The facts revealed in the evidence (writes our correspondent) speak pretty well for themselves, but they were brought out into lurid prominence in the cross-examination of Commandant Cronjé by Mr. Justice Jorissen. In order to make the case quite clear, it is as well to state for the benefit of those who are not intimately acquainted with things in the Transvaal that this Mr. Cronjé, who is now the Superintendent-General of Natives, is the same Cronjé concerning whose action in regard to Jameson's surrender there was so much discussion. After the Jameson Raid, President Kruger, pursuing his policy of packing the Executive with his own friends, decided to put Cronjé upon the Executive, for which purpose he induced General Joubert to resign his position as Superintendent-General of Natives. The President's intention becoming known to Raad members, the strongest possible objection was expressed to this course as being wholly unconstitutional and in direct conflict with the Grondwet; the President in the first place having no right to add to the number of Executive members and no authority for appointing any person to fill a vacancy if there were one. Notice of motion was promptly given in the Raad to instruct the Executive not to take the proposed course, as the Raad felt that the privilege and power of appointing members on the Executive rested with them alone. Twenty-four hours' notice was requisite to bring a matter up for discussion before the Raad. President Kruger hearing that notice had been given promptly called a meeting of the Executive and appointed Mr. Cronjé in defiance of the notice of motion, so that when the motion came on for discussion on the following day he replied to the Raad's instruction that it was too late to discuss the matter, the appointment having been made. Mr. Cronjé, therefore, appears on the scene on this occasion without much to prejudice the unbiassed reader in his favour. The circumstances of the surrender of the Potchefstroom garrison, which was secured by treacherously suppressing the news of the armistice between the two forces (a treachery for which public reparation was afterwards exacted by Sir Evelyn Wood), the treatment of certain prisoners of war (compelled to work for the Boers exposed to the fire and being shot down by their own friends in the garrison), the summary execution of other prisoners, the refusal to allow certain of the women to leave the British garrison, resulting in the death of at least one, are matters which although sixteen years old are quite fresh in the memory of the people in the Transvaal. The condition of Dr. Jameson's surrender revived the feeling that Mr. Cronjé has need to do something remarkable in another direction in order to encourage that confidence in him as an impartial and fair-minded man which his past career unfortunately does not warrant. Commandant Trichard, mentioned in this connection as a witness, was one of the commandants who refused to confirm the terms accorded by Cronjé to Jameson. Mr. Abel Erasmus is a gentleman so notorious that it would be quite unnecessary to further describe him. He is the one whom Lord Wolseley described as a fiend in human form, and threatened to "hang as high as Haman." Abel Erasmus is the man who had desolated the Lydenburg district; the hero of the cave affair in which men, women, and children were closed up in a cave and burnt to death or suffocated; a man who is the living terror of a whole countryside, the mere mention of whose name is sufficient to cow any native. Mr. Schoeman is the understudy of Abel Erasmus, and is the hero of the satchel case, in which an unfortunate native was flogged well-nigh to death and tortured in order to wring evidence from him who, it was afterwards discovered, knew absolutely nothing about the affair. The Queen, or Chieftainess, Toeremetsjani, is the present head of the Secocoeni tribe and the head wife of the late chief, Secocoeni. This tribe, it will be remembered, was the one which successfully resisted the Boers under President Burger and Commandant Paul Kruger—a successful resistance which was one of the troubles leading directly to the abortive annexation of the Transvaal. The Secocoeni tribe were afterwards conquered by British troops, and handed over to the tender mercies of the Boer Government upon the restoration of its independence.
It is necessary to bear these facts in mind in order to realise the hideous significance of the unvarnished tale.
Now to the trial.
Mr. Advocate WESSELS, who acted for the natives, gauging pretty accurately what the defence would be, called two witnesses to prove the prima facie case. Jesaja, one of the indunas flogged, whose case was first on the roll, proved that he was flogged by order of Commandant Cronjé without any form of trial, and without any charge or indictment being made against him, and that he received twenty-six lashes, the extra one being given because he declined to say 'Thank you' for the twenty-five. Commandant Trichard next gave evidence, and from him Mr. WESSELS elicited that Cronjé had gone through no form of trial, but handed over Jesaja and the other twelve indunas to be flogged by Erasmus and Schoeman.
Advocate: Do you positively swear that Commandant Cronjé specified the sentence of twenty-five lashes each?
Which answer was quite in accordance with the pleas of Erasmus and Schoeman, who stated specifically that they administered the lashes in accordance with the orders and sentence given by Commandant Cronjé. The Court held that a sufficient prima facie case had been made out by the plaintiff, and that the onus now lay on the defendants to prove their case. The witnesses called were Commandant Cronjé and Mr. Stiemens, secretary to the former. Mr. Stiemens in his evidence fully corroborated Trichard's evidence as to the passing of the sentence by Cronjé upon the indunas and the absence of any form of trial; and nothing more need be said about this witness. With Mr. Cronjé's evidence, however, it is necessary to deal at length. Mr. Cronjé admitted under cross-examination that he had not observed any particular form of trial, although, as was pointed out, the law dealing with native trials stated specifically 'that the rules which govern procedure in civilized courts shall be followed as closely as possible.' He stated that as regards the Chieftainess, he called her up and read over to her 'point by point' 'the indictment under which she was charged,' which indictment, however, as he admitted, consisted merely of a letter of complaint written by Field-cornet Schoeman to him as Superintendent-General of Natives. He claimed that no form of trial was necessary, inasmuch as he acted under the authority of the President, who has supreme power over natives, and was not obliged to observe any particular form of trial. 'Point by point I read the charge,' to use his own words, 'against the woman, and point by point I could see by her demeanour that she was guilty.' As regards the thirteen indunas, Mr. Cronjé admitted that he did not know whether these were indunas. He considered them guilty, not because they had done anything, but because in their position as advisers of the Chieftainess they ought to have advised her better than they appeared to have done. Instructions had therefore been given to arrest these indunas, and they had caught as many as they could. There was no evidence to show that they were indunas, or that they were ever in a position to advise or had advised the Chieftainess; in fact, it was admitted that they were a lot of thirteen caught out of a tribe as one might catch so many sheep out of a flock. Mr. Cronjé denied that he had sentenced these men, and repeatedly stated that he had handed them over to Erasmus and Schoeman, to be dealt with according to law.
Mr. WESSELS cross-examined the witness upon this point as follows:—
Advocate: I believe Commandant Trichard accompanied you on this commission?
Advocate: He was present throughout the whole proceeding?
Advocate: He had every opportunity of knowing what took place and what was said?
Advocate: You will be surprised to hear that Mr. Trichard states that you actually passed sentence upon the thirteen indunas in such words as, 'I hand you over to the Native Commissioner and Field-cornet to be dealt with according to law. And you instigators will get twenty-five lashes each between the shoulders.' Do you positively deny that you said anything about twenty-five lashes?
Witness: Yes, I deny it.
Advocate: Do you deny that you gave any indication or opinion as to what ought to be done with these men?
Advocate: Well, Mr. Cronjé, I want to know which of you two the Court is to believe, you or Commandant Trichard?
Witness: Commandant Trichard has made a mistake.
Advocate: No, no, no, Mr. Cronjé, that won't do; there are no mistakes in this business. I want you to tell the Court which of you two men under oath is lying and which is telling the truth.
Witness: Commandant Trichard is lying.
(At this point there was some commotion in Court caused by Commandant Trichard jumping up and making use of some expressions towards the witness. The matter ended in a rather fierce altercation after the Court adjourned.) It is only necessary to add that Mr. Stiemans, who followed Cronjé, fully corroborated Trichard's evidence. There were many other interesting points brought out by Mr. WESSELS in his cross-examination, but it is unnecessary to further detail this part of the proceedings, as the same ground was covered by Mr. Justice Jorissen, who took the witness in hand and whose cross-examination brought out the salient features of the case with extreme vividness and dramatic effect. The Judge first dealt with that portion of the evidence relating to the so-called 'trial' of the Chieftainess.
Judge: Mr. Cronjé, in your evidence just now you said that you read over to this woman the charge that was laid against her. 'Point by point' you say you read it to her, and 'point by point you could see by her demeanour that she was guilty.' Is that so?
Judge: Very well, Mr. Cronjé, I will take the indictment, 'point by point,' as you did. Point the first, Mr. Cronjé. (The Judge here read the first of the seven clauses in Schoeman's letter which formed the indictment.) Now kindly explain to me what there was in the woman's demeanour which conveyed to you the idea that she was guilty on this point.
The witness became considerably embarrassed and did not answer.
Judge: No answer, Mr. Cronjé? Well, we will take point No. 2. (The judge dealt with all the seven clauses in a similar manner, the witness failing to make any answer throughout. After the last point had been dealt with and remained unanswered, the Judge addressed the witness again amid a most impressive silence in Court).
Judge: Mr. Cronjé, 'point by point' I have read to you the indictment as you read it to the woman; 'point by point' I have asked you to give me certain information; 'point by point' you have failed to make any answer. Well, Mr. Cronjé, I can only tell you this, 'point by point' I shall set that down in my notes. (After an interval, during which the Judge filled in his notes, the examination was resumed.)
Judge: Now, Mr. Cronjé, as I understand it, it was in consequence of Field-cornet Schoeman's complaint to you as Superintendent-General of Natives that you were sent by the Government to investigate the matter?
Judge: You called the woman up before you and read to her the charges.
Judge: You brought no evidence against her?
Judge: You did not call upon Schoeman to produce any evidence against her?
Judge: His letter of complaint to you seemed sufficient?
Judge: You did not give her any opportunity to bring evidence?
Witness: It was not necessary.
Judge: Oh, dear no; I quite understand that 'you could tell from her demeanour that she was guilty.' But as a matter of form you did not hear any evidence on her behalf?
Judge: You just sentenced her out of hand.
Witness: I sentenced her to pay a fine.
Judge: And then as regards the thirteen indunas, if they were indunas, as you deny sentencing them we need not refer further to that point, but I put this to you—there was no evidence brought against them?
Judge: There was nothing to show that these men had ever advised the woman or were in a position to advise her; in fact, as far as the evidence goes, there was nothing to show that they even belonged to the tribe, but in your opinion they ought to have advised her differently, and you therefore sentenced them to twenty-five lashes each.
Witness: I did not sentence them, but handed them over to the proper authorities to be dealt with according to law.
Judge: Oh, no, Mr. Cronjé, that is not how the case appears to me. You came up to these people in the capacity of Judge, to do justice as between man and man according to your lights, to follow the procedure that is observed in civilized courts, to represent the strength, the rights, and the responsibilities of this Republic, and if we are to accept your evidence as true, you did not try the men whom you were to have tried. You heard evidence neither for nor against them, but you handed them over to—to whom, Mr. Cronjé? Not to the proper authorities, but to Erasmus and Schoeman, the other parties in the case which you were sent up to try. It seems to me, Mr. Cronjé, that this is a case without parallel.
There was no answer from the witness.
Judge: One point more, Mr. Cronjé, and I have finished. When you handed over these men to be dealt with, did you notify them that they had the right of appeal from any sentence that might be imposed upon them?
Witness: Yes, I did.
Judge: Right! Now, Mr. Cronjé, did you notify Erasmus and Schoeman that they should stay execution of the sentence pending the hearing of any appeal?
After considerable pause the witness was understood to say "No."
Judge: You did not tell these officials to stay execution?
Judge: Then you merely gave these natives the right to appeal against the sentence of lashes after they should have received the lashes?
There was no answer from the witness.
Judge: That will do, Mr. Cronjé. I do not think that these people have much reason to thank you for the leave to appeal.
Cronjé was followed in the witness-box by Stiemens, whose evidence is already referred to, and the Court then adjourned.
The next morning, shortly before the opening of the Court, the State Attorney came down on behalf of the Government and arranged with Plaintiffs' Counsel to adjourn for the day to enable parties to try and settle the three cases out of Court. The Court thereupon adjourned at the request of parties, and during the day the three cases were settled on the following basis: The Government refunds Toeremetsjani the £147 10s. with interest at 6 per cent, from the date of payment by her to Erasmus, and pays her costs, to be taxed as between attorney and client.
The Defendants Cronjé, Erasmus, and Schoeman, pay each of the thirteen indunas who were flogged £25 as compensation, and pay the costs of Jesaja and Segole, to be taxed as between attorney and client.
One last touch of irony is needed to complete the story of the suits brought by the Chieftainess Toeremetsjani and her indunas against Messrs. Erasmus, Schoeman, and the rest. It seems that these same gentlemen have actually been appointed by the Government to 'investigate matters' in the district where these Kaffirs live. Poor Toeremetsjani and the unfortunate indunas, as a contemporary remarks, may be expected to give a grovelling welcome. No more High Court for them.
The natives, by the way, interviewed since their return to the kraals, state that they have not yet received the settlement arranged.
In connection with the above sample of justice to the natives it is as well to recall another recent incident which has lately taken place. Some natives being severely mishandled by the local authorities, and being in consequence destitute of means to proceed against them in law, applied to Court for leave to sue in forma pauperis. This leave was granted. Immediately upon this becoming known petitions were got up among the Boers, with the result that the Volksraad some six weeks ago took a resolution instructing the Government to immediately bring in a law forbidding the judges to grant such leave, and making it impossible for a native to sue Government or any white person in forma pauperis. Comment (concludes the correspondent who sets out these various facts) is superfluous.