A Century of Wrong/The South African Republic

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A Century of Wrong by Francis William Reitz
The South African Republic

The South African Republic.[edit]


The disastrous fate of the Trichardt Trek has already been told. The Trichardts found the Transvaal overrun by the warriors of Moselikatse, the King of the Matabele and father of Lobengula. The other tribes of the Transvaal were his 'dogs,' according to the Kaffir term.


[Sidenote: Moselikatse.]

As soon as he heard of the approach of the emigrant Boers he sent out an army to exterminate them. This army succeeded in cutting off and murdering one or two stragglers, but it was defeated at Vechtkop by the small laager of Sarel Celliers, where the Boer women distinguished themselves by deeds of striking heroism.

Shortly afterwards the emigrant Boers journeyed across the Vaal River, and after two battles drove Moselikatse and his hordes across the Limpopo right into what is now Matabeleland. Andries Pretorius had come into the Transvaal after the Annexation of Natal, and lived there quietly, notwithstanding the price which had been put on his head after Boomplaats. The British Resident in the Free State, which at this time still belonged to England, was compelled to admit in a letter to the English Governor that the fate of the Free State depended upon the selfsame Pretorius. It was owing to his influence that Moshesh had not killed off the English soldiers. People had decided in England – to quote Froude once more – to abandon the Africanders and the Kaffirs beyond the borders to their fate, in the hope that the Kaffirs would exterminate the Africanders.


[Sidenote: The Sand River Convention.]

According to Molesworth, the English member of Parliament, the Colonial Office was delighted when the Governor received a letter in 1851 from Andries Pretorius, Commandant-General of the Transvaal Boers, in which he offered on behalf of his people to enter into negotiations with the British Government for a Treaty of Peace and Friendship.[1] The price put on his head was promptly cancelled, and when Sir Harry Smith was recalled in disgrace, Governor Cathcart was sent out to recognise the independence of the Boers. The Aberdeen Ministry declared through its representative in the House of Commons that they regretted having crossed the Orange River, as the Boers were hostile to British rule, and that Lord Grey had permitted it out of deference to the views of Sir Harry Smith, against his own better judgment and convictions. This policy was almost unanimously endorsed by the House of Commons.

The proposal of Pretorius was then accepted, and two Assistant Commissioners, Hogge and Owen, were sent out with Governor Cathcart, and met the Boer representatives at Sand River, a meeting which resulted in the Sand River Convention, respectively signed by both the contracting parties.

In this Convention, as in the later Free State Treaty, the Transvaal Boers were guaranteed in the fullest way against interference or hindrance on the part of Great Britain, either in regard to themselves or the natives, to whom it was mutually agreed that the sale of firearms and ammunition should be strictly forbidden. The British Commissioners reported that the recognition of the independence of the Transvaal Boers would secure great advantages, as it would ensure their friendship and prevent any union with Moshesh. It would also be a guarantee against slavery, and would provide for the extradition of criminals.[2] On the 13th May, 1852, great satisfaction was expressed by the Governor, Sir George Cathcart, in his proclamation that one of the first acts of his administration was to approve and fully confirm the Sand River Convention. On the 24th June, 1852, the Colonial Secretary also signified his approval of the Convention.


[Sidenote: Recognition of the South African Republic by Foreign Powers.]

The Republic was now in possession of a Convention, which from the nature of its provisions seemed to promise a peaceful future. In addition to Great Britain it was recognised in Holland, France, Germany, Belgium, and especially in the United States of America. The American Secretary of State at Washington, writing to President Pretorius on the 19th November, 1870, said:– 'That his Government, while heartily acknowledging the Sovereignty of the Transvaal Republic, would be ready to take any steps which might be deemed necessary for that purpose.'

But no reliance could be placed on England's word, even though it was embodied in a Convention duly signed and ratified, for when the Diamond Fields were discovered, barely seventeen years later, England claimed a portion of Transvaal territory next to that part which had already been wrested from the Free State. Arbitration was decided upon. As the Arbitrators could not agree, the Umpire, Governor Keate, gave judgment against the Transvaal. Thereupon it appeared that the English Arbitrator had bought 12,000 morgen (of the ground in dispute) from the Native Chief Waterboer for a mere song, and also that Governor Keate had accepted Waterboer as a British subject, which was contrary to the Convention. Even Dr. Moffat, who was no friend of the Boers, entered a protest in a letter to the Times, on the ground that the territory in question had all along been the property of the Transvaal.


[Sidenote: Sale of guns to Natives.]

But this was only one of the breaches of the Convention. When the 400,000 guns, about which Cunynghame and Moodie testify, were sold to the Kaffirs, the Transvaal lodged a strong protest in 1872 with the Cape High Commissioner. Their only satisfaction was an insolent reply from Sir Henry Barkly.


[Sidenote: Annexation of the Transvaal.]

As a crowning act in these deeds of shame came the Annexation of the Transvaal by Shepstone on the 12th April, 1877. Sir Bartle Frere was sent out as Governor to Cape Town by Lord Carnarvon to carry out the confederation policy of the latter. Shepstone was also sent to the Transvaal to annex that State, in case the consent of the Volksraad or that of the majority of the inhabitants could be obtained. The Volksraad protested against the Annexation. The President protested. Out of a possible 8,000 burghers, 6,800 protested. But all in vain.

Bishop Colenso declared that:[3] 'The sly and underhand way in which the Transvaal has been annexed appears to be unworthy of the English name.'

The Free State recorded its deepest regret at the Annexation.

Even Gladstone, in expressing his regret, admitted that England had in the Transvaal acted in such a way as to use the free subjects of a kingdom to oppress the free subjects of a Republic, and to compel them to accept a citizenship which they did not wish to have.

But it was all of no avail.

Sir Garnet Wolseley declared: 'As long as the sun shines the Transvaal will remain British Territory.' He also stated that the Vaal River would flow backwards to its source over the Drakensberg before England would give up the Transvaal.


[Sidenote: Pretexts for the Annexation.]

Shepstone's chief pretexts for the Annexation were that the Transvaal could not subdue Secoecoeni, and that the Zulus threatened to overpower the Transvaal. As far as Secoecoeni is concerned, he had shortly before sued for peace, and the Transvaal Republic had fined him 2,000 head of cattle. With regard to the Zulus, the threatened danger was never felt by the Republic. Four hundred burghers had crushed the Zulu power in 1838, and the burghers had crowned Panda, Cetewayo's father, in 1840.

Sir Bartle Frere acknowledged in a letter to Sir Robert Herbert dated 12th January, 1879, that he could not understand how it was that the Zulus had left Natal unmolested for so long, until he found out that the Zulus had been thoroughly subdued by the Boers during Dingaan's time. Just before the Annexation a small patrol of Boers had pursued the Chief Umbeline into the very heart of Zululand. But Bishop Colenso points out clearly what a fraudulent stalking horse the Zulu difficulty was. There had been a dispute of some years standing between the Transvaal and the Zulus about a strip of territory along the border, which had been claimed and occupied by the Boers since 1869. The question was referred to Shepstone before the Annexation, while he was still in Natal, and he gave a direct decision against the Boers, and in favour of the Zulus. There was thus no cause on that account for the fear of a Zulu attack upon the Transvaal. But scarcely had Shepstone become administrator of the Transvaal when he declared the ground in dispute to be British territory, and discovered that there was the strongest evidence for the contention of the Boers that the Zulus had no right to the ground. Bulwer, the Governor of Natal, appointed a Boundary Commission, which decided in favour of the Zulus, but Shepstone vehemently opposed their verdict, and Bartle Frere and the High Commissioner (Wolseley) followed him blindly.[4] The result was that England sent an ultimatum to the Zulus, and the Zulu War took place, which lowered the prestige of England among the Natives of South Africa.

It will thus be seen that Shepstone's two chief reasons for the Annexation were devoid of foundation.

It was naturally difficult for the Secretary of State to justify his instructions that the Annexation of the Transvaal was only to take place in case a majority of the inhabitants favoured such a course, in face of the fact that 6,800 out of 8,000 burghers had protested against it.

But both Shepstone and Lord Carnarvon declared without a shadow of proof that the signatures of the protesting petitions were obtained under threats of violence. The case, indeed, was exactly the reverse. When the meeting was held at Pretoria to sign this petition, Shepstone caused the cannons to be pointed at the assemblage. As if this were not enough, he issued a menacing proclamation against the signing of the petition.

When these pretexts were thus disposed of, they relied on the fact that the Annexation was a fait accompli.

Delegates were sent to England to protest against the Annexation, but Lord Carnarvon told them that he would only be misleading them if he held out any hope of restitution. Gladstone afterwards endorsed this by saying that he could not advise the Queen to withdraw her Sovereignty from the Transvaal.

When it was represented that the Annexation was a deliberate breach of the Sand River Convention, Sir Bartle Frere replied, in 1879, that if they wished to go back to the Sand River Convention, they might just as well go back to the Creation!

It is necessary here not to lose sight of the fact that the ground, which according to the Keate award in 1870 had been declared to lie beyond the borders of the Republic, was now included by Shepstone as being a part of the Transvaal.

There were, however, other matters which under Republican administration were branded as wrong, but which under English rule were perfectly right. In the Secoecoeni War under the Republic the British High Commissioner had protested against the use of the Swazies and Volunteers by the Republic in conducting the campaign.

Under British administration the war was carried on at first by regulars only, but when these were defeated by the Kaffirs, an army of Swazies, as well as Volunteers, was collected. The number of the former can be gathered from the fact that 500 Swazies were killed. The atrocities committed by these Swazi allies of the English on the people of Secoecoeni's tribe were truly awful.

Bishop Colenso, who condemned this incident, said, with regard to the results of the Annexation of the Republic, that the Zululand difficulty, as well as that with Secoecoeni, was the direct consequence of the unfortunate Annexation of the Transvaal, which would not have happened if we had not taken possession of the country like a lot of freebooters, partly by 'trickery,' partly by 'bullying.' Elsewhere he said: 'And in this way we annexed the Transvaal, and that act brought as its Nemesis the Zulu difficulty.'

That the British Government had all along considered the Zulus as a means of annihilating the Transvaal when a favourable opportunity occurred, is clear from a letter which the High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere, wrote to General Ponsonby, in which he says:–[5] 'That while the Boer Republic was a rival and semi-hostile power, it was a Natal weakness rather to pet the Zulus as one might a tame wolf who only devoured one's neighbours' sheep. We always remonstrated, but rather feebly, and now that both flocks belong to us, we are rather embarrassed in stopping the wolfs ravages.'

And again in a letter to Sir Robert Herbert:–[6] 'The Boers were aggressive, the English were not; and were well inclined to help the Zulus against the Boers. I have been shocked to find how very close to the wind the predecessors of the present Government here have sailed in supporting the Zulus against Boer aggression. Mr. John Dunn, still a salaried official of this Government, thinking himself bound to explain his own share in supplying rifles to the Zulus in consequence of the revelations in a late trial of a Durban gun-runner, avows that he did so with the knowledge, if not the consent, and at the suggestion of (naming a high Colonial official) in Natal. There can be no doubt that Natal sympathy was strongly with the Zulus as against the Boers, and, what is worse, is so still.'

Under such circumstances did the Annexation take place. The English did not scruple to make use of Kaffir aid against the Boers, as at Boomplaats, and it was brought home in every possible way to the British Nation that a great wrong had been committed here; but even the High Commissioner, though he heard the words issue from our bleeding hearts, wished that he had brought some artillery in order to disperse us, and misrepresented us beyond measure.

Full of hope we said to ourselves if only the Queen of England and the English people knew that in the Transvaal a people were being oppressed, they would never suffer it.


[Sidenote: The War of Freedom.]

But we had now to admit that it was of no use appealing to England, because there was no one to hear us. Trusting in the Almighty God of righteousness and justice, we armed ourselves for an apparently hopeless struggle in the firm conviction that whether we conquered or whether we died, the sun of freedom in South Africa would arise out of the morning mists. With God's all-powerful aid we gained the victory, and for a time at least it seemed as if our liberty was secure.

At Bronkorst Spruit, at Laing's Nek, at Ingogo, and at Majuba, God gave us victory, although in each case the British troopers outnumbered us, and were more powerfully armed than ourselves.

After these victories had given new force to our arguments, the British Government, under the leadership of Gladstone, a man whom we shall never forget, decided to cancel the Annexation, and to restore to us our violated rights.


References[edit]

  1. Molesworth.
  2. Theal, 305.
  3. 30th April, 1877, Letter to the Rev. La Touche.
  4. Martineau, The Transvaal Trouble, page 76.
  5. Martineau, The Transvaal Trouble, page 69.
  6. The Transvaal Trouble, page 76.