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Chapter Four.
Letter from Johannesburg.
Go-ahead Bulawayo.

Between Bulawayo and Johannesburg there is a great difference. In common with some 400 guests of the Festivities Committee, I looked in admiring wonderment at the exuberant vitality, the concentrated joyous energy, and the abounding hopefulness of the young sons of British fathers who, in the centre of Rhodesian life, were proud of showing us a portion of their big country, and what they had done towards beginning their new State. We shared with them their pride in their young city, their magnificently broad avenues, the exhibits of their resources, their park, their prize cabbages, and the fine, bold, go-ahead-iveness which distinguished their fellow-citizens. We felt they had every reason to be proud of their victories over the rebel Matabele, the endurance they had shown under various calamities, and the courageous confidence with which they intended to face the future. From our hearts we wished them all prosperity.
Johannesburg’s Wrongs.

At Johannesburg, however, different feelings possessed us. Without knowing exactly why, we felt that this population, once so favoured by fortune, so exultant and energetic, was in a subdued and despondent mood, and wore a defeated and cowed air. When we timidly inquired as to the cause, we found them labouring under a sense of wrong, and disposed to be querulous and recriminatory. They blamed both Boers and British: the whole civilised world and all but themselves seemed to have been unwise and unjust. They recapitulated without an error of fact the many failures and shames of British Colonial policy in the past, gave valid instances of their distrust of the present policy, pointed to the breaches of the Convention of 1884, and the manifest disregard of them by the Colonial Secretary, described at large the conditions under which they lived, and demanded to know if the manner in which the charter of their liberties was treated was at all compatible with what they had a right to expect under the express stipulations of the Convention. “Why,” said they, “between Boer arrogance and British indifference, every condition of that Power of Attorney granted to Paul Kruger has been disregarded by the Boer, and neglected by the British.” They then proceeded to dilate upon Boer oppression, Boer corruption, the cant and hypocrisy of President Kruger, the bakshish-begging Raad, the bribe-taking Ministry, the specious way in which promises were made, and, when their trust was won, the heartless way in which these same promises were broken. From these eloquent themes they proceeded to detail their worries from taxation, high wages, extortionate freight charges, the exactions levied upon every necessity of their industry, the exorbitant price for coal, and imposts on food designed expressly to pamper the burgher at the expense of the miner. Then in a more melancholy tone they discussed the mistakes of their friends—Jameson’s tactless raid—the poverty of the country, the decline of business in the city, the exodus of the Australians, and the prospects of a deficit in the Treasury, etc., etc.
Contact brings Conviction.

I wish that I could have taken down verbatim all that was said to me, for the spokesmen were of undoubted ability, fluent in speech, and full of facts, not a tithe of which I can remember. As I fear I cannot do justice to what was urged with such vehemence and detail, you must be content with the broad sense of their remarks only. These men have stories to say which should be said to shorthand writers. I have read many books and articles on South African politics, but I was never so interested or convinced as when these men told their stories straight from the heart.
Johannesburg Early Last Month.

I then turned an inquiring attention to the Johannesburg newspapers, and from a heap of them obtained their opinions on the gloom prevailing in the “Golden City.” There were columns of allusions to the general distress, of the unemployed becoming numerous, of tradespeople unable to find custom. Clergymen had been interviewed, who said that “poverty was rampant,” that shopkeepers were almost distracted through fear of insolvency, that the country’s credit was going and almost gone, that Australians were leaving in such numbers that sufficient berths on steamers could not be found, and that the inaction of the Government was driving skilled and willing workmen away.
Effects of Bad Times.

My hotel-keeper, a bright sociable man, was induced to give me his own opinions on the depression. He acknowledged that his own hotel was doing fairly well, but the other hotels were mostly empty. Tradesmen he knew were bitterly lamenting the want of custom, buildings in course of erection were stopped because the owners did not think themselves justified in proceeding with the structures, rents were hard to collect from tenants, the upper storeys were already empty, reductions had been made on the lower floors, and still there were no permanent tenants; goods stored in bonded warehouses had to be auctioned, as the proprietors had not the means to take them away, etc., etc.

One Man’s View—

Encountering a gentleman whom I knew in Sydney, Australia, and who is now on the Stock Exchange here, I inquired of him what he thought of the condition of things. He said: “Mostly everything is at a standstill, I think. To-day stocks and real estate are a trifle firmer, but I cannot conceive any reason for it. There is nothing within my knowledge to justify confidence. Old Kruger is relentless and implacable. He will never yield, whatever people may say. And unless the reforms are granted, so that the mines can be worked at a profit, Johannesburg must decline, and things will become as bad for the State as for ourselves. The old man positively hates us, and would be glad to see the town abandoned. On the strength of the Industrial Commission report, many of us bought largely, but when we found that there was a majority against us, we sold out in such a haste that for a while it looked like a panic. The majority in the Raad had been bought out by the Dynamite Company, and, of course, we were helpless. You people at home have no idea of the corruption of our Government. Kruger appears not to know that when he calls the Dynamite Company a corner-stone of the State, he is giving himself away. We know that the Company and its twin brother, the Netherlands Railway Company, support the twenty-four members of the Raad, and as they, with Kruger, are the State, those companies may well be called corner-stones.”
And Another’s.

At the club I met a gentleman whose moderate way of expressing himself made me regard him as being inclined to be impartial, and when urged to give his views, he said that “undoubtedly there were great grievances which every well-wisher of the State would desire to see removed. The administration was so corrupt that it was difficult to get a Boer official to attend to any business, unless his palm was oiled beforehand. The officials had got into the habit of excusing themselves from doing their duties because they were overwhelmed with work, or that they had no time. It is a way they have of hinting that unless it is made worth their while, they will not put themselves out to do what they are paid to do by Government. Many companies understand this so well that they set apart a fund from the profits to meet this necessity. You know, perhaps, that the Dynamite Concession is one of the most corrupt things in the State. One member of the Raad gets five shillings a case, and the Government pocket ten shillings for every case of dynamite sold in the Republic. When we know that forty-seven shillings would be a sufficient price for a case of dynamite, to invoice a case at forty shillings higher shows that some people must have grand pickings. Were the mines in full operation they would consume about 250,000 cases, and this extortion of 2 pounds a case means 500,000 blackmail on the mining industry. Then the railway administration is just as bad. The tariff is abnormally heavy. The first-class fares are greatly in excess, and as for freight charges, you can imagine how high they were when it was proved during the drift closure that ox-wagons could make the transport as cheaply as the railway.”

“Then you appear to justify Rhodes in his attempt to rectify this?” I said.

“No, I do not; but all that he stated before the Parliamentary Committee about the abuses is perfectly true. I cannot, however, absolve him for attempting to promote a revolution to effect a change. But about this corruption at Pretoria. I do not blame the Boers so much as I blame the Hollanders and our Jews here. They are the real causes of the disorders in the State. The corruption was started by the Hollanders, and the Jews have been only too willing to resort to bribery, until the share market has become demoralised. These fellows unite together to discredit a mine, until there is no option but to close it. Many of the mines have been closed through their intrigues. Mine is one of them, for instance.”
Passing Customs at Vereeniging.

This was my first day’s introduction to the moral condition of Johannesburg. But to begin at the beginning. On arriving at midnight at the frontier of the Transvaal, near the Vaal River, the train was stopped in the open veld until daylight, for Boer officials require daylight to make their conscientious examination of passengers and their luggage. Half-an-hour after dawn the train moved over the Vaal Bridge, and we were soon within the grip of the Boer Custom House. I was told later that the officials were insolent; but I saw nothing uncommon, except a methodical procedure such as might belong to a people resolved to make a more than usually thorough search. The officials came in at the rear end of the carriage, locked the door behind them, and informed us we were to go out before them. The male passengers were ushered into one corrugated-iron house, the females with their respective searchers behind them into another. One burly passenger had diamonds concealed on his person, but his clothes were only slightly felt. A small pale clergyman just behind him, however, received marked attention, and was obliged to take off his boots, and every article of his baggage was minutely scrutinised. Probably some of the women searchers performed their duties just as thoroughly. My servant was asked to pay duty on some of my shirts, but he refused to pay anything, on the ground that the shirts had been repeatedly worn and washed.
Getting News from the Rand.

The distance to Johannesburg from the frontier was but an hour and a half of ordinary running, but from the time we neared the Vaal River it occupied us eleven hours. A reporter from the Star had come aboard at the frontier station, and from him we learned a few facts regarding Johannesburg, such as that the uitlander miners intended to starve the burghers out by closing the mines, that the Australians were leaving in crowds, and though there were three Presidential candidates in the field, Kruger was sure to be returned for a fourth term, as General Joubert was known to be weak, and Schalk Burger almost unknown.
A Panoramic View of the Mines.

The Transvaal veld was much greener, and more rolling, than that of the Orange Free State. Johannesburg came into view about 9 a.m.; but instead of making direct for it, the train sheered off and came to a halt at Elandsfontein, six miles east. It was then we first obtained an intelligent comprehension of the term “Main Reef,” to whose production of gold the existence of Johannesburg is due. Its total length, I am told, is 38.5 miles, to be accurate, and along this a chain of mines, well equipped and developed, exists, out of which, however, only ten miles of the reef can be profitably worked under the present economic circumstances. The working of the remaining twenty-eight miles depends mainly upon the removal of the burdens, upon low wages, abundant labour, cheap transport, etc. The richer and dividend-paying section of the Reef contains such mines as the Langlaagte, Paarl Central, Crown Reef, Pioneer, Bonanza, Robinson, Worcester, Ferreira, Wemmer, Jubilee, City and Suburban, Meyer and Charlton, Wolhuter, George Goch, Henry Nourse, New Heriot, Jumpers, Geldenhuis, Stanhope, and Simmer and Jack. To either side of Elandsfontein runs a lengthy line of chimney stacks, engine houses, tall wooden frames, supporting the headgear, stamp mills, with clusters of sheds, huts and offices, hills of white tailings, and ore. To the westward these become more numerous, and as the train moved from Elandsfontein towards Johannesburg, it clung to the side of a commanding ridge by which we obtained a panoramic view of mine after mine, each surrounded by its reservoirs, hills of tailings, lofty stores of ore, iron sheds, mills, offices, and headgear structures, until finally they occupied an entire valley. Presently, while we still clung to the ridge, we saw that the scattered cottages, with their respective groves, were becoming more massed, and looking ahead of them we saw the city of Johannesburg, filling the breadth of a valley, girdled by a thin line of tall smoke-stacks, and dominated by two parallel lines of hills, the crests of which rose perhaps 300 feet or so above the city. The scent of eucalyptus groves filled the air, for now the ridge on our right was given up to cottages, villas, mansions, each separated by firs, eucalyptus, flower gardens, and varied shrubberies, the whole making a charming sight, and a worthy approach to the capital of the mining industry.
Population and Area of Johannesburg.

Reduced to matter-of-fact figures, Johannesburg proper covers four square miles; its roads and streets are 126 miles in length, twenty-one miles of which are macadamised, and ten miles have tram lines. The city’s parks and open spaces occupy eighty-four acres. There have been twenty miles of gas-piping laid, while the electric light is supplied by forty-two miles of wire. The waterworks supply 600,000 gallons of water daily for domestic use, exclusive of what is required for the mines and street watering. The population of the town at the census of July, 1896, consisted of 79,315 males and 22,763 females, of whom 32,357 males and 18,520 females were European, making a total European population of 50,877. It is believed that during the seventeen months which have elapsed this population has been augmented to about 55,000.
The Streets of Johannesburg.

The streets of the city generally are about 50 feet wide, while the principal business streets average 90 feet in width. Several of these are flanked by buildings which would be no discredit to any provincial city in England, while the array of shops have their windows as artistically dressed with wares as those of Regent Street in London, which gave me some idea of the character and good taste of the people.
Johannesburg as it was and is.

A photograph of Johannesburg taken in 1888 revealed a thin collection of galvanised iron structures, widely scattered over a roadless veld, while that of 1897 shows a mature city, compact, with an aspect of age, well furnished with churches, massive buildings, parks with trees over a hundred feet in height, rich villas and artistic mansions, etc. It was scarcely credible that in such a short period such a marvellous change had been wrought. The wonder was increased when I was driven along the length of Hospital Hill, and noted the streets of this suburb, bordered by artistic and costly houses, luxuriant shrubberies, flower gardens, and stately lines of shade trees. The marvel was greater still when my conductor told me that as late as 1892—five years ago—this suburb, now so flourishing, was a mere virgin grassy veld. “What, all these miles of groves and gardens and villas sprung up since 1892?”

“Yes, so prodigiously rapid is the growth of vegetation, trees, climbing plants and shrubs, when daily watered, that these shade trees which give the suburb such an appearance of age have only been planted during the last five years!”
Krupp Guns in Eden.

Now these picturesque and comfortable residences of such varying architecture, whose furniture I could just see through open windows and doors, and bespoke great wealth and taste, you must bear in mind would adorn Birmingham or Manchester. Imagine miles of such houses crowded with fair occupants and troops of daintily-clad children, their long hair floating in the wind as they sported in snowy garments on the lawns and amid the flowers, and then my surprise and something more as I suddenly came in view of a fort, which the rude Boers have built to terrorise this community. The superb ridge, which seemed to me with its beautiful houses and gardens a veritable Paradise after four thousand miles of travel over treeless plains, and which would certainly be an ornament to any city on the globe, had in its centre a large and ugly earthwork, behind which were monstrous Krupp guns to lay waste this Eden, should the humanity of Johannesburg ever be driven by despair to strive physically for the rights of freemen. The mere suggestion of it is brutish, and a Government which can coolly contemplate such a possibility and frighten timid women and young children with such horrid prospects, are only fit to be classed with the Herods of the Dark Ages.
Then and Now.

A short drive northward of the suburb placed me in a position to view the far-reaching desolate wastes of the primitive veld, and to realise more fully what human intellect, skill, energy, and capital have done on Hospital Hill and in Johannesburg itself. Twelve years ago there was not a vestige of life—human or vegetable, except the grass—to be seen within the entire range of vision from the Hill, and yet the creators of the remarkable transformation we had just seen were to be threatened with slaughter and devastation if once they plucked up courage to exact the rights which every civilised Government would long ago have granted to them!
Johannesburg and its Great Industry “Subject to Senile Madness and Boorish Insensibility.”

It were well now, after briefly showing what Johannesburg and its population is, that the chief of the State and his rustic burghers, in whose hands lie the future of this remarkable city and its industry, should be presented to your readers, in order that they might realise the striking incongruity of first-class mechanical ingenuity, spirited enterprise, business sagacity, and tireless industry being subject to senile madness and boorish insensibility. That such a thing should be is most preposterous and contrary to all human precedent. For elsewhere, and since the dawn of civilisation, Intellect has always become Master, Captain and King over Ignorance, but at Johannesburg it is Asinine Ignorance which rules Intellect. Another reversal of human custom is seen in the submissiveness of Intellect to Ignorance, and though, being naturally sensitive under the whip and restless under the goad, it remonstrates sometimes, its remonstrance is in such a sweet mild way that the spectator can only smile and wonder.
“Overmastering Surprise” at the State of Things on the Rand.

Fitting words are wanting to describe my overmastering surprise at the state of things in the Transvaal; I am limited by space and time, so that I must let my pen race over three pages and trust largely to the intelligence of those who read the lines. I have a printed cutting before me of a discussion in the First Raad of the Boer Republic, during which the President, in the support of his views, stands up and says that Isaiah had been told by the Lord that Israel had been punished because the rulers of that people had not hearkened unto the voice of the poor. Another speaker of similar intelligence rose up to contend that the Lord had enjoined that the rich, not the rulers, should help the poor, and Isaiah had not been told that the poor were to be helped with other people’s money. This construction of Scripture raised the President of the State to his feet again, and he reiterated the fact that the Lord had meant the rulers, whereupon another Senator interpolated the remark that some people were in the habit of shielding themselves behind the Bible with a view to saving their own pockets.
Nailing it with Scripture.

Fancy a discussion of that kind taking place in the Legislative of a British Colony! What vexation and shame we should feel that a Colonial Government should be based on what Isaiah had conceived had been told to him respecting Jewish elders and rulers! We should undoubtedly feel that such a discussion was an outrage on common sense and good taste, and that the Colony had mistaken a parliamentary hall for a synagogue. But at Pretoria such discussions appear to be everyday incidents—the most commonplace arguments are supported by quotations from Isaiah or some other prophet.
Kruger’s Cant.

At Standerton, the other day, the President was questioned as to the prospects of assistance being given to poor burghers. His entire reply is worth quoting, but I have only room for a small portion of it. Said he: “The burghers’ distress has been caused by the war (Jameson’s raid), and the subsequent unrest has not tended to improve matters. The burghers have suffered from these circumstances. The country has been compelled to spend a lot of money on the building of forts, nearly 2,000,000 pounds, by which our means have been exhausted. In the Zoutpansberg district especially, the condition of things I know to be most distressing. White families as well as black are dying rapidly. Still I expect you to turn to the Bible in a time of adversity like this. Follow the prophet Isaiah’s advice, and look to the Lord God who has so far befriended you. Why will men not follow in the path of the Lord instead of losing money at races and by gambling?” etc., etc.
Two Millions on Forts while People Starve.

One knows not which most to pity, the blundering muddle-headed President, or the wretched feeble-minded people who listen to him. Even little English school-boys would have had the courage and sense to tell the President how unfit to govern anything but a small pastorate on the veld he had proved himself after such a speech, and have pointed out to him that the two million pounds spent on unnecessary forts, had been the means of starving the Zoutpansberg frontier, and that it was blasphemy to make the Lord responsible for his own foolish and stupid extravagance, besides adding insult to injury to accuse people with love of horse-racing and gambling when they were starving through his criminal folly.

The burghers, however, lacking the intelligence of English school-boys, adjourn after the speech to banquet their venerable chief and to glorify him.

At Heidelberg the President was asked if the Secret Service Fund was divided into two sections. “Yes,” he replied, “for I have to keep my eyes wide open, and I have private detectives all over the country to prevent any surprise like that of the Jameson raid occurring again.”

What an extraordinary man, to devote 80,000 pounds a year fighting an enemy that does not exist, when, according to his own words, his burghers are dying of starvation at Zoutpansberg!
That Corner-Stone.

When questioned as to his objections to the Industrial Report, the President said that “if it had been accepted the independence of the Republic would have been lost.” Provided certain obstacles were removed, he was in favour of taking over the railway. The profits of the railway were divided at the rate of five per cent, to the Company, ten per cent, to the shareholders, and eighty-five per cent, to the State. The shareholders, according to him, were not the Netherlands Company. As regards dynamite, it was the corner-stone of the State’s independence.

Whenever President Kruger can get an opportunity to utter a word which will reach the public ear, he harps upon the independence of the country being in danger, and the dynamite concession being the corner-stone of that independence. The cry of the wolf being at the door has enabled him to enjoy fifteen years of office, with its princely emoluments, and to the ossified brains of his burghers the same old story may be related with endless repetitions.
The Dynamite Disgrace.

At one electioneering meeting the President said that he refused to have electric trams at Johannesburg because he could not see his burghers deprived of the means of selling their forage. He also assured his audience that the Dynamite Company should be compelled to manufacture dynamite from the products of the country—although it is well known that almost every constituent of it must be imported from Europe. He also stated that the Dynamite Company was essential to the independence of the State since it made the manufacture of gunpowder possible, whereas he knows well that the ingredients of the composition must be purchased abroad.

At another place the President said: “I get so much money from the mines that in a short time I shall be able to pay for the dynamite factory. I will not break the factory. I will not allow any importation of the ingredients to take place, but at the same time I will not throw up the factory.” The people were unable to perceive any nonsense in his words. As the factory can only manufacture 80,000 cases a year, and as 250,000 cases are needed, it never struck them that 170,000 cases would have to be bought elsewhere, nor that as dynamite cannot be made in the Transvaal without obtaining its constituents elsewhere did it seem necessary to ask how the President could keep his promise.
The Presidential Dotard will be Elected a Fourth Time.

If one will read the above carefully over, he will be able to gauge the intellect of this wonderful statesman fairly well, and measure the sense of the people who gape at these absurdities. What with political economy drawn from Isaiah and practical life being ordered by what the prophet Isaiah said, with a future policy based upon the manufacture of dynamite in the Transvaal, and the support of the tariffs of the Netherlands Railway, and the ensuring of a produce market at Johannesburg by not allowing the people of that city to have electric trams, the payment of 225,000 pounds a year to keep the forts in order, and 200,000 pounds interest on the capital expended on the wholly useless structures, the constant denunciation of the murderer Rhodes, the squandering of 80,000 pounds a year to spare the Transvaal from another surprise like the Jameson raid, It appears to the simple burghers that their President is the only fit man for the office he holds, and that Kruger is only second to Washington.

And yet both President and people are within reach and close connection with every possible civilised influence; but the truth is that their dull, dense, and dark minds are impenetrable to good sense, impervious to reason, and insensitive to the noble examples we see at Johannesburg. Though there may be neither rhyme nor reason in anything the Presidential dotard may say or do, the burgher farmer will cling to him and make him victor over all rivals for a fourth time.
My Advice to “The Bright, Clever Men at Johannesburg.”

This is the wonderful incongruity I spoke of that such a President and people as above described should be rulers over the enlightened progressive community of Johannesburg. At a dinner at the Club I quietly suggested a corrective of this incongruous and unprecedented condition of things, and said that it lay in the saying: “It was expedient that one man should die for many.” I was conscious of being stared at, and, indeed, if with all their intellectual capacity the idea never entered their minds before, I can quite understand their surprise. But it appears to me that if, according to their own admission, they have tried everything—pleading, arguments, petitions, resolutions, menaces, bribery—and all have failed, relief can only come through one of two things, viz.: Active interference of England, or a determination on their own part to endure no more. As to the first, every public man in England knows that the active interference of England in a matter of this kind is impossible. It may be her moral duty to interfere, but those bright, clever men at Johannesburg should know as well as we do that the present age and times will not admit of national action on grounds purely moral. The story of their wrongs will always receive sympathy, but to move a nation to action something more than sympathy is required. We delivered the Transvaal territory over to the charge of its own citizens, and they only are responsible for what happens in their territory. If their laws are oppressive or unjust to the strangers residing amongst them, the strangers may withdraw, or endure the evils of which they complain as well as they can. It is not for us to advise them what they should do; the choice must lie with themselves. They may fly the country or leave their properties in the charge of trustworthy Boer agents, if any such can be found, or they may continue to suffer all that the Boers may choose to inflict, or they may all unite in ceasing work and pay neither dues, taxes or bribes until justice be done to them, but we cannot interfere until we know what Johannesburg has resolved upon doing. What we may do in any event is not worth discussing—no, not until the Johannesburg people act like Englishmen.


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