Maseru politically — Maseru strategically — the paramount chief — the resident commissioner — a native dance—advice and rashness.
March 31. — I wonder if any of yon have realised the importance of Maseru, not only strategically but politically, during the past six months. I certainly never did till I arrived on Friday, and a closer examination of the part it has played and is playing, coupled with some interesting conversations I have had with members of its white population, lead me to look on Maseru as another Mafeking, without, of course, the bombardment. Here is a small town, the capital of a country inhabited and dominated by a semi - savage race, under the protection and suzerainty of her Majesty, situated on the flank of a hostile country, cut off from all supplies for six months, a most important medium of telegraphic communication, and withal inhabited by thirty white men who hold their lives in their hands, and whose chief has had not only to preserve the frontier from the incursion of the Free Staters but to guard against a rising of the Basuto people. Such an event would have caused interminable complications, and might have resulted in the loss to Great Britain of a country valuable in itself as a buffer - state. It might have led also to further risings of the blacks in other parts, and the overthrow once and for all of that word " prestige" which alone governs and holds in check a people who, once they have seen blood, wish to help in spilling it! There is little doubt that at the commencement of the war the Basutos were itching to join in it. There is still less doubt that the Free Staters did all in their power to cause an insurrection against the British by spreading false reports as to our defeats, by freely importing liquor into the country, and in taking Basutos to Pretoria to have a look at our prisoners. The Free Staters were as perfectly aware as the British Resident Commissioner at Maseru was, that if they could succeed in getting one tribe to rise against another there would be general bloodshed. At the same time, however much they knew that the Basutos favoured Great Britain as against themselves, they were equally conscious that there were tribes who could be " bought," and, once a general rising was established, the complications for Great Britain would be no small ones.
All these difficulties have so far been overcome, and it must ever be a feather in Sir Godfrey Lagden's cap, and those of his deputies and assistants, that the Basutos have not only refrained from crossing the border, but have loyally assisted in patrolling the Caledon river and prevented the incursion of the Free Staters. I have had a good look round the little town. It boasts only thirty white adults capable of carrying arms and about seventy native police. Just before the war broke out two Maxims arrived, and unskilled, though to my mind most skilled, labour succeeded in erecting two small forts —one in the shape of a blockhouse and the other something of a round tower—on which the guns were mounted to cover the approaches from the Free State. A few sand - bag fortifications have also been thrown up, and each man has taken his turn for six months in commanding the town and receiving the daily reports of the various patrols and scouts who were constantly coming and going. By this means—and I feel sure that what I write will be confirmed by the Intelligence Department— news of the enemies' movements of the greatest importance has been transmitted to Lord Roberts and his generals. Nor must I omit to mention the loyalty of the paramount chief, Leronthodi, who from the commencement has sided with the British, though there are many tribes so hostile to himself that for that reason alone they might have given their assistance to the Free Staters, and made petty internal jealousies their casus belli. I imagine, from the innumerable telegrams, reports, and despatches which are passing, that there will be sufficient material to fill several Blue Books, and no doubt her Majesty's Government will some day have cause to record their thanks to Sir Godfrey Lagden, who has now been sixteen years in Basutoland. He in turn will, I know, be proud to recommend his lieutenants for a share in his honour, whose work, according to himself, has been not only incessant, but brave and conscientious. Unarmed, and accompanied only by the usual orderly, they have gone about their duties of defence and pacification with that tact and sangfroid which is so characteristic of the British race; and the natives have not been slow to recognise their fearlessness and imperturbability in a time of danger. The name of the Queen is hailed everywhere, and the civil, respectful, and honest " Eh ! Morene " (I greet you, chief) with which you are constantly met is sufficient testimony to the word " prestige" with which we govern these semi-savage countries of ours. The town has been full of Basutos waiting to go through to mend the railway between Bloemfontein and Aliwal North. A native dance was arranged for my amusement, and was led by Api, Lerontliodi's fourth son, a fat, jolly, little, jockey-looking man. The dance commenced by some semi-naked warrior rushing into the ring and boasting of his great deeds, at times received with derisive merriment by the onlookers. Having at length got to the end of his achievements, he would throw himself about the ring we formed and then breathless rejoin the remaining dancers, who followed suit. All the time Api would say or sing some lines, and a deep sonorous chant would end the verse. It was an amusing and impressive sight, and I got several snapshots of the dancers, as I did of the prisoners in the jail, some of whom were kept under lock and key for political reasons.
The Residency is a nice, comfortable little bungalow, and the Government offices are also worth looking at, but I cannot claim any desire to live there for sixteen years, although it can boast of a racecourse, polo-ground, tennis courts, golf-links, and cricket-ground !
My arrival here seems to be in the nick of time. A large Boer commando is reported in the neighbourhood of Ladybrand on the Plat Berg, a long flat mountain running east and west, the former extremity just obscuring from Maseru a sight of Ladybrand, which is about eight miles distant. Looking rather to the south, I can see the two paps of Thaba Nchu, which up till yesterday, at any rate, were in the possession of our forces, helio-graphic communication having been established between it and this little place in Basutoland. It looks as if the Boers mean to dispute our farther western advance, and I hear that Wepener, now in General Brabant's hands, is none too strongly held, but is being reinforced. So much for war news and my chances of being in the thick of it. I have by Sir Godfrey Lagden's advice, given up my idea of crossing by the Plat Berg to Thaba Nchu, some forty miles distant. He seems to think that, in an unknown country and on foot, I can never get through the enemies lines, nor take with me enough provisions. He also feels I cannot really carry information of sufficient importance to Lord Roberts to be of any value, as by wire and native runner every possible news is being hourly transmitted. Moreover, he dislikes sharing in any responsibility which might arise were I taken as a spy; nor does he care, after his many months of arduous labour in preserving the neutrality of Basutoland, to risk being involved by the recklessness of an individual. "You want to go as near the precipice as possible without falling over it," he said. " I quite understand }Tour ardour," Sir Godfrey added, " but you should rest satisfied with your feat of having crossed Basutoland. I will help you as far as I can, but I cannot allow you to return here if you find you are unable to get through " ! With this last remark any attempt to cross the border to-night lias vanished from my mind, and I have decided to wait till Sunday and cross farther south with a Basuto who knows the country. It will be a perilous ride, but, after all, I am out in the interests of a newspaper which will not thank me for an ordinary humdrum account of my daily doings. So having had a look over Maseru, I am going to start, on a bad day certainly—namely, the feast of April Fool!
Every one has been most kind to me, and none more so than my host and hostess.