Mafeking, March 3rd, 1900.
It has become altogether impossible to gauge with any degree of accuracy, the situation in relation to the fortunes of the Imperial arms, or as it might be found in the camp of the enemy without Mafeking. We do not lack here men who, from a previous knowledge of the Boers, consider themselves capable of estimating the purpose and designs of Commandant Snyman; but what seems to be precise and even an admirable forecast one week, is proved, by events in the succeeding week, to be irrelevant and unreliable. It has been our habit, when for any length of time the enemy has rested, to attribute their comparative cessation from hostilities to news of ill-omen, and in our fatuous presciency we have approximately given the date upon which the siege will be raised. But in light of the never-varying contradiction in sense which befalls our optimistical assurance, we must perforce, recognise the falsity of our deductions and cease from worrying. Recently, indeed during the past week, we expected the Boers to celebrate Amajuba Day, and to this end, the garrison was held in a condition of complete readiness, so as to be able to at once repel the anticipated attack. The anniversary of this disastrous fight passed off, however, without incident, and as it happened that runners arrived from the North upon the same day, conveying to us the unconfirmed intelligence that a force under the ever-victorious General French had relieved Kimberley, the wise-acres here, both civil and military, were of opinion that the investing force, that has now surrounded us for six months, could not stomach such unfortunate information, and were as a consequence timorous of any renewed aggression. But now again our theories are erroneous, and the siege progresses to-day merrily and as pugnaciously as ever. With the tidings of Kimberley's good-luck, we looked to see the big Creusot gun removed across the border in its return to Pretoria, but alas! it still confronts us and still flings its daily complement of shells into the town. Indeed, without this piece of ordnance, life would become so strikingly original that the townspeople would break down under the strain. The uncertainty as to what direction it will take, as to the number of tolls which have been rung out from the alarm bell, as to whose house has been wrecked, or what family put into mourning, has buoyed up the townspeople to a pitch from which, when the cause is removed, there will be a pretty general collapse. With the advent of the news about the South, the Northern runners confirmed the fact of the presence of Colonel Plumer's force being near at hand. But this has been the irony of our situation since the siege began. There has ever been, it would seem, some worthy general or colonel within a little trifle of two hundred miles from us, bringing Mafeking relief, or if not for us, for the starving natives. This has always been so pleasant to reflect upon, just this little detail of two hundred miles. Colonel Plumer, we hear, is laying down "immense" stocks of food-supplies at Kanya, so that the natives here, who are already so reduced that they are dying from sheer inanition, having successfully accomplished the journey, which is one of ninety miles, may feed to their hearts' content—provided that they are able to pay for the rations which are so generously distributed to them. Whatever motives of philanthropy direct the policy of the executive in this question of distributing food allowances to natives, it cannot be said that the Government or its administrators, err in their administration upon the side of liberality. Even here in Mafeking we have set a price upon the bowl of soup—horseflesh and mealie-meal mixed—which is served out to the natives from the soup-kitchen, finding excuses for such parsimony in the contention that, by charging the starving natives threepence per bowl of soup, when it is exceedingly doubtful if they have that amount of money in their possession, we can successfully induce them to remove to Kanya, and there live in a state of happy flatulency off the stocks which Colonel Plumer has been ordered to prepare against their reception. Of course, at a moment like this, it is injudicious to cavil at the procedure of the Imperial Government, but there can be no doubt that the drastic principles of economy which Colonel Baden-Powell has been practising in these later days are opposed to and altogether at variance with the dignity of the liberalism which we profess and are at such little pains to execute, and which enter so much into the pacific settlement of native questions in South Africa. The presence of a large alien native population gathered in Mafeking at the present juncture has been our own fault, since the authorities, in whom the management and control of the natives of this district is invested, advised the military authorities here to allow some two thousand native refugees from the Transvaal to take up their abode upon the eve of war in the Mafeking stadt, and it is through the tax which this surplus population put upon the commissariat that this particular question has required such delicate adjustment. With supplies which are rapidly diminishing, we are compelled to force nightly a moderate number to attempt the journey to Kanya, and if they have been signally unsuccessful in their essay to pass through the Boer lines, it is in part because the enemy, having promised them a free passage, maliciously fires upon them as they reach the advanced trenches. For the most part, therefore, we are no better off than we were, since those natives who escaped invariably return to Mafeking.
With the good news which we have received, a slightly better tone of feeling would seem to be about the community. We are simple people for the present, living as we do under the rigours of Martial Law, but we have such genuine faith in the supremacy of our flag, that now that we have heard of the general movement of troops, we are infinitely happier and inclined to forget for the moment the trials and difficulties of our position. There was a time when the townspeople were so disgusted with the conduct of the war, with the disgraceful and nefarious practices of the Colonial Government, with the abominable lethargy of the Imperial authorities, that five men out of every six had resolved to abandon a country where such misrule was possible, and to remove to some one other of our colonies, where life, upon a broader and happier basis, was the order. But with the inauguration of brighter things, such as the relief of Kimberley portends, this tone has disappeared, while there seems to be an almost unanimous desire to wait the arrival of the next intelligence. It is perhaps not altogether incorrect to say that the feeling of disgust, by which so many people were at one time swayed, existed chiefly among those who were connected to and related with families of Dutch origin, and who at some period discarded their Dutch allegiance, casting in their lot with the British. These people yet retained a certain sympathy with the Transvaal, and were as concerned as any Boer about the issues of the campaign. Upon the outbreak of war, many of these people took up their residence in border towns, and by these means Mafeking received a sprinkling of people who were, by protestation, Britishers, and by instinct, Dutch. These men were accepted, since as a rule they were known to be genuine in their avowal; but when they brought their families into Mafeking, their womenfolk, being wholly Dutch, were as a rule regarded in quite a different light. It must be remembered that inter-marriage is practised in the Transvaal to an extraordinary degree, and that the relationship of any one family with others can by this means permeate the entire country to such an extent that, while the woman might be the wife of an African Imperialist, she might be able to claim kinship with men who held high positions in the Republican service. These ladies, therefore, were quite open to the suspicion of wishing to convey to their relations in the Transvaal authentic information regarding Mafeking. As our condition has been precarious, and as important information was surreptitiously carried to the enemy, it was perhaps natural that we should take steps to confine these ladies within their laager, and to place a guard upon it—precautions which were neither valued nor appreciated by them, and from which they suffered no hardships other than those which might be expected to accrue from the enjoyment of the somewhat restricted liberty, with which they, together with the entire garrison, must perforce rest content.