REPORT OF THE MEETING OF THE GENERAL REPRESENTATIVES HELD AT VEREENIGING, IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC, ON THE 15TH OF MAY, 1902, AND THE FOLLOWING DAYS
The first meeting of the representatives of the two Governments took place at 11.30 a.m. on May 15th.
There were present:—
For the South African Republic—His Honour the President, S.W. Burger, F.W. Reitz, Commandant-General L. Botha, Messrs. J.B. Krogh, L.J. Meijer, L.J. Jacobs, and His Honour the Staats-Procureur.
For the Orange Free State—States-President, M.J. Steyn; Judge, J.B.M. Hertzog; Secretary of State, W.J.C. Brebner; Commander-in-Chief, C.R. de Wet; and Mr. C.H. Olivier.
The first matter discussed was the formula for the oath which the delegates were to take, and it was decided that it should run as follows:—
"We, the undersigned, duly swear that we, as special national representatives, will remain true to our people, country, and Government, and that we will serve them to the best of our ability, and fulfil our duties faithfully and with all necessary secrecy, as is the duty of all faithful burghers and representatives of the nation. So help us God."
The question now arose as to whether the representatives had the right to decide, if circumstances rendered it necessary, upon any matter touching the independence of the country, irrespective of the powers given to the various delegates, for at some of the meetings the delegates had only received limited powers, whilst at others full authority had been given them to act according to their own judgment.
After considerable discussion it was decided to lay the matter before the delegates themselves.
The following representatives were called into the tent, and took the oath:—
For the South African Republic.
1. H.A. Alberts, Vechtgeneraal; for Heidelberg.
2. J.J. Alberts, Commandant; for Standerton and Wakkerstroom.
3. J.F. De Beer, Commandant; for Bloemhof.
4. C.F. Beijers, Assistant-Commandant-General; for Waterberg.
5. C. Birkenstock, burgher; for Vrijheid.
6. H.J. Bosman, magistrate; for Wakkerstroom.
7. Christiaan Botha, Assistant-Commandant-General; for Swaziland and the States Artillery.
8. B.H. Breijtenbach, Veldtcornet; for Utrecht.
9. C.J. Brits, Vechtgeneraal; for Standerton.
10. J.B. Cilluos, Vechtgeneraal; for Lichtenburg.
11. J. De Clercq, burgher; for Middelburg.
12. T.A. Dönges, Veldtcornet; for Dorp Middelburg in Regeeringswacht.
13. H.S. Grobler, Commandant; for Bethal.
14. J.L. Grobler, burgher; for Carolina.
15. J.N.H. Grobler, Vechtgeneraal; for Ermelo.
16. B.J. Van Heerden, Veldtcornet; for Rustenburg.
17. J.F. Jordaan, Commandant; for Vrijheid.
18. J. Kemp, Vechtgeneraal; for Krugersdorp.
19. P.J. Liebenberg, Vechtgeneraal; for Potchefstroom.
20. C.H. Muller, Vechtgeneraal; for Boksburg.
21. J.F. Naude, burgher; for Pretoria, late Commandant with General Kemp.
22. D.J.E. Opperman, Veldtcornet; for Pretoria.
23. B.J. Roos, Veldtcornet; for Piet Retief.
24. P.D. Roux, Veldtcornet; for Marico.
25. D.J. Schoeman, Commandant; for Lijdenburg.
26. T.C. Stoffberg, Landdrost; for Zoutpansberg.
27. S.P. Du Toit, Vechtgeneraal; for Wolmaransstad.
28. P.L. Uijs, Commandant; for Pretoria.
29. P.R. Viljoen, burgher; for Heidelberg.
30. W.J. Viljoen, Commandant; for Witwatersrand.
For the Orange Free State.
1. C.C.F. Badenhorst, Vice-Commandant-in-Chief; for Boshof, Hoopstad, West Bloemfontein, Winburg, and Kroonstad.
2. A.J. Bester, Commandant; for Bethlehem.
3. A.J. Bester, Commandant; for Bloemfontein.
4. L.P.H. Botha, Commandant; for Harrismith.
5. G.A. Brand, Vice-Commandant-in-Chief; for Bethulie, Rouxville, Caledon River, and Wepener in the eastern part of Bloemfontein.
6. H.J. Brouwer, Commandant; for Bethlehem.
7. D.H. Van Coller, Commandant; for Heilbron.
8. F.R. Cronje, Commandant; for Winburg.
9. D.F.H. Flemming, Commandant; for Hoopstad.
10. C.C. Froneman, Vice-Commandant-in-Chief; for Winburg and Ladybrand.
11. F.J.W.J. Hattingh, Vice-Commandant-in-Chief; for the eastern part of Kroonstad, in the district of Heilbron.
12. J.B.M. Hertzog, Commandant; for Philippolis.
13. J.N. Jacobs, Commandant; for Boshof.
14. F.P. Jacobsz, Commandant; for Harrismith.
15. A.J. De Kock, Commandant; for Vrede.
16. J.J. Koen, Commandant; for Ladybrand.
17. H.J. Kritzinger, Veldtcornet; for Kroonstad.
18. F.E. Mentz, Commandant; for Heilbron.
19. J.A.P. Van der Merwe, Commandant; for Heilbron.
20. C.A. Van Niekerk, Commandant; for Kroonstad.
21. H. Van Niekerk, Commandant.
22. J.J. Van Niekerk, Commandant; for Ficksburg.
23. I.K. Nieuwouwdt, Vice-Commandant-in-Chief; for Fauresmith, Philippolis, and Jacobsdal.
24. H.P.J. Pretorius, Commandant; for Jacobsdal.
25. A.M. Prinsloo, Vice-Commandant-in-Chief; for Bethlehem in Ficksburg.
26. L.J. Rautenbach, Commandant; for Bethlehem.
27. F.J. Rheeder, Commandant; for Rouxville.
28. A. Ross, Commandant; for Vrede.
29. P.W. De Vos, Commandant; for Kroonstad.
30. W.J. Wessels, Vice-Commandant-in-Chief; for Harrismith and Vrede
The meeting now proceeded to choose a chairman, and the following were proposed:—J. De Clercq, C.F. Beijers, C.C. Froneman, W.J. Wessels, and G.A. Brand.
The choice of the meeting fell on General C.F. Beijers, who called upon the Rev. Mr. Kestell to offer prayer.
His Honour, S.W. Burger, now declared that the meeting was formally opened, and after the Chairman had spoken a few words, the representatives adjourned until three o'clock.
When they reassembled, the Chairman requested President Burger to explain the objects for which the meeting had been called.
Then the President spoke a few words of welcome to all; he expressed his sorrow for the absence of some who would certainly have been present had they not given their lives for their country. But still there were many left to represent the two Republics.
"The difficulties which confront us," continued the President, "are like a great mountain, at the foot of which we have just arrived. Everything now depends on us who are assembled together here. It is impossible to deny that the state of affairs is very serious, and that the future looms dark before us. Our position requires the most careful consideration, and as there are sure to be differences of opinion, it will be necessary for us to bear with one another, and yet, at the same time, to speak our minds freely."
The President proceeded to refer to the correspondence which had taken place between Holland and England. A copy of this correspondence had been sent, through Lord Kitchener, to the Governments of the two Republics. The opinion of the Transvaal Government (which was the first to receive the correspondence) was that advantage should be taken of this opportunity. It was proposed to ask Lord Kitchener to allow the Transvaal Government to meet that of the Orange Free State, so that they might discuss the desirability of making a peace proposal to England. The two Governments had accordingly met, and had corresponded with Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner. As a result of this, a letter, with the above correspondence annexed, had been sent to the various commandos.
"We felt," continued President Burger, "that we had no power to surrender our independence, and that we were only justified in making such terms of peace as would not endanger our national existence. Whether it is or is not our duty to surrender our independence is a question that must be left to the decision of our people. And it is to represent the people that you are here. It is from your lips, then, that our Governments must learn the opinions of the two nations. It is clear enough that the English Government has no idea of allowing us to remain independent—it expresses surprise that we even dare to speak of such a thing.
"You have now to report upon the condition of the country, and upon the circumstances in which your wives and children are placed. You have also to decide whether you are willing to make any further sacrifices. We have lost so much already that it would be hard, indeed, to lose our independence as well. But, although this matter is so near to our hearts, we must still listen to the voice of reason. The practical question, then, which we have to ask ourselves is, whether we are prepared to watch our people being gradually exterminated before our eyes, or whether we should not rather seek a remedy.
"The Government can do nothing without the support of the nation. You, therefore, must determine our best course. For instance, if you come to the conclusion that we have exhausted every expedient, will you still continue the struggle? Are we not to desist until every man of us is in captivity, in exile, or in his grave? Again let me urge you to speak freely, and yet with consideration for the feelings of others. For myself, I can truly say that my spirit is not yet broken; but I would hear from you what the feeling of the people is."
"At this point, however, a difficulty arises. Some of you, having only received limited powers from your constituencies, appear to think that you would not be justified in exceeding your mandates, while others have been authorized to act as circumstances may seem to require. But I do not think that this difficulty should be insurmountable. At least I beg of you not to allow it to cause any dissension among you. Let us all be of one mind. If we are united, then will the nation be united also; but if we are divided, in what a plight will the nation find itself?"
A letter was then read from the deputation in Europe, which had been written five months previously, and which had been brought through the English lines in safety. It contained little more than an assurance that our cause occupied a better position in Europe than it had ever done before.
The Chairman then asked Commandant L. Botha to address the meeting.
Complying with this request, the Commandant said that he wished to be assured, before anything further was done, that the fact that some of the representatives had been entrusted with limited powers, whereas others had been given a free hand, was not going to prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to united action on their part.
To this Judge Hertzog replied that it was a principle in law that a delegate is not to be regarded as a mere agent or mouthpiece of his constituents, but, on the contrary (when dealing with public affairs), as a plenipotentiary—with the right, whatever his brief might be, of acting to the best of his judgment.
States-Procureur Smuts concurred in this opinion, which appeared to satisfy both the Commandant-General and also all the other representatives, for no further allusion was made to the subject by anybody.
Commandant-General Botha now made his report.
In the districts of Vrijheid and Utrecht, he stated, the store of maize was so small that it could not last for more than a short time; but there was still a great number of slaughter-cattle. In the districts of Wakkerstroom there was hardly sufficient grain for one month's consumption. Two other districts had still a large enough number of slaughter-cattle—enough, in fact, to last for two or three months. In Ermelo, to the west and north-west of the blockhouses, and in Bethal, Standerton, and Middelburg, there was grain for one month. But the Heidelberg and Pretoria commandos had now, for the first time, no corn remaining for food. In the neighbourhood of Boksburg the only grain left was the old maize of the previous year, whilst there were no cattle at all in the district. When he had visited Boksburg he had found that the commandos had had no meat for three days. In the country between Vereeniging and Ermelo there were only thirty-six goats, and no cattle whatsoever. In the Wakkerstroom district, however, there were still a few slaughter-cattle. The horses were everywhere worn out and exhausted. They had been so constantly kept on the move, owing to the enemy's increasing attacks, they could now only cover the shortest distances.
The Kaffir question was becoming from day to day more serious. At Vrijheid, for instance, there was a Kaffir commando which had already made several attacks upon the burghers. This attitude of the Kaffir population was producing a very dispiriting effect upon the burghers.
The women were in a most pitiable state, now that the lines of blockhouses had been extended in all directions over the country. Sometimes the commandos had to break through the lines and leave the women behind alone; and when the burghers later on returned they would perhaps find that the women had been driven from their houses, and, in some instances, treated with atrocious cruelty.
Referring to the numbers in the field, he said that there were, in the whole of the Transvaal, ten thousand eight hundred and sixteen men, and that three thousand two hundred and ninety-six of them had no horses. The enemy during the summer had taken many of the burghers prisoner; and since June, 1901, the commandos had diminished to the extent of six thousand and eighty-four men. The burghers thus lost to them had either been killed, or taken prisoner, or had surrendered their arms.
The number of households was two thousand six hundred and forty.
The Commandant-General concluded by saying that the three greatest difficulties with which they were confronted were their horses, their food supply, and the miserable condition of their women and children.
Commander-in-Chief de Wet then spoke. He said he would leave it to the delegates who were officers to make reports. They had come from far and near, and knew exactly what the condition of things was. He, however, could state that the number of burghers in the Orange Free State was six thousand one hundred and twenty, of whom about four hundred were not available for service. The Basutos, he found, were more favourably inclined to the Boer cause than ever before.
"General De la Rey," continued General de Wet, "like myself, does not quite know what task he has to perform here, but he thinks with me that the duty of making reports belongs to the delegates. However, he feels bound to state that in his divisions there is a great scarcity of everything. But precisely the same state of affairs existed there a year ago. And when his burghers were at that time without food—well, he went and got it for them." (Cheers.)
General Beijers (Waterberg) then addressed the delegates, telling them that he would not detain them long. In Zoutpansberg, he stated, they had still a plentiful supply of food, for they were able to buy from the Kaffirs. At Waterberg the Kaffirs were neutral, but at Zoutpansberg they were getting out of hand. Yet, since no co-operation existed amongst them, they were not to be feared, and any uprising could easily be quelled.
Besides this trouble, they had many difficulties to face, which were produced by horse-sickness and fever.
As to the question of grain, there was food enough for the whole of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. But now the English were beginning to buy up the maize at £1 a sack.
General Muller (Boksburg) reported that in his division the burghers had never suffered from hunger. He could still hold out for a few months more, as food could be obtained from the Kaffirs. There was, it could not be denied, a tendency to mutiny amongst the Kaffirs, but he did not think that this need cause any anxiety. He believed that he would be able to carry on operations until the end of the winter.
General Froneman (Ladybrand) said that the condition of his divisions, namely Winburg and Ladybrand, gave no cause for uneasiness. There were still eighty families in the districts, but they were able to provide for all their necessities. The Kaffirs were peaceable and well disposed, and were of great service to the burghers, for whom they bought clothing in Basutoland. It was possible for the burghers, he considered, to hold out for more than a year.
General Hattingh (Kroonstad) declared that in one part of the Kroonstad district there were still plenty of sheep and cattle, and that seed had been sown for next year's harvest. But another part of the district was entirely exhausted, and had to obtain its supplies from Bethlehem.
General Badenhorst (Boshof) stated that he could report on the Boshof district and the parts of the Winburg and Bloemfontein districts to the west of the railway. There were enough cattle to last his commandos for years, even if they had no other food at all. Recently he had captured fifteen hundred head of cattle, and he was in a position to give assistance to other districts. Grain, however, was not so plentiful as it had been the previous year, but nevertheless there was still a large enough supply to permit him to send help to others.
General Nieuwouwdt (Fauresmith) reported that his district was entirely devastated, and that for the last seven months there had been a dearth of all provisions; nevertheless, his burghers had contrived to live. There was, moreover, enough corn left to last them for another year. There were now only three women in the whole of his district.
General Prinsloo (Bethlehem) declared that he would be telling a falsehood if he were to say that there was no food in his district. He possessed slaughter-cattle and corn, and could help other districts. One of his commandants had recently found a store of maize (consisting of one hundred and thirty sacks) buried in the ground. The enemy had made many inroads into his district, and especially during the last few months. The blockhouses were a source of constant annoyance to him.
General Brand (Bethulie) reported upon the south-western part of the Orange Free State, where he commanded. There were some parts of his division, he said, which had been entirely laid waste. Everything had been carried off; there was not a sheep left; and the burghers had been without meat for days. But he was able to capture booty, and could still hold out for a year.
General Wessels (Harrismith) drew attention to the constant passage of large Kaffir families through the districts of Harrismith and Vrede. He could tell the delegates that the Kaffirs had been quite astonished that there were still cattle and sheep and supplies of grain in the districts. He had not yet come to the end of his provisions; but, even if everything were taken, he saw a chance of obtaining food from elsewhere.
Commandant C.A. Van Niekerk (Kroonstad) declared that if there was one part of the country which was entirely exhausted it was the part where he was in command, namely Hoopstad and a portion of Kroonstad. But yet, during the last twelve months, they had been able to obtain food, and even to sow for the ensuing year. There were no cattle in his district; but he had taken a thousand sheep and fifty-two cattle from the English.
Commandant Van der Merwe (Heilbron) spoke to the same effect.
General Smuts was the next to address the meeting. He began by saying that his expedition into Cape Colony had been the outcome of the advice which the deputation had given in July, 1901, namely to continue the war. That he had been in command of it had come about in the following way. News had been received in the Transvaal that affairs in Cape Colony were taking a favourable turn, and accordingly General De la Rey had received orders to go thither, and to take over the command there. But afterwards it was thought wiser to annul these orders, because De la Rey could not well be spared from the western parts of the Transvaal. Owing to this, he (General Smuts) took the task upon his own shoulders, and crossed the Orange River with two hundred men. He had had a difficult task to accomplish. He had marched through Cape Colony to Grahamstad, and from thence he had pushed on towards the coast, through Graaff Reinet. Thence he had proceeded to the neighbourhood where he was now carrying on operations.
He had visited every commando, and as he had seen that there were signs of disorder amongst them he had taken them all under his own command. In this way he had found himself at the head of some fifteen hundred men. During his expeditions Commandant Lotter had been captured with a hundred men; this had reduced his force to only fourteen hundred. But since then the number had nearly doubled, so that they now had two thousand six hundred men (divided into twenty commandos) under arms in Cape Colony. In addition to these men there was a division under General De Villiers operating in Griqualand West, and another under Commandant Van der Merwe in Bechuanaland. The total numbers of these two divisions amounted to about seven hundred men.
Passing on to the question whether help was to be expected from Cape Colony, General Smuts declared that there would be no general rising. The reports which represented such a rising as possible had exaggerated matters. There were great difficulties in the way of a general rising. First, there was the question of horses—and in Cape Colony the want of horses was as great, if not greater, than in the Republics. Secondly, it was exceedingly difficult for Colonials to rise, for they knew that not only would they have to be voetgangers, but also that if they were captured they would be very severely punished by the English. The scarcity of grass was also greatly against any such attempt. The horses had to be fed, and, as the enemy had forbidden any sowing, it was almost impossible to find food for them. A counter proclamation had indeed been issued by the Republics, but it had been of no avail.
He was of opinion that the small commandos which had already been in Cape Colony had done the best they could. The question that now arose was whether the whole of their forces ought to be sent from the Republics into Cape Colony. He himself thought that there was an opening for them, but the difficulty was to find a method of getting them there. The existence of this difficulty, and the facts which he had brought before the delegates, had forced him to the conclusion that a general rising in Cape Colony was an impossibility.
As to the continuation of the war and matters of that nature, they must naturally be settled by the Republics, and not by Cape Colony.
The meeting was then adjourned until eight o'clock in the evening.
Upon its reassembling, Commandant Nijs (Pretoria, North) said that in that part of the district of Pretoria which lay to the north of the Delagoa Bay Railway there were still cattle enough to last for a considerable time, but that the store of grain would be exhausted within a fortnight. The number of horses also was insufficient. The district could muster one hundred and fifty-three mounted men and one hundred and twenty-eight voetgangers. In the division of Onderwijk, Middelburg, there were twenty-six mounted men and thirty-eight voetgangers.
Commandant Grobler (Bethal) stated that in his district they had not been left undisturbed during the summer. Only a short time previously he had lost sixty-three men in an engagement, where he had been besieged in a kraal, out of which he, with one hundred and fifty-three burghers, had managed to escape. Bethal had been laid waste from one end to the other, and he had no provisions for his commandos. He had on his hands three hundred women and children; these were in a serious position, owing to the lack of food; some of the women had also been assaulted by Kaffirs.
General Christiaan Botha (Swaziland) then reported on the condition of the Swaziland commando. They had no provisions in hand, and were simply living by favour of the Kaffirs. They had no women there. His commando of one hundred and thirteen men was still at Piet Retief. As there was no grain to be had, they were compelled to go from kraal to kraal and buy food from the Kaffirs, and this required money. Yet somehow or other they had managed to keep soul and body together. "I have fought for the Transvaal," he concluded, "for two and a half years, and now, since I hear that there is food in the Free State, I shall fight for the Free State for two and a half years more."
General Brits (Standerton) said that he had still provisions for two months, but no cattle. He had sixty-five families with him, and found it very difficult to provide them with the necessaries of life. Altogether, things were in a most critical state.
Mr. Birkenstock (Vrijheid) spoke as follows:
"I shall go deeper into some of the points which the Commandant-General has brought forward in his general report of the matter. At Vrijheid we have been harassed by large forces of the enemy for six or eight months, and the district is now completely devastated. The presence of women and children causes great difficulty, for of late the English have refused to receive the families which, compelled by absolute famine, wished to take refuge with them. There is also continual danger from the Kaffirs, whose attitude towards us is becoming positively hostile. Both horses and grain are scarce; but as far as the latter is concerned there will be sufficient, provided that the enemy does not return. One morning recently a Kaffir commando, shortly before daybreak, attacked a party of our men, who lost fifty-six killed out of a total of seventy. That peace must be made at all costs is the opinion of all the families in my district, and I feel it my duty to bring this opinion before you."
Commandant Alberts (Pretoria and Middelburg) said that his burghers had had no rest for a year, and that during that period no ploughing or sowing had been done in the district. Consequently a commando would not be able to find the means of subsistence there. On three occasions he had been forced to take refuge in a kraal, but fortunately had always been able to make his escape. They had no cattle which they could use for food, although he had received some, through Commandant Roos, from the Free State. Their horses were in the worst possible condition.
Landdrost Bosman (Wakkerstroom) then gave an account of the condition of affairs in his district. They were dependent for everything, except meat, upon the Kaffirs, giving them meat in exchange. This year there had been a very poor crop of mealies, and, such as it was, it had been much damaged by the enemy. Still the burghers might manage, with what mealies they had, to last out for another two months; but the women and children also needed to be provided for. The cattle were beginning to run short, and the few horses that they had were so weak that they would require a fortnight's rest before they could be used. It might become necessary for the commandos to leave the district, and if so, what was to become of the families?
Mr. De Clercq (Middelburg) regretted that he was unable to give as cheery a report as some of the gentlemen present had done. The part of Middelburg which he represented was in an almost hopeless condition. There were no slaughter-cattle, and only enough grain to last for a very short time. Out of five hundred horses only one hundred now remained, and these could do no work, being too weak even to get away when it became necessary to retreat from the enemy. The state of the burghers was very discouraging; if they should be compelled to leave the district the question would arise whether, considering the condition of their horses, it would be possible for them to reach their new destination. There were fifty families in Middelburg, and things were going very badly with them. The district would have to be abandoned, and what would then be the fate of the families, which even now could only be scantily provided for? The women had wished to go on foot to the English, but he had advised them to wait until the results of the present negotiations should become known.
Commandant David Schoeman (Lijdenburg) said that although but a short time ago there had been eight hundred head of cattle in his district, they had now all been carried off. Grain there was none. Should fighting be continued, he was at a loss to know how he could provide for the women.
Commandant Opperman (Pretoria, South) reported on that part of the Pretoria district which lies south of the line. What he said agreed substantially with the report of Commandant Alberts. (See page 343.)
Commandant Liebenberg (Potchefstroom) stated that during the last eight or nine months blockhouses had been erected in his district. All that was now left to him was a strip of country about twelve miles long; here he could still exist. A good deal of seed had been sown, but the crops had of late fallen into the hands of the English. The grain was altogether spoilt; some of it had been burnt, the rest trodden down by the horses. There were ninety-three households in his district. Between Lichtenburg and Potchefstroom there were some women from the Orange Free State who were reduced to the most dire straits. They had told him that if things did not improve they intended to go on foot to Klerksdorp, and he had replied that they must wait for the result of the negotiations. He had still four hundred mounted men, in addition to one hundred voetgangers. He could hold out for a short time longer, and then would have to look for some way out of his difficulties.
General Du Toit (Wolmaransstad) said that there were five hundred families in his district, but little enough for them to live on. Though his horses were weak, he would be able to save himself by strategy if he should get into a tight corner. His commandos were small—only four hundred and fifty mounted men. The cattle were in good condition, but grain was scarce.
Commandant De Beer (Bloemhof) had still under his command as many as four hundred and forty-four mounted men and one hundred and sixty-five voetgangers. Both grain and cattle were scarce, but then Bloemhof had never possessed many head of cattle. So far the families had not suffered from want. He would be able to hold out for another year.
General Kemp reported that he had under him Krugersdorp, Rustenburg, and parts of Pretoria and Johannesburg. In the district of Krugersdorp no more sowing was possible, and the majority of cattle had been carried away. Yet there was no want. Why should he lack for anything when he was in possession of a great "commissariat" extending as far as the Zoutpansberg, where General Beijers was in command? He took what he wanted from the Kaffirs—it was not their property; he was only taking back what really belonged to the burghers.
Commandant-in-Chief de Wet here asked why the eastern divisions of the Transvaal could not do like General Kemp, and take what they required from the Kaffirs?
General Kemp replied that the fact that in the eastern parts the Kaffirs were united with the English made the difference. The Kaffirs there, he said, gave all they looted to the English, who then sold them the cattle back again. If then cattle were taken in those parts, it would be cattle which was really the property of the Kaffirs. Moreover, the Zulus were Kaffirs of a different sort to those with which he (the General) had to deal. General Botha also had said that among the Kaffirs in the Eastern Transvaal there were not to be found any cattle belonging to the burghers.
Mr. J.L. Grobler (Carolina) had not as yet had to complain of any lack of cattle or grain in his district. The English, however, by their system of blockhouses, had cut the burghers off from the greater part of the crop. If nothing happened, the newly-sown crops ought to produce a good harvest; but he did not like the temper of the Kaffirs. His men could still hold out for another six or seven months. The three hundred horses still remaining to them were in a weak condition; such as they were, there was not one apiece for the burghers.
Mr. J. Naude (Pretoria) said that he represented a part of Pretoria and General Kemp's flying column. In his district sowing and harvesting went on as usual. There were fortunately no women and children. Although the commandos had not a superabundance of cattle, yet no one lacked for any of the necessaries of life.
The meeting was then closed with prayer, and adjourned until the following morning.
FRIDAY, MAY 16TH, 1902.
The meeting opened with prayer a little after nine a.m. The correspondence which the two Governments had addressed to the burghers, in order that it might be communicated to their representatives at one of these meetings, was first read. It was then debated whether the meeting should request Lord Kitchener to put it into communication with the deputation in Europe. After speeches pro and con, it was decided not to do so.
Thereupon General Froneman proposed the following resolution:
"This meeting is of opinion that the Governments should be asked in the first place to thank His Majesty the King of England and Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands, through Lord Kitchener, for the efforts which (as appears from the correspondence between the said Governments) they have made to set on foot negotiations for peace; and, in the second place, to express to them the regret of this meeting that His Majesty's Government has not accepted the proposal of Her Majesty's Government that the representatives of the two Republics now in Europe (who still enjoy the full confidence of their fellow-countrymen) should be allowed to return home, and also that Lord Kitchener has declined a similar request addressed to him by the Governments of the two Republics."
This proposal was seconded by Commandant Flemming, and carried.
After another proposal, made by H.J. Bosman, and seconded by J.L. Grobler, had been rejected, the correspondence referred to above came under discussion.
The first speaker was Mr. P.R. Viljoen, who spoke as follows:
"We can apply to our own country those words of Scripture, 'The place whereon thou standest is holy ground.' The soil on which we are now standing, wet as it is with the blood and tears of our forefathers and also of the many who have fallen in this present struggle, may well be regarded as 'holy ground.'
"That we should ever have to surrender this country is a horrible thought. Yet it must be faced. It is certain at least that many districts must be abandoned, for the enemy is doing his utmost to collect us together at a few isolated places, where he will be able to concentrate his forces upon us.
"From the reports which we have received it appears that the state of affairs in the Orange Free State is still hopeful. Not so in the Transvaal. There our prospects are of the gloomiest.
"My opinion is that we must endeavour to bring this war to an end. If there was the least chance of our being able to maintain our independence, we would still fight on, and not even the bitterest sufferings would appear unendurable. But have we any such chance?—that is the question which we have got to answer.
"We know nothing, it will be said, of the present state of affairs in Europe, for the report from our deputation, which has just been read in your presence, is six months old. Nevertheless, if anything favourable to us had occurred since then, we must have heard of it by now.
"It is evident that we must endeavour to obtain peace on terms honourable to ourselves. But how are we to do so? By keeping our independence in view when making terms with the enemy, you will answer. Nevertheless, I think it would be advisable for us to commission our Governments to ask the English Government once more what concessions it is prepared to make to us on condition of our surrendering our independence. Until we know this we can come to no final decision.
"Though it is a bitter thing to have to say, yet I feel it my duty to tell you that I honestly believe it to be impossible for us to carry on the war any longer."
Mr. De Clercq then addressed the meeting in the following words:
"The question before us is, whether or not the war can be continued? To answer it, we must look forward into the future. We must ask ourselves what consequences will ensue from a continuance of hostilities, and what will be the result of their cessation.
"We have only fifteen thousand men against the enemy's quarter of a million. Our food and horses are scarce, and we have other difficulties besides these. It is impossible to go on with the struggle.
"Nevertheless, if I believed that to do so would give us a chance of retaining our independence, I also would be ready for further sacrifices. But as it is impossible to retain our independence, surely we shall only be storing up misery for the future if we continue fighting until every man of us is a prisoner or in his grave. I am of opinion that our most reasonable course is to save what is still left to us—our existence as a nation. It is not too late to save it now, but who can tell what the future holds in store for us? If we are to be still further reduced in number, we shall soon cease to exist as a nation. Can it be right to sacrifice a nation which has fought as the African nation has done?"
Commandant Rheeder (Rouxville) then spoke as follows:
"I know that the times are very dark, but still there are some rays of light. You have been asked whether you will continue fighting until you are exterminated. But there is another alternative. Will you not continue fighting until you are relieved? I maintain that our independence must be a sine quâ non of any negotiations that we make—we cannot give it up. So long as we have life we must continue to fight, and we must only lay down our arms when relief arrives."
General Kemp now rose to his feet. "I am fully aware," he said, "of the very serious position in which we are placed. Yet, when the war began, the position was no less grave. We must continue our resistance. When we recall to our minds how much this war has cost us, and what rivers of blood have flowed, we feel that it is impossible to surrender. As far as I am concerned, unless relief comes, I will fight on till I die.
"But one should not look only at the dark side of the picture. It is true enough that in some districts food is scarce, but there are none in which it is absolutely unobtainable. The districts threatened by famine must be abandoned—that is the way to deal with the difficulty.
"It has been pointed out that a large number of our men have been killed or taken prisoners. This fact, however, only fills me with courage. A cause that has cost us so dearly must never be forsaken. To own ourselves beaten would be to dig a grave for the African nation, out of which it would never rise. Why should we lose our trust in God? Up to this moment He has aided us, and He will always be our Helper."
Vice-Commandant Breijtenbach (Utrecht) then spoke as follows:
"The burghers whom I represent have told me to inform them, when these deliberations have come to an end, whether a continuation of the war is possible, and if it be possible, how it is to be accomplished. If I cannot assure them that we are able to continue the struggle, the men of Utrecht will not fight any more. As you know, I can give them no such assurance.
"There are ten districts in the Transvaal which are unable to fight any longer. It surely is not proposed to leave these districts in the lurch! We must not only consult our sentiments, but also our reason. And what does the voice of reason say? This—that the continuation of the war is an impossibility. Should you decide now to continue the war, you would have to start a fresh campaign; and you know that that is beyond our powers.
"A previous speaker has referred to the help of the Lord, but who is able to fathom His counsels? Yet we can understand the answer God has given to our prayer—that prayer which we offered with the Mausers in our hands when the war began. And what was the answer we received ... I leave it to you to reply.
"Yes, we must use our reason. If we continue the struggle we give the death-blow to our existence as a nation. We have been told that there are ten districts that cannot go on fighting. Are we going to say, 'We will continue the struggle and leave these districts to their fate'? No! We must save what we can."
General Liebenberg then spoke. "I am able to give my support," he said, "to all that has fallen from the lips of Messrs. Viljoen and De Clercq. It cannot be doubted that the future is very dark. Yes, we can only trust in God, and use our reason to the best of our ability. I have been commissioned by those whom I represent to retain our independence if possible, and if it be not possible to make peace on the best terms that we can get."
Commandant Uijs was the next speaker. He explained that if the war were to be continued he would have to leave his district and abandon the women and children to the mercy of the Kaffirs. He could see a chance of saving the mounted men if only he could feel certain that they would all follow him, but the case of the women and children would be hopeless. A serious difficulty confronted the delegates, and it was with them, and no longer with the Government, that its solution rested. Never before had he been called upon to face so gigantic a task. It was not the time now to criticize one another, but to practise mutual forbearance. The Bible had been quoted by one of the speakers, but let them not forget the text in which the king is spoken of who calculated whether he was strong enough with ten thousand to encounter him who marched against him with twenty thousand. Then there was the question as to the disposal of the widows and orphans. What was to become of them if the burghers, by refusing to come to terms with the enemy, should no longer be able to act as their mutual protectors? Let them make no more widows and orphans, but let them open their eyes and recognize that the hand of God was against them.
The next business was the reading of two letters—one from General Malan and the other from General Kritzinger. Malan reported on his doings in the Cape Colony, while Kritzinger advised that the war should be discontinued.
General Du Toit then spoke, emphasizing the responsibility of the delegates and the importance of the occasion. He went on to say that he represented a part of the nation which had suffered very severely, but which nevertheless had commissioned him to stand up for independence, if by any means it could be retained; if he failed in this, he was to take whatever course seemed best to him. In his district the burghers were not reduced to such a pass as to oblige them to surrender, but the condition of other districts must also be taken into consideration, and if it appeared that the war could not be continued, the delegates must get the best terms they could. In their demands they must be united—this was the principal reason why dissension was so much to be avoided. For himself, he could only say that whether the meeting voted to continue the war or to bring it to a conclusion, he would fall in with the wishes of the majority. Any decision would be better than the failure of this conference, as that would leave everything undecided.
He was followed by Secretary of State Reitz, who said:
"You all know what the Governments have done. The question now is, Is there anything further that we can do? For my part, I think that there is. We might offer to surrender Witwatersrand and Swaziland; we might also relinquish our rights to a foreign policy; we might even accede to an English Protectorate. If France has been able to do without Alsace and Lorraine, surely we can do without the goldfields. What benefit have they ever done us? Did the money they brought ever do us any good? No! rather it did us harm. It was the gold which caused the war. It is then actually to our advantage to cede the goldfields, and moreover by so doing we shall be rid of a very troublesome part of our population."
Mr. Reitz then went on to discuss in detail the position in regard to Swaziland, the question of a British Protectorate, and the surrender of our right to treat with foreign powers.
General Muller (Boksburg) expressed sympathy with the views of the Secretary of State, while Vice-Commandant Roux (Marico) said that he was prepared to sacrifice many things, but that he intended to hold out for independence.
The next speech was made by Landdrost Stoffberg (Zoutpansberg), who said:
"I agree with General Du Toit in what he said about the necessity for unity amongst us. Disunion must not be so much as mentioned. I have a mandate from the burghers of Zoutpansberg not to sacrifice our independence. But if anything short of this will satisfy the English, I am quite prepared to make concessions. Some of the burghers think that it might be well to surrender the goldfields for a certain sum of money, while others point out that the gold was the cause of the war. I also think that we have suffered through the gold, and that we might give up the goldfields without doing ourselves any harm. For what has the gold done for us? It has enriched us, many will say. Yes! but it has also been a stumbling-block to many a man. And is it not better to be a poor but independent nation than to be rich and at the same time subject to another Power. Let the goldfields go. We shall still, with our markets, be rich enough."
Commandant Mentz (Heilbron) then rose.
"I appeal to the forbearance of the delegates," he said, "for making any speech at this meeting. I fear I am unable to give as rose-coloured a report as my brother Free-Staters have done: My district has been continually harassed by the enemy's troops, and great devastation has been wrought. But the greatest trouble I have is the presence of so many families, for there are still two hundred in the district. I have only eighty burghers under my command, and it is clear to me that I shall soon be obliged to leave the district. What will then become of these families? I received a commission not to sacrifice our independence. But since my burghers met more than half of them have been made prisoners. The remainder have instructed me to do my best to preserve our independence, but if I find that it cannot be maintained to act according to my own judgment. It appears to me that it may be possible to retain our independence by ceding some part of the country; if this be the case it ought most certainly to be done. I can remember the late President Brand saying in connexion with the diamond fields, 'Give them up; you will gain more by giving them up than by keeping them.' This remark may well apply to the present situation."
Commandant Flemming (Cape Town) reported that his district was well-nigh devastated. But they still possessed a fair number of cattle, which they had carried away with them. But even if they had no cattle, that would be no excuse for surrender, for in his district it was possible to live on the game. The view which he and his burghers had taken was that since they had already sacrificed nearly everything they possessed, they would not now sacrifice their independence. For should this also be lost, then there would be nothing left to them. That had been their opinion, but they had not then known how matters stood in the Transvaal. Now that he was aware of the state of affairs, he agreed with State Secretary Reitz that their best course was to cede a part of their territory.
Vice-President Burger now rose from his seat, and said:
"This meeting has to formulate a fresh proposal to the English Government, and to await its answer. If this proposal be rejected, well, you will be no worse off than you are at present. If there be a man who has earnestly considered what the sacrifice of everything means to us, then I am that man. It has been said, we must retain our independence, or else continue to fight; and we are still able to hold out for another six months, or even a year. Now, supposing that we can hold out another year, what should we gain by doing so? Why, we should only grow weaker, whilst the enemy grew stronger! I emphatically state that the war cannot be carried on any longer; and I ask if there is any man here who can maintain with a clear conscience that the struggle can be successfully continued.
"Some of you may tell me that complications may arise in Europe. But that is a groundless hope. Others may say that it is astonishing enough that we have been able to hold out till now, and that we still have the power of making our voices heard. Yes! that is very surprising; but shall we retain this power long? I heard some delegates say, 'We shall fight till we die!' That is a manly sentiment. But was it not, perhaps, prompted by a desire to make a fine speech, which would go down to posterity? Was not the aim in some cases that future generations might recall these speeches when they were told of the brave fight our men had made?
"Let every one consider this well: Is he prepared to sacrifice the nation on the shrine of his own ambition? Ambition, although it may cost us our lives, can never lead to martyrdom. A martyr is made of finer stuff!
"Have we not arrived at the stage of our history when we must pray, 'Thy will be done'? That prayer, considered rightly, is a prayer of faith. Do not let us imagine that we can compel God to do our will—that is not faith.
"I beg of you to consider what will become of the women and the children and the banished burghers if you still persist until your last shot has been fired. What right shall we have to intercede for these unfortunate ones when we have rejected the proposals of the English Government? We shall have no right whatsoever.
"Perhaps it is God's will that the English nation should oppress us, in order that our pride may be subdued, and that we may come through the fire of our troubles purified.
"My opinion is that we should make a peace proposal to England, yielding as much as we rightly can; and if England rejects our proposal, it will be time enough then to see what other course is open to us.
"There is one fact which we cannot allow ourselves to forget. There are ten districts in the Transvaal which must be abandoned. In the Free State, too, there are districts in a similar plight. It is the opinion of lawyers that so long as the inhabitants remain in a district their property cannot lawfully be confiscated; but if the district be abandoned, then confiscations can take place.
"It is criminal to say, 'Come what may, we will fight till everything is lost and all of us are dead!'"
The following resolution was then proposed by General Kemp, and seconded by Mr. J. Nand:
"This meeting decides, in order to expedite the work in hand, to depart from the original programme; and to constitute a Commission, to be composed of the Hon. Jacob Smits and the Hon. Judge Hertzog, and to give this Commission authority to draw up, conjointly with the two State Presidents, a draft proposal, to be laid before the delegates to-morrow morning."
This resolution was put to the meeting, and accepted by the delegates. The meeting then adjourned.
At half-past seven in the evening the delegates reassembled.
General Cilliers (Lichtenburg and Marico) was the first to make a report. "In my division," he said, "things are in a very favourable condition. Yet we are bound to take the other divisions into consideration. My burghers said to me, 'Stand firm for independence!' But when they gave me the order they did not know about the condition of the other districts. Will those other districts—such of them, I mean, as are in a worse predicament than ourselves—be able to co-operate with us in continuing the war? Some of them have already answered my question in the negative. Must we then not ask ourselves, What will be the best for the nation as a whole? Shall we say continue the war, or shall we approach the enemy and make a proposal?
"But are we really justified in prolonging the struggle, and making still further sacrifices? Some will answer, 'Yes, for we have a God in whom we have trusted from the beginning; shall we not continue to trust in Him who has worked such wonders for us already?' But I have heard a brother say, 'God's hand is against us.' It was bitter to hear these words from him, and for myself I will have none of them. My vote is given here and now for a continuance of the war.
"But we must hear what the rest of the delegates have to say, and if they can point out some other way by which we can retain even a portion of our national independence, we must be ready to follow it."
General Froneman next addressed the meeting.
"I fear," he began, "that too much is being made of the condition of my division: things are not so prosperous with us as some here appear to imagine. But for all that, my burghers are for nothing short of absolute independence. They cannot forget the blood which has already been spilt in our cause. They mean to hold out until they are relieved.
"I sympathize deeply with those districts that are less happily circumstanced than my own, but it pains me to discover that there are some here who doubt that God is for us. For what has supported us up till now save faith in God?—the faith of those who first prayed God to prevent the war, and then, when they saw that this was not His will, fought like men, putting all their trust in Him.
"Up till now the Lord hath been my helper; the enemy has cut us off from everything, and yet we see our two little Republics still full of hope, still holding out."
He concluded his speech by saying that he would like to hear the opinions of Generals Botha, De Wet, and De la Rey. They ought to be able to throw much light upon the matter.
Commandant General Botha then rose, and said:
"I am glad to have an opportunity of giving my views upon the present state of affairs. We know that differences of opinion are to be found everywhere and on every question; when, therefore, a man differs from those who think that this war can and ought to be continued, we must ascribe his opinion to discouragement, weakness, or cowardice. We must acknowledge the truth of the facts from which he draws his conclusions, and which have compelled him to utter it. His object is to make known the true state of the country—which indeed is his plain duty. Were he not to do so on the present occasion he would be accused, later on, of having kept secret what he ought to have revealed. Differences of opinion then need not, and must not, cause a disunion and discord. Whatever our private opinions may be, yet, as delegates of the burghers, we must speak and act as one man.
"The war has now lasted two years. But the question for us to answer is this: Are we going forwards or backwards? My own conviction—a conviction founded upon the views expressed by my commandos and the speeches which I have listened to at this meeting—is that we are not gaining, but losing ground. There is nothing, in my opinion, more evident than that, during the last six months, the tide has been setting steadily against us, and in favour of the enemy.
"A year ago there were no blockhouses. We could cross and recross the country as we wished, and harass the enemy at every turn. But now things wear a very different aspect. We can pass the blockhouses by night indeed, but never by day. They are likely to prove the ruin of our commandos.
"Then, as regards food. We are told that there is food here, and food there; but how are we to get at it? How are we to transport it from one district to another? Outside the frontiers of our Republics there are plenty of provisions, but it becomes daily more difficult to get them into our hands. The cattle, for instance, that used to be at Ladysmith have now been removed to Estcourt. Even the friendly Kaffirs, from whom we are now able to obtain provisions, may quite possibly soon turn against us. The time is coming when we shall be compelled to say, 'Hunger drives us to surrender.'
"The horses have been chased about so incessantly, and have suffered so much from want of forage, that their strength is almost exhausted. They are so weak that it is almost impossible to accomplish any long distance with them.
"As to the Cape Colony, I had always understood that the Colonists were going to rise en bloc, but General Smuts has just told us that there is no chance of such a thing happening. And he speaks from personal knowledge, having just returned from paying them a visit. Moreover, he has seen our horses, and says that it is impossible for them to go into the Colony, so it appears that our successes there are over. This is a severe check indeed; but it could not have been otherwise. We have not enough horses to enable us to give the Colonists effectual help, and they themselves have been cowed by the heavy penalties imposed upon all those who did rise. Many of those who are well disposed towards us dare not join us now.
"Again, there is no chance of European intervention: not one of the Powers will do anything for us. To see this it is only necessary to peruse that correspondence between the Netherlands and England, which was the cause of these negotiations. There we shall find that the Dutch Minister says that our deputation is only accredited to Holland, whereas it had been accredited by the two Republics to all the Governments in Europe. Moreover, the correspondence makes it very plain that England will not tolerate the intervention of any foreign Power whatsoever. But the truth is, that no foreign Power wants to help us. When the women were first made prisoners I thought that European intervention might perhaps be attempted, because to make prisoners of women is a thing quite outside the usual methods of warfare. But nothing was done even then. We were told that we had the sympathy of the nations of Europe—their sympathy, and nothing more!
"I have come to a subject that is very near our hearts—our women-folk. If this meeting decides upon war, it will have to make provision for our wives and children, who will then be exposed to every kind of danger. Throughout this war the presence of the women has caused me anxiety and much distress. At first I managed to get them into the townships, but later on this became impossible, because the English refused to receive them. I then conceived the idea of getting a few of our burghers to surrender, and sending the women in with them. But this plan was not practical, because most of the families were those of prisoners of war, and the men still on commando were not so closely related to these families as to be willing to sacrifice their freedom for them.
"We have heard much talk about fighting 'to the bitter end.' But what is 'the bitter end'? Is it to come when all of us are either banished or in our graves? Or does it mean the time when the nation has fought until it never can fight again? As to myself, personally, I can still continue the struggle. I have horses, my household is well provided for, and as far as my own inclination goes I am all for going on. But am I only to consider myself? Is it not my first duty to look at the interests of my nation? I have always been, and still am, of the opinion that, before letting the nation go to rack and ruin, it is our duty to parley. We must not let the chance for negotiations slip out of our hands. When our numbers have fallen to only four or five thousand men under arms we shall no longer have that chance, and this will undoubtedly happen if we hold out for another year, or even six months.
"There are some who say, 'We must trust in God and keep on fighting,' and I grant them that miracles are possible at all times. But it is beyond our power to say whether God will work a miracle for us. We do not know what His will may be. If we continue the war, and if it should afterwards appear that everything has been in vain, our responsibility will be only the heavier, the blinder our confidence now is. And over and over again we shall hear, 'He is dead,' 'and he, and he.' Will not this make our remorse all the more bitter? Our commandos are so weak, our country so exhausted, that the loss of one great battle, the surrender of a single strong force, would spell ruin for us.
"'But we have managed to hold out for so long.' Yes, but there is a natural reason, a military reason, why this has been the case. The fact that our commandos have been spread over so large a tract of country has compelled the British, up to the present time, to divide their forces. But things have changed now; we have had to abandon district after district, and must now operate on a far more limited territory. In other words, the British army can at last concentrate its forces upon us.
"I firmly believe that, under like circumstances, no other nation in the world would have fought as our nation has done. Shall such a nation perish? No! we must save it. If we delegates are convinced that we can no longer offer resistance to the enemy, it is our plain duty to tell the people so. We must not let them be exterminated for want of timely advice. More than twenty thousand women and children have died in the camps during this one year.
"There are men of our own kith and kin who are helping to bring us to ruin. If we continue the war, it may be that the Afrikanders against us will outnumber our own men.
"What is there left to hope for? Are we to retain our independence by ceding a part of our territories? Most assuredly yes, if such a compromise is feasible. As regards Swaziland, it is of so little importance to us that we can give it up without a thought. Then there are the goldfields—let them go. They are but a cancerous growth, sapping the very life of our country.
"We must face the fact that things are not at a standstill: we are slipping back every moment. We must all pull together, or everything is lost. If our sacrifices will buy our independence, well and good. But suppose that we are compelled to give it up—well, if it even comes to this, we must never do so unconditionally. An unconditional surrender would be well enough if the leaders only had to be considered. But we must think of the interests of the nation. We must say to our people, 'We have no thought of ourselves: our only desire is to place ourselves in the breach, if so we may save you.'"
General Botha then proceeded to discuss eventualities in the event of independence being lost. Representative government, he said, might perhaps still be retained, and the national language need not necessarily be supplanted. Thus the nation would still retain its old ideals and its old customs. General Roux had been pertinently asked whether it were better to strive for the recuperation of the people now or to wait until they were altogether overpowered and reduced to such straits that it would require some thirty years before they could once more call themselves a nation. He then went into the terms of the proposal by the British Government, and repeated that there must be no idea of unconditional surrender.
The General concluded in the following words:
"Although we do not wish to accept terms, we have no right to refuse them altogether. On the other hand we must not say to the English, 'Do with us as you like.' For then our descendants would eternally reproach us. We should have lost the privilege of looking after our own wives and children. They would be handed over to strangers. No! we must secure by some means or other that we ourselves shall be able to provide for them. The fate of our country is in the hands of the men in this tent. It has been bitter, indeed, for me to have to speak as I have done. But if I have not spoken the truth, convince me of my error, and I will be the first to own it. But do not condemn me, for I have had no other object than to tell you what I believe to be the truth."
General De la Rey spoke.
"I will not detain you long," he began, "but there are a few points to which I wish to draw attention. In regard to the districts under my command, every one will understand that my burghers, after their recent brilliant successes, are firmly resolved not to sacrifice their independence. If I allude to the battles which I have just fought it is with no thought of boasting, but only that you may picture to yourselves the effect which they must have had upon the enemy; and that no one may be angry with myself and my burghers for standing firm when our feet are on such solid ground.
"But since my arrival at Vereeniging I have heard about our districts where matters are in a far less favourable condition than in my own. So far as I myself am concerned, I cannot think of laying down my arms. Yet it appears to me that some parts of the country will be compelled by starvation to give up the struggle. It is well that those who represent these parts have spoken openly, and not left this meeting in ignorance of the state of affairs only to go and lay down their arms.
"I myself have never thought intervention possible. Even before the war broke out I said that nothing would come of it. I saw that South Africa was divided between Germany and England. And that if only the Republics could be extinguished, then England and Germany would be the only Powers left, and Germany would be safe. But if the Republics were victorious, then Germany would be in danger. Why then should Germany interfere in favour of the Republics, when she has everything to lose by such a course of action? No! intervention was entirely out of the question.
"There has been talk about fighting to the bitter end; but has not the bitter end already come? Each man must answer that question for himself.
"You must remember that everything has been sacrificed—cattle, goods, money, wife, and child. Our men are going about naked, and some of our women have nothing but clothes made of skins to wear. Is not this the bitter end?
"I believe that the time has now come to negotiate. England will never again give us the chance of doing so, should we allow this opportunity to slip by. But how shall we negotiate? I must leave it to this meeting to answer that question. If we do not obtain what we ask for, we shall at least stand or fall together. Yet let us act with reason.
"I cannot agree with one of the opinions expressed by Commandant-General Botha and States-Secretary Reitz. They have stated that they are against surrendering the goldfields to England; firstly, because England would never accept such a proposal, for by doing so she would declare to the whole world that she had only been fighting for the goldfields; and, secondly, because if we gave up the goldfields we should lose a source of revenue, without the aid of which we could not repair the damages which the war has wrought."
Commandant-in-Chief de Wet spoke as follows:
"I am of opinion that the circumstances in the Orange Free State are no less critical than those in the Transvaal. Nine districts were entirely ruined; but these, though at one time abandoned by the burghers, have now been reoccupied.
"If I now differ from those who are of opinion that it is useless to prolong the war, it must not be thought that I am lacking in respect for their judgment. By no means. I know that what has been said about the wretched plight of the people is only too true; but they must not take it amiss if I point out that the same condition of affairs was described in the correspondence from the Transvaal which fell into the hands of the English at Reitz. But, granting that the facts have been correctly stated, even then the Orange Free State will refuse to give in. Let me be candid with you, and say frankly that, in my opinion, this is virtually the Transvaal's war. This, however, makes no difference to me. For me the barrier of the Vaal River has never existed. I have always endeavoured to maintain the Nauwere-Vereeniging, and I feel strongly the obligation which the union of the two States casts on each one of us. They are two nations, but their cause is one.
"What, then, is the prevailing feeling in the Orange Free State? Of the six thousand burghers who have been attending meetings, I myself have been in command of five thousand, and I can confidently say that never were five thousand men more unanimous in their opinion than were those I led when they cried, as with one voice, 'Persevere; we have everything to lose, but we have not yet lost it.' What, then, is the answer to be? I am firmly persuaded that we have only one course before us. If we are unable to obtain what we are asking for, then it only remains for us to alleviate as best we may the lot of those who cannot help themselves. I do not as yet clearly see how this is going to be done, but, at all costs, let us continue fighting. What was our total strength when we began this war? Sixty thousand men all told. Against this the English had a standing army of seven hundred and fifty thousand troops. Of these two hundred and fifty thousand, or one-third, are now in South Africa. We know from experience that they are unable to send more than one-third. And we? Have we not also one-third of our army left?
"I do not wish to imply that I am not prepared to concede something, but nothing will induce me to consent to any part of the country in our territory being given up. It will never do to have an English colony planted in our midst, for England then would have far too firm a hold upon our country.
"It is said, and with some truth, that the goldfields have been a curse to us, but surely there is no reason why they should continue to be so. I fail to see how, without retaining possession of these goldfields, the Republics are to be saved. Swaziland perhaps could be ceded, but never the goldfields. I feel that any intervention is out of the question; but is not the very fact that it has not taken place a sure proof that it was not the will of God? Does it not show that He is minded to form us, by this war, into a nation worthy of the name? Let us then bow to the will of the Almighty.
"My people will perhaps say, 'Our Generals see only the religious side of the question.' They will be right. Without faith we should have been foolish indeed to have embarked on this war and to continue it for so many months. Indeed, it must be a matter of faith, for the future is hidden from us. What has been is within our ken, but what is before is beyond the knowledge of the wisest man.
"Cape Colony is a great disappointment to me. I do not refer so much to what we have learnt about it from the reports as to the fact that no general uprising can be expected in that quarter. So much we have heard from General Smuts. But though there is to be no uprising, we have no reason to think that there has been any falling off in the number of our adherents in the Colony. The little contingent there has been of great help to us: they have kept fifty thousand troops occupied, with which otherwise we should have had to reckon.
"I feel deeply for our women and children; I am giving earnest consideration to their miserable plight. But their sufferings are among what we may call the necessary circumstances of the war. I have nothing to do with the circumstances. For me, this is a war of religion, and thus I can only consider the great principles involved. Circumstances are to me but as obstacles to be cleared out of the road.
"If we own ourselves defeated—if we surrender to the foe—we can expect little mercy from him. We shall at all events have dug the grave of our national independence, and, as things are, what difference is there between this and digging our own graves?"
Mr. Birkenstock said that the question about the goldfields must be carefully considered. This source of income must not be given up.
The meeting was then closed with prayer.
SATURDAY, MAY 17TH, 1902.
The Chairman first called upon Chief Commandant de Wet to offer up prayer.
A private report from Mr. J. Schmorderer, who had brought the missive from the deputation in Europe, was then read.
The first delegate to speak was Landdrost Bosman (Wakkerstroom), who said:
"My opinion is that the best way of ascertaining the probable future course of events is to see what has already happened in the past. A year ago there were six hundred burghers in my district, and each man had a horse; now there are not more than half that number, and many of them have to go on foot. Last year we had from three to four thousand bags of maize ready to hand; this year there are not more than as many hundred, and how to get at them is more than I can tell. If such has been the history of the past year, in what sort of condition shall we be at the end of the present one?
"The great difficulty with regard to our families is not how to clothe them, but how to feed them. I know of a woman who has lived for weeks on nothing but fruit. I myself have had to satisfy my hunger with mealies for days together, although I have no wish to complain about it. Even the scanty food we can get has to be obtained from the Kaffirs by persuasion. Moreover, the Kaffirs side with the English, who in their counter-marches are clearing all the food out of the country.
"The men in my district told me that if I came back and reported that the war was to be continued, they would be obliged—for the sake of their wives and children—to go straight to the nearest English camp and lay down their arms. As to the women it is true that they are at present full of hope and courage, but if they knew how matters stood in the veldt, they would think very differently. Even now there are many of them who say that the war ought to be put a stop to, if only for their sakes.
"The Kaffirs are another great source of trouble; in this problem they are a factor which cannot be neglected.
"There is no hope of intervention, nor can we expect anything from the English nation. Facts that have come to my knowledge prove to me that England has become more and more determined to fight to the bitter end.
"I do not see what we can possibly gain by continuing the war. Our own people are helping the English, and every day the enemy are improving their position. What advantage can there then be in persisting in the struggle? We have now a chance of negotiating, and we should seize that chance. For we have the opportunity given us of obtaining some help for our ruined compatriots, who would be entirely unable to make a fresh start without assistance.
"As to the religious side of this matter, I am not ashamed to say that I believe I am serving God in the course which I am taking. We must not attempt to obtain the impossible against all reason. If we make any such attempt, the results will probably be exactly opposite to what we wish. I have the greatest doubt whether it really is in order to give glory to God that the nation wishes to retain its independence. On the contrary I believe that the motive is obstinacy, a vice to which human nature is always prone.
"It has been said that it would be shameful to disregard the blood already spilt; but surely one ought also to consider the blood that might yet be shed in a useless struggle."
The proposal of the Commission was now read, and after some discussion accepted. It ran as follows:
The meeting of national representatives from both Republics—after having considered the correspondence exchanged, and the negotiations conducted, between the Governments of the two Republics and His Excellency Lord Kitchener, on behalf of the British Government; and after having heard the reports of the deputies from the different parts of both Republics; and after having received the latest reports from the representatives of the two Republics in Europe; and having taken into consideration the fact that the British Government has refused to accept the proposal of our Governments made on the same basis; and notwithstanding the above-mentioned refusal of the British Government—still wishes to give expression to the ardent desire of the two Republics to retain their independence, for which already so much material and personal sacrifice has been made, and decides in the name of the people of both Republics to empower both Governments as follows:—To conclude a peace on the following basis, to wit: the retention of a limited independence offering an addition to what has already been offered by the two Governments in their negotiations, dated the 15th of April, 1902.
(a) To give up all foreign relations and embassies.
(b) To accept the Protectorate of Great Britain.
(c) To surrender parts of the territory of the South African Republic.
(d) To conclude a defensive alliance with Great Britain in regard to South Africa.
During the discussion it was clearly explained that the territory which it was suggested should be ceded was the already mentioned goldfields and Swaziland. The question was put whether the South African Republics would have to pay for the damage done during the war. "By all means let us pay," said Mr. De Clercq. "If I could only buy back the independence of the Orange Free State, I would gladly give all I possess."
Several other Transvaal delegates expressed themselves in the same sense, and said that they fully appreciated the sacrifices which the Orange Free State had made. General Froneman thanked them in the name of the Free State.
He felt that the two Republics no longer thought of themselves as having conflicting interests. In the fire of this war they had been firmly welded together.
Commandant Ross (Vrede) thought it wrong even to discuss the possibility of giving up independence. The delegates had received a definite mandate. They had been commissioned to see that the national independence had remained untouched, whatever else might have to be given up. This being the case, they might come to decisions on all other points, so long as they remembered that independence was not an open question.
Commandant J. Van Niekerk (Ficksburg) spoke to the same purpose. He could not even think of sacrificing independence.
After some other delegates had made a few short remarks, General Brand, seconded by Commandant A.J. De Kock, proposed the following resolution, which was accepted by the meeting:
"This meeting of the national representatives of the two Republics hereby charge the Governments to nominate a Commission for the purpose of entering upon negotiations with His Excellency Lord Kitchener, acting on behalf of His Britannic Majesty's Government. The Commission is to endeavour to make peace on satisfactory terms, and is then to lay the result of its negotiations before this meeting, for the sanction of the two Governments."
The meeting was then closed with prayer.
 Closer Union.