The Rand and the War—Uitlanders for the Boers—An English appreciation of the ex-rand "reformers” volunteering in Great Britain for the conflict—Transvaal volunteers for the Republic—Preparations for the combat.
While the burghers of the Rand, with large numbers of non-British Uitlanders, were mustering for the front in the early days of October, the trains for Natal and Delagoa Bay were being crowded every day with refugees of the " Reforming" camp, mainly British and Colonial. They rushed off in a needless panic weeks before war broke out. They were neither threatened nor molested by the police or officials of Johannesburg. No immediate risk menaced their persons or liberties, yet so eager were these very men who were declared to have invited Jameson in 1895 to come to lead them to an attack on the Republic to get away from the impending fight, that they rushed into cattle trucks in their hurry to be off; fought for places in every kind of conveyance —some of them, in their mad desire to escape, actually pulling British women out of the carriages in order to obtain their places.
It was a significant fact, eloquent in its testimony to the dishonesty of the movement against the Transvaal, that very few of the population of the Band, outside of British nationality, volunteered to fight on the English side. Indeed, comparatively few even of the British element on the gold fields showed any desire to take up arms in a war which was to hand over the laws as well as the mining industry of the Transvaal to Mr. Cecil Rhodes and Co.
On the other hand, Hollanders, Germans, Frenchmen, Irishmen, Italians, Scandinavians, Americans, Russians, and Swiss joined the Boers—miners who must have suffered equally with the British Uitlanders if the grievances put forward on their behalf by England, as a pretext for the war, had had any real existence. It is not in human nature to volunteer to assist in saving a Government which does you a wrong. Coerced to do so some men may be. Others may sell their services to such a Power. But, in the case of the miners of the Band who joined the Boers, there was neither coercion nor pay employed to enlist their help. They were free to leave the country, like the British miners, or to remain; secure in the neutrality of Continental Powers against being forced to fight against their will. A large number voluntarily selected to remain, and to risk their lives in defending the South African Republic.
Commenting upon the rush of the British Uitlanders out of the reach of danger on the eve of the war, the military correspondent of the " Newcastle Chronicle," in his impressions of Maritzburg, in a letter which appeared on the 5th of December, gave the following pen picture of the precious refugees whom he had seen:
" It must be a great relief to the military commander in Natal to know that the ,30,000 or 40,000 Uitlanders of Johannesburg had left that city before the outbreak of hostilities. Otherwise we should have had Cornishmen and Jew boys from ' the golden city' whining and imploring our generals to come and save them. Nothing can exceed the contempt of the real Englishman for this veritable scum of the earth. It makes our blood boil to think that the pick of the British army is engaged in mortal combat to make things easy for the sharpers and swindlers who fatten on the illicit profits of the gold industry. On the other hand, one cannot help respecting the Boers, who are fighting for their hearths and homes. It will be one of General Buller's chief difficulties, when the troops near Pretoria and Johannesburg, to know how to deal with the armed rabble who will crowd round him ready to offer advice and to seize on all lands and property within reach. Verily the lust for gold brings out the worst passions in the human race! "
Scenes of enthusiasm were witnessed as each train for Natal left Johannesburg with its passenger load of burghers. Women and girls accompanied the commandoes on their march to the Bramfontein railway station; many of the fair sex insisting on carrying the Mausers of their brothers or sweethearts on the way. The most popular body leaving Johannesburg was the Police Corps. Finer specimens of combatants could not be seen anywhere. Their mounts were of the best, while the trained bearing, the soldierly appearance of the men, who had kept down the rowdy elements of the gold-reefed city, and had preserved its peace as the law and order of no other great mining center had ever been upheld, evoked general praise. They were cheered again and again by the populace as they neared the train which was to take them to meet the enemy. " We have warrants to arrest General Sir Redvers Buller," cried the " Zarps," while the Boer girls shouted back, " Don't re-turn without Rhodes, Jameson, and Milner," indicating the feeling which was uppermost in the minds of the women towards the men whom they believed to be most responsible for the war which was to desolate many a burgher home.
Outside the Johannesburg district the mustering of the burgher forces was more quietly, but not less ardently or loyally, carried out. A wave of the strongest patriotic feeling swept through the tiny State at the thought of the wrong on which England had resolved, at the instigation of the meanest and most contemptible men and motives that ever robbed the names of war and civilized government of every shred of honorable meaning. The women were everywhere the most earnest and strenuous in the spirit of resistance to British aggression. They took pride in boasting of husbands and sons having gone to the front when the danger signal of English troops on the Natal border called the burghers to arms. " I have my husband and three sons in commando," proudly exclaimed a Boer matron in conversation with me at Middelburg, " and another who is only fourteen is guarding the bridge. I wish I had twenty more to fight against our enemy." It was this deep, all-pervading love of liberty and country, and hatred of the oppression and perfidy associated in the Boer mind with the name of England, which has made the war the most memorable ever fought for nationality and freedom.
English politicians and papers have boasted loudly of the patriotism of their people because 140,000 men out of a total (British) population of, say, 35,000,000 volunteered to join the regular Imperial forces when war was declared. The boast was a justifiable one, to the extent of the facts and figures on which it rested. The volunteering in Great Britain proved the war to be popular with the masses. The known numerical weakness of the Boers, and the too sanguine predictions of the Jingo newspaper prophets as to th probable short duration of the conflict, had, possibly, some littl human influence upon the action of some of those who responded to the appeal of their Government. Still, the youth of England rallied in loyal enthusiasm to the British flag in the combat wit the Republics. The volunteering was a prompt and patriotic response to a sense of national duty, and Englishmen are justified i extolling the citizen virtue which was thus displayed.
But what of the Boers in the corresponding connection? More than seventy-five per cent, of the (Dutch) manhood of the Transvaal and Orange Free State capable of bearing arms volunteered to face and fight " the greatest Empire the world has ever seen," as we hear it described daily. There were no recruiting sergeants employed; no pay was offered or expected; there was virtually no press to excite youthful military ardor in impassioned appeals to stand for the flag; no great demonstrations organized to evoke popular enthusiasm; no Boer Kipling; no illustrated papers; and no military bands to awaken soldierly desires in the breasts of the young. Yet not in a single historic instance of civilized warfare, has there ever been so prompt and so great a muster of men, in proportion to population, to fight what all the world deemed a hopeless contest, as readily responded at the call of the Kruger Government. Fully one-ninth of the whole people made this magnificent and unique answer to the invaders of their country and freedom; a number which, if based upon the Transvaal Boer population of 150,000 souls, would be equivalent to a volunteer British muster, on the same scale, of nearly 4,000,000 men! And the Government which was thus sustained in its hour of peril has been described in England as having been unpopular with its own people, while these same people, after this unparalleled exhibition of devotion to country, principle, and liberty, have been persistently and malignantly reviled by the baser kind of English critic, and never even justly judged by their less hostile British foes.
Nor did the two Baads lack any of the patriotic spirit so splendidly shown by their constituents. Four out of the six members of the Executive Council—the Transvaal Cabinet—went to the front, as did the Chairman of the First Volksraad, with no less than two-thirds of the members of both Chambers. In fact, every successful Boer general will be found to have been either a member or an official of the Baads of the two Republics on the day of the declaration of war.
Boer " incapacity " in every department of civil government has been the constant theme of Jingo accusation. It has been harped upon until the violence of reiteration has tended to defeat the purpose of the calumniators. In nothing has this blind, unreasoning antipathy been more conspicuous than in the uniform silence of the Cape and English press on every incident or act which has conspicuously belied the unjust estimate of the Boer by his implacable enemy. The admirable way in which order was maintained on the Rand by these farmer-administrators of government when the mines were shut down, and upwards of one hundred thousand Kaffirs were to be dealt with as discharged employees, never won a single word of appreciation from a British journal. Here was a task which might well tax the power, patience, and civic abilities of the oldest and strongest Government in Europe. Yet it was carried through by Kruger's officials without any resort to violence, and with very little public disorder; with less popular disturbance, in fact, than a strike of a thousand British working men in London or Glasgow would occasion. The sound common sense and tact of the civic and military officials of the little Republic accomplished this difficult work, and the Boers made no boast about its performance.
Consider the situation after Mr. Conyngham Greene's visit to the Executive on the memorable 11th of October. A hostile army was advancing through Natal towards the Transvaal border; resisting forces were to be prepared and handled; defenses to be seen to in the East and West, as in the South; relief to be organized; ammunition and stores to be distributed; plans of operations to be considered; new laws to be framed; proclamations to be issued; law and order looked after and upheld where sixty or seventy thousand British subjects became so many semi-hostile, clamoring refugees, demanding safe conduct from the Band and from the other centers of the Republic. There was, in addition, the enormous number of natives already referred to, whose savage nature and dispositions called for special vigilance after they had learned that they were to be expelled on the shutting down of the mines. These and a hundred and one other exacting responsibilities con-fronted the rustic statesmen of the Republic, and were faced and overcome quietly, systematically, completely. There was no breakdown in the civil or military machinery, no panic, no disorder. A dozen of these despised " farmer administrators," the Jouberts, Kocks, Reitzes, Wolmaranses, Smutses, Groblers, Van der Merwes, Van Dams, Krauses, and Municks, with the aid of a few more minor officials in Pretoria and in Johannesburg, possessing rare intelligence and a splendid loyalty to the little State, got through this huge multiform task in a manner that could not be surpassed, if indeed it could even be equaled, by any European State Administration. Men not endowed by nature or acquirement with real governing capacity could never have accomplished this work in this way. There would have been woful breakdowns in every department, blunders in dealing with trying difficulties, and a collapse of all respect for law and order, had President Kruger and his Executive been the incapables their English traducers declared them to be in all the higher responsibilities of government.Two significant proclamations were issued by the Executive as a part of the policy forced upon the Government by the war, which were probably unique in the history of civilized States. One ordered an immediate reduction of all official salaries, averaging fifty per cent, above a certain figure, and the other suspended the payment of rent for houses occupied by the families of fighting burghers, and of farms similarly circumstanced. Action of this kind in the interest of the industrial democracy would scarcely be tolerated in a capitalist-ridden State. The British Ministry did not solicit Parliament to frame such a self-denying law. Nor did the wealthy conspirators of Park Lane or other Chartered Company promoters of the war make any offer to lessen for the British taxpayer the cost of the conflict which the Rand millionaires and their accomplices had successfully engineered. The maligned Boer was in every sense and on every occasion the patriotic and self-denying contrast to his sordid English foe.