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This little volume consists of the letters I wrote from Bulawayo, Johannesburg and Pretoria for the journal South Africa, which is exclusively devoted to matters relating to the region whence it derives its title. Each letter contains the researches of a week. As the public had already a sufficiency of books dealing with the history, geography, politics, raids and revolts, I confined myself to such impressions as one, who since 1867 had been closely connected with equatorial, northern and western Africa, might derive from a first view of the interior of South Africa. Being in no way associated with any political or pecuniary concern relating to the country, it struck me that my open-minded, disinterested and fresh impressions might be of some interest to others, who like myself had only a general sympathy with its civilisation and commercial development. And as I had necessarily to qualify myself for appearing in a journal which had for years treated of South African subjects, it involved much personal inquiry and careful consideration of facts communicated to roe, and an impartial weighing of their merits. To this motive, whatever may be the value of what I have written, I am greatly indebted personally; for henceforth I must carry with me for a long time a valuable kind of knowledge concerning the colonies and states I traversed, which no number of books could have given to me.

If, from my point of judgment, I differ in any way from other writers, all I care to urge is, that I have had some experience of my own in several new lands like the South African interior, and I have lived long enough to have seen the effects of what was good and what was bad policy in them. I prefer peaceful relations between England and the Boers of South Africa, if possible; I love what is just, fair, and best to and for both Britons and Boers. I naturally admire large-minded enterprise. I pity narrow-mindedness, and dislike to see a people refusing to advance, when all the world is so sympathetic and helpfully inclined towards them. These explanations, I think, will enable anyone to understand the spirit of these letters.

A curious thing occurred in connection with my sudden departure for South Africa. In the latter part of September, 1897, I was debating with my family, at a seaside hotel near Dieppe, as to the place we should visit after the adjournment of Parliament in 1898. After discussing the merits of many suggestions, it was finally determined that we should all try South Africa, because it was said to have such a divine climate; the country was, moreover, so interesting politically, and as it loomed so much in public interest it would be worth while to obtain some personal knowledge of South Africans at home. We had scarcely arrived at this conclusion, when the postman brought to us a telegram, which, to our intense surprise, was a request from the Bulawayo Festivities Committee that I would go to Bulawayo to attend the celebration of the arrival of the Great Peninsular Railway at the Capital of Matabele Land. We regarded it as a strange coincidence.

This opportunity to visit Bulawayo I considered rather premature, as towards the end of autumn many engagements crowd upon one, but after another animated family council it was resolved that I should accept the invitation were it only to qualify myself as a pioneer for the ladies.

We left Southampton on the Norman on the 9th October. I found then that there were five other members of the House of Commons on board—Messrs Saunderson, Llewellyn, Hayes Fisher, Peace, and Paullton, and the Duke of Roxburghe representing the House of Lords. Among the passengers there were Boers from Pretoria and Cape Colony, British Uitlanders from Johannesburg, English residents from the Cape and the two Dutch Republics, Afrikander farmers and vine-growers, and townspeople, some from the Cape District, others from the Eastern and Western Provinces, and not a few from Kimberley and Natal, besides a few ex-Raiders and Reformers. As may be imagined, there was no lack of instructive material, and naturally much divergence of political opinion. The smoking-room soon become like a debating club, but, notwithstanding the frankness and partisan character of the debates, the good temper with which each person delivered himself of his opinions was most astonishing.

From the Boers and Afrikanders I heard not one favourable remark about England, but all indulged in banter and irony, to prove that argument with them was of no avail. So extreme was their dislike that they even said “English servants and clerks are of no use, and they are most unreliable, as for instance,” and here followed incidents to prove what they said. While the English were false and could not be trusted, it was said that the Germans were “good” in the colonial sense, and made the best citizens. They were industrious and thrifty, and their improved condition did not alter their habits. The indenturing of the Bechuana rebels was a subject upon which much was said on both sides. But a Boer’s way of putting it was characteristic. “England, you say, considers it illegal. Ah, well, the English know nothing of the matter, and what they say don’t count. Rose-Innes, however, ought to have known better. Had he been asked by a Cape farmer whether, to keep the rebels from starving, we should give them work to do for wages, Rose-Innes would have said, ‘It is a good thing, and the best that can be done for them;’ but with the view of forming a party against the Government, of course, he denounces indenturing as illegal and iniquitous.” I have cited these extracts to show the process of how we became initiated into South African politics.

The treatment of natives by the Rhodesian Government was, according to the general opinion of Cape people, more liberal than they deserved, and such as any white colonist of no matter what country would approve. It was said, “Why, if we were to be governed by what these sentimental English societies—referring to the A.P.S.—think is right, we should have to abandon Africa altogether, for neither our lives nor property would be safe. Law-abiding men and lawless natives cannot live together unless one or the other is compelled to, and as we have taken the country and intend to live in it, common sense tells us that the natives must submit to the same law under which we must live.”

The greatest majority by far denounced the Raid, and yet everyone spoke kindly of the personality of Dr Jameson. A gentleman from the Eastern Province informed me that the Jameson family has suffered greatly in public estimation. One of the brothers who lived at King Williamstown had felt himself obliged to leave the Province and return to England, and if the Doctor succeeded in being elected to the Cape Parliament, it was said he would be certain to meet with much unpleasantness.

I believe there were 1,097 souls on board the Norman on this voyage. The noise was therefore terrific and continuous, and if any of the weaker constitutions suffered as much as I did through want of sleep and rest, they must on arrival at Cape Town have been in a pitiable state. Above and below it was perpetual unrest and uproar. Though large and beautiful, these Cape steamers are badly designed internally, and the cabins are extremely small, and so arranged that a passenger is subject to the caprices of his neighbours on either side. My neighbours were unfortunately quite ignorant of the meaning of the word “considerate.” When an Ismay, such as he who reformed the Anglo-American service, becomes interested in the passenger traffic to the Cape, he will find a multitude of little things to improve. On returning to England, I found the S.S. Moor much superior for passenger accommodation.

The inconveniences arising from an overcrowded steamer are too many to be disposed of in a paragraph, but it is enough to say that I was uncommonly glad when the voyage was ended, and I was free to seek a hotel.

It must impress anyone who takes a sympathetic interest in what he sees in South Africa, that in some things the country is far behind New Zealand, Tasmania, or any of the Australian Colonies. It is more backward than any of them in its hotels. There are, within my knowledge, only three hotels in all South Africa to which I would venture to recommend a lady to go. South Africans, of course, are able to endure anything, and as the Veld is comparatively but a step from most towns, any place that offers a decent lodging must be regarded by the men at least as infinitely superior to an ox-wagon, a zinc hut, or a farm shed. But I am thinking more of the effect such hotels as those of Cape Town must have on people from Europe. This city, which is the capital of Cape Colony, contains a population of about 52,000, exclusive of the suburbs, but it does not possess a single hotel that would bear comparison with those of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Auckland, Christchurch or Dunedin. The very best is only just suited for commercial travellers, who must needs be satisfied with whatever may offer. The suburbs, however, which are peopled by about 32,000—and it is well that invalids and tourists should remember it—contain hotels where rest and quiet may be found, in the midst of oak and fir groves and scenes of surpassing beauty. No city that I know of in our colonies possesses superior suburbs. They are simply lovely. They are stretched along the base of Table Mountain, and an entire day’s carriage-drive would not exhaust the exquisite beauty for which the suburbs of Cape Town are famed.

Cape Colony possesses three valuable assets, which seem to me to have received scant attention. A traveller who has visited Southern California and Arizona will understand immediately he visits South Africa what fortunes might be made of the waste land, the rainfall, and the glorious climate with which Nature has blessed it. The land is unworthily despised, the rainfall is allowed to waste itself in thirsty sands deep down beneath the level of hungry plains, while the climate does not seem to have suggested to any capitalist that a revenue superior to that obtained from the Main Reef at Johannesburg might be drawn from it. The leaders of South African enterprise appear all absorbed in diamonds, gold mines, or dynamite.

If I were to follow the authorities of Worsfold in his “South Africa,” pages 126, 127, I should have to admit that this indifference to the land, the rainfall and climate, is due to the Boers. Captain Percival, in 1796, a hundred years ago, wrote:—

“The Dutch farmers never assist the soil by flooding; their only labour is sowing the seed, leaving the rest to chance and the excellent climate.”

“No part of the world has had its natural advantages so abused as the Cape of Good Hope. The very minds and dispositions of the settlers interfere with every plan of improvement and public utility.”

It may be that the Boers do cling to old-fashioned ideas somewhat more tenaciously than they ought to do; but they cannot possibly interfere with capitalists uniting to build up-to-date hotels on the most salubrious and scenic sites in Cape Colony, and beautifying their neighbourhoods with shade trees and gardens, so that the thousands of invalids who throng the watering-places and hydros of Europe, endure the snows of Davos, and the winter of the Engadine, might be tempted to try the Karroo of the Colony. They did not interfere with John D. Logan when he bought 100,000 acres of the Karroo at Matjesfontein and proceeded to turn it to remunerative account. They do not object to private companies or individuals making irrigation works, or planting groves, which thrive so wonderfully; and as Cape Colony has been British for over ninety years, it is rather hard that the Boers should bear all the blame.

Now the Cape Government may well plead guilty to having left many things undone which they ought to have done. I sincerely believe that the time will come when the climate, which has the quality of making old men young, and the consumptive strong, will become universally known and appreciated; but to attract invalids from the crowded Riviera and Switzerland, visitors must not be lodged in third-rate hotels, near noisy tram-lines, and fed on tinned meats.

I was about concluding this preface, when a South African appeared at my house and drew my attention to the Scriptural quotation in my Johannesburg letter—“It is expedient that one man should die for many,” and begged me to make my meaning clear. I read the paragraph over again, and as I see that to a wilfully contentious mind it might be construed into a meaning very different to what I intended, I will try to make it clearer.

Certain Johannesburgers at the Club had related to us the story of the various efforts they had made to obtain their political rights, and the reforms which were needed to work their mines profitably; and after they had finished, I replied that everyone was well aware of the demonstrations, mass-meetings, speeches, petitions to Kruger, menaces, Jameson’s Raid, and so on, and they themselves had just informed me how often they had yielded to bribery of officials, and yet withal they confessed they were not a whit further advanced. Their position had not been bettered, but was somewhat worse. “The corrective of it all,” I said, “seems to me to lie in the Scriptural verse, ‘it is expedient that one man should die for many.’ There is a vast mass of sympathy in England with you, but it is inert and inactive. To make that sympathy a living force in your behalf, it must be proved that you are in earnest, that nothing sordid lies behind this dissatisfaction. You must prove that you have a cause for which you are willing to suffer, even to the death. You say that you can do nothing without arms. You do not need any arms that I see. If you fight with weapons, you will be overcome, and I do not think your defeat will excite great sympathy. But if it be true that the impositions on you are intolerable, your taxes heavy, the claims of Government extortionate, and the demands excessive, why submit to them? It seems to me that if you were all united in the determination to pay no more of these claims, taxes and bribes, and folded your arms and dared them to do their worst, that Kruger must either yield or proceed to compulsion of some kind. He would probably confiscate your property, or put you in prison or banish you. Whatever he does that is violent and tyrannical will cause such an explosion of opinion that will prove to you all that England does not forget her children. No cause was ever won without suffering, and I am afraid that your cause, however good it may be, cannot be won without sacrifice and suffering of some kind. The leader of any movement is sure to be the object of a tyrant’s hate, and the leader or leaders of your cause ought not to venture in it without being prepared to suffer and endure whatever ills may follow.”

Having explained the Scriptural quotation at the request of others, I now proceed to be more definite in my own behalf with regard to the statement in the same letter, that “we cannot interfere until we know what Johannesburg has resolved upon doing.”

A gentleman present said that, during his recent visit to London, an English statesman asked him, “What would be the effect of sending 30,000 British troops to the Transvaal.” Whereupon he answered that he would be the first man who would take up his rifle against them.

This gentleman was an Englishman by birth. He had been the loudest and the most eloquent against the British Government for their disregard of the rights guaranteed by the Convention of 1884, he knew as well as anyone present the tenour of the despatches that had been exchanged between the British Government and the Transvaal Republic, and was perfectly acquainted with the patient and continuous efforts the Colonial Office had made to obtain a just consideration for the grievances of the Uitlanders. It was obvious to us that, if a British statesman had asked such a question, it must have been with the view of knowing—if diplomacy failed—what result would follow the final attempt to induce Kruger to listen to reason. From the shock this declaration from such a prominent Uitlander gave me and a colleague of mine, we understood what the feelings of the statesman referred to must have been, and we had no option left than to suppose the Uitlanders, despite all their clamour and affected indignation against the Transvaal Government, would prefer the Colonial Office to continue writing despatches than to take coercive measures. It must be an immense relief to Englishmen all over the country, as well as it was to me, to know that we were not expected to be at the trouble and cost of sending troops, and we may all feel sure that as despatch-writing is considered to be so efficacious, the Colonial Office will not begrudge the labour nor spare expense in stationery.

At any rate, seeing that the Uitlanders have told us frankly what to expect if we resort to force for their assistance, it is too obvious that nothing more can be done by our Government further than courteous diplomacy permits—until the united voice and the united action of the whole body of the Uitlanders certify to us in what other way England can serve them.

Henry M. Stanley.

London, January 28th, 1898.


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