The ultimatum cabled to England had no sooner expired at 5 p.m. on the 11th October last than the same evening and on the very next and succeeding days appeared, published all over the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, "Government Gazettes extraordinary," filling scores of pages, comprising proclamations of martial law, and the hundred and one enactments and provisions regulating that new condition. Their preambles stated: Whereas in secret session on such and such dates (that is to say, months previous) the honourable First Volksraad had passed this or that law—or whereas the two Volksraads, assembled in secret session, had authorized the Government to frame such and such laws, to come into force immediately after publication. This shows at least a studious purpose months beforehand to be in complete readiness, for it obviously took no little time to prepare all those laws, and have them ready in type for despatch and publication as had been done. It accords with the assumption that war had been predetermined, and this is further confirmed by numerous statements, publicly made by Volksraad members, and also by President Steyn's famous and now historic message to President Krüger some short time before, in the laconic and oracular words, "We are ready."
That the Afrikaner Bond had been for years past preparing for its coup d'état is further shown by the following incidents which can be substantiated by the writer:—
During the days of the Jameson raid a very prominent Transvaal Boer, holding office and who had two sons at the scene of the disturbance, remarked at a public place in conversation with other burghers:—
"England just wants to annex the Transvaal, and no doubt the Orange Free State too. This we know; but what she does not know is, that we can at this moment reverse the tale—we can seize in one day Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, and Durban, and within a very short time turn every Englishman out of the Colonies, out of the land which England has robbed us of."
Those words were spoken by a Bond man who is known to rarely speak in public. When asked by a Uitlander how it could be done, he relapsed into his usual prudent reticence, and merely remarked grimly, "We can do it."
But for subsequent revelations and the present sequel those words would have been forgotten, and were at the time attributed by some to mere boastful exuberance.
In July last the topic was discussed by some Boers at the house of a highly placed military official, about the five per cent. tax upon the profits of the gold industry. One said it should be raised to twenty-five per cent. for the benefit of the burgher estate. That official, who, by the way, had just returned from a gathering of country officials at Pretoria, sententiously replied "that it was no more a question of any tribute, but of taking the mines altogether out of the capitalists' hands"; and when another burgher interposed a doubt as to the fairness of such a proceeding, that official continued by saying, "Fairness indeed! it is we who have submitted to unfairness only too long—ons wil nou Engelse schiet (we want now to go on the battue of Englishmen)."
When the Transvaal Government had secured the assent of both Volksraads to the seven years' franchise measure it was thought desirable, as a matter of form and to gain time, to defer the formal passing of the law until after it had been referred to the burghers. This was not done till August last. A large section of the people were known to be against extending the franchise, but the Government had no misgivings about the result, counting upon the persuasive influence of the Volksraad members who were to preside at the plebiscite meetings, and had before been drilled up to their task. Their success was as desired, and the measure became law in due course. Those meetings in the different districts and wards of the State were characterised by almost uniform proceedings, so that the description of one of them can serve for all.
The burghers assembled on the appointed day at the local Government Office. The Landdrost, or chief official of the ward, took the chair. There were four Volksraad members, who each in turn recommended the adoption of the seven years' franchise measure. The burghers were invited to express their views. The majority appeared dead against it, but were gradually appeased, and they finally assented to a motion of approval presented by the chairman, which also conveyed full confidence in the Government and their representatives to deal with the enactment and to modify it as they might consider appropriate.
One of the burghers had in his speech stated in passionate terms that no dictation on the part of Uitlanders could be tolerated; they must either obey the laws or leave the State. The function and prerogative of making laws belonged to the burghers. They had been ill-used enough by the English; it would be still worse, he said, if they were invested with legislative rights. "On the contrary, it is the Boer nation which is entitled to supremacy, not only in the Transvaal but right to the sea. The Cape Colonies," he continued, "are ours by divine right, and so is Natal, and no Afrikaner may rest until we are reinstated." General approbation and stamping of feet followed that passionately rendered speech. Not a word of restraint or censure from any of the four Volksraad members. Some of these had addressed the meeting already, and the others in turn followed. Their speeches had one import, viz., "Burghers! The Government and the two Volksraads have carefully and prayerfully weighed this seven years' franchise measure. You may safely approve of it; it can result in no harm; it will strengthen our cause. We know that England wants our land because of the gold in it; but this law will contribute to thwart her, though it will not avert war. We were a small nation when our fathers trekked to this side of the Orange River; we have become united and strong since. It will be soon seen that our people have to be reckoned with among the other nations of the earth; we have right on our side, and, with God's help, we are certain to prevail. Burghers, you may trust us as your representatives; we are all of one mind with you; you may safely approve of the proposed franchise law, and leave possible modifications in the hands of the Government." Then followed tumultuous approval from the great majority, motions of confidence and of thanks. Those burgher meetings were convened during July and August.
President Krüger is famous for employing clever and original similes in order to illustrate a policy as he wants his people to understand it.
It has already been noted that the Franchise Law of 1890 excluded Uitlanders from full burgher rights until after twenty-one years' probation. The reduction to seven years was proclaimed to be a concession to meet Mr. Chamberlain's demand. The simile, as addressed to the Volksraad and published in the journals, ran as follows:—
"First my coat was demanded of me, which I gave; next were asked my boots, vest, and trousers. I surrendered these as well; and now, as I stand in my bare shirt, my limbs are wanted besides."
The people were thus led to be unanimous in the resolve to oppose any further concession, and to view Sir Alfred Milner's unconditional insistence for a five years' franchise as a conclusive proof that England in reality wanted no less than the country itself. In this way the Boer mind was designedly fashioned into the conviction that war was inevitable, and that both President and people were absolved from all responsibility in it. Had the offered franchise of seven years and the subsequent one of five years been honestly meant, there should, indeed, have been little difficulty for adjusting in the one case the difference of two years; but it being so surrounded by impossible trammels that what purported to be an egg proved more like a stone, and even that was not intended to be given, it was a mere subterfuge to gain time for carrying out Bond designs.