A CENTURY OF WRONG
PREFACE (BY W.T. STEAD)
The English reader will naturally turn with more interest to Mr. Reitz's narrative of recent negotiations than to his observations upon the hundred years of history which he says have taught the Dutch that there is no justice to be looked for at the hands of a British Government. The advocates of the war will be delighted to find that Mr. Reitz asserts in the most uncompromising terms the right of the Transvaal to be regarded as an Independent Sovereign International State. However unpleasant this may be to Downing Street, the war has compelled the Government to recognise the fact. When it began we were haughtily told that there would be no declaration of war, nor would the Republics be recognised as belligerents. The war had not lasted a month before this vainglorious boast was falsified, and we were compelled to recognise the Transvaal as a belligerent State. It is almost incredible that even Sir William Harcourt should have fallen into the snare set for him by Mr. Chamberlain in this matter. The contention that the Transvaal cannot be an Independent Sovereign State because Article 4 of the Convention of 1884 required that all treaties with foreign Powers should be submitted for assent to England may afford a technical plea for assuming that it was not an Independent Sovereign International State. But, as Mr. Reitz points out, no one questions the fact that Belgium is an International Independent Sovereign State, although the exercise of her sovereignty is limited by an international obligation to maintain neutrality. A still stronger instance as proving the fact that the status of a sovereign State is not affected by the limitation of the exercise of its sovereignty is afforded by the limitation imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the sovereign right of the Russian Empire to maintain a fleet in the Black Sea. To forbid the Tsar to put an ironclad on the sea which washes his southern coast was a far more drastic limitation of the inalienable rights of an Independent International Sovereign State than the provision that treaties affecting the interests of another Power should be subject to the veto of that Power, but no one has protested that Russia has lost her international status on account of the limitation imposed by the Treaty of Paris. In like manner Mr. Reitz argues that the Transvaal, being free to conduct its diplomacy, and to make war, can fairly claim to be a Sovereign International State. The assertion of this fact serves as an Ithuriel's spear to bring into clear relief the significance of the revival by Mr. Chamberlain of the Suzerainty of 1881. Upon this point Mr. Reitz gives us a plain straightforward narrative, the justice and accuracy of which will not be denied by anyone who, like Sir Edward Clarke, takes the trouble to read the official dispatches.
I turn with more interest to Mr. Reitz's narrative of the precise differences of opinion which led to the breaking-off of negotiations between the two Governments. Mr. Chamberlain, it will be remembered, said in his dispatch he had accepted nine-tenths of the conditions laid down by the Boers if the five years' franchise was to be conceded. What the tenth was which was not accepted Mr. Chamberlain has never told us, excepting that it was "a matter of form" which was "not worth a war." Readers of Mr. Reitz's narrative will see that in the opinion of the Boers the sticking point was the question of suzerainty. If Mr. Chamberlain would have endorsed Sir Alfred Milner's declaration, and have said, as his High Commissioner did, that the question about suzerainty was etymological rather than political, and that he would say no more about it, following Lord Derby's policy and abstaining from using a word which was liable to be misunderstood, there would have been no war. So far as Mr. Reitz's authority goes we are justified in saying that the war was brought about by the persistence of Mr. Chamberlain in reviving the claim of suzerainty which had been expressly surrendered in 1884, and which from 1884 to 1897 had never been asserted by any British Government.
Another point of great importance is the reference which Mr. Reitz makes to the Raid. On this point he speaks with much greater moderation than many English critics of the Government. Lord Loch will be interested in reading Mr. Reitz's account of the way in which his visit to Pretoria was regarded by the Transvaal Government. It shows that it was his visit which first alarmed the Boers, and compelled them to contemplate the possibility of having to defend their independence with arms. But it was not until after the Jameson Raid that they began arming in earnest. As there is so much controversy upon this subject, it may be well to quote here the figures from the Budget of the Transvaal Government, showing the expenditure before and after the Raid.
Public Special Sundry
Military. Works. Payments. Services. Total.
£ £ £ £ £
1889 75,523 300,071 58,737 171,088 605,419
1890 42,999 507,579 58,160 133,701 742,439
1891 117,927 492,094 52,486 76,494 739,001
1892 29,739 361,670 40,276 93,410 528,095
1893 19,340 200,106 148,981 132,132 500,559
1894(1) 28,158 260,962 75,859 163,547 521,526
1895(2) 87,308 353,724 205,335 838,877 1,485,244
1896 495,618 701,022 682,008 128,724 2,007,372
1897 396,384 1,012,686 248,864 135,345 1,793,279
1898(3) 163,451 383,033 157,519 100,874 804,877
Of the Raid itself Mr. Reitz speaks as follows:—
The secret conspiracy of the Capitalists and Jingoes to overthrow the South African Republic began now to gain ground with great rapidity, for just at this critical period Mr. Chamberlain became Secretary of State for the Colonies. In the secret correspondence of the conspirators, reference is continually made to the Colonial Office in a manner which, taken in connection with later revelations and with a successful suppression of the truth, has deepened the impression over the whole world that the Colonial Office was privy to, if not an accomplice in, the villainous attack on the South African Republic.
Nor has the world forgotten how, at the urgent instance of the Africander party in the Cape Colony, an investigation into the causes of the conflict was held in Westminster; how that investigation degenerated into a low attack upon the Government of the deeply maligned and deeply injured South African Republic, and how at the last moment, when the truth was on the point of being revealed, and the conspiracy traced to its fountain head in the British Cabinet, the Commission decided all of a sudden not to make certain compromising documents public.
Here we see to what a depth the old great traditions of British Constitutionalism had sunk under the influence of the ever-increasing and all-absorbing lust of gold, and in the hands of a sharp-witted wholesale dealer, who, like Cleon of old, has constituted himself a statesman.
When Mr. Reitz wrote his book he did not know that immediately after the Raid the British Government began to accumulate information, and to prepare for the war with the Republic which is now in progress. The reason why Mr. Reitz did not refer to this in A Century of Wrong was because documents proving its existence had not fallen into the hands of the Transvaal Government until after the retreat from Glencoe. Major White and his brother officers who were concerned in the Raid were much chaffed for the incredible simplicity with which he allowed a private memorandum as to preparations for the Raid to fall into the hands of the Boers. His indiscretion has been thrown entirely into the shade by the simplicity which allowed War Office documents of the most secret and compromising nature to fall into the hands of the Boers, showing that preparations for the present war began immediately after the defeat of the Raid. The special correspondent of Reuter with the Boers telegraphed from Glencoe on October 28th as follows:—
The papers captured at Dundee Camp from the British unveil a thoroughly worked out scheme to attack the independence of both Republics as far back as 1896, notwithstanding constant assurances of amity towards the Free State.
Among these papers there are portfolios of military sketches of various routes of invasion from Natal into the Transvaal and Free State, prepared by Major Grant, Captain Melvill, and Captain Gale immediately after the Jameson Raid.
A further portfolio marked secret styled "Reconnaissance Reports of Lines of Advance through the Free State" was prepared by Captain Wolley, on the Intelligence Division of the War Office, in 1897, and is accompanied by a special memorandum, signed by Sir Redvers Buller, to keep it secret.
Besides these there are specially executed maps of the Transvaal and Free State, showing all the natural features, also a further secret Report of Communications in Natal north of Ladysmith, including a memorandum of the road controlling Lang's Nek position.
Further, there is a short Military Report on the Transvaal, printed in India in August last, which was found most interesting. The white population is given at 288,000, of whom the Outlanders number 80,000, and of the Outlanders 30,000 are given as of British descent—which figures the authorities regard as much nearer the truth than Mr. Chamberlain's statements made in the House of Commons.
One report estimates that 4,000 Cape and Natal Colonists would side with the Republics in case of war, and that the small armament of the Transvaal consists of 62,950 rifles, and that the Boers would prove not so mobile or such good marksmen as in the War of Independence.
Further, the British did not think much of the Johannesburg and Pretoria forts.
A further secret Report styled "Military Notes on the Dutch Republics of South Africa," and numbers of other papers, not yet examined, were also found, and are to be forwarded to Pretoria.
The Free State burghers are now more than ever convinced that it was the right policy for them to fight along with the Transvaal, and they say, since they have seen the reports, that they will fight with, if possible, more determination than ever.
It may be contended, no doubt, upon our part that these private reports were none other than those which every Government receives from its military attachés, but it must be admitted that their discovery at the present moment is most inopportune for those who wish to persuade the Free State that they can rely upon the assertions of Great Britain that no design was made upon their independence. If at this moment the portfolios of a German Staff Officer were to fall into the hands of an English correspondent, and detailed plans for invading England were to be published in all the newspapers as having been drawn up by German officers told off for that purpose, it would not altogether tend to reassure us as to the good intentions of our Imperial neighbour. How much more serious must be the publication of these documents seized at Dundee upon a people which is actually at war.
The concluding chapter of Mr. Reitz's eloquent impeachment of the conduct of Great Britain in South Africa is devoted to a delineation of what he calls Capitalistic Jingoism. It is probable that a great many who will read with scant sympathy his narrative of the grievances of his countrymen in the earlier part, of the century will revel in the invective which he hurls against Mr. Rhodes and the Capitalists of the Rand. If happier times return to South Africa, Mr. Reitz may yet find the mistake he has made in confounding Mr. Rhodes with the mere dividend-earning crew, who brought about this war in order to diminish the cost of crushing gold by five or six shillings a ton. In the realisation of the ideal of Africa for the Africanders Mr. Rhodes might be more helpful to Mr. Reitz and the Dutch of South Africa than any other living man. Whether it is possible for them to forget and forgive the future alone will show. But at present it seems rather as if Mr. Reitz sees nothing between Africanderism and Capitalistic Jingoism but war to the death.
Mr. Reitz breaks off his narrative at the point immediately before the Ultimatum. Those curious politicians who begin their survey of the war from the launching of that declaration will, therefore, find nothing in A Century of Wrong to interest them. But those who take a fresh and intelligent view of a long and complicated historical controversy will welcome the authoritative exposition of the causes which, in the opinion of the authors of the Ultimatum, justified, and, indeed, necessitated that decisive step. To what Mr. Reitz has said it is only necessary to add one fact.
The Ultimatum was dated October 9th. It was the natural response to the menace with which the British Government had favoured them three days previous, when on October 6th they issued the formal notice calling out the Reserves for the avowed object of making war upon the South African Republic.
Whether they were right or wrong, it is impossible to withhold a tribute of admiration and sympathy for the little States which confront the onslaughts of their Imperial foe with such heroic fortitude and serene courage. As Dr. Max Nordau remarks in the North American Review for December:—
The fact that a tiny people faces death without hesitation to defend its independence against an enemy fabulously superior in number, or to die in the attempt, presents an aspect of moral beauty which no soul, attuned to higher things, will disregard. Even friends and admirers of England—yea, even the English themselves—strongly sense the pathos in the situation of the Dutch Boers, who feel convinced that they are fighting for their national existence, and agree that it equals the pathos of Leonidas, William Tell, and Kosciusko.
Over and above all else the note in the State Secretary's appeal which will vibrate most loudly in the British heart is that in which he appeals to his countrymen to cling fast to the God of their forefathers, and to the righteousness which is sometimes slow in acting, but which never slumbers or forgets. "It proceeds according to eternal laws, unmoved by human pride and ambition. As the Greek poet of old said, it permits the tyrant, in his boundless self-esteem, to climb higher and higher, and to gain greater honour and might, until he arrives at the appointed height, and then falls down into the infinite depths."
Who is there who remembers the boastings of the British press at the outbreak of the war can read without awe the denunciations of the Hebrew seers against the nations and empires who in arrogance and pride forgot the Lord their God?
"Behold, I am against thee, O thou most proud, saith the Lord God of Hosts: for thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee. And the most proud shall stumble and fall, and none shall raise him up."
This, after all, is the great issue which underlies everything. Is there or is there not in the affairs of men a Providence which the ancients pictured as the slow-footed Nemesis, but which we moderns have somewhat learned to disregard? "If right and wrong, in this God's world of ours, are linked with higher Powers," is the great question which the devout soul, whether warrior or saint, has ever answered in one way. When in this country a leading exponent of popular Liberalism declares that "morally we can never win, but that physically we must and shall," we begin to realise how necessary is the chastisement which has fallen upon us for our sins. If this interpretation of the situation be even approximately correct, the further we go the worse we shall fare. It is vain for us to kick against the pricks.
January 1st, 1900.
(1) 1894.—Year of Lord Loch's visit (in June) to Pretoria.
(2) 1895.—Conspiracy, culminating in the Raid.
(3) 1898.—First nine months.