A CENTURY OF WRONG
I have now examined the principal financial and administrative grievances of the English Uitlanders. I say English Uitlanders advisedly, because complaints are seldom or ever heard from other nationalities, either directly or by means of diplomatic representations.
Can it be contended with the slightest shadow of right and fairness that these grievances afford a reason for intervention? What crimes have been committed here against humanity or the law of nations? Do not the recorded grievances and abuses find a parallel in occurrences which are taking place every day in the most civilised countries? One can with perfect justice apply to the present circumstances the language which the Russian Government used in stigmatising the illegal intervention of the British Government in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Naples(49):—
"We would understand that, as a consequence of friendly forethought, one Government should give advice to another in a benevolent spirit; that such advice might even assume the character of exhortation; but we believe that to be the furthest limit allowable. Less than ever can it now be allowed in Europe to forget that sovereigns are equal among themselves, and that it is not the extent of territory, but the sacred character of the rights of each, which regulates the relations that exist between them. To endeavour to obtain from the King of Naples concessions as regards the internal government of his States by threats, or by a menacing demonstration, is a violent usurpation of his authorities, an attempt to govern in his stead; it is an open declaration of the right of the strong over the weak."
In spite of all its hypocritical accusations, the British Government is perfectly well aware that, notwithstanding the unparalleled difficulties with which the Government and the Legislature have had to contend, the administration of the South African Republic is on a sound basis, and can, indeed, be favourably compared with that of other countries in a similar position.
It knows full well that the grievances which are used, by means of blue books, to stir up and excite the altruistic and humane feelings of the British public are for the most part imaginary, and that even if they were perfectly genuine, they nevertheless afford no ground for a justifiable interference in the internal affairs of the Republic. It is therefore necessary to have recourse to "Constitutional means" of another description.
Equal political rights.
The third and last "Constitutional" method which Mr. Chamberlain has had recourse to in order to forcibly intermeddle in the internal affairs of the South African Republic is the claim of equal rights for all the white inhabitants of the South African Republic. In this claim he has also followed the inspiration of Mr. Rhodes, for after the Jameson Raid Mr. Rhodes was prepared with a new programme for the "progressive policy" of South Africa, and made use of the formula "Equal rights for all white people south of the Zambesi." Mr. Rhodes altered this cry afterwards, with an eye to the coloured vote in the Cape Colony, to "Equal rights for all civilised persons south of the Zambesi."
In due time the echo resounded from Downing Street "Equal political rights for all persons in the South African Republic." This formula may be either desirable or undesirable as a political aspiration in South Africa. But it is somewhat strange that Mr. Chamberlain should be one of the leaders of the party in England which has strenuously opposed the policy of manhood suffrage. In our case, however, Mr. Chamberlain does not confine himself to friendly advice, but he demands the franchise for all Uitlanders.
The South African Republic already possesses a franchise law, according to which every person is entitled to the full franchise after a seven years' residence in the Republic. But Mr. Chamberlain goes much further, and claims a far more extensive franchise. On what grounds does he base his claim?
The Royal Commission.
He appeals to the discussions which formed a prelude to the Convention of 1881. In the discussions, however, mention is only made of burgher rights or civil rights, with reference to which all possible equality has continuously existed since the Sand River Convention. To safeguard the equality of those civil as distinguished from political rights, Art. 12 of the Pretoria Convention provides "all persons (Her Majesty's loyal subjects) will have full liberty to reside in the country with the enjoyment, of all civil rights, and protection for their persons and property."
The period of the franchise was increased in 1882 from one year to five years, without, however, any protest from Her Majesty's Government, and in 1884 it was provided in the new Convention of that year in the most express and clear way possible that:—
(Art. XIV.).—All persons, other than natives, conforming themselves to the laws of the South African Republic (a) will have full liberty with their families, to enter, travel, or reside in any part of the South African Republic; (b), they will be entitled to hire or possess houses, manufactories, warehouses, shops, and premises; (c), they may carry on their commerce either in person or by any agents whom they may think fit to employ; (d), they will not be subject, in respect of their persons or property, or in respect of their commerce or industry, to any taxes, whether general or local, other than those which are or may be imposed upon citizens of the said Republic.
In this way all white Uitlanders were guaranteed in their rights of free movement, ownership, and possession of property, trade, and commerce, and equal taxation with the burghers. There is no mention of political rights, nor has there ever been before this year—1899. The Government of the South African Republic would be acting strictly in terms of the Convention if it informed Mr. Chamberlain that it alone has to determine upon the Franchise, as being a question of a purely internal nature; and further, that in claiming the right in terms of that Convention to force the Government to adopt a particular Franchise Law Mr. Chamberlain is the party who is violating the Convention.
The Bloemfontein Conference.
The Government of the South African Republic, however, took up a higher position; the State President went to Bloemfontein for the purpose of discussing even internal affairs in a friendly spirit with the High Commissioner—inter alia—the question of the franchise, as he was actuated by the wish to consolidate and promote the peace of South Africa. (50) Sir Alfred Milner said there: "If the question could be settled upon a broad and firm basis, the tension would disappear and everything come right in time." He has done his best latterly to prove that he did not say or mean anything of the kind, that the franchise question was only one of the burning internal matters in which Her Majesty's Government interested itself, and that a favourable understanding about the franchise would in no way pave the way to an agreement as to the other points of difference.
Sir Alfred Milner's attitude.
The attitude of Sir Alfred Milner in this and other questions is, however, of such a nature that it is better to say nothing about his conduct, but to leave him to the judgment of public opinion and history. No agreement being possible between the parties, President Kruger left Bloemfontein and amended the Franchise Law in such a way that the Orange Free State, the Africanders of Cape Colony, and even Mr. Schreiner, Premier of the Cape Colony, publicly signified their approval of the amendments which had been made.
The joint Commission of Enquiry.
Mr. Chamberlain now discarded the appearance of friendliness, and began to adopt a menacing tone in his communications to the Government of the South African Republic. He proposed that the question as to whether the new Franchise Law was satisfactory or not should be discussed by a Joint Commission.
In the meanwhile, owing to informal conversations between the State Attorney and the British Government, there seemed to be a reasonable prospect of a speedy and satisfactory settlement.(51) The British Government, on being sounded by its agent, announced that if a five years' franchise, unhampered by complicated conditions, and with a quarter representation for the gold fields, were conceded, it would be prepared to consider the conditions, upon which the proposal depended, on their merits, and would not consider such a proposal as a refusal to accept the Joint Enquiry. The conditions were that (a) no further interference should take place; (b), that the claim of suzerainty should drop; and (c) that further disputes should be settled by Arbitration. As soon, however, as the proposal was formally made the British Government refused to accept the condition with regard to the dropping of the suzerainty claim, notwithstanding the fact that the High Commissioner had declared in an official dispatch that the suzerainty controversy appeared to him to be etymological and not political.(52) Shortly afterwards the British Government made what was practically the same proposal, but without the condition as to the dropping of the suzerainty claim.
Bad faith of the British Government.
As the Government of the South African Republic attached a vital importance to this condition, in view maintaining its international status, it refused to accept the proposal in this form; it, however, now reverted to the invitation for a joint enquiry, which it agreed to accept, but the British Government replied that it was too late, and that as a matter of fact it no longer adhered to the invitation.
Here we see in the clearest light—
(1). That, although the High Commissioner had stated that the suzerainty was only a question of etymological importance, that although the British Government had never been able to refute the arguments advanced by the South African Republic as to the abolition of the suzerainty in 1884, the British Government was nevertheless determined not to abandon its pretension, and is now prepared to make war in South Africa over this point.
(2). That the British Government invites the South African Republic to a joint enquiry, and, when this invitation, which had never been withdrawn, is accepted, the acceptance is refused with every mark of contempt.
Is there any instance in the history of civilised diplomacy of such trickery and such callous jugglery with the highest interests of South Africa?
Can anyone wonder that South Africa has lost all confidence in British statesmanship?
The British name has been sullied in this part of the world by many perfidious actions, but of a truth I cannot instance any more despicable and repellent incidents than those which have marked the course of events during the last few months.
And the consequence of this trickery will be written with the blood and the tears of thousands of innocent people.
(43) Dispatch, 10th May, 1899. Blue Book, C. 9345. Page 229.
(44) Dispatch. Appendix C.
(45) Dispatch, 10th May, 1899. C. 9345. Page 229.
(46) Appendix C.
(47) Dispatch, 10th May, 1899. Blue Book, C. 9345. Page 229.
(48) Appendix C.
(49) Life of Prince Consort, Vol. III., page 510.
(50) Blue Book, C. 9404.
(51) Blue Book, C. 9530.
(52) Blue Book, C. 9507. Page 6.