If I am deeply sensible of the honour conferred upon me by being elected chairman of the National Union, I am profoundly impressed with the responsibilities attached to the position. The issues to be faced in this country are so momentous in character that it has been decided that prior to the holding of a public meeting a review of the condition of affairs should be placed in your hands, in order that you may consider matters quietly in your homes. It has also been decided that it will be wise to postpone the meeting which was to have taken place on the 27th December until the 6th day of January next.
On that day you will have made up your minds on the various points submitted to you, and we will ask you for direction as to our future course of action. It is almost unnecessary to recount all the steps which have been taken by the National Union, and I shall therefore confine myself to a very short review of what has been done.
THE THREE PLANKS.
The constitution of the National Union is very simple. The three objects which we set before ourselves are: (1) The maintenance of the independence of the Republic, (2) the securing of equal rights, and (3) the redress of grievances. This brief but comprehensive programme has never been lost sight of, and I think we may challenge contradiction fearlessly when we assert that we have constitutionally, respectfully, and steadily prosecuted our purpose. Last year you will remember a respectful petition, praying for the franchise, signed by 13,000 men, was received with contemptuous laughter and jeers in the Volksraad. This year the Union, apart from smaller matters, endeavoured to do three things.
THE RAAD ELECTIONS.
First we were told that a Progressive spirit was abroad, that twelve out of twenty-four members of the First Volksraad had to be elected, and we might reasonably hope for reform by the type of broad-minded men who would be elected. It was therefore resolved that we should do everything in our power to assist in the election of the best men who were put up by the constituencies, and everything that the law permitted us to do in this direction was done.
The result has been only too disappointing, as the record of the debates and the division list in the Volksraad prove. We were moreover told that public speeches in Johannesburg prevented the Progressive members from getting a majority of the Raad to listen to our requests, that angry passions were inflamed, and that if we would only hold our tongues reform would be brought about. We therefore resolved in all loyalty to abstain from inflaming angry passions, although we never admitted we had by act or speech given reason for legislators to refuse justice to all. Hence our silence for a long time.
THE RAILWAY CONCESSION NEXT.
We used all our influence to get the Volksraad to take over the railway concession, but, alas! the President declared with tears in his voice that the independence of the country was wrapped up in this question, and a submissive Raad swept the petitions from the table.
THE FRANCHISE PETITION.
Our great effort however was the petition for the franchise, with the moderate terms of which you are all acquainted. This petition was signed by more than 38,000 persons. What was the result? We were called unfaithful for not naturalizing ourselves, when naturalization means only that we should give up our original citizenship and get nothing in return, and become subject to disabilities. Members had the calm assurance to state, without any grounds whatever, that the signatures were forgeries; and, worst of all, one member in an inflammatory speech challenged us openly to fight for our rights, and his sentiment seemed to meet with considerable approval. This is the disappointing result of our honest endeavours to bring about a fusion between the people of this State, and the true union and equality which alone can be the basis of prosperity and peace. You all know that as the law now stands we are virtually excluded for ever from getting the franchise, and by a malignant ingenuity our children born here are deprived of the rights of citizenship unless their fathers take an oath of allegiance, which brings them nothing but disabilities.
THE BITTER CRY OF THE 'UITLANDER.'
We are the vast majority in this State. We own more than half the land, and, taken in the aggregate, we own at least nine-tenths of the property in this country; yet in all matters affecting our lives, our liberties, and our properties, we have absolutely no voice. Dealing now first with the legislature, we find taxation is imposed upon us without any representation whatever, that taxation is wholly inequitable, (a) because a much greater amount is levied from the people than is required for the needs of Government; (b) because it is either class taxation pure and simple, or by the selection of the subjects, though nominally universal, it is made to fall upon our shoulders; and (c) because the necessaries of life are unduly burdened.
ABUSE OF PUBLIC EXPENDITURE.
Expenditure is not controlled by any public official independent of the Government. Vast sums are squandered, while the Secret Service Fund is a dark mystery to everybody. But, essential as the power to control taxation and expenditure is to a free people, there are other matters of the gravest importance which are equally precious. The Legislature in this country is the supreme power, apparently uncontrolled by any fixed Constitution. The chance will of a majority in a Legislature elected by one-third of the people is capable of dominating us in every relation of life, and when we remember that those who hold power belong to a different race, speak a different language, and have different pursuits from ourselves, that they regard us with suspicion, and even hostility; that, as a rule, they are not educated men, and that their passions are played upon by unscrupulous adventurers, it must be admitted that we are in very grave danger.
TRIBUTE TO THE MODERATES.
I think it is but just to bear tribute to the patriotic endeavours of a small band of enlightened men in the Volksraad who have earnestly condemned the policy of the Government and warned them of its danger. To Mr. Jeppe, Mr. Lucas Meyer, the De Jagers, Mr. Loveday, and a few others in the First Raad, leaving out the second Raad, we owe our best thanks, for they have fought our battle and confirmed the justice of our cause. But when we look to the debates of the last few years, what do we find? All through a spirit of hostility, all through an endeavour not to meet the just wants of the people, not to remove grievances, not to establish the claim to our loyalty by just treatment and equal laws, but to repress the publication of the truth, however much it might be required in the public interest, to prevent us from holding public meetings, to interfere with the Courts, and to keep us in awe by force.
THE POWERS OF THE EXECUTIVE.
There is now threatened a danger even graver than those which have preceded it. The Government is seeking to get through the Legislature an Act which will vest in the Executive the power to decide whether men have been guilty of sedition, and to deport them and confiscate their goods. The Volksraad has by resolution affirmed the principle, and has instructed the Government to bring up a Bill accordingly next session. To-day this power rests justly with the courts of law, and I can only say that if this Bill becomes law the power of the Executive Government of this country would be as absolute as the power of the Czar of Russia. We shall have said goodbye finally to the last principle of liberty.
PRESIDENT KRUGER INDICTED.
Coming to the Executive Government, we find that there is no true responsibility to the people, none of the great departments of State are controlled by Ministerial officers in the proper sense, the President's will is virtually supreme, and he, with his unique influence over the legislators of the House, State-aided by an able if hostile State Secretary, has been the author of every act directed against the liberties of the people. It is well that this should be recognized. It is well that President Kruger should be known for what he is, and that once for all the false pedestal on which he has so long stood should be destroyed. I challenge contradiction when I state that no important Act has found a place on the Statute-book during the last ten years without the seal of President Kruger's will upon it; nay, he is the father of every such Act. Remember that all legislation is initiated by the Government, and, moreover, President Kruger has expressly supported every Act by which we and our children have been deprived by progressive steps of the right to acquire franchise, by which taxation has been imposed upon us almost exclusively, and by which the right and the liberty of the Press and the right of public meeting have been attacked.
THE JUDGES AND THE LIBERTY OF THE SUBJECT.
Now we come to the judicial system. The High Court of this country has, in the absence of representation, been the sole guardian of our liberties. Although it has on the whole done its work ably, affairs are in a very unsatisfactory position. The judges have been underpaid, their salaries have never been secure, the most undignified treatment has been meted out to them, and the status and independence of the Bench have on more than one occasion been attacked. A deliberate attempt was made two years ago by President Kruger and the Government to reduce the bench to a position subordinate to the Executive Government, and only recently we had in the Witfontein matter the last of the cases in which the Legislature interfered with vested rights of action. The administration of justice by minor officials, by native commissioners, and by field-cornets, has produced, and is producing, the gravest unrest in the country; and, lastly, gentlemen,
THE GREAT BULWARK OF LIBERTY,
the right to trial by jurymen who are our peers, is denied to us. Only the burgher or naturalized burgher is entitled to be a juryman; or, in other words, anyone of us is liable to be tried upon the gravest charge possible by jurymen who are in no sense our peers, who belong to a different race, who regard us with a greater or lesser degree of hostility, and whose passions, if inflamed, might prompt them, as weak human creatures, to inflict the gravest injustice, even to deprive men of their lives. Supposing, in the present tense condition of political feeling, any one of us were tried before a Boer jury on any charge having a political flavour about it, should we be tried by our peers, and should we have a chance of receiving even-handed justice?
THE SECRET SERVICE FUND.
When we come to the Administration, we find that there is the grossest extravagance, that Secret Service moneys are squandered, that votes are exceeded, that the public credit is pledged, as it was pledged in the case of the Netherlands Railway Company, and later still in the case of the Selati Railway, in a manner which is wholly inconsistent with the best interests of the people.
SQUANDERING THE PUBLIC REVENUE.
The Delagoa Bay festivities are an instance of a reckless disregard of a Parliamentary vote; £20,000 was voted for those useless festivities—about £60,000 was really expended, and I believe certain favoured gentlemen hailing from Holland derived the principal benefit. It is said that £400,000 of our money has been transferred for some extraordinary purpose to Holland. Recently £17,000 is said to have been sent out of the country with Dr. Leyds for Secret Service purposes, and the public audit seems a farce. When the Progressive members endeavoured to get an explanation about large sums of money they were silenced by a vote of the majority prompted by President Kruger. The administration of the public service is in a scandalous condition.
A CORRUPT LEGISLATURE.
Bribery and corruption are rampant. We have had members of the Raad accepting presents of imported spiders and watches wholesale from men who were applying for concessions, and we have the singular fact that in every instance the recipient of the gift voted for the concession. We have the President openly stating that such acceptance of presents was wholly moral. We have a condition of affairs in which the time of the meeting of the Volksraad is looked upon as the period of the greatest danger to our interests, and it is an open secret that a class of man has sprung up who is in constant attendance upon the members of the Volksraad, and whose special business appears to be the 'influencing' of members one way or the other. It is openly stated that enormous sums of money have been spent, some to produce illegitimate results, some to guard against fresh attacks upon vested rights. The Legislature passed an Act solemnly denouncing corruption in the public service. One man, not an official, was punished under the law, but nothing has ever been done since to eradicate the evil.
AND A TAINTED CIVIL SERVICE.
I think thousands of you are satisfied of the venality of many of our public servants. I wish to guard against the assumption that all public servants are corrupt. Thank God there are many who are able and honourable men, and it must be gall and wormwood to these men to find the whole tone of the service destroyed, and to have themselves made liable to be included under one general denunciation. But there can be no health in an administration, and the public morals must be sapped also, when such things as the Smit case, and the recent Stiemens case, go unnoticed and unpunished.
TWO GLARING CASES.
I think it right to state openly what those cases are. N.J. Smit is the son of a member of the Government. He absented himself for months without leave. He was meantime charged in the newspapers with embezzlement. He returned, was fined £25 for being absent without leave, and was reinstated in office. He is now the Mining Commissioner of Klerksdorp. He has been charged in at least two newspapers—one of them a Dutch newspaper, Land en Volk, published within a stone's throw of the Government Office—with being an 'unpunished thief,' and yet the Government have taken no notice of it, nor has he thought fit to bring an action to clear himself. In the Stiemens case two officials in the Mining Department admitted in the witness-box that they had agreed to further the application of a relative for the grant of a piece of public land at Johannesburg on condition that they were each to receive one quarter of the proceeds. A third official, the Landdrost of Pretoria, admitted that he had received £300 for his 'influence' in furthering the application; yet no notice had been taken by the Government of their scandalous conduct, and sad to say the judges who heard the case did not think it their duty to comment strongly upon the matter. I have in my possession now a notarial deed which proves that the Railway Commissioner, the Landdrost, and the Commandant of Pretoria are members of a syndicate whose avowed object is, or was, to wrest from the companies their right to the 'bewaarplaatsen.' This shows what is going on, and what is the measure of safety of title to property. Those who should guard our rights are our worst enemies. In a law introduced by the present Government, the Government, instead of the Courts, are the final judges in cases of disputed elections. No Election Committees are allowed. This operates against candidates opposed to the Government, because the Government has virtually a vast standing army of committee men, henchmen, officials being allowed openly to take part in swaying elections, and the Government being in a position, by the distribution of contracts, appointments, purchase of concessions, the expenditure of Secret Service money and otherwise, to bring into existence and maintain a large number of supporters who act as canvassers always on the right side in times of elections.
The administration of native affairs is a gross scandal and a source of immense loss and danger to the community. Native Commissioners have been permitted to practise extortion, injustice, and cruelty upon the natives under their jurisdiction. The Government has allowed petty tribes to be goaded into rebellion. We have had to pay the costs of the 'wars,' while the wretched victims of their policy have had their tribes broken up, sources of native labour have been destroyed, and large numbers of prisoners have been kept in goal for something like eighteen months without trial. It was stated in the newspapers that, out of 63 men imprisoned, 31 had died in that period, while the rest were languishing to death for want of vegetable food. We have had revelations of repulsive cruelty on the part of field-cornets. We all remember the Rachman case, and the April case, in which the judges found field-cornets guilty of brutal conduct to unfortunate natives; but the worst features about these cases is that the Government has set the seal of its approval upon the acts of these officials by paying the costs of the actions out of public funds, and the President of the State a few days ago made the astounding statement in regard to the April case, that, notwithstanding the judgment of the High Court, the Government thought that Prinsloo was right in his action, and therefore paid the costs. The Government is enforcing the 'plakkerswet,' which forbids the locating of more than five families on one farm. The field-cornets in various districts have recently broken up homes of large numbers of natives settled on 'Uitlanders'' lands, just at the time when they had sown their crops to provide the next winter's food. The application of this law is most uneven, as large numbers of natives are left on the farms of the Boers. Quite recently a well-known citizen brought into the country at great expense some hundreds of families, provided them with land, helped them to start life, stipulating only that he should be able to draw from amongst them labour at a fair wage to develop his properties. Scarcely had they been settled when the field-cornet came down and scattered the people, distributing them among Boer farms. The sources of the native labour supply have been seriously interfered with at the borders by Government measures, and difficulties have been placed in the way of transport of natives by railway to the mines. These things are all a drain upon us as a State, and many of them are a burning disgrace to us as a people.
THE EDUCATION SCANDAL.
The great public that subscribes the bulk of the revenue is virtually denied all benefit of State aid in education. There has been a deliberate attempt to Hollanderise the Republic, and to kill the English language. Thousands of children are growing up in this land in ignorance, unfitted to run the race of life, and there is the possibility that a large number of them will develop into criminals. We have had to tax ourselves privately to guard against these dangers, and the iniquity of denying education to the children of men who are paying taxes is so manifest that I pass on with mingled feelings of anger and disgust.
This important branch of the public service is entirely in the hands of a corporation domiciled in Holland. This corporation holds a concession, of course under which not only was there no adequate control over expenditure in construction, but it is entitled to charge and is charging us outrageous tariffs. How outrageous these are will be seen from the admission made by Mr. Middelberg that the short section of 10 miles between Boksburg and Krugersdorp is paying more than the interest on the cost of the construction of the whole line of railway to Delagoa Bay. To add these to its general revenue, of which 10 per cent, is set aside as a sinking fund, and then to take for itself 15 per cent. of the balance, the Company reports annually to the Raad from Amsterdam in a language which is practically foreign to it, and makes up its accounts in guelders, a coinage which our legislators I venture to say know nothing of; and this is independence. We are liable as guarantors for the whole of the debt. Lines have been built entirely on our credit, and yet we have no say and no control over these important public works beyond the show of control which is supposed to be exercised by the present Railway Commissioner. The Company in conjunction with the Executive Government is in a position to control our destinies to an enormous extent, to influence our relations internally and externally, to bring about such friction with the neighbouring States as to set the whole of South Africa in tumult. Petitions have been presented to the Raad, but the President has constantly brushed these aside with the well-worn argument that the independence of the State is involved in the matter. It is involved in the matter, as all who remember the recent Drifts question will admit. I have been told that it is dangerous for the country to take over the railway, because it would afford such an immense field for corruption. Surely this is the strongest condemnation of the Government by its friends, for if it is not fit to run a railway, how can it be fit to manage a whole State? The powers controlling this railway are flooding the public service with Hollanders to the exclusion of our own people, and I may here say that in the most important departments of the State we are being controlled by the gentlemen from the Low Country. While the innocent Boer hugs to himself the delusion that he is preserving his independence, they control us politically through Dr. Leyds, financially through the Netherlands Railway, educationally through Dr. Mansvelt, and in the Department of Justice through Dr. Coster.
CUSTOMS AND TRADE.
The policy of the Government in regard to taxation may be practically described as protection without production. The most monstrous hardships result to consumers, and merchants can scarcely say from day to day where they are. Twice now has the Government entered into competition with traders who have paid their licences and rents and who keep staffs. Recently grain became scarce. The Government were petitioned to suspend the duties, which are cruelly high, in order to assist the mining industry to feed its labourers. The Government refused this request on the plea that it was not in a position to suspend duties without the permission of the Volksraad, and yet within a few days we find that the Government has granted a concession to one of its friends to import grain free of duty and to sell it in competition with the merchants who have had to pay duties. I do not attempt to deal with this important question adequately, but give this example to show how the Government regards the rights of traders.
It has been the steady policy of the Government to grant concessions. No sooner does any commodity become absolutely essential to the community than some harpy endeavours to get a concession for its supply. There is scarcely a commodity or a right which has not been made the subject of an application for the grant of a concession. We all remember the bread and jam concession, the water concession, the electric lighting concession, and many others, but I need only point to the dynamite concession to show how these monopolies tend to paralyse our industries. There may be some of you who have not yet heard and some who have forgotten the facts connected with this outrage upon public rights.
STORY OF THE DYNAMITE CONCESSION.
Some years ago, Mr. Lippert got a concession for the sole right to manufacture and sell dynamite and all other explosives. He was to manufacture the dynamite in this country. For years he imported dynamite under the name of Guhr Impregne duty free. He never manufactured dynamite in the country, and upon public exposure, the Government was compelled to cancel the concession, the President himself denouncing the action of the concessionnaire as fraudulent. For a time we breathed freely, thinking we were rid of this incubus, but within a few months the Government granted virtually to the same people another concession, under which they are now taking from the pockets of the public £600,000 per annum, and this is a charge which will go on growing should the mining industry survive the persistent attempts to strangle it. How a body charged with the public interests could be parties to this scandalous fleecing of the public passes comprehension. Then, the curious feature about the matter is that the Government gets some petty fraction of this vast sum, and the concessionnaires have on this plea obtained enormous advances of public moneys from the Government, without security, to carry on their trade. Shortly, the concessionnaires are entitled to charge 90s. a case for dynamite, while it could be bought if there were no concession for about 30s. a case. It may be stated incidentally, that Mr. Wolmarans, a member of the Government, has been for years challenged to deny that he is enjoying a royalty of 2s. on every case of dynamite sold, and that he has up to the present moment neglected to take up the challenge. Proper municipal government is denied to us, and we all know how much this means with regard to health, comfort, and the value of property. The Statute Books are disfigured with enactments imposing religious disabilities; and the English language, the language spoken by the great bulk of the people, is denied all official recognition. The natural result of the existing condition of things is that the true owners of the mines are those who have invested no capital in them—the Government, the railway concessionnaires, the dynamite concessionnaires, and others. The country is rich, and under proper government could be developed marvellously, but it cannot stand the drain of the present exactions. We have lived largely upon foreign capital, and the total amount of the dividends available for shareholders in companies is ridiculously small as compared with the aggregate amount of capital invested in mining ventures. Some day the inevitable result upon our credit and upon our trade will be forced upon us.
HATRED OF THE SAXON.
There is no disguising the fact that the original policy of the Government is based upon intense hostility to the English-speaking population, and that even against the enfranchised burgher of this State there is the determination to retain all power in the hands of those who are enjoying the sweets of office now, and naturally the grateful crowd of relations and friends and henchmen ardently support the existing régime; but there are unmistakable signs, and the President fears that the policy which he has hitherto adopted will not be sufficient to keep in check the growing population. It seems the set purpose of the Government to repress the growth of the industry, to tax it at every turn, to prevent the working classes from settling here and making their homes and surrounding themselves with their families, and there is no mistaking the significance of the action of the President when he opposed the throwing open of the town lands of Pretoria on the ground that 'he might have a second Johannesburg there,' nor that of his speech upon the motion for the employment of diamond drills to prospect Government lands, which he opposed hotly on the ground that 'there is too much gold here already.'
THE POLICY OF FORCE.
We now have openly the policy of force revealed to us. £250,000 is to be spent upon the completing of a fort at Pretoria, £100,000 is to be spend upon a fort to terrorize the inhabitants of Johannesburg, large orders are sent to Krupp's for big guns, Maxims have been ordered, and we are even told that German officers are coming out to drill the burghers. Are these things necessary or are they calculated to irritate the feeling to breaking point? What necessity is there for forts in peaceful inland towns? Why should the Government endeavour to keep us in subjection to unjust laws by the power of the sword instead of making themselves live in the heart of the people by a broad policy of justice? What can be said of a policy which deliberately divides the two great sections of the people from each other, instead of uniting them under equal laws, or the policy which keeps us in eternal turmoil with the neighbouring States? What shall be said of the statecraft, every act of which sows torments, discontent, or race hatred, and reveals a conception of republicanism under which the only privilege of the majority of the people is to provide the revenue, and to bear insult, while only those are considered Republicans who speak a certain language, and in greater or less degree share the prejudices of the ruling classes?
A STIRRING PERORATION.
I think this policy can never succeed, unless men are absolutely bereft of every quality which made their forefathers free men; unless we have fallen so low that we are prepared to forget honour, self-respect, and our duty to our children. Once more, I wish to state again in unmistakable language what has been so frequently stated in perfect sincerity before, that we desire an independent republic which shall be a true republic, in which every man who is prepared to take the oath of allegiance to the State shall have equal rights, in which our children shall be brought up side by side as united members of a strong commonwealth; that we are animated by no race hatred, that we desire to deprive no man, be his nationality what it may, of any right.
THE CHARTER OF THE UNION.
We have now only two questions to consider: (a) What do we want? (b) how shall we get it? I have stated plainly what our grievances are, and I shall answer with equal directness the question, 'What do we want?' We want: (1) the establishment of this Republic as a true Republic; (2) a Grondwet or Constitution which shall be framed by competent persons selected by representatives of the whole people and framed on lines laid down by them—a Constitution which shall be safe-guarded against hasty alteration; (3) an equitable franchise law, and fair representation; (4) equality of the Dutch and English languages; (5) responsibility of the Legislature to the heads of the great departments; (6) removal of religious disabilities; (7) independence of the courts of justice, with adequate and secured remuneration of the judges; (8) liberal and comprehensive education; (9) efficient civil service, with adequate provision for pay and pension; (10) free trade in South African products. That is what we want. There now remains the question which is to be put before you at the meeting of the 6th January, viz., How shall we get it? To this question I shall expect from you an answer in plain terms according to your deliberate judgment.
Chairman of the Transvaal National Union.