It may be useful, or at any rate of interest, before I lay my pen aside, to refer to several things which, at the time they occurred, caused torrents of ink to flow both in England and in South Africa.
The most important, perhaps, was the application of martial law in Cape Colony. I must repeat that I hold no brief for England. My affection and admiration for her does not go to the extent of remaining absolutely blind to faults she has made in the past, and perhaps is making in the present. I will not deny that martial law, which, unfortunately, is a necessity in wartime, was sometimes applied with severity in South Africa. But the odium rests principally on the loyalists; their spiteful information in many cases induced British officers to treat as rebels people who had never even dreamt of rebellion.
It must not be forgotten that those to whom was entrusted the application of martial law had perforce to rely on local residents, whom they could not possibly suspect of using these officers to satisfy private animosities of further private interests. These British officers had never been used to see suspicion reign as master, or to watch a perfectly conscious twisting of the truth in order to condemn, or even destroy, innocent people. A young and probably inexperienced officer sent into a small place like Aliwal North or Uitenhage, for instance, found himself obliged to rely for information as to the loyalty of the inhabitants on some adventurer who, through capitalist influence, had obtained an executive post of some kind. How can one wonder, therefore, that many regrettable incidents occurred and were immediately made capital of by the Bond party further to embitter the feelings of the Dutch Colonists?
Many illegal acts were performed under martial law; of some a mention was made in the Cape Town Parliament; these, therefore, do not admit of doubt. For instance, as Mr. Neethling said in the Legislative Council, a man of seventy was sent down from Paarl to Beaufort West without being allowed to say good-bye to his wife, who was left behind without means of support. Their house was searched for papers, but without result, and the man—a member of the Afrikander Bond—was sent back, after eighteen months' deportation, without any charge having been made against him. He was an auctioneer and shipping agent, and during his absence his business was annexed by a rival. One British Colonial, who held office at Stellenbosch, said to one family, without even making an inquiry as to their conduct, "You are rebels and I will take your mules"—which was done. The mules were afterwards sold to the Commissariat Department by the man who had commandeered them. Is it a matter of astonishment, therefore, that many people felt sore and bitter at all that they had undergone and were going through?
The administration of martial law in the country districts was absolutely deplorable; but when one examines minutely the circumstances of the cases of injustice about which one could have no doubt, it always emerged that these never proceeded from British officers, who, on the contrary, wherever they found themselves in command, invariably acted with humanity. The great mistake of the military authorities was that they had far too much confidence in the Volunteer Corps and those members of it who were only anxious to make money out of existing circumstances. Unfortunately, certain officers in command of the different corps were extreme Jingoes, and this distorted their whole outlook. People said at the time of the war that some districts of Cape Colony had been turned into hells; some things, in truth, called for strong comment. No words could be energetic enough to describe the manner in which martial law had been administered—in the district of Graaf Reinet, for instance. The commandants—this justice must be rendered to them—generally meant well, but, unfortunately, they were assisted by men of less stable character as intelligence officers. These, in their turn, unwisely without due inquiry, engaged subordinates, upon whom they relied for their information. Graaf Reinet people had had to put up with something akin to the Spanish Inquisition. Men there were afraid to speak for fear of espionage, the most innocent remarks were distorted by spies recruited from an uncertain section of the community. A cattle inspector was deported without trial; in consequence, the Secretary for Agriculture decided not to employ him again; at Graaf Reinet a Colonial intelligence officer constantly declared in public that it was his intention to drive the people into rebellion; and so instances could be multiplied.
The rebellion was not due to martial law. In Graaf Reinet the prison was frequently so crowded, often by men who did not in the least know why, that no more sleeping accommodation could be found in it. People were in durance vile because they would not join the town guard or defence force. So overcrowded the prison became that many persons contracted disease during their incarceration.
For these sad occurrences the Cape Government was not initially to blame; more than once they had remonstrated with the local military authorities, but reports concerning their conduct were not allowed to reach the ears of Lord Roberts or of Lord Kitchener. Very often a Hottentot informed against respectable citizens to the intelligence officer, and by virtue of that they were imprisoned as long as the military authorities deemed fit. When released, a man would sometimes find that his house had been sacked and his most valuable property carried away. Persons were deported at an hour's notice without reasons being given, and thereafter scouts took possession of their farms and plundered and destroyed everything. Four wagon-loads of men, women and children were deported from their homes at Beaufort West. In vain did they ask what they had done. Everybody of the name of Van Zyl in the district of Graaf Reinet was deported! not a single person was left on their farms except those who had driven them out of them. And after these had done their work the victims were told, "Now you can return home." Some had to walk back many miles to their farms, to find only ruin left. Many white people were imprisoned on the mere evidence of coloured persons, the reputation for veracity of whom was well known all over South Africa, and whose evidence against a white man would never have been admitted in any court of law previous to the war.
In Uitenhage the same kind of thing occurred. It was sufficient for a Boer column to pass near the farm of an Afrikander for the latter to be taken to prison without the slightest investigation. No one knew where the fines paid went, and certainly a good many of those which were imposed by the commanders of the scouts and volunteer corps never reached the coffers of the Government.
At Cradock, Somerset East, Graaf Reinet and Middelburg people were compelled to eradicate prickly pears and do other hard labour simply because they had remained quietly at home, according to the proclamation issued by Sir Alfred Milner, and refused to join a volunteer corps of some sort or other. Many magistrates, acting on instructions, forced guiltless people to walk a four to six hours' drive under the pretence of subduing their spirits.
One case especially was of such a flagrant nature that it illustrates how far the malice of these so-called loyalists went and the harm which their conduct did to the British Government. The act which I am going to relate would never have been committed by any genuine English officer, no matter under what provocation. There is also a detail which must be noticed: by a strange coincidence all the victims of oppression were, with but few exceptions, men of means, whom, therefore, it was worth while to plunder. The story is that a certain Mr. Schoeman, a man of wealth and position residing on Vlakteplaats, a farm in the division of Oudtshoorn, received, on August 28th, 1901, a message through his son from the military scouts who were stationed at De Jaeger's farm in the neighbourhood, instructing him to hand over his horses to their care. No written order from the Commandant was exhibited to Mr. Schoeman, either at that time or on his request, nor was any evidence adduced at his trial later on to prove that such an order had really been given by an officer administering martial law in the district. Nevertheless, Mr. Schoeman obeyed the order, and on the same afternoon sent his horses, three in number, to De Jaeger. The scouts refused to take his horses, and told them to bring them on the following morning, Thursday, August 29th. This Schoeman did; on coming to the place with them he found that the scouts had left, and was obliged to take the animals again back to his farm. On the afternoon of that same day he received a message from the scouts, and in reply told them to come and see him. He had meanwhile, for safety's sake, sent two horses to be concealed away from his stable, and kept one, a stallion, at the homestead.
The next day, Friday, Boers appeared early in the afternoon. They took the stallion, and the following day they returned and asked where the other horses were. Mr. Schoeman declined to give any information, but they discovered and seized them. Immediately after the Boers had left, Mr. Schoeman dispatched one of his farm boys named Barry to De Jaeger, the nearest military post, to report the occurrence. The scouts had, however, disappeared, and he learned from De Jaeger that before leaving they had received a report of the presence of the Boers. On the return of Barry, Mr. Schoeman endeavoured to obtain another messenger. Owing to the state of the country, which was infested with the enemy, his efforts proved unavailing.
During the next week Mr. Schoeman, with a considerable number of his neighbours, was ordered to Oudtshoorn. On his arrival he was arrested, without any charge or warrant, and confined for some three months, bail being refused. No preliminary examination was held as provided in the instructions on martial law issued May 1st, 1901. On Sunday, December 1st, it was notified to Mr. Schoeman that he would be tried on the following day, and the charges were for the first time communicated to him. On December 2nd the court assembled and Mr. Schoeman was charged with three offences:
1. For not having handed his horses over to the proper military authorities, whereby they fell into the hands of the enemy.
2. For having been on friendly terms with the enemy.
3. For having failed to report the presence of the enemy.
He was found guilty on the first and last charges and not guilty on the second count, being sentenced to six months' hard labour and to pay a fine of £500, or to suffer a further term of twelve months' hard labour in lieu of the fine. The sentence was confirmed, the fine was paid by Mr. Schoeman, and he underwent the imprisonment for one month with hard labour and for five months without hard labour, which was remitted upon order from Lord Kitchener, who, without even being fully instructed as to the circumstances of the case, of his own accord lightened the terrible sentence passed upon Mr. Schoeman.
Later on Mr. Schoeman was cleared of the calumnies that had been the cause of his suffering. In this case, as in many others, the victim was the object of the private vengeance of a man who had had a grudge against him, and repaid it in that abominable manner.
One of the worst mistakes among the many committed during the South African War was to allow residents to be invested with what was nothing less than unlimited authority over their fellow-citizens. The British Government, which was made responsible for these acts, would never have given its sanction to any one of them; mostly, it was unaware of the original facts. The English military authorities dealt in absolute good faith, which makes the more shameful the conduct of those who wilfully led them into error. Their one fault was not to realise that certain individuals were not fit to administer martial law. In one particular district the man in authority seemed to have as the single aim of his life the punishment of anyone with Dutch sympathies or of Dutch blood. It was useless to appeal to him, because whenever a complaint was brought by an inhabitant of the district he simply refused to listen to it, and poured a torrent of abuse at the head of the bringer. One of his most notorious actions was the treatment which, by his orders, was inflicted on an old man who enjoyed the general esteem of both the English and the Dutch community, a former member of the House of Assembly. His house was searched, the floors were taken up, and the whole garden was dug out of recognition in a search for documents that might have proved that his son, or himself, or any other member of his family had been in correspondence with the two Republics. All this kind of thing was done on hearsay evidence, behind which lay personal motives. Had the settlement of the country been left entirely in the hands of Lord Kitchener, nothing approaching what I have related could have occurred. Unfortunately for all concerned, this was precisely the thing which the Rhodesian and other interests opposed. Much of the loyalty, about which such a fuss was made at the Cape, was loyalty to the sovereign in the pocket, and not loyalty to the Sovereign on the throne. This concern for wealth was seen in many aspects of life in South Africa, and occasionally invaded drastically the realm of social well-being. A case in point was the opposition by the financial interests to a tax on brandy. In South Africa drunkenness was one of the worst evils, especially among the coloured race, yet the restrictive influence of a tax was withheld. The underlying motive was nothing but the desire to avoid the tax on diamonds, which every reasonable person claimed and considered to be a source of revenue of which the Government had no right to deprive itself. While Rhodes lived the legislation introduced and maintained by his powerful personality revealed the policy of compromise which he always pursued. He was eminently practical and businesslike. He said to the members of the Bond, "Don't you tax diamonds and I won't tax dop," as the Cape brandy is called. The compact was made and kept in his lifetime.
When Rhodes was dead and a big democratic British element had come into the country after the war, those in power began wondering how it was that diamonds, which kept in luxury people who did not live in the country and consequently had no interest whatever in its prosperity, were not taxed. The Ministry presided over by Sir Gordon Sprigg shared this feeling, and in consequence found itself suddenly forsaken by its adherents of the day before, and the Rhodesian Press in full cry against the Government. Sir Gordon Sprigg was stigmatised as a tool of the Bond and as disloyal to the Empire after the fifty years he had worked for it, with rare disinterestedness and great integrity. Nevertheless, the Ministry declared that, as there existed an absolute necessity for finding new resources to liquidate the expenses contingent on the war, it would propose a tax on diamonds and another one on dop.
The exasperation of the Rhodesian party, which was thus roused, was the principal reason why the agitation for the suspension of the Constitution in Cape Colony was started and pursued so vigorously in spite of the small chance it had to succeed. His support of this agitation may be called the death-bed effort of Rhodes. When he was no longer alive to lend them his strong hand, the Rhodesian party was bound to disperse. They tried in vain to continue his policy, but all their efforts to do so failed, because there was nothing really tangible for them to work upon.
With Cecil Rhodes came to an end also what can be called the romantic period of the history of South Africa, that period during which fortunes were made and lost in a few days; when new lands were discovered and conquered with a facility and a recklessness that reminded one of the Middle Ages. The war established an equilibrium which but for it would have taken years to be reached. It sealed the past and heralded the dawn of a new day when civilisation was to assert itself, to brush away many abuses, much cruelty and more injustice. The race hatred which the personality of Rhodes had done so much to keep alive, collapsed very quickly after his death, and as time went on the work done with such unselfishness and such quiet resolution by Sir Alfred Milner began to bear fruit. It came gradually to be understood that the future would justify his aims.
The war was one of those colossal crises which shake the foundations of a country and change the feelings of a whole generation of men and women in regard to each other. Whilst it lasted it roused the worst passions and showed up the worst aspects of the character of the people who played a part in it; but once it was over the false fabric upon which the animosities of the day before had been built fell. A serious and more enlightened appreciation of the events that had brought about the cataclysm which had cleared the air took the place of the furious outburst of hatred that had preceded it. People began to realise that it was not possible, on a continent where Europeans constituted but a small minority, that they could give the coloured races a terrible example of disunion and strife and still maintain dominance. Both the English and Dutch had at last recognised the necessity for working together at the great task of a Federation of the South African States, which would allow the whole of the vast Southern Continent to develop itself on a plane of higher progress under the protection of the British flag. This Union was conceived many, many years earlier by Cecil Rhodes. It was his great spirit that thought of making into one great nation the agglomeration of small nationalities, white and black, that lay over the veldt and impenetrable forests of South and Central Africa. For a long space of years Cecil Rhodes was South Africa.
So long as Rhodes lived it would have been impossible for South Africa to escape the influence of his brain, which was always plotting and planning for the future whilst forgetting more often than was healthy or wise the preoccupations of the present. After the Queen's flag had been hoisted at Pretoria, Cecil Rhodes alive would have proved an anomaly in South Africa. Cecil Rhodes dead would still retain his position as a dreamer and a thinker, a man who always pushed forward without heeding the obstacles, forgetful of aught else but the end he was pursuing, the country which he loved so well, and, what he cared for even more, his own ambition. Men like Rhodes—with all their mistakes to mar their dazzling successes—cannot be replaced; it is just as difficult to take up their work as it is to fill the gap caused by their disappearance.