Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1722/The Transvaal

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For works with similar titles, see Transvaal.

From The Economist.


The news of the annexation of the Transvaal republic has been an unpleasant surprise to the people of this country, who desire no additions to the colonial empire, and certainly none accomplished by violence or menaces. Yet it is evident that Lord Carnarvon will be able to show good cause for the trust which he reposed in Sir Theophilus Shepstone, and his acquiescence in the "spirited" policy of the latter. When challenged in the House of Lords on Monday night, by Lord Kimberley, the secretary of state briefly answered that he had no official information relating to Sir T. Shepstone's action, except a telegram from Sir Bartle Frere, announcing the proclamation of the Transvaal as British territory; but he added that he had complete confidence in Sir T. Shepstone's discretion, and would be prepared, unless further details unexpectedly changed his opinion, to support the proceedings of the British envoy. Lord Carnarvon emphatically declared that the danger of a native war was of the very gravest kind, and that the anarchy in the Transvaal, which the government at Pretoria were wholly incapable of quelling, was certain to provoke a Zulu invasion. These are questions which must be left to the decision of experts; probably there are not three men in south Africa, and certainly there are not three in this country, whose opinion would be worth weighing for an instant against Sir T. Shepstone's. Since he has pronounced annexation to be necessary to the safety of the whole of civilized south Africa, we have nothing to do but to support his energetic action. The risks of disregarding his advice would be altogether too serious to be encountered. A native war would imperil populations and interests, in comparison with which the claims of a few thousand Boers to independence do not deserve a thought. Nay, in the interests of the Boers themselves, the removal of the incompetent government at Pretoria is expedient, for their lives as well as their liberties, not to speak of their prerogatives as a ruling race, would be swept away by a torrent of armed savagery if the hostility of the Zulus were allowed to work its will upon the bankrupt and broken State now brought under the authority of the British crown. We had hoped that the Boers would be brought to see this themselves, and would have hastened to accept the liberal terms of confederation which Sir T. Shepstone was empowered to offer them. But their refusal left no other course open to those who are responsible for the peace of south Africa except that taken by the British envoy on the 12th of April last. The annexation of the Transvaal will probably be followed very quickly by the voluntary entrance of the Orange Free State into the proposed confederation. The South-African Bill is therefore being pushed forward rapidly by the government. It passed through committee on Monday night, and will, no doubt, reach the House of Commons before the Whitsuntide recess.

The territory which has now been united to the empire is equal in area to a second-rate continental state; it contains one hundred and fourteen-thousand square miles, according to the official statistics, but its boundaries on every side, except the south, are in a very indeterminate condition. The white population is reckoned, by President Burgers, to be fifty thousand, of whom more than half are Boers, but this is probably a great exaggeration. The German missionaries, who have contributed some interesting information on the subject to geographical publications in Germany, estimate the white population at twenty-five or thirty thousand souls, and the natives as from a quarter to half a million. The goldfields, mainly Lydenburg, have attracted a great many adventurers from the neighboring British colonies, and in the towns what little trade exists is in the hands of British subjects. The Boers have done little to develop the splendid natural resources of the country. Agriculture is in a very backward condition, for the Dutch take more willingly to a purely pastoral life. The mineral wealth of the country has scarcely been touched; coal of excellent quality has been discovered in the mountain district which divides the head-waters of the Orange River from those of the Limpopo. Copper and lead, zinc, graphite, nickel, and cobalt have also been discovered, and in a few places have been worked. But the gold fields have hitherto monopolized all the enterprise that has been turned towards the Transvaal. The trade in ostrich feathers is lucrative and increasing, but cattle-breeding is the staple industry of the country. There is some exportation also of wool, butter, ivory, leather, and tobacco; but the entire commerce inwards and outwards of the Transvaal has probably never reached a quarter of a million sterling per annum. The finances of the republic had lately fallen into terrible disorder, and the exhaustion of the treasury is so complete, that the payment of the employés in the government offices and of the police has been, since the beginning of the year, an impossibility. In 1872 the public income was thirty-six thousand pounds, and the expenditure a little less. The public debt was then only sixty thousand pounds, secured by a mortgage of State lands; but the Transvaal has since borrowed heavily, especially in Belgium and Holland. President Burgers came to Europe a couple of years ago to raise a loan of three hundred thousand pounds, ostensibly for the construction of a railway to Delagoa Bay; he actually raised ninety thousand pounds, but no account has been published of the manner in which this sum was expended. It is only certain that the railway has not been begun. The Portuguese government have granted the Transvaal freedom of trade with Delagoa Bay, but the district between the Transvaal frontier and the coast is rendered almost impassable for wagons by the presence of the tsetse fly, so fatal to draught cattle of every kind. If railway communication with the sea were established, we might expect a rapid development of the natural wealth of the Transvaal. At present, communication either with Natal or with the Cape Colony is impeded by the difficulty of transport, which the Boers, always jealous of foreign intrusion, have not been anxious to remove.