It was at this stage in May, 1894, that a monster petition with some 25,000 signatures was presented to the Volksraad, setting forth the entire position, and praying for a commission to be appointed to examine the merits of the Uitlander complaints, and to frame a programme of reforms, the interests of the mining community needing such in a most urgent degree, not only for the sake of its own prosperity, but for the welfare of the entire State. A commission was indeed appointed, who reported in favour of the petitioners, and suggested a series of reforms; but the final Volksraad vote resulted in an angry rejection of the petition and denunciation of its organizers.
As on the occasion of previous memorials, some few abuses were redressed, but those benefits were made worse than nugatory by enactments in other directions of a still more galling nature. The petitioners found themselves snubbed and in the position of humiliating defeat.
Treatment of Coloured British Subjects
A glaring instance of oppression practised by the Transvaal Government was its cruel treatment of coloured British subjects who had been admitted into the State. Among these figured some thousands of educated Asiatic traders, including numerous cultured Indian and Parsee merchants with large stakes in the State and well-appointed residences, people whose very religion exacted the most scrupulous cleanliness and who had all proved themselves obedient and law-abiding. These were classed under one rubric with the vastly inferior coolie labourer, with Kaffirs and Hottentots, and actually compelled to abandon their stores and residences to reside in one common ghetto upon the outskirts of the towns, a measure which entailed great losses apart from the gratuitous humiliation—to many it involved ruin and in fact meant their expulsion.
It will be remembered that some years before already the English Government had felt it incumbent to advocate the cause of coloured British subjects and to remonstrate against their ill-usage. The matter was ultimately submitted to arbitration at Bloemfontein, under the umpireship of Sir Henry de Villiers, whose award, contrary to expectation, was adverse to the coloured people. Here was indeed a unique occasion for the Transvaal Government to exercise geniality upon a point sorely felt by the British Government; but the very contrary course was adopted under the ægis of that notorious award, and upon the untenable plea that sanitation and regard to public health necessitated that measure of segregation.
Despite the fact that no royalty was yet exacted upon the gold output, probably to please French, American, and German investors, there seemed to exist a veiled hostility against the representatives of mining capitalists, as if the Government regretted to have allowed the exploitation of the mines to fall into private hands and would welcome an opportunity to take them under State control altogether.
The Uitlander Press vented public sentiment and denounced the Government attitude in unmistakable terms; there were besides some angry public demonstrations. It was an alarming time of impending crisis, rife with signs of open revolt; the Government looking calmly on awaiting developments. It was then that the President's since famous saying was pronounced, viz., "that the tortoise must first be allowed to put out its head before it could be struck off, and that he was ready for any emergency."
The situation had a truly anomalous aspect. More discoveries of gold and even of diamonds followed apace, and the scope for mining, commercial and industrial enterprises expanded to an incalculable magnitude. All that was needed was a stable and good Government to encourage the needful investments. A most tantalizing picture indeed, based upon undeniably well-grounded facts.
As it was, the situation was one of alarm for capital already invested—a stake then of over 300 millions sterling in a country where more than half of the population were in almost open revolt against a Government commanding very large repressive forces, and resolved to maintain its stand.
British intervention appeared to be the only means of salvation to restore security, and to give a fillip to the brilliant prospects of the country, for the good of the burgher estate as well as for the sake of Uitlanders.
As the Government continued deaf and obdurate to representations, other means were sought for. No wonder the Uitlanders longed for a change, not by any means with the object of altering the style of Republican status, but to get the Augean stable of misgovernment cleansed, to escape oppressive and rapacious Boer domination.
The farcical failure of Dr. Jameson was the outcome of those endeavours. The unspeakable cowardice of his Johannesburg confederates was the chief feature of that puny attempt. Laurels, like those gained by Lord Peterborough, Warren Hastings, or Lord Clive, were not decreed to that ill-advised emulator.
Nothing could have been more propitious than that very Jameson incursion to fan race hatred and to advance the projects of the Afrikaner Bond—"Afrika voor de Afrikaners," for, whilst no one acquainted with the facts can for a moment doubt the guilt of the Transvaal Government for having systematically provoked that attempt at revolution, "Bond" propaganda and paid journalism had a rare chance to set up the theory that annexation on behalf of Great Britain had been foully planned—the Prince of Wales even being an abettor of the attempted coup d'état purely to gratify the lust of greed for the gold and diamonds of the poor innocent Boers. No terms were too vituperative to denounce the enormity. Millions of honest persons all over the world were deluded —there was a bitter cry of almost universal indignation. The Boer Government posed as innocent; the designs of the Afrikaner Bond were not even suspected—its ranks, in sympathy with those delusions sped on filling up faster than ever, and the father of lies was scoring another very sensible triumph.
In lieu of reforms, Bond projects and armaments were secretly pursued with redoubled vigour towards the climax which should install Afrikanerdom supreme in South Africa, financially as well as politically.