On Monday morning, the 19th of May 1902, the commission met early, and wrote a letter, intended to be read to Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner, in which the desire of the Representatives of the People was explained. As the committee was empowered to negotiate with the British Government as to any subject that might lead to peace, they also now discussed the question, what, in case the desire of the Delegates were not acceded to, the terms should be on which peace could be concluded. The following points were thereupon taken down:—
1. A date to be fixed for the establishment of responsible government.
2. All burghers of both Republics to retain the franchise, and this right to vote to be further regulated on the basis of the existing franchise law of the Cape Colony. And the electoral divisions to be fixed more or less in accordance with the number of electors.
3. All families and prisoners to be brought back to their dwellings, as soon as arrangement could possibly be made for their conveyance, as indicated in Lord Kitchener's letter of the 7th of March 1901.
4. Both the Dutch and English languages to have the same rights.
5. Payment to be made
(a) Of Government notes of the South African Republic issued during the war. (b) Of all receipts given according to the custom of the Republics, for goods, etc., requisitioned for the use of the commandos. (c) Of all direct damage caused to burghers in connection with military operations.
6. The legal status of coloured persons to be the same as in the Cape Colony, and no right to vote to be given to them before responsible government shall have been introduced here under the laws to be adopted by the future Parliaments. All native tribes within and on the borders of both Republics to be disarmed immediately after the conclusion of peace.
7. Amnesty to be granted for all acts done in connection with the war by burghers of both Republics and of the Colonies, and no accounts to be demanded from officers of State monies spent during the war for military purposes.
8. Cessation of hostilities to be arranged with the chief officers.
At ten o'clock the commission was invited to the dwelling of Lord Kitchener. Immediately on their arrival in the hall, where both Governments had a month previously negotiated with the British Government, Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner made their appearance, and seats were taken at the table.
General L. Botha began by saying that, although the negotiations had lasted longer than had been expected, he could give the assurance that the burghers were acting in good faith, and that everything was done with the earnest desire to bring about peace.
Thereupon the Representatives of the British Government inquired what the proposals of the Delegates at Vereeniging were, and the letter prepared by the commission was read as follows:—
To their Excellencies Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner, Pretoria.
"Pretoria, 19th May 1902.
Your Excellencies,—With the object of finally putting an end to the existing hostilities, we have the honour, by virtue of the authority granted us by the Governments of both Republics, to propose the following points as a basis of negotiations over and above the points already offered in the negotiations of April last:—
(a) We are prepared to relinquish our independence as regards foreign relationships. (b) We wish to retain internal self-government under a British protectorate. (c) We are prepared to surrender a portion of our territory.
If your Excellencies are prepared to negotiate upon this basis, the above-named points can be further discussed in detail.
We have the honour to be, your Excellencies' obedient servants,
Louis Botha. C. R. de Wet. J. H. de la Rey. J. B. M. Hertzog. J. C. Smuts."
In this letter, then, the commission laid before the British Government the wish of the Delegates. How little, indeed, it was that the People desired!—a Limited Independence! They wished to retain their own flag, and were prepared to make, besides what they had already given in blood and treasure, other sacrifices for it, and that by agreeing thenceforth to signify nothing in the outside world, surrendering all relations with other powers; also, even in regard to their internal government, to have their wings clipped by submitting to the protectorate of England, and to become yet smaller than they were by surrendering a portion of their already small territory.
All that they wished for was to be independent, even if it were only partly so.
It was in vain!
First Lord Kitchener then Lord Milner said that the difference between what the People desired and what the British Government had proposed was too great; and when the commission replied that there was no distinction in principle, that they would actually be independent no longer if England agreed to the little that was asked, they were curtly answered that it could not be. The States had completely to surrender their independent existence!
And thereupon the Representatives of the British Government refused to discuss the proposal any further. They refused even to telegraph it to England, declaring that they were certain it would not be agreed to there, and that it might injure the cause of the Boers.
What was the commission now to do? Return to the Delegates and inform them that England would not grant what they desired? No! they had authority to negotiate on any subject that would lead to the desired peace, and they would now negotiate further, and see what England's intention was. They therefore asked what terms England was prepared to give in case the States surrendered.
In the afternoon the following preamble was read as an answer to this question:—
"The undersigned leaders of the burgher forces in the field, accepting on their own behalf and that of the said burghers the annexation proclaimed by Lord Roberts, and dated respectively on the 24th May in the year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred, and No. 15 dated on the first day of September in the year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred, and accepting as a consequence thereof their status as British subjects, agree immediately to lay down their arms, surrendering all cannon, guns, and munitions of war in their possession, or under their control, and to cease from all further opposition against the authority of H.M. King Edward VII., or his successors. They do this, relying on the assurance of H.M. Government that they and the burghers surrendering together with them shall not be deprived of their personal liberty or of their property, and that the future actions of H.M. Government with regard to the consequences of the war shall be consistent with the declaration here-under set forth. It is clearly understood that all burghers who are now prisoners-of-war, in order to share in the enjoyment of said assurance, shall declare their acceptance of the status of British subjects."
"Must we understand," asked General L. Botha, when Lord Milner had read this document,—"must we understand that our proposal is rejected entirely?"
Both Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner replied, "Yes!"
It was plain to everyone in that room who heard that answer, that we were regarded as having been conquered—completely conquered.
It was now indicated that something in the spirit of the Middleburg proposal would follow upon the preamble that had been read there, and that the exact contents and form of it would have to be agreed upon. The commission began by taking exception to the preamble, as well as to the proposal itself, and explained their objections.
No progress could be made.
After much had been said on both sides the Representatives of the British Government proposed that a sub-committee of the commission should be elected to draw up a document, together with Lord Milner, which should, if possible, be acceptable. It was then agreed that General Smuts and Judge Hertzog should act as such a sub-committee, to draft a proposal in co-operation with Lord Milner, advised by Sir Richard Solomon.
The two men who constituted the sub-committee did much. They opposed all endeavours to make the oath of allegiance obligatory. They succeeded in arranging that no judicial steps, either civil or criminal, should be taken for acts done during the war. They insisted that the Governments of both States, if a treaty of peace were made, should sign it as the Governments respectively of the South African Republic and of the Orange Free State, and thus virtually forced the British Government to treat the "annexations" of the two Republics as non-existent, and to negotiate not with late Republics, but with existing States, whose official names, and not the new names given in the annexation proclamation, it would recognise through the signatures of its Representatives.
The sub-committee also championed the cause of the colonists who had fought on our side, and although Lord Milner positively objected to any interference with what he called a matter between the Colonial Government and their own subjects, the members of the sub-committee nevertheless indirectly received the assurance that the colonists would be treated as leniently as possible.
After the sub-committee had, together with Lord Milner, drawn up the document, it was laid before the two parties. A clause was still wanting which should provide for the payment of receipts which officers in the field had given for provisions bought for the use of the commandos during the war, and in the document no sum of money was named that should be paid to the burghers as compensation for damages.
The necessity of paying these receipts was discussed, and it was sad to hear the haggling that went on in regard to this matter. Lord Milner said it could not be expected that the British Government should pay the war costs of both sides; to which it was replied that these receipts were a lawful debt of the country, and that if England took possession of the assets of the country, worth millions of money, she should also be responsible for the debts. It was also pointed out that there were many men who possessed nothing but receipts, and if they were to lose these also, then they would possess nothing whatever.
Eventually it was agreed that in the draft proposal a clause should be added providing for the payment of the receipts, and that it should be proposed that the sum of £3,000,000 should be given for the payment of these and of the government notes.
The commission also wished to have an article providing for the protection of those who had debts to pay. They pointed out that if these people were forced to pay immediately after the war, they, having lost all, would not be able to do so, and would therefore be ruined utterly. The commission desired that no creditor should have the right to take steps against his debtor till after the lapse of a certain period. This matter was regarded by Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner as being one connected with a legal question of so intricate a nature that they did not consider it desirable to have it mentioned in the document itself. But they promised to bring it to the notice of the British Government and to recommend it to their earnest consideration.
The draft proposal was then concluded, and telegraphed to England in the afternoon (21st of May). For a whole week we had to wait before a final answer was received from England, for meanwhile telegrams were being sent backwards and forwards. At last, on the 28th of May, the answer came, stating that the draft proposal was accepted with certain modifications, and that the proposal as now amended could no longer be altered. It was to be laid before the Representatives of the People at Vereeniging, who were to give a "yes" or "no" vote on it. The following is the proposal in its final form:—
"General Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, Commander-in-Chief, and His Excellency Lord Milner, High Commissioner, on behalf of the British Government, and Messrs. S. W. Burger, F. W. Reitz, Louis Botha, J. H. de la Rey, L. J. Meyer, and J. C. Krogh, acting as the Government of the South African Republic, and Messrs. M. T. Steyn, W. J. C. Brebner, C. R. de Wet, J. B. M. Hertzog, and C. H. Olivier, acting as the Government of the Orange Free State, on behalf of their respective burghers, desirous to terminate the present hostilities, agree on the following articles:—
"1. The burgher forces in the field will forthwith lay down their arms, handing over all guns, rifles, and munitions of war, in their possession or under their control, and desist from any further resistance to the authority of His Majesty King Edward VII., whom they recognise as their lawful sovereign. The manner and details of this surrender will be arranged between Lord Kitchener and Commandant-General Botha, Assistant Commandant-General de la Rey, and Chief-Commandant de Wet.
"2. Burghers in the field outside the limits of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, and all prisoners-of-war at present outside South Africa, who are burghers, will, on duly declaring their acceptance of the position of subjects of His Majesty King Edward VII., be gradually brought back to their homes as soon as transport can be provided and their means of subsistence ensured.
"3. The burghers so surrendering or so returning will not be deprived of their personal liberty or their property.
"4. No proceedings, civil or criminal, will be taken against any of the burghers so surrendering or so returning for any acts in connection with the prosecution of the war. The benefit of this clause will not extend to certain acts contrary to the usages of war which have been notified by the Commander-in-Chief to the Boer Generals, and which shall be tried by court-martial immediately after the close of hostilities.
"5. The Dutch language will be taught in public schools in the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony where the parents of the children desire it, and will be allowed in courts of law when necessary for the better and more effectual administration of justice.
"6. The possession of rifles will be allowed in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony to persons requiring them for their protection, on taking out a licence according to law.
"7. Military administration in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony will at the earliest possible date be succeeded by civil government, and, as soon as circumstances permit, representative institutions, leading up to self-government, will be introduced.
"8. The question of granting the franchise to natives will not be decided until after the introduction of self-government.
"9. No special tax will be imposed on landed property in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony to defray the expenses of the war.
"10. As soon as conditions permit, a commission, on which the local inhabitants will be represented, will be appointed in each district of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, under the presidency of a magistrate or other official, for the purpose of assisting the restoration of the people to their homes and supplying those who, owing to war losses, are unable to provide for themselves, with food, shelter, and the necessary amount of seed, stock, implements, etc., indispensable to the resumption of their normal occupations. His Majesty's Government will place at the disposal of these commissions a sum of three million pounds sterling for the above purposes, and will allow all notes issued under Law No. 1 of 1900 of the Government of the South African Republic, and all receipts given by the officers in the field of the late Republics, or under their orders, to be presented to a judicial commission, which will be appointed by the Government; and if such notes and receipts are found by this commission to have been duly issued in return for valuable consideration, they will be received by the first-named commissions as evidence of war losses suffered by the persons to whom they were originally given. In addition to the above-named free grant of three million pounds, His Majesty's Government will be prepared to make advances as loans for the same purposes, free of interest for two years, and afterwards repayable over a period of years with 3 per cent. interest. No foreigner or rebel will be entitled to the benefit of this clause."
There, then, lay the proposal. Nothing could be added to it; nothing could be taken from it. The Delegates at Vereeniging would have to adopt it as it was, or reject it.
With regard to the colonists who had fought on the side of the Republics against their own Government, a document was read in which it was stated that the Cape Government had resolved that the "rank and file," if they surrendered, would have to sign a document before a resident magistrate, acknowledging themselves to have been guilty of high treason, and that their punishment would be the loss of the franchise for life; and that persons who had occupied positions under the Cape Government, or who had been officers of commandos, would have to submit to trial on the charge of high treason, on the understanding, however, that in no case would the penalty of death be inflicted. The Natal Government, always small, never large-hearted, was of opinion that the colonists who had risen should be treated in accordance with the laws of the colony (Natal).
The task of the five men was completed. They had done everything in their power to carry out the wishes of the Delegates, but they had not been able to succeed. They had been swimming against a stream that was too strong for them.