Bloemfontein, April, 1900.
Yes, certainly, my own reason for fighting is plain and strong. I am fighting for a united South Africa. A united South Africa will, in my opinion, justify the war. The Boers are genuinely patriotic, I haven't a doubt. They have every right and reason to fight to the last for their freedom and independence. But the continued existence of independent States on the pattern of the Dutch republics in the midst of South Africa is bound to be a perpetual irritation. The development of the resources of the country will be checked. The effort to remain separate and apart has obliged, and will more and more oblige, these States to build themselves round with a whole system of laws specially directed to hamper immigration; and the richer are found to be the resources of the country, the more harassing and stringent will this system of laws have to become. In fact, in this great, free, and undivided country, to hedge a State round with artificial barriers of this sort, in order that it may enjoy a kind of obsolete, old-fashioned independence of its own, soon becomes intolerable. It is unjust to all the rest of the continent. The country, if it is to have its due weight and influence in the affairs of the world, must be united and make itself felt as a whole. It is not fair on such a country, young but rapidly developing, to take two of the richest tracts of it right in its midst and to say, "You may go ahead with the development of all the rest, but these two portions are to be left on one side, to drop out of the running, to be withered and useless members, and instead of contributing to the total, and joining in with the progress of the rest, are to do all in their power to impede the general advance."
It is bad enough when any naturally separate State shows the retrograde temper and an inability to profit by its own resources, but when that State is an integral part of one great and young continent, then its action becomes intolerable. I think it is not only the people in a country that have claims, but the country itself that has a claim. If you want South Africa to ripen ultimately into a great first-class world Power (and that is its claim), instead of a bunch of fifth-rate antagonistic States, the first thing to do is to range the country under one Government, and as a British Government will be progressive, and a Dutch one will certainly be retrograde, you must put it under a British one. That is the first essential, and if any genuinely patriotic instincts are overridden in the process, it is very sad, but it cannot be helped. Better this than that the whole country should miss its destiny.
As for the Uitlanders and their grievances, I would not ride a yard or fire a shot to right all the grievances that were ever invented. The mass of the Uitlanders (i.e., the miners and working-men of the Rand) had no grievances. I know what I am talking about, for I have lived and worked among them. I have seen English newspapers passed from one to another, and roars of laughter roused by the Times telegrams about these precious grievances. We used to read the London papers to find out what our grievances were; and very frequently they would be due to causes of which we had never even heard. I never met one miner or working-man who would have walked a mile to pick the vote up off the road, and I have known and talked with scores and hundreds. And no man who knows the Rand will deny the truth of what I tell you.
No; but the Uitlanders the world has heard of were not these, but the Stock Exchange operators, manipulators of the money market, company floaters and gamblers generally, a large percentage of them Jews. They voiced Johannesburg, had the press in their hands, worked the wires, and controlled and arranged what sort of information should reach England. As for the grievances, they were a most useful invention, and have had a hand in the making of many fortunes. It was by these that a feeling of insecurity was introduced into the market which would otherwise have remained always steady; it was by these that the necessary and periodic slump was brought about. When the proper time came, "grievances," such as would arrest England's attention and catch the ear of the people, were deliberately invented; stories again were deliberately invented of the excitement, panic, and incipient revolution of Johannesburg, and by these means was introduced that feeling of insecurity I have spoken of, which was necessary to lower prices.
Not a finger would I raise for these fellows. And another war-cry which I profoundly disbelieve in, and which will probably turn out in the long run to be a hoax, is the "Dutch South Africa" cry. How any one who knows his South Africa, who knows the isolation of life among the farmers, and the utter stagnation of all ideas that exists among the people, can credit the Boers with vaulting ambitions of this sort, is always a surprise to me. I fancy such theories are mostly manufactured for the English market. Naturally I form my opinion more or less from the men in our corps who seem best worth attending to. They, most of them, have an intimate knowledge of the Colony and of one or both of the Republics, and I do not find that they take the "Great Dutch Conspiracy" at all seriously. Some people maintain that, though perhaps the Boer farmers themselves were not in it, yet their leaders were. But the farmers form the vast majority of the Boers. They are an independent and stiff-necked type; and it is as absurd to suppose that their leaders could pledge them to such vast and visionary schemes as it is to suppose that such schemes could have the slightest interest for them. As a matter of fact, what has given old Kruger his long ascendency is the way in which he shares and embodies the one or two simple, dogged ideas of the mass of the Burghers. "God bless the Boers and damn the British" are two of the chief of these, but they only apply them within their own borders.
But it's a case of the proof of the pudding. If this scheme for a general rising existed, why is not the Colony in arms now? What do you think the answer to that is? Why, that the plot did indeed exist and had been carefully matured, and that it would have come off all right if the Boers had marched boldly south; but that, for some unknown reason, their hearts failed them at the last moment, and they didn't dare go on and reap what they had sown. "If only they had marched on Cape Town, the whole Colony would have risen."
Doesn't it sometimes occur to you that, when his own interests are concerned, the Boer is a tolerably wide-awake gentleman, and that he knows how to look after those interests of his almost as well as we can teach him? Are you prepared to believe of him: first, that he laid down and organised this vast conspiracy; second, that he deliberately armed himself to the teeth with a view of carrying it out; third, that he chose his own time for war and declared it when he thought the moment was ripe; fourth, that he gained advantages to begin with, and had the Colony at his feet; and fifth, that he was seized with a sudden paralysis at the last moment, and found himself unable to march ahead and gather in the recruits who were on tip-toe to join him? No, no. If the plot existed, why didn't the plot work? It had every chance.
I will tell you what there was. There were a number of appeals and letters (some of them I have seen) from families in the north to their relations in the Colony, praying for sympathy, and perhaps for active help. But these were merely personal appeals. There is no hard and fast line, so far as the people are concerned, between the Colony, Orange Free State, and Transvaal. The same big families, or clans almost, have their branches in all three, and probably there is not a family of any consequence in either that has not a number of relations in the other two. Consequently as war drew closer the excitement and anxiety it caused spread southward from family to family. There was a good deal of sympathy felt, no doubt, by the Dutch in the Colony for their relations farther north, and there has been surreptitious help, information given, and sympathy. But there the matter has usually ended. There have been very few recruits, and there never was an organised conspiracy.
It is curious to notice how the several sections of the Dutch were picked up just as they were laid down. The most determined spirits of all, the most bitter against English rule, the irreconcilables, had fought their way farthest north, and formed the Transvaal. South of them came the Orange Free State, just across the Colony border—independent, but not so bitter; while in the Colony itself remained all those weaker brethren whose hearts had failed them in the Great Trek days, and who had remained under our government.
The present war has revealed these strata just as they were deposited. The northern State was the leader and aggressor. The southern one, drawn in by its fiercer neighbour, was still true to the cause. And so, too, the Dutch of the Colony were exactly to-day where they had been sixty years ago. They could no more join the war than they could join the trek. And, in spite of individual appeals to relations, &c., you may be sure that the northerners knew pretty accurately how the land lay. Their own action shows this.
Therefore, I put aside utterly, so far as I am concerned, the Uitlander and Dutch conspiracy arguments, of which one hears so much, as things which, though they may occupy the attention of leading article writers in London, yet are not convincing, and have no smack of reality to any one who knows something about the Uitlanders from personal observation, and something about the Boers and Boer life from personal observation. I put these aside and come back to the only argument that will really wash, that has no clap-trap in it. And that is South Africa under one Government, and under a strong and progressive Government. Human nature is pretty much the same all the world over, and if the Boers have been to blame in the past, no doubt the Britons have been just as much to blame. Anyway, it is impossible and would be useless to strike a balance between them now. The fact that stands out salient and that has to be dealt with in the present is that South Africa is divided against itself; that it never can and never will step up into its proper place until it is united, and that, therefore, to fight for a united South Africa is to fight on the right side and in a good cause.And one thing I much like this plain reason for is, that it makes it easy for one to do full justice to one's adversaries. I admire their courage and patriotism very much. I acknowledge fully their dogged obstinacy in defence and their dangerous coolness in retreat, and I am sorry for them, too, and think it a sad thing that such brave men should be identified with so impossible a cause. You must be careful how you believe the reports sent home by war correspondents. I suppose people like to hear harm of their enemies, and a daily paper's best business is to give the public what the public wants rather than what is strictly true. The consequence is that accounts of Boer fighting and of the Boers themselves (traitors and cowards are the commonest words) are now appearing which are neither more nor less than a disgrace to the papers which publish them. I don't know since when it has become a British fashion to slander a brave adversary, but I must say it seems to me a singularly disgusting one, the more so when it is coupled with a gross and indiscriminating praise of our own valour and performances.