There is nothing so fallacious or misleading in history as the popular tendency to trace the causes of a great war to one source alone, or to fix upon the most recent events leading up to it, as the principal or even the sole cause of the outbreak of war. The occasion of an event may not be, and often is not, the cause of it. The occasion of this war was not its cause. In the present case it is extraordinary to note how almost the whole of Europe appears to be carried away with the idea that the causes of this terrible South African war are, as it were, only of yesterday's date. The seeds of which we are reaping so woeful a harvest were not sown yesterday, nor a few years ago only. We are reaping a harvest which has been ripening for a century past.

At the time of the Indian Mutiny, it was given out and believed by the world in general that the cause of that hideous revolt was a supposed attempt on the part of England to impose upon the native army of India certain rules which, from their point of view, outraged their religion in some of its most sacred aspects; (I refer to the legend of the greased cartridges). After the mutiny was over, Sir Herbert Edwardes, a true Seer, whose insight enabled him to look far below the surface, and to go back many years into the history of our dealings with India in order to take in review all the causes of the rebellion, addressed an exhaustive report to the British Government at home, dealing with those causes which had been accumulating for half-a-century or more. This was a weighty document, - one which it would be worth while to re-peruse at the present day; it had its influence in leading the Home Government to acknowledge some grave errors which had led up to this catastrophe, and to make an honest and persevering attempt to remedy past evils. That this attempt has not been in vain, in spite of all that India has had to suffer, has been acknowledged gratefully by the Native delegates to the great Annual Congress in India of the past year.

In the case of the Indian Mutiny, the incident of the supposed insult to their religious feelings was only the match which set light to a train which had been long laid. In the same way the honest historian will find, in the present case, that the events, - the "tragedy of errors," as they have been called, - of recent date, are but the torch that has set fire to a long prepared mass of combustible material which had been gradually accumulating in the course of a century.

In order to arrive at a true estimate of the errors and mismanagement which lie at the root of the causes of the present war, it is necessary to look back. Those errors and wrongs must be patiently searched out and studied, without partisanship, with an open mind and serious purpose. Many of our busy politicians and others have not the time, some perhaps have not the inclination for any such study. Hence, hasty, shallow, and violent judgments.

Never has there occurred in history a great struggle such as the present which has not had a deep moral teaching.

England is now suffering for her past errors, extending over many years. The blood of her sons is being poured out like water on the soil of South Africa. Wounded hearts and desolated families at home are counted by tens of thousands.

But it needs to be courageously stated by those who have looked a little below the surface that her faults have not been those which are attributed to her by a large proportion of European countries, and by a portion of her own people. These appear to attribute this war to a sudden impulse on her part of Imperial ambition and greed, and to see in the attitude which they attribute to her alone, the provocative element which was chiefly supplied from the other side. There will have to be a Revision of this Verdict, and there will certainly be one; it is on the way, though its approach may be slow. It will be rejected by some to the last.

The great error of England appears to have been a strange neglect, from time to time, of the true interests of her South African subjects, English, Dutch, and Natives. There have been in her management of this great Colony alternations of apathy and inaction, with interference which was sometimes unwise and hasty. Some of her acts have been the result of ignorance, indifference, or superciliousness on the part of our rulers.

The special difficulties, however, in her position towards that Colony should be taken into account.

It has always been a question as to how far interference from Downing Street with the freedom of action of a Self-Governing Colony was wise or practicable. In other instances, the exercise of great freedom of colonial self-government has had happy results, as in Canada and Australia.

Far from our South African policy having represented, as is believed by some, the self-assertion of a proud Imperialism, it has been the very opposite.

It seems evident that some of the greatest evils in the British government of South Africa have arisen from the frequent changes of Governors and Administrators there, concurrently with changes in the Government at home. There have been Governors under whose influence and control all sections of the people, including the natives, have had a measure of peace and good government. Such a Governor was Sir George Grey, of whose far-seeing provisions for the welfare of all classes many effects last to this day.

The nature of the work undertaken, and to a great extent done, by Sir George Grey and those of his successors who followed his example, was concisely described by an able local historian in 1877: - "The aim of the Colonial Government since 1855," he said, "has been to establish and maintain peace, to diffuse civilization and Christianity, and to establish society on the basis of individual property and personal industry. The agencies employed are the magistrate, the missionary, the school-master, and the trader." Of the years dating from the commencement of Sir George Grey's administration, it was thus reported: - "During this time peace has been uninterruptedly enjoyed within British frontiers. The natives have been treated in all respects with justice and consideration. Large tracts of the richest land are expressly set apart for them under the name of 'reserves' and 'locations.' The greater part of them live in these locations, under the superintendence of European magistrates or missionaries. As a whole, they are now enjoying far greater comfort and prosperity than they ever did in their normal state of barbaric independence and perpetually recurring tribal wars, before coming into contact with Europeans. The advantages and value of British rule have of late years struck root in the native mind over an immense portion of South Africa. They believe that it is a protection from external encroachment, and that only under the aegis of the Government can they be secure and enjoy peace and prosperity. Influenced by this feeling, several tribes beyond the colonial boundaries are now eager to be brought within the pale of civilized authority, and ere long, it is hoped, Her Majesty's sovereignty will be extended over fresh territories, with the full and free consent of the chiefs and tribes inhabiting them."[5]

It maybe of interest to note here that one of these territories was Basutoland, which lies close to the South Eastern border of the Orange Free State.

Between the Basutos and the Orange Free State Boers war broke out in 1856, to be followed in 1858 by a temporary and incomplete pacification. The struggle continued, and in 1861, and again in 1865, when war was resumed, and all Basutoland was in danger of being conquered by the Boers, Moshesh, their Chief, appealed to the British Government for protection. It was not till 1868, after a large part of the country had passed into Boer hands, that Sir Philip Wodehouse, Sir George Grey's successor, was allowed to issue a proclamation declaring so much as remained of Basutoland to be British territory.

It was Sir George Grey who first saw the importance of endeavouring to bring all portions of South Africa, including the Boer Republics and the Native States, into "federal union with the parent colony" at the Cape. He was commissioned by the British Government to make enquiries with this object (1858.) He had obtained the support of the Orange Free State, whose Volksraad resolved that "a union with the Cape Colony, either on the plan of federation or otherwise, is desirable," and was expecting to win over the Transvaal Boers, when the British Government, alarmed as to the responsibilities it might incur, vetoed the project. (Such sudden alarms, under the influence of party conflicts at home, have not been infrequent.)

For seven years, however, this good Governor was permitted to promote a work of pacification and union.

I shall refer again later to the misfortunes, even the calamities, which have been the result of our projecting our home system of Government by Party into the distant regions of South Africa. There are long proved advantages in that system of party government as existing for our own country, but it seems to have been at the root of much of the inconsistency and vacillation of our policy in South Africa. As soon as a good Governor (appointed by either political party) has begun to develop his methods, and to lead the Dutch, and English, and Natives alike to begin to believe that there is something homogeneous in the principles of British government, a General Election takes place in England. A new Parliament and a new Government come into power, and, frequently in obedience to some popular representations at home, the actual Colonial Governor is recalled, and another is sent out.

Lord Glenelg, for example, had held office as Governor of the Cape Colony for five years, - up to 1846. His policy had been, it is said, conciliatory and wise. But immediately on a change of party in the Government at home, he was recalled, and Sir Harry Smith superseded him, a recklessly aggressive person.

It was only by great pains and trouble that the succeeding Governor, Sir George Cathcart, a wiser man, brought about a settlement of the confusion and disputes arising from Sir Harry Smith's aggressive and violent methods.

And so it has gone on, through all the years.

Allusion having been made above to the assumption of the Protectorate of Basutoland by Great Britain, it will not be without interest to notice here the circumstances and the motives which led to that act. It will be seen that there was no aggressiveness nor desire of conquest in this case; but that the protection asked was but too tardily granted on the pathetic and reiterated prayer of the natives suffering from the aggressions of the Transvaal.

The following is from the Biography of Adolphe Mabille, a devoted missionary of the Societe des Missions Evangeliques of Paris, who worked with great success in Basutoland. His life is written by Mr. Dieterlen (a name well known and highly esteemed in France), and the book has a preface by the famous missionary, Mr. F. Coillard.[6]

"The Boers had long been keeping up an aggressive war against the Basutos (1864 to 1869), so much so that Mr. Mabille's missionary work was for a time almost destroyed. The Boers thought they saw in the missionaries' work the secret of the steady resistance of the Basutos, and of the moral force which prevented them laying down their arms. They exacted that Mr. Mabille should leave the country at once, which theoretically, they said, belonged to them.

"This good missionary and his friends were subjected to long trials during this hostility of the Boers. Moshesh, the chief of the Basutos, had for a long time past been asking the Governor of Cape Colony to have him and his people placed under the direction of Great Britain. The reply from the Cape was very long delayed. Moshesh, worn out, was about to capitulate at last to the Boers. Lessuto (the territory of Basutoland) was on the point of being absorbed by the Transvaal. At the last moment, however, and not a day too soon, there came a letter from the Governor of the Cape announcing to Moshesh that Queen Victoria had consented to take the Basutos under her protection. It was the long-expected deliverance, - it was salvation! At this news the missionaries, with Moshesh, burst into tears, and falling on their knees, gave thanks to God for this providential and almost unexpected intervention."

The Boers retained a large and fertile tract of Lessuto, but the rest of the country, continues M. Dieterlen, "remained under the Protectorate of a people who, provided peace is maintained, and their commerce is not interfered with, know how to work for the right development of the native people whose lands they annex."

Mr. Dieterlen introduces into his narrative the following remarks, - which are interesting as coming, not from an Englishman, but from a Frenchman, - and one who has had close personal experience of the matters of which he speaks: -

"Stayers at home, as we Frenchmen are, forming our opinions from newspapers whose editors know no more than ourselves what goes on in foreign countries, we too willingly see in the British nation an egotistical and rapacious people, thinking of nothing but the extension of their commerce and the prosperity of their industry. We are apt to pretend that their philanthropic enterprises and religious works are a mere hypocrisy. Courage is absolutely needed in order to affirm, at the risk of exciting the indignation of our soi-disant patriots, that although England knows perfectly well how to take care of her commercial interests in her colonies, she knows equally well how to pre-occupy and occupy herself with the moral interests of the people whom she places by agreement or by force under the sceptre of her Queen. Those who have seen and who know, have the duty of saying to those who have not seen, and who cannot, or who do not desire to see, and who do not know, that these two currents flowing from the British nation, - the one commercial and the other philanthropic, - are equally active amongst the uncivilized nations of Africa, and that if one wishes to find colonies in which exist real and complete liberty of conscience, where the education and moralisation of the natives are the object of serious concern, drawing largely upon the budget of the metropolis, it is always and above all in English possessions that you must look for them.

"Under the domination of the Boers, Lessuto would have been devoted to destruction, to ignorance, and to semi-slavery. Under the English regime reign security and progress. Lessuto became a territory reserved solely for its native proprietors, the sale of strong liquors was prohibited, and the schools received generous subvention. Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, French and English Missionaries, could then enjoy the most absolute liberty in order to spread, each one in his own manner, and in the measure in which he possessed it, evangelic truth.

"It is for this reason that the French missionaries feared to see the Basutos fall under the Boers' yoke, and that they hailed with joy the intervention of the English Government in their field of work, hoping and expecting for the missionary work the happiest fruits. Their hope has not been deceived by the results."

The clash of opposing principles, and even the violence of party feeling continued to send its echoes to the far regions of South Africa, confusing the minds of the various populations there, and preventing any real coherence and continuity in our Government of that great Colony. A good and successful Administrator has sometimes been withdrawn to be superseded by another, equally well-intentioned, perhaps, but whose policy was on wholly different lines, thus undoing the work of his predecessor. This has introduced not only confusion, but sometimes an appearance of real injustice into our management of the colony. In all this chequered history, the interests of the native races have been too often postponed to those of the ruling races. This was certainly the case in connexion with Mr. Gladstone's well-intentioned act in giving back to the Transvaal its independent government.

It has been an anxious question for many among us whether this source of vacillation, with its attendant misfortunes, is to continue in the future.

*  *  *  *  *

The early history of the South African Colony has become, by this time, pretty well known by means of the numberless books lately written on the subject. I will only briefly recapitulate here a few of the principal facts, these being, in part, derived from the annals and reports of the Aborigines Protection Society, which may be considered impartial, seeing that that Society has had a keen eye at all times for the faults of British colonists and the British Government, while constrained, as a truthful recorder, to publish the offences of other peoples and Governments. I have also constantly referred to Parliamentary papers, and the words of accredited historians and travellers.

The first attempt at a regular settlement by the Dutch at the Cape was made by Jan Van Riebeck, in 1652, for the convenience of the trading vessels of the Netherlands East India Company, passing from Europe to Asia. Almost from the first these colonists were involved in quarrels with the natives, which furnished excuse for appropriating their lands and making slaves of them. The intruders stole the natives' cattle, and the natives' efforts to recover their property were denounced by Van Riebeck as "a matter most displeasing to the Almighty, when committed by such as they." Apologising to his employers in Holland for his show of kindness to one group of natives, Van Riebeck wrote: "This we only did to make them less shy, so as to find hereafter a better opportunity to seize them - 1,100 or 1,200 in number, and about 600 cattle, the best in the whole country. We have every day the finest opportunities for effecting this without bloodshed, and could derive good service from the people, in chains, in killing seals or in labouring in the silver mines which we trust will be found here."

The Netherlands Company frequently deprecated such acts of treachery and cruelty, and counselled moderation. Their protests however were of no avail. The mischief had been done. The unhappy natives, with whom lasting friendship might have been established by fair treatment, had been converted into enemies; and the ruthless punishment inflicted on them for each futile effort to recover some of the property stolen from them, had rendered inevitable the continuance and constant extension of the strife all through the five generations of Dutch rule, and furnished cogent precedent for like action afterwards,[7] After 1652, Colonists of the baser sort kept arriving in cargoes, and gradually the Netherlands Company allowed persons not of their own nation to land and settle under severe fiscal and other restrictions. Among these were a number of French Huguenots, good men, driven from their homes by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1690. Then Flemings, Germans, Poles, and others constantly swelled the ranks. All these Europeans were forced to submit to the arbitrary rules of the Netherlands Company's agents, scarcely at all restrained from Amsterdam. Unofficial residents, known as Burghers, came to be admitted to share in the management of affairs. It was for their benefit chiefly, that as soon as the Hottentots were found to be unworkable as slaves, Negroes from West Africa and Malays from the East Indies began to be imported for the purpose. In 1772, when the settlement was a hundred and twenty years old, and had been in what was considered working order for a century, Cape Town and its suburbs had a population of 1,963 officials and servants of the Company, 4,628 male and 3,750 female colonists, and 8,335 slaves. In these figures no account is taken of the Hottentots and others employed in menial capacities, nor of the black prisoners, among whom, in 1772, a Swedish traveller saw 950 men, women, and children of the Bushman race, who had been captured about a hundred and fifty miles from Cape Town in a war brought about by encroachment on their lands.[8]

The Aborigines Protection Society endorses the following statement of Sparrman (visit to the Cape of Good Hope, 1786, Vol. II, p. 165,) who says, "The Slave business, that violent outrage against the natural rights of man, which is always a crime and leads to all manner of wickedness, is exercised by the Colonists with a cruelty that merits the abhorrence of everyone, though I have been told that they pique themselves upon it; and not only is the capture of the Hottentots considered by them merely as a party of pleasure, but in cold blood they destroy the bands which nature has knit between husband and wife, and between parents and their children. Does a Colonist at any time get sight of a Bushman, he takes fire immediately, and spirits up his horse and dogs, in order to hunt him with more ardour and fury than he would a wolf or any other wild beast.".

"I am far from accusing all the colonists," he continues, "of these cruelties, which are too frequently committed. While some of them plumed themselves upon them, there were many who, on the contrary, held them in abomination, and feared lest the vengeance of Heaven should, for all their crimes, fall upon their posterity."

The inability of the Amsterdam authorities to control the filibustering zeal of the colonists rendered it easy for the people at the Cape to establish among themselves, in 1793, what purported to be an independent Republic. One of their proclamations contained the following resolution, aimed especially at the efforts of the missionaries - most of whom were then Moravians - to save the natives from utter ruin: "We will not permit any Moravians to live here and instruct the Hottentots; for, as there are many Christians who receive no instruction, it is not proper that the Hottentots should be taught; they must remain in the same state as before. Hottentots born on the estate of a farmer must live there, and serve him until they are twenty-five years old, before they receive any wages. All Bushmen or wild Hottentots caught by us must remain slaves for life."[9]

I have given these facts of more than a hundred years ago to show for how long a time the traditions of the usefulness and lawfulness of Slavery had been engrained in the minds of the Dutch settlers. We ought not, perhaps, to censure too severely the Boer proclivities in favour of that ancient institution, nor to be surprised if it should be a work of time, accompanied with severe Providential chastisement, to uproot that fixed idea from the minds of the present generation, of Boer descent. The sin of enslaving their fellow-men may perhaps be reckoned, for them, among the "sins of ignorance." Nevertheless, the Recording Angel has not failed through all these generations to mark the woes of the slaves; and the historic vengeance, which sooner or later infallibly follows a century or centuries of the violation of the Divine Law and of human rights, will not be postponed or averted even by a late repentance on the part of the transgressors. It is striking to note how often in history the sore judgment of oppressors has fallen (in this world), not on those who were first in the guilt, but on their successors, just as they were entering on an amended course of "ceasing to do evil and learning to do well."

In 1795, Cape Town was formally ceded by the Prince of Orange to Great Britain, as an incident of the great war with France, for which, six million pounds sterling was paid by Great Britain to Holland. British supremacy was formally recognized in this part of South Africa by a Convention signed in 1814, which was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in 1815.

British rule for some thirty years after 1806 was perforce despotic, but for the most part, with some exceptions, it was a benevolent despotism. "They had the difficult task of controlling a straggling white community, at first almost exclusively composed of Boers, who had been too sturdy and stubborn to tolerate any effective interference by the Netherlands Company and other authorities in Holland, and who resented both English domination and the advent of English colonists which more than doubled the white population in less than two decades." "The Governors sent out from Downing Street had tasks imposed upon them which were beyond the powers of even the wisest and worthiest. Most of the English colonists found it easier to fall in with the thoughts and habits of the Boers than to uphold the purer traditions of life and conduct in the mother country, and it is not strange that many of the officials should have been in like case."[10]

Great Britain abolished the Slave Trade in 1807, which prevented the further importation of Slaves, and the traffic in them.

The great Emancipation Act, by which Great Britain abolished Slavery in all lands over which she had control, was passed in 1834.

The great grievance for the Burghers was this abolition of slavery by Great Britain. According to a Parliamentary Return of March, 1838, the slaves of all sorts liberated in Cape Colony numbered 35,750. The British Parliament awarded as compensation to the slave owners throughout the British dominions a sum of L20,000,000, of which, nearly L1,500,000 fell to the share of the Burghers. Concerning this Act of Compensation there have been very divided opinions; there is not a doubt that the British Government intended to deal fairly by the former slave owners, but it is stated that there was great and culpable carelessness on the part of the British agents in distributing this compensation money. It seems that many of the Burghers to whom it was due never obtained it, and these considered themselves aggrieved and defrauded by the British Government. On the other hand, there are persons who have continually disapproved of the principle of compensation for a wrong given up, or the loss of an advantage unrighteously purchased. It is however to be regretted, that an excuse should have been given for the Boers' complaints by irregularities attributed to the British in the partition of the compensation money.

It has often been asserted that the first great Dutch emigration from the Cape was instigated simply by love of freedom on their part, and their dislike of British Government. But why did they dislike British Government? There may have been minor reasons, but the one great grievance complained of by themselves, from the first, was the abolition of slavery. They desired to be free to deal with the natives in their own manner.

Taking with them their household belongings and as much cattle as they could collect, they went forth in search of homes in which they hoped they would be no longer controlled, and as they thought, sorely wronged by the nation which had invaded their Colony. But they did not all trek; only about half, it was estimated, did so. The rest remained, finding it possible to live and prosper without slavery.

They crossed the Orange River, and finally trekked beyond the Vaal.

From 1833, Cape Colony, under British rule, began to be endowed with representative institutions. In 1854, the Magna Charta of the Hottentots, as it was called, was created. It was a measure of remarkable liberality. "It conferred on all Hottentots and other free persons of colour lawfully residing in the Colony, the right to become burghers, and to exercise and enjoy all the privileges of burghership. It enabled them to acquire land and other property. It exempted them from any compulsory service to which other subjects of the Crown were not liable, and from 'any hindrance, molestation, fine, imprisonment or other punishment' not awarded to them after trial in due course of law, 'any custom or usage to the contrary in anywise notwithstanding.' Among other provisions it was stipulated that wages should no longer be paid to them in liquor or tobacco, and that, in the event of a servant having reasonable ground of complaint against his master for ill-usage, and not being able to bear the expense of a summons, one should be issued to him free of charge. By this ordinance a stop was put, as far as the law could be enforced, to the bondage, other than admitted and legalized slavery, by which through nearly two centuries the Dutch farmers and others had oppressed the natives whom they had deprived of their lands."[11]

The Boers who had trekked resented every attempt at interference with them on the part of the Cape Government with a view to their acceptance of such principles of British Government as are expressed above. Wearied by its hopeless efforts to restore order among the emigrant farmers, the British Government abandoned the task, and contented itself with the arrangement made with Andries Pretorius, in 1852, called the Sand River Convention. This Convention conceded to "the emigrant farmers beyond the Vaal River" "the right to manage their own affairs and to govern themselves, without any interference on the part of Her Majesty the Queen's Government." It was stipulated, however, that "no slavery is or shall be permitted or practised in the country to the north of the Vaal River by the emigrant farmers." This stipulation has been made in every succeeding Convention down to that of 1884. These Conventions have been regularly agreed to and signed by successive Boer Leaders, and have been as regularly and successively violated.


[Footnote 5: South Africa, Past and Present (1899), by Noble.]
[Footnote 6: Adolphe Mabille, Published in Paris, 1898.]
[Footnote 7: These and other details which follow are taken from Dutch official papers, giving a succinct account of the treatment of the natives between 1649 and 1809. These papers were translated from the Dutch by Lieut. Moodie (1838). See Moodie's "Record."]
[Footnote 8: Thunberg. "Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia, between 1770 and 1779."]
[Footnote 9: Sir John Barrow (Travels in South Africa, 1806.) Vol ii. p. 165.]
[Footnote 10: Mr. Fox Bourne, Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society.]
[Footnote 11: Parliamentary paper quoted by Mr. Fox Bourne. "Black and White," page 18.]