A CENTURY OF WRONG
As a result of the continual agitation of the South African League, three occurrences were selected and elevated by Mr. Chamberlain into culminating instances of the Uitlander grievances. To give the world a clear insight into the nature of the grievances in general, extracts are given from the official accounts both of the British and the Republican account of these occurrences. There were three—the "Lombard affair," with reference to the maltreatment of coloured British subjects at Johannesburg; the "Edgar case," in connection with the shooting of an English subject by a police official; and the "Amphitheatre occurrence," in regard to a disorderly meeting of the South African League.
a. The Lombard Incident.
With regard to the "Lombard incident," Mr. Chamberlain says:—43 "As an instance of such arbitrary action the recent maltreatment of coloured British subjects by Field Cornet Lombard may be cited. This official entered the houses of various coloured persons without a warrant at night, dragged them from their beds, and arrested them for being without a pass. The persons so arrested were treated with much cruelty, and it is even alleged that one woman was prematurely confined, and a child subsequently died from the consequences of the fright and exposure. Men were beaten and kicked by the orders of the Field Cornet, who appears to have exercised his authority with the most cowardly brutality. The Government of the Republic, being pressed to take action, suspended the Field Cornet, and an enquiry was held, at which he and the police denied most of the allegations of violence; but the other facts were not disputed, and no independent evidence was called for the defence. The Government have since reinstated Lombard.
"Unfortunately this case is by no means unparalleled. Other British subjects, including several from St. Helena and Mauritius, have been arbitrarily arrested, and some of them have been fined, without having been heard in their own defence, under a law which does not even profess to have any application to persons from those Colonies.
"However long-suffering Her Majesty's Government may be in their anxious desire to remain on friendly terms with the South African Republic, it must be evident that a continuance of incidents of this kind, followed by no redress, may well become intolerable."
The answer of the Government of the South African Republic was as follows:—44 "With reference to the Lombard case, this Government wishes to point out that no complaint was lodged with any official in this Republic for a full month after the illtreatment of Cape coloured people was alleged to have taken place, and that neither the Government nor the public was aware that anything had taken place. The whole case was so insignificant that some of the people who were alleged to have been illtreated declared, under oath, at a later period before a court of investigation that they would never have made any complaint on their own initiative. What happened, however?
"About a month after the occurrence the South African League came to hear of it; some of its officials sent round to collect evidence from the parties who were alleged to have been illtreated, and some sworn declarations were obtained by the help of Her Majesty's Vice-Consul at Johannesburg (between whom and this League a continual and conspicuous co-operation has existed). Even then no charge was lodged against the implicated officials with the judicial authorities of the country, but the case was put in the hands of the Acting British Agent at Pretoria.
"When the allegations were brought under the notice of this Government, they at once appointed a commission of enquiry, consisting of three members, namely, Landdrost Van der Berg, of Johannesburg, Mr. Andries Stockenstrom, barrister-at-law, of the Middle Temple, head of the Criminal Section of the State Attorney's Department, and Mr. Van der Merwe, Mining Commissioner, of Johannesburg; gentlemen against whose ability and impartiality the Uitlander population of the Republic have never harboured the slightest suspicion, and with whose appointment the Acting British Agent also expressed his entire satisfaction. The instructions given to those officials were to thoroughly investigate the whole case, and to report the result to the Government; and they fulfilled these instructions by sitting for days at a time, carefully hearing and sifting the evidence of both sides. Every right-minded person readily acknowledges that far greater weight ought to be attached to the finding of this Commission than to the declarations of the complainants, who contradicted one another in nearly every particular, and who caused the whole enquiry to degenerate into a farce."
"According to the report, nothing was proved as to the so-called illtreatment; the special instances of alleged illtreatment turned out to be purely imaginary; but it was clearly proved and found that the complainants had acted contrary to law, and the Commission only expressed disapproval of the fact that the arrests and the investigation had taken place at night, and without a proper warrant. It fills this Government with all the greater regret to observe that Her Majesty's Government bases its charges on ex parte, groundless, and, in many respects, false declarations of complainants who have been set in motion by political hatred, and that it silently ignores the report of the Commission."
b. The Edgar Case
Mr. Chamberlain represented the Edgar case in the following way:—45 "But perhaps the most striking recent instance of arbitrary action by officials, and of the support of such action by the Courts, is the well-known Edgar case. The effect of the verdict of the jury, warmly endorsed by the Judge, is that four policemen breaking into a man's house at night without a warrant, on the mere statement of one person, which subsequently turned out to be untrue, that the man had committed a crime, are justified in killing him there and then because, according to their own account, he hits one of them with a stick. If this is justification, then almost any form of resistance to the police is justification for the immediate killing of the person resisting, who may be perfectly innocent of any offence. This would be an alarming doctrine anywhere. It is peculiarly alarming when applied to a city like Johannesburg, where a strong force of police armed with revolvers have to deal with a large alien unarmed population, whose language in many cases they do not understand. The emphatic affirmation of such a doctrine by Judge and jury in the Edgar case cannot but increase the general feeling of insecurity amongst the Uitlander population, and the sense of injustice under which they labour. It may be pointed out that the allegation that Edgar assaulted the police was emphatically denied by his wife and others, and that the trial was conducted in a way that would be considered quite irregular in this country, the witnesses for the defence being called by the prosecution, and thereby escaping cross-examination."
The answer of the Government of the South African Republic was:—46 "The Edgar case is referred to by your Government as the most striking recent instance of arbitrary action by officials, and of the support of such action by the Courts," and this case is quoted as a conclusive test of the alleged judicial maladministration of this Republic; it will, therefore, be of interest to pause for a moment and consider it. What are the true facts?
"A certain Foster, 'an Englishman,' was assaulted and felled to the ground, without any lawful cause, by a man named Edgar during the night of the 18th December, 1898; he lay on the ground as if dead, and ultimately died in the hospital. Edgar escaped to his room, and some police came on the scene, attracted by the screams of the bystanders. Amongst the police was one named Jones. When they saw the man who had been assaulted lying as if dead, they went to Edgar's apartment in order to arrest him as a criminal (he had, indeed, rendered himself liable for manslaughter, and apparently for murder). As he was caught in the very act, the police officers were, according to the Laws, not only of this Republic, but of all South Africa and of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, justified in breaking open the door in order to arrest the culprit. While doing so, Edgar, with a dangerous weapon, struck Jones a severe blow. Under the stress of necessity the latter shot Edgar, from the effects of which he died. The question is not if Jones was justified in taking this extreme step, for the State Attorney of the Republic had already given effect to his opinion that this was a case for the jury by prosecuting him for manslaughter. The question is solely whether any jury in any country in the world would have found a man guilty of any crime under the circumstances set forth, and whether, if they did not find him guilty, the fact of their doing so would have been stamped and branded as a flagrant and remarkable instance of the maladministration of Justice.
"This Government is convinced that the English judicial administration affords numberless instances where the facts are as strong as in this case, and it cannot see why an occurrence which could happen in any part of the world would be especially thrown in their teeth in the form of an accusation.
"This Government does not wish to pass over in silence the censure which has been passed by Her Majesty's Government on the Public Prosecutor of Johannesburg, by whom the prosecution of this case was conducted; the fact that being of pure English blood, that he received his legal training in London, that he is generally respected by the Uitlander population on account of his ability, impartiality, and general character, will naturally not be of any weight with Her Majesty's Government against the facts of his action in calling witnesses for the prosecution who were intended for the defence, and thus rendering an imaginary cross-examination abortive.
"This Government only wishes to point out that the fact that the Edgar case is the strongest which Her Majesty's Government has been able to quote against the administration of Justice in this Republic affords the strongest and most eloquent proof possible that, taking it in general, the administration of Justice on the gold fields of this Republic not only compares favourably with that on other and similar gold fields, but even with that of old and settled countries.
"The untrue representations of this occurrence in the Press prove conclusively that the newspapers of the Witwatersrand, the atrocity-mongering tactics of which constitute a share of the organised campaign against the Republic and its Government, have been compelled to resort to mendacious criticisms on imaginary instances of maladministration, which were often simply invented. Where the Press is forced to adopt such methods, the true grievances must of necessity be unreal."
c. The Amphitheatre occurence.
I now give Mr. Chamberlain's accusations about The the Amphitheatre occurrence:—47 "Some light upon the extent to which the police can be trusted to perform their delicate duties with fairness and discretion is thrown by the events referred to by the petitioners, which took place at a meeting called by British subjects for the purpose of discussing their grievances, and held on the 14th of January in the Amphitheatre of Johannesburg. The Government were previously apprised of the objects of the meeting, and their assent obtained, though this was not legally necessary for a meeting in an inclosed place. The organisers of the meeting state that they were informed by the State Secretary and the State Attorney that anyone who committed acts of violence or used seditious language would be held responsible, and in proof of the peaceful objects of the meeting, those who attended went entirely unarmed, by which it is understood that they did not even carry sticks. So little was any disturbance apprehended that ladies were invited to attend, and did attend. Yet, in the result, sworn affidavits of witnesses of different nationalities agree in the statement that the meeting was broken up almost immediately after its opening, and many of the persons attending it were violently assaulted by organised bands of hostile demonstrators, acting under the instigation and guidance of persons in Government employ, without any attempt at interference on the part of the police, and even in some cases with their assistance or loudly expressed sympathy.
"The Government of the South African Republic has been asked to institute an inquiry into these disgraceful proceedings, but the request has been met with a flat refusal."
This accusation was answered in the following manner:—48 "The Amphitheatre occurrence is used by Her Majesty's Government to show how incapable the police of the Witwatersrand are to fulfil their duties and to preserve order. The League meeting was held at the so-called Amphitheatre at Johannesburg, with the knowledge of the State Secretary and State Attorney, and the accusation is that in spite of that fact the uproar which arose at that meeting was not quelled by the police. The following are the true facts:—Mr. Wybergh and another, both in the service of the South African League, informed the State Secretary and the State Attorney that they intended to call this meeting in the Amphitheatre, and asked permission to do so. They were informed that no permission from the authorities was necessary, and that as long as the meeting did not give rise to irregularities or disturbances of the peace, they would be acting entirely within their rights. Their attention was then drawn to the fact that owing to the action and the propaganda of the South African League, this body had become extremely unpopular with a large section of the inhabitants of Johannesburg, and that in all probability a disturbance of the peace would take place if a sufficient body of the police were not present to preserve order. To this these gentlemen answered that the police were in very bad odour since the Edgar case, that the meeting would be a very quiet one, and that the presence of the police would contribute or give rise to disorder, and that they would on those grounds rather have no police at all.
"The State Secretary and State Attorney thereupon communicated with the head officials of the police at Johannesburg, with the result that the latter also thought that it would be better not to have any considerable number of police at the meeting. The Government accordingly, on the advice of these officials of the League as well as their own police officials, gave instructions that the police should remain away from this meeting; they did this in perfect good faith, and with the object of letting the League have its say without let or hindrance. The proposed meeting was, however, advertised far and wide. As the feeling amongst a section of the Witwatersrand population was exceedingly bitter against the League, a considerable number of the opponents of that body also attended the meeting. The few police who were present were powerless to quell the disorder, and when the police came on the scene in force some few minutes after the commencement of the uproar, the meeting was already broken up. Taken by itself, this occurrence would not be of much importance, as it is an isolated instance as far as the gold fields of this Republic are concerned, and even in the best organised and best ordered communities irregularities like the above occasionally take place.
"The gravity of the matter, however, lies in the unjust accusation of Her Majesty's Government—that the meeting was broken up by officials of this Republic, and that the Government had curtly refused to institute an enquiry.
"This Government would not have refused to investigate the matter if any complaints had been lodged with it, or at any of the local Courts, and this has been clearly stated in its reply to Her Majesty's request for an investigation.
"This Government objects strongly to the systematic way in which 'the local authorities are ignored, and the continual complaints which are lodged with the Representatives of Her Majesty about matters which ought to be decided by the Courts of this Republic. Instead, however, of complaining to Her Majesty's Government after all other reasonable means of redress have been vainly invoked, they continually make themselves guilty of ignoring and treating with contempt the local Courts and authorities by continually making all sorts of ridiculous and ex parte complaints to Her Majesty's Government in the first instance; Her Majesty's Government is also thereby placed in the equivocal and undesirable position of intermeddling in the internal affairs of this Republic, which is in conflict with the London Convention. Had the complaints been lodged with this Government, or with the proper officials or Courts, the facts could have been very easily arrived at, and it would have been proved that the few officials who were present at the meeting as a section of the public had done their best to prevent the irregularities, and that some of them had been hurt in their endeavours to preserve order. Instead of expressing their disapproval of such complaints, and referring the petitioners to the local Courts, Her Majesty's Government accepts those complaints, and gives them an official character by forwarding them for the information of this Government, and by publishing them in blue books for the information of the world.
"Her Majesty's Government will readily acknowledge that there is no State in the world with any sense of dignity, however weak and insignificant it may be, which can regard such matters with an indifferent eye; and when the relations of the two Governments are strained, then the mainspring must be looked for in this action of its subjects, which is not disapproved of by Her Majesty's Government, and not in imaginary or trumped-up grievances."