Page:EB1911 - Volume 27.djvu/211

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196
[The First Republic
Transvaal

title of Griqualand West (q.v.). The eastern boundary of the new territory was made to include the region between the Harts river and the Vaal, in which the diamond diggings were situated, but not the Bloemhof district. To this district Sir Henry Barkly asserted the British rights, but no steps were taken to enforce them and as a matter of fact the Bloemhof district continued to be part of the Transvaal.

The award caused a strong feeling of resentment among the Boers, and led to the resignation of President Pretorius and his executive. The Boers now cast about to find a man who should have the necessary ability, as they said, to negotiate on equal terms with the British authorities should any future dispute arise. With this view they asked Mr (afterwards Sir John) Brand, president of the Free State, to allow them to nominate him for the presidency of the South African Republic. Burgers becomes President, 1872.To this President Brand would not consent. He recognized that, even at this early stage of their history, the Transvaal Boers were filled with the wildest ideas as to what steps they would take in the future to counteract the influence of Great Britain. Brand intimated to many of the leading Transvaal Boers that in his opinion they were embarking on a rash and mistaken policy. He urged that their true interests lay in friendship with, not in hostility to, Great Britain and the British. Having failed with Brand, the Boers invited the Rev. Thomas François Burgers, a member of a well-known Cape Colony family and a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, to allow himself to be nominated. Burgers accepted the offer, and in 1872 was elected president. About this time gold reefs were discovered in the Zoutpansberg district near Marabastad, and a few gold seekers from Europe and Cape Colony began to prospect the northern portions of the Transvaal. The miners and prospectors did not, however, exceed a few hundred for several years.

The appointment of Burgers to the presidency in 1872 was a new departure. He was able, active and enlightened, but he was a visionary rather than a man of affairs or sound judgment. Instead of reducing chaos to order and concentrating his attention, as Brand had done in the Free State, on establishing security and promoting industry, he took up, with all its entanglements, the policy of intrigues with native chiefs beyond the border and the dream of indefinite expansion. In 1875 Burgers proceeded to Europe with the project of raising a loan for the construction of a railway to Delagoa Bay. He was empowered by the volksraad to raise £300,000, but with great difficulty he obtained in Holland the sum of £90,000 only, and that at a high rate of interest. With this inadequate sum some railway plant was obtained, and subsequently lay for ten years at Delagoa Bay, the scheme having to be abandoned for want of funds. On his return to the Transvaal in 1876 Burgers found that the conditions of affairs in the state was worse than ever. The acting-president had in his absence been granted leave by the volksraad to carry out various measures opposed to the public welfare; native lands had been indiscriminately allotted to adventurers, and a war with Sikukuni (Secocoeni), a native chief on the eastern borders of the country, was imminent. A commando was called out, which the president himself led. The expedition was an ignominious failure, and many burghers did not hesitate to assign their non-success to the fact that Burgers’s views on religious questions were not sound. Burgers then proceeded to levy taxes, which were never paid; to enrol troops, which never marched; and to continue the head of a government which had neither resources, credit nor power of administration. In 1877 the Transvaal one-pound notes were valued at one shilling cash. Add to this condition of things the fact that the Zulus were threatening the Transvaal on its southern border, and the picture of utter collapse which existed in the state is complete.

B. First Annexation by Great Britain. — This condition of affairs coincided with the second movement in South Africa for a confederation of its various colonies and states, a movement of which the then colonial secretary, the 4th earl of Carnarvon, was a warm advocate. As to the Transvaal in particular, it was felt by Lord Carnarvon “that the safety and prosperity of the republic would be best assured by its union with the British colonies.” Sir Theophilus Shepstone (q.v.) was given a commission, dated the 5th of October, 1876, instructing him to visit the Transvaal and empowering him, if it was desired by the inhabitants and in his judgment necessary, to annex the country to the British crown. Sir Theophilus went to Pretoria in January 1877, with an escort of twenty-five mounted police, and entered into conferences with the president and executive as to the state of the country. By this time Burgers was no longer blinded by the foolish optimism of a visionary who had woven finespun theories of what an ideal republic might be. He had lived among the Boers and attempted to lead their government. He had found their idea of liberty to be anarchy, their native policy to be slavery, and their republic to be a sham. His was a bitter awakening, and the bitterness of it found expression in some remarkable words addressed to the volksraad:

“I would rather,” said Burgers in March 1877, “be a policeman under a strong government than the president of such a state. It is you — you members of the Raad and the Boers — who have lost the country, who have sold your independence for a drink. You have ill-treated the natives, you have shot them down, you have sold them into slavery, and now you have to pay the penalty. … We should delude ourselves by entertaining the hope that matters would mend by-and-by. … Do you know what recently happened in Turkey? Because no civilized government was carried on there, the Great Powers interfered and said, ‘Thus far and no farther.’ And if this is done to an empire, will a little republic be excused when it misbehaves? … If we want justice, we must be in a position to ask it with unsullied hands. …”

After careful investigation Shepstone satisfied himself that annexation was the only possible salvation for the Transvaal. He had gone to Pretoria hoping that the Transvaal volksraad would accept Carnarvon’s federation scheme; but the federation proposals were rejected by the raad. Shepstone was willing to find some way other than simple annexation out of the difficulty, but none appeared to present itself. The treasury was empty, the Boers refused to pay their taxes, and there was no power to enforce them. A public debt of £215,000 existed, and government contractors were left unpaid. Sir Theophilus Shepstone, finding that the raad would not adopt any remedial measures, on the 12th of April 1877 issued a proclamation annexing the country. The proclamation stated (among other things): “It is the wish of Her Most Gracious Majesty that it [the state] shall enjoy the fullest legislative privileges compatible with the circumstances of the country and the intelligence of its people.” British Annexation, 1877.The wisdom of the step taken by Shepstone has been called in question. For many years subsequently the matter was so surrounded with the sophistry of English party politics that it was difficult for Englishmen to form any impartial opinion. The history of the Transvaal is more complete and better understood to-day than it was in 1877, and no one who acquaints himself with the facts will deny that Shepstone acted with care and moderation. The best evidence in favour of the step is to be found in the publicly expressed views of the state’s own president, Burgers, already quoted. Moreover, the menace of attack on the Zulu side was a serious one, however able the Boers may have been to meet a foe who fought in the open, and who had been beaten by them in previous wars. Even before annexation had occurred, Shepstone felt the danger so acutely that he sent a message to Cetywayo, the Zulu chief, warning him that British annexation was about to be proclaimed and that invasion of the Transvaal would not be tolerated. To this warning Cetywayo, who, encouraged by the defeat of the Boers at Sikukuni’s hands, had already gathered his warriors together, replied: “I thank my father Somtseu [Shepstone] for his message. I am glad that he has sent it, because the Dutch have tired me out, and I intended to fight with them … and to drive them over the Vaal. …” A still further reason for Shepstone’s annexation, given by Sir Bartle Frere, was that Burgers had already sought alliance with European powers, and Shepstone had no reason to doubt that if Great Britain refused to interfere, Germany would intervene. Moreover, apart from the attitude