Having been in the full tide of the emotions of the Cape Colony--emotions which led to the taking up of arms--we feel ourselves justified in setting down those things which were to the Cape Colonist the justification of a warlike and anti-British policy.
It is strange, when one bears in mind that England admittedly extends greater liberties to her colonies than most other Powers, that many of her subjects are a continual source of trouble and fear to her. How has this to be accounted for? Is it because the colonists enjoy such great liberty (?) and share in so many privileges? Or is it because so many of them became British subjects only because they were compelled to take an oath of allegiance (or sign a declaration) to a government they neither loved nor respected but hated and despised? In the former case it would be base ingratitude on their part to rise in rebellion, in the latter it seems almost natural. However it be, the lustre and beauty of English history is sadly marred by the fact that often British artillery had to bear on British subjects, and British arms had to be employed to subdue England's own children.
Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States of America, India, Afghanistan, Egypt, South Africa, and many besides of less importance, have resisted British authority at different times. Some of these, like the late Republics, were at one time or other laid in ruins and devastated by British arms. For years and years their inhabitants were subjected to awful persecutions. The blood of the best and bravest was spilt like water, whilst millions were spent to conquer whole populations--millions which might have been used for better and nobler purposes. And to-day thousands of British subjects are ruled by the point of the bayonet--by sheer force, not by common consent.
Having spent the greater part of the Anglo-Boer war time in the Cape Colony, we had the opportunity of ascertaining some, if not all, of the reasons why so many Colonial British subjects took up arms against the forces of their lawful king and sovereign. These causes we shall here narrate. By doing this we do not justify the action of those whose sympathies led them to cast in their lot with the two Republics. We do not wish to inculcate or foster the spirit of rebellion in any man, nor to fan it by words of approval. But we do wish to make known to the British public in particular that those Dutch colonists who sided with the late Republics during the lamentable war did not do so because they hated British rule or government or longed to shed the blood of English fellow-subjects. Neither did they enlist in our ranks because they regarded war as an adventurous game and mere child's play. In most cases the rebels were, prior to the war, as loyal to the British crown, and as devoted to British rule, as their fellow-English colonists ever were or could have been. For they had been born and brought up under the British flag; they knew no other, desired no better, even gloried in the flag of England. To it they looked for succour and protection in the hour of danger. Before the war the very men who fought against the British would have volunteered their services, at a moment's notice, to the Home Government if England was threatened in any way. Most of them, we are sure, would have willingly sacrificed their goods, and even lives, to shield the interests of the British Empire.
Now when these Dutch colonists took up arms they did not do so blindly, but fully realised the grave responsibility involved in such a step. They knew that the action was treasonable, and that, when captured, they were liable to the utmost penalty of the law, such as confiscation of goods, banishment, imprisonment for life, or death. Some of them, before they enlisted, had been compelled by the military authorities to be present at the execution of those who had unfortunately fallen into the hands of the enemy. In spite of that most tangible warning, they nevertheless joined the Boer ranks. What then were their reasons for risking their very lives in a cause which might perhaps fail? Surely such men as rose in rebellion had potent and valid reasons! To be stigmatised for life by the title of rebel could not be deemed so great an honour as to induce a man to face all the dangers and hardships of war. Nor were these colonial rebels mercenaries; they were volunteers, that came to the assistance of two small republics.
Those who were acquainted with the situation and with the political parties at the Cape prior to the war expected and dreaded, in the event of war with the Republics, a general outbreak in the Cape Colony, and were not surprised when their expectations proved true.
The Cape Dutch, as well as their English neighbours, knew only too well that, in the event of war, the whole of South Africa would suffer, that the flames of it would spread far beyond the Republican borders, and would be kindled in the adjoining British colonies. Thoroughly convinced that that would be the result of a war on the two Republics they did all in their power to prevent it. Had the English element in South Africa been as eager as the Dutch to abide in peace and avoid bloodshed, there certainly never would have been war. But, alas! one party had set its heart upon it.
To precipitate matters and bring them to a crisis, the public in England was inflamed by rumours of the wildest nature, and was, unfortunately, enticed to believe anything and everything which was reported. British interests, British paramountcy, etc., were supposed to be seriously threatened by a great Pan-Africander conspiracy, which had for its objective the total elimination of the Imperial factor in South Africa. The Dutch were plotting, so it was rumoured, to oust the British from South Africa by driving them all into the sea on a certain day. What a preposterous absurdity! And many were so innocent as to believe and fear that a small nation of farmers would actually attempt to expel the British from South Africa. The Boer may be ignorant, but he has more common sense than to give such an idea even a thought.
The Cape Dutch, we are glad to state, left no stone unturned in their attempts to avert a war on a kindred race which was bound to prove calamitous to, and inflict endless misery on, thousands. Whilst diplomatic negotiations went on between the Transvaal and English Governments, and it became evident that these negotiations would in all probability result in failure, Mr. Jan Hofmeyer,--"onze Jan," that far-seeing, famous Cape politician,--and Mr. Harold, M.P., left for Pretoria, and by the co-operation of President Steyn prevailed on President Kruger to submit those proposals to the British Government which the Colonial Secretary frankly admitted might form the basis of a peaceful settlement. "We have nine-tenths of what we wanted," the Colonial Secretary is reported to have said, "and the other tenth is not worth our going to war for." Sad that that one-tenth should have demanded the lives of thousands of men, women and children, millions of pounds, besides ruin and misery to so many!
When war seemed inevitable and its declaration only a matter of time, the Africander Party, which then constituted the majority in the Cape Parliament, passed a resolution in Parliament, by which they solemnly protested against any aggressive policy on the part of the Imperial Government. They pointed out to the Home Government what endless woes a war would entail, and how detrimental it would prove to Imperial interests through the length and breadth of South Africa. At the same time they stated, in the most unequivocal language, their strong disapproval of extreme and coercive measures. This protest was slighted. The members who subscribed their names to it, and who represented the feeling of the Cape Dutch, were called disloyal. For to be loyal in those days meant to side with the war party, and approve of all they said and did. To think independently, and to express one's political views frankly and fearlessly, was a sure sign of disloyalty, when one's aims were for a peaceful solution of the difficulties of the moment.
Besides this Parliamentary resolution, the Cape Dutch drew up a large petition, addressed to Queen Victoria, whom they all loved as a mother and revered as a Queen. This petition was signed by thousands of women, who entreated their gracious and tender Mother-Queen to refrain from a policy which would result in bloodshed. This plea for peace and justice also failed to accomplish anything. The voice of the Dutch colonists was not heeded. Their petitions and protests were ignored and rejected time and again. The petition, however, of some 21,000 Uitlanders in Johannesburg, who clamoured for redress of grievances, immediately called forth armed intervention!
This, then, was the attitude of the Cape Dutch before the declaration of war: emphatic disapproval of any war policy. They disapproved of and protested against war in South Africa, not because they were disloyal, and had not the interests of the mother-country at heart, or because they naturally sympathised with the Boers as being a kindred race. They declared themselves against the Imperial war policy, because they knew and were confident that it was by no means impossible to arrive at a peaceful solution of all difficulties and disputes along friendly diplomatic lines, by which the actual grievances of British subjects in Johannesburg could be redressed, and political affairs so adjusted that it would not be necessary to shed one drop of blood. So far from being disloyal, they prided themselves in being British subjects, and, as such, they claimed the rights and privileges to which all British subjects are entitled. Their services in the interests of peace were, however, not appreciated, but were construed into acts calculated to encourage the enemy and to foster rebellion.
The Press had declared war months before it was actually proclaimed. Feeling ran so high that men would not listen to reason. "Fight it out," was the frantic cry of many, who had not the remotest idea of what "fighting it out" meant.
Though frustrated in their endeavours to prevent the threatened war, the Cape Dutch, after hostilities had once begun, tried very hard to bring about a speedy termination of the struggle, and to effect a settlement which would be honourable to English and Dutch alike, and which would secure all, if not more than all, that the English had ever demanded.
Let us note some of the steps they took.
When the Imperial Government announced their policy of annexation of the Republics after the occupation of Bloemfontein and Pretoria, the voice of the Cape Dutch was raised once more. They knew that Lord Roberts had greatly mistaken the character of the people he had come to conquer when he thought that no sooner would their capitals be occupied by his forces than all the Boers would surrender. They were conscious of the fact that a war of annexation would lead to one of conquest, and that the Boers, rather than sacrifice their independence, would choose to fight to the finish. Hence the colonial Dutch again strongly urged the Home Government to discard the policy of annexation, which would crush and destroy the national life of two small states, which had bravely fought and struggled for their independent existence.
A conference, attended by thousands representing the whole Dutch population of the Cape Colony, was held at Worcester on the 6th of December, 1900. In that conference or congress of the people resolutions were unanimously adopted discountenancing the policy which led to the annexation of the two Republics. Six prominent men were chosen from the Worcester delegates, and were deputed to go and appeal to the conscience of the English people. It was hoped that, at least, in England--the home of liberty--they would be allowed to plead their cause, and lay it bare before the public. How enthusiastically (?) they were received in England and Scotland is well known. Warm receptions were extended to them. "Away with them! Crucify them!" was the cry of the enraged war party. Instead of their message being listened to, these men were mobbed, hissed at and hooted; sometimes they had to flee so as not to be the targets for the missiles of the mob. And the treatment of these men, who represented at least 90,000 Dutch colonists, at the hands of their fellow-British subjects, was that not an insult--a mockery of liberty and equal rights?
Besides this deputation of the people, two of the leading ministers of the Cape Parliament--Messrs. Merriman and Sauer--went to England on a similar errand, but fared no better. In vain did they offer their services to the Imperial Parliament by way of suggesting a basis for a settlement, which would terminate a war of devastation and ruination. The war party would have none of them. Forsooth, they too were traitors, working against British interests!
The women-folk at the Cape were as anxious as the men, first to prevent, and then to stop, the unfortunate war, the burdens of which they shared with their husbands. Three times large numbers of them met in conference, at Paarl, Worcester and Cape Town, and there they fearlessly and strongly protested against the conduct of the war and the annexation of the two Republics. Through the medium of these conferences they expostulated and pleaded with the Home Government to abstain from what they rightly regarded as a stupendous crime, the annihilation of two small states by overwhelming forces. Their petitions, if they ever reached the British Government, were treated with silent contempt. Did they merit such treatment?
All this and much more was done in the interests of peace by the Dutch colonists. Both before and during the war they did all they possibly could to rescue or redeem South Africa from the horrors and calamities of a disastrous war. They failed. Was it their fault? Was it right to brand as rebels and traitors every Cape Colonial that protested against the war, and refused to assist the mighty British Empire against the Republics?
The Africander Bond--a political organization at the Cape--was the scape-goat during the war. Those who were in search of a pretext for the cause of the war and its continuation found it in this organization. Everything that was low and mean was laid to the charge of the Africander Bond. Its unwearied efforts to induce the English to terminate a war, declared and carried on in direct opposition to the wishes of tens of thousands of England's devoted subjects, were construed into being so many encouragements for the Republicans to continue the struggle. The Worcester conference was said to have encouraged and invited General De Wet to invade the Colony--an invasion which was planned long before the conference was held, and which failed in the first instance, and only succeeded three months after the conference had met!
When all the efforts of the Cape Dutch failed, and the voice of the people was not regarded but systematically suppressed, it is not strange that there were men who found it impossible to remain silent and inactive in such circumstances. Gradually their loyalty was being undermined. The strain placed upon it was too great; it was stretched to the breaking point. They enlisted and took the field against the forces of that Government which they once loved so well, and then--despised.
This brings us to some of the more direct causes of the colonial rebellion, which we shall enumerate in succession. The war with the Republics was an aggression on a kindred race, and was declared and conducted to the extreme displeasure, and in direct opposition to the wishes, of the Dutch colonists, who spared themselves neither pain nor trouble to ward off or terminate a war which was bound to inflict great misery on themselves, and on thousands with whom they were intimately connected by ties of blood and friendship. For are the Transvaal and Free State Boers not the sons and daughters of those pioneers that emigrated from the Cape Colony between the years 1834-40, in search of an independent home beyond the Orange and Vaal rivers? Moreover, among the burghers of the Republics there were several colonists who, prior to the war, had settled in the Transvaal, chiefly in Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as in the Orange Free State. These colonial settlers constituted another link in the chain which bound the Cape Dutch to the Boers. They regarded the Republics as their native land, and consequently came to their assistance in the hour of danger. There they had found a home, acquired wealth in some instances, and thus would not desert them when their services were most needed. Instead of abandoning the two Republics to their sad fate, they were determined to support them with all the energy and power at their command. On the battlefield many of them distinguished themselves by their dauntless valour. They willingly sacrificed their lives and property for their adopted fatherland, which they loved even better than many a Boer. For when the Boers became disheartened and surrendered ignominiously, the Colonials, be it said to their everlasting honour, remained steadfast, thereby putting to shame those burghers who were possessed of so little national pride as to kneel at the invaders' feet and sue for mercy.
These Transvaal and Free State Colonials had their relatives in the Cape Colony, so that the Dutch of South Africa may almost be regarded as one large family, linked together from Table Bay to the Zambezi by bonds of blood, religion and marriage. Hence it was impossible to strike a blow at the two states without touching the very heart of the Cape Dutch--impossible to inflict losses and bring ruin upon some members of the family without seriously disturbing and distressing the rest. The physical boundaries separating the British colonies from the Republics made no separation as far as the people were concerned. In speech, religion, character, and blood, the Dutch are essentially one throughout South Africa. And it was owing to this fact that the Cape Dutch felt for the Republicans as none else could have felt. Their strong sympathies took the form of practical assistance when they shouldered their rifles and took the field against the enemies of the Republics. But this was not done before their protests, petitions, and all other constitutional measures had signally failed, and were utterly ignored by the British Government. Then only did they resort to aggressive measures.
However strongly some might condemn their action, still we believe that any other people, even the English themselves, and they probably to a far greater extent, would, in like circumstances, have acted similarly. If England had been invaded by a foreign foe, and English homes destroyed and burnt en masse, and English women and children removed in thousands to disease-stricken camps, and English officers and soldiers court-martialled or deported to distant islands and countries, we ask, would Scotland, for instance, have looked on with stolid indifference and cold apathy? Would she not, as well as all other true Englishmen, wherever they were, have protested most emphatically against such a war; and if their protests were slighted, would they not have assisted their fellow-Englishmen? Verily they would, were they subjects or not of the invaders.
This is exactly what the Cape Dutch did when some of them rose in rebellion. Their loyalty was gradually undermined as the war assumed the character of conquest and extermination. It was too much for many a Colonial to be a silent spectator when thousands of women and children pined away in concentration camps; and the military authorities, apparently wreaking vengeance on these because the burghers would not surrender, positively refused to allow these Boer families to reside with their relatives or friends in the Cape Colony, or live at their own cost in garrisoned towns, where they would have no intercourse with the burghers. When the weak and defenceless became the victims of the war, and received such treatment, the Cape Dutch were incited to violent actions. They rose to protect the weak against the strong, the few against the many. In so doing have they committed the unpardonable sin? Or will there be mercy even for these?
The Colonists were left unprotected at the tender mercy of the Boer forces. When the Boers, on the declaration of war, crossed the colonial borders and pushed ahead into British territory, they found the districts and most of the villages in an entirely defenceless condition. The garrison of Aliwal North consisted of three Cape policemen. Colesberg, Venterstad, Burghersdorp, Lady Grey, James Town, Dordrecht, Rhodes, and many other places were occupied one after the other, without being in the least protected. In Natal, Griqualand West, and British Bechuanaland it was not any better.
The Colonists thought that they were subjects of a vast and mighty empire, to which they could confidently look for protection against invaders. If they had any fears, these were hushed, for surely the mother-country was powerful enough to shelter them from the withering blasts of war. To their astonishment the mother-country could protect neither their persons nor their property, but entrusted all to the care of the Boer commandoes. Had the Colonists no claim to protection? Was it their fault that the British Government had accepted an ultimatum before they were prepared to extend to their colonial subjects that protection to which they certainly had a lawful claim? Such questions the Colonists asked themselves and the Home Government.
Left unprotected, and literally forsaken for months by their own Government, they yielded to the temptation to make common cause with the Boers, whom they met and saw daily. They enlisted in considerable numbers, and so cast in their lot for better or for worse with the Boers. Still the majority of the colonial farmers remained at home, and those who joined the Boer ranks at the commencement of the war were, as a rule, commandeered or called up. By proclamation all Colonists who resided within the occupied territory received the option either of leaving it within a certain time, or of staying, on condition of submitting to the Martial Law regulations of the new Government.
Under this strange thing, called Martial Law, these Colonists were summoned to join the ranks of the Boers. In how far this action of commandeering Colonists was commendable on the part of the Republics is difficult to say for one not versed in all the technicalities of International Law, or in the terms prescribed by the various Conventions. It seemed, however, that as far as the Republics were concerned, International Law and Convention obligations did not exist at all. The policy of the Republics all through the war, as one might expect, was to secure and maintain the friendship and sympathy of their colonial brethren. The Colonist was treated as a friend, and not as an enemy. His person and property were respected so long as he remained neutral. Strict neutrality, and nothing more, the Boers enjoined, especially towards the end of the war.
To be fair towards the Republics, we have to note that when the Colonists were commandeered at the commencement of the war--for it was only then, and not later, that they were summoned to the front--the object of the States was not to force them into their service. It was more a precautionary measure to protect the Colonist should he fall into the hands of the enemy. The fact that he had been commandeered, when taken into account, might, and did, tend to mitigate his punishment. This commandeering was never rigorously enforced. Occasionally officers acting on their own responsibility, and without instructions from the Boer governments, commandeered and pressed Colonists to take up arms without their consent; but such cases were exceptional, and were disapproved of. What the Boers wanted were men who volunteered their services, and came to them, not because they were disloyal to their Government, but because such a strain was laid upon them that they were compelled to come. Upon such men they could rely, and they proved themselves worthy of the confidence placed in them.
The various war proclamations issued by the British from time to time goaded the Colonists into rebellion.
[Illustration: COMMANDANT W.D. FOUCHÉ.]
If all the proclamations which were circulated in the Republics and British colonies were published they would constitute a volume of no mean dimensions, and might afford instructive reading "to principalities and powers" planning to enlarge their dominions by the assistance, and on the basis, of proclamations. In South Africa these "paper sheets" were by far the most formidable allies of the British Empire. They wrought greater havoc among the Boer forces than all the British batteries ever did; for when they first began to explode in the midst of the burghers the latter dropped down thick and fast. Thousands were lured away from the posts of duty by the fascinating and seemingly generous proposals contained in some proclamations. Had the Field-Marshal only understood the Boer character better, and strictly adhered to his first proclamation, and not violated its conditions, and replaced it by others calculated to harass the surrendered Boer to such an extent that war, with all its hardships and dangers, seemed preferable to a life of continual dread and vexation, thousands of surrendered burghers who enlisted would assuredly never have fired a shot at the British troops. And it is just possible that that proclamation would have secured victory for the British arms at a much earlier date had it been abided by with more discretion. But then others came in quick succession. And so it often happened that by proclamation a burgher would be disarmed while another would compel ten others to take the field. They were undoubtedly the best commandeering agents the Boers ever had. Thousands of Boers and Colonists were from time to time commandeered by the stringent and drastic obligations imposed upon them by these proclamations. On the other hand they facilitated matters very greatly for the enemy. Where the soldier could not go the proclamation was sent; what the former could not do the latter often successfully accomplished. Officers and burghers who had baffled the enemy by their movements, and had routed them time and again, were captured by--proclamations.
Everything and anything the enemy required was secured by proclamation. Horses, mules, donkeys, oxen, ammunition, rifles, barley, wheat, hay, corn, maize, vehicles, and even luxuries, such as sugar, jams, etc., were all gathered in by--proclamations. Besides, by proclamation the non-combatant farmer, who was supposed to be neutral, was compelled to report, at the nearest column or British post, the presence or whereabouts of any armed Boer or Boers that he might happen to know of--and that immediately, even at the risk of being shot should he fall into the hands of the enemy he was reporting. Losing his life was, of course, a matter of little consequence to the British.
When the enemy adopted such tactics, the Boers had to counteract their proclamations by circulating others. Now in doing that the non-combatants were placed between two fires. They had to serve two masters in carrying out the instructions of proclamations diametrically opposed to each other. The man who was ingenious enough to act a double part, who could steer clear of Charybdis and Scylla, alone evaded trouble. There were, however, not many who succeeded in pleasing or duping both parties for any length of time.
The Boer proclamations levelled at those of the English made it specially irksome to the Colonists, who were finally encompassed by a host of proclamations. When they failed to obey the English proclamations they were fined, cast into gaol, and treated as criminals. When they obeyed the English, and consequently violated the Boer proclamations, they had to undergo the penalty, fines, corporal punishment, and even death, imposed by the Boers. The English said: "This do, and thou shalt live"; the Boers: "This do not, and thou shalt live."
As far as possible the Colonists were left unmolested on their farms by the Boers, who expected them, as non-combatants, to remain strictly neutral. The English proclamations, on the other hand, converted these non-combatant farmers into scouts, and often into spies. They had to give the enemy every information concerning the Boer commandoes--as to their strength, the condition of their horses, the number of unarmed burghers, of servants, their movements and plans, as far as they could discover these, etc., etc. In some instances they were commandeered to take upon themselves the dangerous responsibility of acting as guides to the British columns, and were then dismissed to return to their farms and pose as non-combatants. This the Boers could not tolerate, and had to prevent by forbidding it through counter-proclamations, which the enemy laughed to scorn. The unfortunate farmer could not similarly slight and ignore them. He had to obey them, or abide the consequences.
When the Colonists were subjected to vexations of such a serious nature, and when the British persisted in rigorously enforcing their proclamations, the position of the Colonists became untenable and drove them into rebellion. Had the military authorities exercised greater wisdom and more common sense, so many British subjects would not have fallen away. There were colonial rebels who never, never would have lifted a rifle, whose loyalty was beyond all questioning, but the pressure laid upon them by proclamations so numerous, onerous and odious in character, forced them to fight for or against the Boers. To do the former would be disloyal and treasonable, to acquiesce in the latter would be violating the dictates of conscience. Was it the fault of the Colonists that they were placed in such an awkward position?
Martial Law and the way it was administered has been one of the leading causes of the colonial rebellion. As long as the Colonists were permitted to express their sentiments or political views through the medium of congresses, conferences, public meetings, resolutions and petitions, they cherished the hope that the Home Government would eventually listen to their pleas. But when Martial Law was declared, the constitution of the Cape Colony was virtually suspended, and the Colonists were deprived of most, if not all, of their liberties--liberties of speech, of the Press and of conscience. Under Martial Law none, not even the most loyal, were allowed to write or say anything which did not harmonize exactly with the views and actions of the Imperial Government as represented in South Africa. Now, when men may neither speak nor write, they are apt to act. The Colonists, being compelled by this most wonderful of all laws--if law it be at all--acted. For this law justified all things, as far as the war party was concerned, while it condemned the rest indiscriminately. It gave armed men unlimited power over the unarmed. It allowed the strong to crush the weak, the rich to rob the poor, and the scoundrel to lodge in gaol the man of honour and reputation. Nothing so exasperated the Colonists as the odious manner in which the Martial Law regulations were carried out, and nothing made greater rebels than the harshness of these regulations.
As the situation in the Cape Colony became more and more serious, the most arbitrary and despotic methods were adopted to quell the rebellion by trying to intimidate the Colonists. The policy of the gallows was unscrupulously brought into practice, and the barbarous method of compelling the Dutch residents to attend the execution of their fellow-Dutch was enforced. At Burghersdorp, Cradock, Middelburg, and various other places several rebels were executed. The chief Dutch residents were compelled not only to listen to the public promulgation of these death sentences, but had also to be present at the execution. On July 10, 1901, the execution of one Marais took place at Middelburg. At 9 A.M. he was executed in the presence of the leading residents. Among these was Mr. De Waal, M.L.A., who entered the precincts of the gaol attired in deep mourning. The scene proved too much for him; he broke down completely before the executioner had drawn the bolt.
Now these tragic enactments influenced the Colonists in one of two ways. Some of them--the more timid--who were eye-witnesses of the executions of their fellow-Dutch, became so intimidated that nothing could induce them to take up arms against the British. Others--and these not a few--instead of being over-awed and frightened, got infuriated. In the awful presence of the gallows, on which their beloved countrymen ended their earthly career, there and then, as they gazed on them in silent sorrow, they took a solemn oath that, come what may, avenge they would the blood of their kindred. From the gallows they went to their different homes with impressions and feelings so deep and bitter that not even "Time's effacing finger" will be able to wipe them out for centuries to come. From these heartrending scenes they turned their faces, and anxiously awaited the first Boer commando.
On one occasion no less than fifteen colonists, who were forced to attend the execution of a fellow-colonist, came to my commando and begged me to provide them with horses and rifles. Nothing could induce them to return, for they had seen a comrade slain, and that was sufficient. And so time and again colonists joined the Boer ranks because they had to witness scenes calculated to stir up the most callous and indifferent. If these were moved, how much more the hearts and hands of those linked by ties of blood and love to the fallen! One brother would enlist because the other was heavily fined or imprisoned simply on suspicion. Two or more colonists would club together and join the Boer ranks after a friend or relative of them had been executed. To cite a few instances:--
In the Middelburg district a certain farmer, by name Van Heerden, was commandeered by an English patrol to act as guide. Reluctantly he obeyed, and led the patrol to the best of his ability. Not far from his home the Boers opened fire on them. The British retreated, leaving their wounded behind. Van Heerden himself was dangerously wounded. He was carried off the field by his wife and servants and laid up in his house. A few days after the column to which the patrol belonged arrived at Van Heerden's farm. The officer in command entered the house of the wounded man in a raging temper, and ordered him to be carried out and shot immediately. In vain did the wife of Van Heerden expostulate and plead with the unmerciful officer to spare the life of her wounded husband. Van Heerden was carried out, tied to a chair placed beside a stone wall, and seven Lee-Metford bullets penetrated the brain of the man who was wounded, perhaps mortally, in the service of the British army! That was his reward. Even that did not satisfy those who thirsted for blood, for the house of the unfortunate man was forthwith looted, and his widow and orphans robbed of everything. A few days after this sad event had occurred our commando arrived at the same farm. The spot where the victim sat was pointed out to me; the marks of the bullets, the blood and the brain against the wall were still distinctly discernible, and seemed to cry to heaven for revenge. And there was the family of the departed--stripped of everything. The burghers contributed from their scanty means what they could in support of the widow and orphans.
No wonder that the brothers of this unfortunate man took up arms and became the most pronounced, the most bitter enemies of those who ruthlessly slew, if not murdered, their brother. One of them--Jacobus van Heerden--whenever he spoke of his brother's death, would bite his lips, his face would flush, and one could hear him mutter: "My brother's blood shall be avenged." In the whole commando there was not a more dauntless man than he. But, alas! he too passed away. A bullet was destined to pierce his skull. At a farm, Leeuwfontein, in the district of Murraysburg, he was shot by a Kaffir.
On another occasion four Colonists were arrested; two of these were shot in cold blood, while the other two were imprisoned, because the railway line was blown up and a train derailed by the Boers near their home. They were accused of having known all about the Boers, who had destroyed the railway line during the night--an accusation which, on later investigation, proved false.
When such crimes were perpetrated in the name of Martial Law, we are rather surprised that all the Colonists did not rise to a man. What would the English have done if subjected to such treatment? The Dutchman is naturally slow to move, and very patient. He seems born to suffer and endure. But Martial Law imposed such heavy burdens upon him that he could not but resent them. Where the Boers were too lax in enforcing their Martial Law regulations, the English went to the other extreme in applying theirs too strenuously.
Well may we ask whether it was a wise policy which converted so many Colonists into bitter enemies, by subjecting them to such revolting measures.
The enlisting of blacks by the British induced many Colonists to cast in their lot with the Boers. If natives were to be employed to crush a kindred race, the Colonists thought that they were justified in rendering assistance to their fellow-Dutch.
Moreover, these armed natives, once promoted to the rank of soldiers, tantalized the farmers, who were formerly their masters, to an inconceivable degree. With rifle in hand they would go to these and treat them in the most insulting manner. They would commandeer bread, butter, milk, clothes, horses, and everything else they pleased, and woe to the man or woman that did not promptly answer their demands.
The farmers of the Western Province of the Cape Colony suffered perhaps most in this respect. The natives had all congregated in the villages, and there they were armed to assist in the work of destruction, while the farmer, who required their services, had to tend his flocks and plough his fields all alone.
In Calvinia was an infamous Hottentot column, five hundred strong. These Hottentots were the scare and plague of the whole district. By their actions they goaded the Calvinia farmers into rebellion.
Let us summarize these causes mentioned--causes which to some extent account for the rising in the Cape Colony. They were:--
(a) War on a kindred race without consent of Colonists.
(b) The Colonists left unprotected, and thus exposed to danger and temptation.
(c) The Colonists harassed by multitudinous proclamations and
(d) Subjected to embarrassing Martial Law regulations.
(e) The arming of natives against Colonists and Republicans.
Other causes why so many once loyal and devoted British subjects took up arms against the English may be cited, but the aforementioned are the principal ones. By enumerating them we express neither approval nor disapproval of the action of the Colonists; for we admire nothing more in friend or foe than unfeigned devotion and loyalty to country and people. The traitor and renegade are to be pitied, and their actions despised. We could not but admire the loyalty of many a colonist under such untoward circumstances; when that loyalty was stretched to the breaking-point, when it became impossible for them to remain such any longer, then and then only we gladly welcomed them and equipped them as best we could.
Those who stigmatize the Colonists as traitors, rebels, or renegades, would do well to take into account the peculiar position in which they were placed by the war, before passing a rash judgment on them. To be fair towards the Colonists we must take into consideration the causes which produced the effects. Only after a thorough investigation of the causes could a just sentence be passed on the colonial rebel. If governments have no responsibility whatever towards their subjects or citizens, and no binding obligations to fulfil in respect to them, then only may the investigation of causes be discarded.
None lament more the sad results of the South African war than the writers of these pages. Before the war Dutch and English lived and worked side by side as friends and brothers. The two races, once hostile, began to understand and respect one another more and more. In the schools the Dutch and English languages had equal rights. In some Dutch Reformed Churches English sermons were delivered by Dutch pastors to Dutch and English congregations. The railways of the Free State were almost exclusively controlled by English officials. In the Government offices Dutch and English clerks worked together. The principal villages of the Orange Free State were almost more English than Dutch. The British subjects were perfectly content with the Free State Government and desired no better. In the Transvaal the state of affairs was much the same. Before the Jameson Raid there existed a kindly feeling between Dutch and English. If time and patience had only been exercised, no blood would have been shed, there never would have been war in South Africa. But what time and patience would have wrought, the war party undertook when they plunged the land into a war the effects of which will be felt by more than one generation.
Thousands of British subjects have been estranged from the mother-country and turned into implacable enemies by the war. In many a home there is a vacant chair, and round many a fireside one is missing at eventide. Several families, once so happy and content, now mourn the irreparable loss of a father or brother, a mother or sister. Thousands, who were well-to-do before the war, are now poverty-stricken. Who then shall adequately depict the misery and woe which has entered so many homes since the first shot was fired in South Africa? And to-day, when the roar of cannons, the din of rifles and the clatter of arms have been hushed, there are men pining away in foreign countries because they may not return to their native land. There are the unhappy exiles in Belgium, Holland, France and America. Their families are left to the mercy and care of friends and relatives in South Africa. How their hearts are yearning to go to these, but...! Besides these exiles there are those undergoing sentences of penal servitude either for life or for long periods. There are the burghers in Bermuda and in India who, because they cannot conscientiously take an oath of allegiance to the British Government, are not allowed to return to their native land. As I ponder over the condition of these unhappy cases my heart seems to break, and a feeling of compassion mingled with sorrow inexpressible rises in my bosom.
While referring to these, I would dare to plead earnestly with the Imperial Government to display mercy and generosity. Exercise these towards the exiled, not only for their sake, but also for the sake of their families and for the promotion of peace in South Africa. Is it too much to plead for a general amnesty? Will that not lessen the intense race-hatred between two peoples destined to live in the same land?
True reconciliation is the foundation on which the structure of a united South Africa shall be raised. Without reconciliation there can be no co-operation, and South Africa will be in the future what it has been in the past--a land of strife and discord. Adhere to a policy of severity and the gulf between Dutch and English will grow deeper and deeper as the years roll by. There will be another Ireland, instead of a land where "peace and rest for ever dwell."