife amongst the farmers themselves.

[Sidenote: Transvaal Under Pretorius]

In all the great region between the Orange River and the Limpopo these conditions, however, prevailed between 1836 and 1850 to a greater or lesser degree. South of the Vaal a check came through the vicinity of British power and population; but north of that historic river there was little ameliorative influence until about 1864. Marthinus Wessel Pretorius became President of one of the Transvaal sections, or republics, in 1857, and by 1860 had united the entire region under his control. Even then, however, there was a further period of civil war until, in 1864, Pretorius succeeded in obtaining general acceptance by the people and a legal election, with S. J. P. Kruger as Vice-President. He at once resigned the Presidency of the Orange Free State, which he had also held since 1858--but without success to his efforts at uniting the northern and southern republics--and devoted himself to breaking the power of the Baramapulana tribe which had established itself, in great and growing strength, upon the southern banks of the Limpopo and in territory which the Boers thought they should control. During more than three succeeding years the Transvaal tried in vain to subjugate this tribe. The State, however, had no money, and could not even pay for the transport of ammunition from Durban, on one occasion, while its people were not united in the prosecution of the war. The result was a practical withdrawal from the Zoutpansberg region; a recognition of the independence of the Baramapulana under the nominal form of a small annual tribute; and the creation of difficulties amongst other tribes which realized the check thus given to a people who had often oppressed them and frequently attacked their kraals. Wars followed with the Baralong and other clans, and the Republic presently found itself unable to assert its authority over the natives within its claimed sphere of supremacy, or to even hold its own territory intact. By 1870, when the Transvaal became mixed up in the Diamond Fields controversy and entered into the arbitration resulting in the Keate Award, the condition of the people was deplorable. [Sidenote: Ignorance and Isolation] The generation which was now grown up had absolutely no knowledge of anything beyond their own family circle, and had no acquaintance whatever with books, or history, or external affairs. The rivers were unbridged, the Treasury was empty, the salaries of the officials were only occasionally paid and trade was carried on by barter in the absence of gold or silver. The natives around them could not be more densely ignorant, or more completely isolated, than were these farmers on the veldt with all their thriving flocks and herds and stores of grain and vegetables and fruit. Whatever the poverty of intellect, or knowledge, or the primitive nature of their government, there was never any lack of food and wealth of cattle amongst the Dutch of the Transvaal. Like the Matabele and Zulu in their days of power, the Boers always possessed these requisites of life. Yet they would not pay taxes, or support their government, or educate their children.

[Sidenote: Discontent and Disintegration]

President Pretorius was compelled to resign as a result of his participation in the Diamond Fields' arbitration, and the Reverend Thomas Francois Burgers, a clergyman of unorthodox views, who had distinguished himself as a lawyer, was elected, in 1872, to the position. He was an able man, but somewhat visionary for the strained situation which required his attention. He had to deal with a few thousand ignorant men of seventeenth century views who were unable to govern themselves, or to control the surrounding natives, and be expected within a few years to mould out of this unpromising material a prosperous Republic with colleges, railways, telegraphs and a great name amongst the nations of the world. That his dreams were afterwards in a measure realized reflects credit upon his patriotism and perspicacity; but his policy broke down before the obstacles of the immediate present. Money to the extent of $450,000 was obtained from Holland, which the President visited in 1874, under authority from the Volkraad. With this sum railway material was purchased for a proposed line from Lorenzo Marques to Pretoria, and a Superintendent of Education was brought back to manage a system which was not yet in existence and for the creation of which there was neither money nor popular desire. When Mr. Burgers arrived home again he found discontent and disintegration everywhere visible, and his educational scheme was put aside; while his railway material was sent to rot at the Portuguese port for want of more money to carry on the enterprise. Then the strong Bapedi tribe under Sekukuni rose in rebellion; many of the Boers refused to fight under an agnostic President; and a large commando which he succeeded in getting together failed to accomplish anything and in the end stampeded homeward. The first result of this failure was anarchy, and the secondary consequence was the development of a situation, through the menacing attitude of the Zulu forces upon the frontier, which brought about annexation to the British Crown and the creation of the strictly modern phase of the South African question.