A Century of Wrong/The Conventions of 1881 and 1884
The Conventions of 1881 and 1884.
[Sidenote: Pretoria Convention.]
An ordinary person would have thought that the only upright way of carrying a policy of restitution into effect would have been for the British Government to have returned to the provisions of the Sand River Convention. If the Annexation was wrong in itself – without taking the Boer victories into consideration – then it ought to have been abolished with all its consequences, and there ought to have been a restitutio in integrum of that Republic; that is to say, the Boers ought to have been placed in exactly the same position as they were in before the Annexation. But what happened? With a magnanimity which the English press and English orators are never tired of vaunting, they gave us back our country, but the violation of the Sand River Convention remained unredressed. Instead of a sovereign freedom, we obtained free internal administration, subject to the suzerain power of Her Majesty over the Republic. This occurred by virtue of the Convention of Pretoria, the preamble of which bestowed self-government on the Transvaal State with the express reservation of suzerainty. The articles of that Convention endeavoured to establish a modus vivendi between such self-government and the aforesaid suzerainty. Under this bi-lateral arrangement the Republic was governed for three years by two heterogeneous principles – that of representative self-government, and that represented by the British Agent. This system was naturally unworkable; it was also clear that the arrangement of 1881 was not to be considered as final.
[Sidenote: The London Convention.]
The suzerainty was above all an absurdity which was not possible to reconcile with practical efficacy. So with the approval of the British Government a Deputation went to London in 1883, in order to get the status of the Republic altered, and to substitute a new Convention for that of Pretoria. The Deputation proposed to return to the position as laid down by the Sand River Convention, and that was in fact the only upright and statesmanlike arrangement possible. But according to the evidence of one of the witnesses on the British side, the Rev. D.P. Faure, the Ministry suffered from a very unwholesome dread of Parliament; so it would not agree to this, and submitted a counter proposal (see Appendix A.), which eventually was accepted by the Deputation, and the conditions of which are to-day of the greatest importance to us.
This Draft was constructed out of the Pretoria Convention with such alterations as were designed to make it acceptable to the Deputation. The preamble under which complete self-government, subject to the suzerainty, was granted to the Republic was deliberately erased by Lord Derby, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, so that the suzerainty naturally lapsed when the Draft was eventually accepted. In order to make it perfectly clear that the status of the Republic was put upon another basis, the title 'Transvaal State' was altered to that of the 'South African Republic.' All articles in the Pretoria Convention which gave the British Government any authority in the internal affairs of this Republic were done away with. As far as foreign affairs were concerned, a great and far-reaching change was made. It was stipulated in Article 2 of the Pretoria Convention that 'Her Majesty reserves to herself, her heirs and successors (a), the right from time to time to appoint a British Resident in and for the said State, with such duties and functions as are hereinafter defined; (b), the right to move troops through the said State in time of war or in case of the apprehension of immediate war between the Suzerain Power and any Foreign State or Native tribe in South Africa; and (c) the control of the external relations of the said State, including the conclusion of treaties and the conduct of diplomatic intercourse with Foreign Powers, such intercourse to be carried on through Her Majesty's diplomatic and consular officers abroad.'
This was superseded by Article 4 of the Convention of London, which was to the following effect:–
The South African Republic will conclude no treaty or engagement with any State or Nation other than the Orange Free State, nor with any Native tribe to the eastward or westward of the Republic, until the same has been approved by Her Majesty the Queen.Such approval shall be considered to have been granted if Her
Majesty's Government shall not, within six months after receiving a copy of such treaty (which shall be delivered to them immediately upon its completion), have notified that the conclusion of such treaty is in conflict with the interests of Great Britain, or any of Her Majesty's possessions in SouthAfrica.
The right of the British Government to exercise control over all our foreign relations, and to conduct all our diplomatic negotiations through its own Agent, was thus replaced by the far more slender right of approving or disapproving of our treaties and conventions after they were completed, and then only when it affected the interests of Great Britain or Her Majesty's possessions in South Africa.
[Sidenote: Status of the Republic.]
It was this Article 4 which gave an appearance of truth (and an appearance only) to Lord Derby's declaration in the House of Lords that although he had omitted the term of suzerainty, the substance thereof remained. It would have been more correct to have said that owing to the lapse of suzerainty the South African Republic no longer fell under the head of a semi-suzerain State, but that it had become a free, independent, sovereign international State, the sovereignty of which was only limited by the restriction contained in Article 4 of the Convention. Sovereignty need not of necessity be absolute. Belgium is a sovereign international State, although it is bound to observe a condition of permanent neutrality. The South African Republic falls undoubtedly under this category of States, the sovereignty of which is limited in one or other defined direction. But the fact of its sovereignty is nevertheless irrefutable. It will be pointed out later how this position, which is undoubtedly the correct one, has been consistently upheld by the Government of the South African Republic, but it is necessary now to revert to the historical development.