A Century of Wrong/The Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope.
The cause for which we are about to take up arms is the same, though in somewhat different form, as that for which so many of our forefathers underwent the most painful experiences centuries ago, when they abandoned house and fatherland to settle at the Cape of Good Hope, to enjoy there that freedom of conscience which was denied them in the land of their birth. In the beautiful valleys lying between the blue mountains of the Cape of Good Hope they planted the seed-germ of liberty, which sprang up and has since developed with such startling rapidity into the giant tree of to-day – a tree which not only covers a considerable area in this part of the world, but will yet, in God's good time, we feel convinced, stretch out its leafy branches over the whole of South Africa. In spite of the oppressive bonds of the East India Company, the young settlement, containing the noblest blood of old Europe as well as its most exalted aspirations, grew so powerfully that in 1806, when the Colony passed into the hands of England, a strong national sentiment and a spirit of liberty had already been developed.
[Sidenote: The Africander spirit of liberty]
As is forcibly expressed in an old document dating from the most renowned period of our history, there grew out of the two stocks of Hollanders and French Huguenots 'a united people, one in religion, united in peaceful reverence for the law, but with a feeling of liberty and independence equal to the wide expanse of territory which they had rescued as a labour of love from the wilderness of nature, or from its still wilder aboriginal inhabitants.' When the Dutch Government made way for that of Great Britain in 1806, and, still more, when that change was sealed in 1814 by a transaction in which the Prince of Orange sold the Cape to Great Britain for £6,000,000 against the wish and will of the inhabitants, the little settlement entered upon a new phase of its history, a phase, indeed, in which its people were destined by their heroic struggle for justice, to enlist a world-wide sympathy on their behalf.
[Sidenote: England's native policy.]
Notwithstanding the wild surroundings and the innumerable savage tribes in the background, the young Africander nation had been welded into a white aristocracy, proudly conscious of having maintained its superiority notwithstanding its arduous struggles. It was this sentiment of just pride which the British Government well understood how to wound in its most sensitive part by favouring the natives as against the Africanders. So, for example, the Africander Boers were forced to look with pained eyes on the scenes of their farms and property devastated by the natives without being in a position to defend themselves, because the British Government had even deprived them of their ammunition. In the same way the liberty-loving Africander burgher was coerced by a police composed of Hottentots, the lowest and most despicable class of the aborigines, whom the Africanders justly placed on a far lower social level than that of their own Malay slaves.
[Sidenote: Slachter's Nek.]
No wonder that in 1815 a number of the Boers were driven into rebellion, a rebellion which found an awful ending in the horrible occurrence of the 9th of March, 1816, when six of the Boers were half hung up in the most inhuman way in the compulsory presence of their wives and children. Their death was truly horrible, for the gallows broke down before the end came; but they were again hoisted up in the agony of dying, and strangled to death in the murderous tragedy of Slachter's Nek. Whatever opinions have been formed of this occurrence in other respects, it was at Slachter's Nek that the first bloodstained beacon was erected which marks the boundary between Boer and Briton in South Africa, and the eyes of posterity still glance back shudderingly through the long vista of years at that tragedy of horror.
[Sidenote: The missionaries.]
This was, however, but the beginning. Under the cloak of religion British administration continued to display its hate against our people and nationality, and to conceal its self-seeking aims under cover of the most exalted principles. The aid of religion was invoked to reinforce the policy of oppression in order to deal a deeper and more fatal blow to our self-respect. Emissaries of the London Missionary Society slandered the Boers, and accused them of the most inhuman cruelties to the natives. These libellous stories, endorsed as they were by the British Government, found a ready ear amongst the English, and the result was that under the pressure of powerful philanthropic opinion in England our unfortunate people were more bitterly persecuted than ever, and were finally compelled to defend themselves in courts of law against the coarsest accusations and insults. But they emerged from the ordeal triumphantly, and the records of the criminal courts of the Cape Colony bear indisputable witness to the fact that there were no people amongst the slave-owning classes of the world more humane than the Africander Boers. Their treatment of the natives was based on the theory that natives ought not to be considered as mature and fully developed people, but that they were in reality children who had to be won over to civilisation by just and rigid discipline; they hold the same convictions on this subject to-day, and the enlightened opinion of the civilised world is inclining more and more to the same conclusion. But the fact that their case was a good one, and that it was triumphantly decided in their favour in the law courts, did not serve to diminish, but rather tended to sharpen, the feeling of injustice with which they had been treated.
[Sidenote: Emancipation of the slaves.]
A livelier sense of wrong was quickened by the way in which the emancipation of the slaves – in itself an excellent measure – was carried out in the case of the Boers.
Our forefathers had become owners of slaves chiefly imported in English ships and sold to us by Englishmen. The British Government decided to abolish slavery. We had no objection to this, provided we received adequate compensation. Our slaves had been valued by British officials at three millions, but of the twenty millions voted by the Imperial Government for compensation, only one and a quarter millions was destined for South Africa; and this sum was payable in London. It was impossible for us to go there, so we were forced to sell our rights to middlemen and agents for a mere song; and many of our people were so overwhelmed by the difficulties placed in their way that they took no steps whatever to receive their share of the compensation.
Greyheads and widows who had lived in ease and comfort went down poverty-stricken to the grave, and gradually the hard fact was borne in upon us that there was no such thing as Justice for us in England.
[Sidenote: Slavery at the Cape.]
Froude, the English historian, hits the right nail on the head when he says:–
Slavery at the Cape had been rather domestic than predial; the scandals of the West India plantations were unknown among them.
Because the Dutch are a deliberate and slow people, not given to enthusiasm for new ideas, they fell into disgrace with us, where they have ever since remained. The unfavourable impression of them became a tradition of the English Press, and, unfortunately, of the Colonial Office. We had treated them unfairly as well as unwisely, and we never forgive those whom we have injured.
[Sidenote: The Glenelg policy.]
But this was not all. When the English obtained possession of the Cape Colony by convention, the Fish River formed the eastern boundary. The Kaffirs raided the Colony from time to time, but especially in 1834, when they murdered, plundered, and outraged the helpless Colonists in an awful and almost indescribable manner. The Governor was ultimately prevailed upon to free the strip of territory beyond the Fish River from the raids of the Kaffirs, and this was done by the aid of the Boers. But Lord Glenelg, the Colonial Secretary, reversed this policy and restored the whole territory to the natives. He maligned the Boers in even more forcible terms than the emissaries of the London Missionary Society, and openly favoured the Kaffirs, placing them on a higher pedestal than the Boers. The latter had succeeded in rescuing their cattle from the Kaffirs, but were forced to look on passively while the very same cattle, with the owner's brand marks plainly visible, were sold by public auction to defray the cost of the commando. It was useless to hope for justice from Englishmen. There was no security for life and property under the flag of a Government which openly elected to uphold Wrong. The high-minded descendants of the proudest and most stubborn peoples of Europe had to bend the knee before a Government which united a commercial policy of crying injustice with a veneer of simulated philanthropy.
[Sidenote: The Dutch language.]
But it was not only in regard to the Natives that the Boers were oppressed and their rights violated. When the Cape was transferred to England in 1806, their language was guaranteed to the Dutch inhabitants. This guarantee was, however, soon to meet the same fate as the treaties and conventions which were concluded by England with our people at later periods.
The violator of treaties fulfilled its obligation by decreeing in 1825 that all documents were for the future to be written in English. Petitions in the language of the country and complaints about bitter grievances were not even acknowledged. The Boers were excluded from the juries because their knowledge of English was too faulty, and their causes and actions had to be determined by Englishmen, with whom they had nothing in common.
[Sidenote: The Great Trek.]
After twenty years' experience of British administration it had become abundantly clear to the Boers that there was no prospect of peace and prosperity before them, for their elementary rights had been violated, and they could only expect oppression. They were without adequate guarantees of protection, and their position had become intolerable in the Cape Colony.
They decided to sell home, farm, and all that remained over from the depredations of the Kaffirs, and to trek away from British rule. The Colony was at this time bounded on the north by the Orange River.
[Sidenote: Legality of the Trek.]
At first, Lieutenant-Governor Stockenstrom was consulted; but he was of opinion that there was no law which could prevent the Boers from leaving the Colony and settling elsewhere. Even if such a statute existed, it would be tyrannical, as well as impossible, to enforce it.
The Cape Attorney-General, Mr. Oliphant, expressed the same opinion, adding that it was clear that the emigrants were determined to go into another country, and not to consider themselves British subjects any longer. The same thing was happening daily in the emigration from England to North America, and the British Government was and would remain powerless to stop the evil.
The territory to the north of the Orange River and to the east of the Drakensberg lay outside the sphere of British influence or authority, and was, as far as was then known, inhabited by savages; but the Boers decided to brave the perils of the wilderness and to negotiate with the savages for the possession of a tract of country, and so form an independent community rather than remain any longer under British rule.
[Sidenote: The Manifesto of Piet Retief.]
In the words of Piet Retief, when he left Grahamstown:–
We despair of saving the Colony from those evils which threaten it by the turbulent and dishonest conduct of vagrants who are allowed to infest the country in every part; nor do we see any prospect of peace or happiness for our children in a country thus distracted by internal commotions.
We complain of the severe losses which we have been forced to sustain by the emancipation of our slaves, and the vexatious laws which have been enacted respecting them.
We complain of the continual system of plunder which we have for years endured from the Kaffirs and other coloured classes, and particularly by the last invasion of the Colony, which has desolated the frontier district and ruined most of the inhabitants.
We complain of the unjustifiable odium which has been cast upon us by interested and dishonest persons, under the name of religion, whose testimony is believed in England to the exclusion of all evidence in our favour; and we can foresee, as the result of this prejudice, nothing but the total ruin of the country.
We quit this Colony under the full assurance that the English Government has nothing more to require of us, and will allow us to govern ourselves without its interference in future.
We are now leaving the fruitful land of our birth, in which we have suffered enormous losses and continual vexation, and are about to enter a strange and dangerous territory; but we go with a firm reliance on an all-seeing, just, and merciful God, whom we shall always fear and humbly endeavour to obey.
In the name of all who leave this Colony with me.
[Sidenote: The English in pursuit.]
We journeyed then with our fathers beyond the Orange River into the unknown north, as free men and subjects of no sovereign upon earth. Then began what the English Member of Parliament, Sir William Molesworth, termed a strange sort of pursuit. The trekking Boer followed by the British Colonial Office was indeed the strangest pursuit ever witnessed on earth. The British Parliament even passed a law in 1836 to impose punishments beyond their jurisdiction up to the 25th degree south, and when we trekked further north, Lord Grey threatened to extend this unrighteous law to the Equator. It may be remarked that in this law it was specially enacted that no sovereignty or overlordship was to be considered as established thereby over the territory in question.
[Sidenote: The Trichardt Trek.]
The first trek was that of Trichardt and the Van Rensburgs. They went to the north, but the Van Rensburgs were massacred in the most horrible way by the Kaffirs, and Trichardt's party reached Delagoa Bay after indescribable sufferings in a poverty-stricken condition, only to die there of malarial fever.
- Theal, History of the Boers, page 64.
- Oceana, page 34.
- Theal, page 62.
- Theal, 102.–Cachet.
- 6 & 7, William IV., ch. 57.