December 12th, 1899.
The importance of the resistance which Mafeking has made to the attacks of the Boers should be viewed in the light of its relationship to the two Protectorates, Bechuanaland and Matabeleland, since had this place fallen, its position as a depôt for the Northern trade would have made it a comparatively easy task for the victorious Boers to have secured the control of the intermediate areas. They would have at once seized the rolling stock of the railway whose headquarters are temporarily invested in Mafeking, and could, by that means, have mobilised their forces in a fashion and with a degree of acceleration which would have brought them in a completely equipped and efficient condition to the borders of Rhodesia. Indeed, from what one can learn now, it is not at all improbable that the plan of the northern operations of the Boer forces from their base at Mafeking provided for the seizure of Mafeking with its stores and rolling stock, with their subsequent enlistment of this material in the work of occupying Bechuanaland and assisting our enemy in the concentration of their forces upon Rhodesia. With the railway in their hands small forces would have been stationed at the important points such as are afforded by the natural drifts, and while they maintained by this system of custodianship an open line of communication, they would, at the same time, have been free to utilise, in a combined and united mass, all of these scattered parties of Boers who were engaged upon marauding expeditions between here and Middle Drift. The history of Mafeking then would have been but the story of Vryburg, where, once its sympathy to the Boer cause was proclaimed and the place effectually occupied, the Boer commandant withdrew the greater portion of his men to fresh spheres of activity. With Mafeking in the hands of the enemy, our chief stand would have been around Buluwayo, where Colonel Baden-Powell and Colonel Plumer would have united their commands, thereby presenting to the enemy greater resistance than would have been possible had the forces been engaged upon their own initiative. In a way, therefore, Mafeking has forged an important link in the chain of outposts, by which the safety of the Protectorates has been guaranteed and the independence of the country still preserved to Imperial rule. It must not be forgotten, however, that the success which Plumer's column has enjoyed at Rhodes' Drift and at Middle Drift gave to Southern Rhodesia a certain immunity from hostile invasion, while in any estimate of the economy of the victories which Colonel Plumer's men and our own here have scored against the Boers, it should be borne in mind that had they vanquished our forces at Middle Drift or Rhodes' Drift, further Imperial territory would have been invaded, and the road upon which they might have marched to besiege Buluwayo would have been open to them. Colonel Baden-Powell has, of course, been chiefly instrumental in preventing the investment of Buluwayo, since the determined stand which he made caused General Cronje to hold an aggregate number of Boers, amounting to 8,000 men, and by far the larger portion of the Western Division of the S.A.R. forces, under his control for Mafeking; but without in any way disparaging this work, so important in its achievements, so vital in its issues, nothing perhaps has proved so integral a factor in the work of maintaining our occupation and dominion over these important adjuncts of our Empire in Africa, as the defence which Colonel Plumer so successfully and gallantly accomplished. However we here may have assisted in the preservation of those Protectorates as Imperial dominions, there can be no doubt we should have lost, for the time being, all claim to their moral and practical possession had Colonel Plumer's force retired. With 8,000 men investing Mafeking, and various minor bodies scattered up and down the border between here and Fort Tuli, the enemy could have spared 6,000 men for co-operation with these subsidiary bodies, and still have maintained the siege and bombardment of this town. It did not need, then, its downfall to give the Boers important belligerent rights throughout the Protectorate and Southern Rhodesia, and although our surrender might have materially facilitated their progress, our successful opposition did not necessarily, nor altogether, impede it. The strategical value of the drifts made their safe custody a matter of momentous importance, since through them, as much as from Mafeking, might entry have been made and territorial supremacy for the moment acquired. Indeed, it is very much to be doubted whether the chief value of the stand by which Mafeking has distinguished itself is not found in the lesson which it has read to the Colony itself. Had we gone the way of Vryburg, or had we surrendered after some slight stand, it is almost certain that our fall would have been the signal for the general uprising of the Dutch in the northern areas of the Colony as well as in British Bechuanaland. How near we are to a mare's nest in Mafeking is uncertain, but after much inquiry amongst the chief people (business) in the town, there is no doubt that had the inhabitants of Mafeking been able to conceive the difficulties and trials which were about to beset them, the losses in business at the moment, and the temporary stagnation which will follow the war, they would have preferred to have worshipped the Golden Calf, and to see Colonel Baden-Powell and Colonel Hore remove their headquarters to some spot in the Protectorate, while the sleek and prosperous merchants of Mafeking were thus enabled to follow their occupation and to turn over their money while they lived amid the baneful protection of a temporary and purely commercial allegiance to the Transvaal Republic. It is not, it would seem, that individually Mafeking is disloyal, but that it is essentially a commercial centre, governed, impressed, and inherited by commercial instinct, and reflecting, in its inhabitants, a gathering of the peoples of the world in more or less confused proportion. There is a small German community, there is an American colony, there are French, and Jews of every nation. They have made money in Mafeking; they own much property; they are even friendly to the Transvaal since they have large trade interests among Dutch towns which are near the border. They came here in the days when this part of Africa was unknown to white man; they trekked from Kimberley, from the Transvaal, even across the African desert from the coast, and if they have lived beneath the protection of our standard, they have amassed their wealth by trading with the flags of all nations. They care very little indeed for the Uitlander in the Transvaal, for his wrongs or for his rights, but they would respect him much if he came with his cattle and his sheep, with his waggons and his chattels, and some superfluity of money, for then they could add still further to their hoard of shekels and trade with him for his cattle. It is a weird and motley crowd that constitutes Mafeking: disgusted with Imperial government, wishing to have vengeance upon the Colonial Government, and boasting to Heaven at one moment about their gallant resistance, crying out against the ill-wind that has brought them the siege. They move with the current of the Colony, and can be as easily disturbed to patriotism as they can rouse themselves to a passionate criticism of the follies of the Imperial protection under which they exist. When they are moved to sympathy with the Dutch, it is difficult to believe that they are the self-same loyal inhabitants of Mafeking who are now beleaguered, since by daily contact, by union of marriage, by personal friendship, they have consciously or unconsciously assimilated the cause of the Boer, and reveal the profundity of their sympathies in these times of distress.
An interesting side issue to the siege of Mafeking has been the chain of events relating to the departure of Lady Sarah Wilson from Mafeking upon the night of the day during which war was declared, her temporary sojourn at Setlagoli, from where she supplied the garrison with news, and acted as the chief medium by which Baden-Powell managed to get his dispatches through to the Government in Cape Town; her retirement from Setlagoli, when her work was discovered, to General Snyman's laager before Mafeking to request from that gentleman a safe permit into Mafeking; her eventual arrival in the town in exchange for the prisoner Viljoen. Lady Sarah Wilson experienced no very extraordinary adventures and was treated with that consideration which is due to her sex by the Boers, despite the fact that they might have made her position somewhat unpleasant, since she had quite voluntarily taken up active participation in the siege by endeavouring to keep the garrison supplied with news.