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Chapter Five.
Pretoria, South African Republic. November 23, 1897.
Paul and his Oil Painting.

I was fortunate enough to have an early morning (5:30 a.m.) interview with President Kruger before he departed on what may probably be his last electioneering tour. As he was fully dressed in the usual black suit and little old-fashioned top hat, and smoking on the verandah of his house, the old President must have risen from bed an hour earlier at least, and though all the clocks in this region are fully thirty minutes behind time, 5 a.m. is a remarkably early hour to begin business. Two armed guards in the uniform of London police inspectors stood in the street barring the way to the house; but a mere look from the President sufficed to give us admission. His “Good-morning” in English slipped from him unconsciously, and after a shake hands he led the way to a spacious saloon, wherein the first thing that attracted my attention was a large and coarse oil painting of him. It happened that the seat shown to me placed Mr Kruger and his picture directly in a line, in front of me, and I was thus forced to compare the original with the copy. The history of the painting I do not know, but as it is permitted to be hung so prominently in the reception room, it is to be presumed that the President and his friends regard it as a faithful likeness, and are consequently proud of it. This small fact proved to be the A B C of my study of the man of destiny of South Africa. It was clear that neither Kruger nor his friends knew anything of art, for the picture was an exaggerated reproduction of every defect in the President’s homely features, the low, narrow, unintellectual brow, over-small eyes, and heavy, massive expanse of face beneath. The man himself was almost beautiful in comparison with the monster on the canvas, and I really could not help pitying him for his innocent admiration of a thing that ought to be cast into the fire. But presently the President spoke—a mouthful of strange guttural words—in a voice that was like a loud gurgle, and as the great jaws and checks and mouth heaved and opened, I stole a glance at the picture, and it did not seem to me then as if the painter had libelled the man. At any rate, the explosive dialect so expanded the cheeks and widened the mouth that I perceived some resemblance to the brutal picture.
The Transvaal “Sir Oracle.”

I was told by my introducer, after the interview was over, that the President had already read a chapter in the Bible, and that it is his custom to do so every morning before appearing in public. I then understood the meaning and tone of his last words to me. Said he: “What I have said, shall be done.” He was alluding to the fact that the Dynamite Monopoly and Railway Rates were the children of the State, but they should be put into the hands of the Attorney-General, and if it were discovered that the terms of the concessions were in any way contravened, reparation should be made. The manner of his last words reminded me of the Jovic way—“and what I will, is fate”—but when I learned how he had been engaged, I knew he had been infected with the style of the Pentateuch.
The “Humbug Pose.”

This humour of Mr Kruger’s is becoming more pronounced as he ages. He has fully arrived at that stage of life which made Mr Gladstone so impossible in the Cabinet. There is abundance of life and vitality in the President, but he is so choleric that he is unable to brook any opposition. Any expression suggesting him to be mistaken in his views or policy rouses his temper, the thunderous gurgle is emitted, and the right arm swings powerfully about, while the eyes become considerably buried under the upper eyelids. I suppose, from the photograph of him now on sale at Pretoria, which represents his eyes looking upward, he fancies this to be the impressive gaze. He receives a stranger with the air of a pedagogue about to impress his new pupil, and methodically starts to inculcate the principles of true statesmanship; but he soon heats himself with the dissertation, and breaks out into the strong masterful style which his friends say is such a picturesque feature in his character, and which his critics call the “humbug pose.” If by the latter is meant the repetition of stale platitudes, and the reiteration of promises which will never be carried out, I fear I must agree with the critics.
Look on this Picture and—

Had I been asked to describe Mr Kruger’s character as conceived by me from what I had read of him, I should have summed him up after the style of an old author, thus: “What can be more extraordinary than that a man of no education, no fortune, no eminent qualities of body, should have had the courage to attempt, and the happiness to succeed, in wresting back this splendid country from the tenacious grasp of one of the greatest powers of the earth? That he should have the pluck and skill to defeat a British general in the field, even while that general was flattering himself for his successful manoeuvre, compel the British Government to relinquish what it had gained, and to reinstate the independence of his country by a Convention; and then upon second thoughts to cancel that Convention and substitute another which almost made his country a sovereign State; then, in flat opposition to the terms of that Convention, dare to disclose his vindictive hatred of the British race, among whom he was born and whom he often served, oppress so many thousands of his former fellow-subjects, curtail their guaranteed rights, trample upon them as he pleased, and spurn those who did not please his tastes, make every diplomatist who ventured to plead for them ridiculous for his failures; and while he dealt so hardly with those whom he characterised as his enemies, could make his friends understand that he was master, his burghers awe-stricken by his successes, at the same time make both friends and enemies give ready credence to his professions of justice and benevolence, to mock three of the most powerful nations of Europe by turns, and compel each with equal facility to maintain its distance; to make his illiterate and rude burghers feared and courted by the Governors of the several Colonies around him, to make their Governors and Legislatures humbly thank and congratulate him, to make one sovereign State solicit a nearer connection with his own, to be the dictator of the colony wherein he was born, and its Government obsequious to his slightest wish, and lastly (for there is no end to all the particulars of his glory), have talented and educated men of the world visit him, and depart for home enchanted with his condescension, enraptured with his humour and piety, and overflowing with admiration for his greatness and many excellences of character; to be able to have himself elected President for a fourth time, compel his ministers, generals, and rivals to sing his praises in their election addresses, and keep his burghers firm in the belief that he alone is the saviour of his country, and the only true patriot whom they can trust—to do all this is, at any rate, to be extraordinary.”
On This.

That was my ideal picture of Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger before the interview; but since I have been permitted to see him face to face, I am lost in amazement at the ridiculous picture my fancy, fed by cowardly and designing men, had conjured up. That so many people should have united in singing this man’s praises can only be accounted for by the fact that they must have had some interest, political or pecuniary, to serve, otherwise how is it that his “greatness” solely consists in my mind of what he has derived from the cowardice and weaknesses of others? “Many a mickle makes a muckle,” and hundreds of little advantages obtained over petitioners of all kinds, and by the follies and mistakes of others, constitute in the mind of the curious multitude what they have been pleased to term “greatness.” In appearance he is only a sullen, brutal-looking concierge, dressed in old-fashioned, ill-made black clothes. He appears to know absolutely nothing outside of burgherdom; he has neither manners nor taste; his only literature seems to be limited to the Bible, and a few treaties and documents about the Republic; he has no intrinsic excellence of character that should appeal to the admiration of the public; but what he does know, he knows well. He knows the simplicity of his rude and bearded brethren of the veld; he can play upon their fears, and their creed, with perfect effect, and it is in the nature of his ill-conditioned personality to say “no.” All the rest has fallen to him because he is so stubborn, so unyielding, and others so vacillating and so pitifully weak.
Kruger’s “Strength.”

I do not suppose there are any people in the world so well represented by a single prominent man as the Boers of South Africa are represented by Mr Kruger. He is pre-eminently the Boer of Boers in character, in intellect, and in disposition, and that is one reason why he has such absolute control over his people. His obstinacy—and no man with a face like his could be otherwise than obstinate—his people call strength. Age and its infirmities have intensified it. His reserve—born of self-pride, consciousness of force—limited ambitions, and self-reliance, they call a diplomatic gift. His disposition, morose from birth, breeding, isolation fostered by contact with his kind, is unyielding and selfish, and has been hardened by contempt of the verbose weaklings who have measured themselves against him.

“Dense, Ignorant, and Impenetrable.”

This is the man whom the Johannesburgers hope to weary with their prayers and petitions; but they never will do it. Nor will they convince him by their arguments, for he is too dense, ignorant and impenetrable. This is the man our new High Commissioner hopes to soften with his cultured letters and amiable allusions to the possibilities of restoring concord in South Africa. I feel a reluctance to say it, but his labour will be in vain. This is the man to whom the accomplished and lovable British Agent at Pretoria has been sent with a view to obliterate the memory of Jameson’s raid, and smooth the way to a kindly and humane consideration of his countrymen’s grievances; but he cannot make any impression on an unimpressible nature like Kruger’s.
The Efforts to Educate Kruger.

But the singular thing is that despite repeated, nay constant, rebuffs, all who have any dealings with Mr Kruger persist in hoping that he will relent in the end, and may genially try to exercise his authority for the termination of the existing unpleasantness. I spoke with all sorts and conditions of men at Johannesburg, and I only met one man who expressed his convictions that it was utterly impossible to induce the President to alter, or modify, his views. The rest, so often defeated and humbled, still continue to entertain a lively hope that things will improve. They are mostly clever and highly educated men, but whether it is that they have no time to study the disposition of the man, in whose hand lie their destinies, or their faith in themselves is so great, I know not, but it is certain that no sooner are they baffled in one attempt, than a new project has captivated their fancy, and enlisted their enthusiasm. They have tried to shame Kruger by their ill-considered demonstration in favour of Sir Henry Loch. The National union has published its solemn declarations of uitlander claims and rights, they have had a Jameson raid, they have had the benefit of Lord Rosmead’s diplomacy, they have resorted to giving indiscriminate backsheesh, they have made much of the Progressive party, they have had an Industrial Commission, Chamber of Mines gatherings and speeches, but they are not a whit further advanced, and if to-morrow it is suggested that the mines should be closed, I suppose they would adopt that course or any other with equal belief in its efficacy.
Mr Chamberlain and the President.

Mr Chamberlain again, despite his better sense, and possibly his inclinations to try different methods, has—judging from the blue books which contain his letters—come round to the belief that the old methods of diplomacy are best, and now conscientiously exchanges courtesies in the blandest and most amiable fashion, as though there were no burning questions unsettled. He professes to cherish a profound belief in the integrity of Mr Kruger, and assumes an assurance that everything will be done by him according to the spirit of the London Convention. Sir Alfred Milner has been also heard to say that it is all “humbug and nonsense” to express a doubt of good relations being restored, and probably Mr Greene in the first flush of his coming has written in equally strong terms of the approaching pacification of South Africa. I wish I could share in this buoyant feeling, but the spirit of the Boer, as it has impressed itself on my mind, since I crossed the Vaal, forbids me to believe that while Kruger lives there can be any amelioration in the condition of the Johannesburger. The Boers have endowed Kruger with almost absolute power, and if up to seventy-two years of age Kruger has been the incarnation of hostility to England, it would be a miracle indeed if in his extreme old age he should be converted.
Paul’s Spoof.

It strikes me with wonder also that with all our astuteness, our experience, and our knowledge of human nature, we should be so credulous of these many professions of amity from the Transvaal. I am fresh from my visit to Mr Kruger. It was but yesterday I heard the many dismal complaints of Johannesburg; I have but now come in from a look at the fortified heights of Pretoria. I open the last blue book and extract the following from the Boer despatches:—

1. “No unfriendliness is intended by Volksraad. It would be unfair to interpret it as such.”

2. “This Government also can give the assurances that it has no other than peaceable intentions.”

3. “This Government again expresses its opinion that through friendly co-operation, the confidence so rudely shaken, as well as peace and prosperity, will be restored.”

9. “The Government readily gives the assurances that there is no intention on its part of infringing its obligations.”

5. “This Government need hardly assure Her Majesty’s Government that it will comply with its obligations as soon as It is in a position to do so.”

6. “His Honour the President requests me to assure you that there is no intention on his part to depart from the terms of the London Convention, and that he is anxious to act throughout in conformity with those assurances, etc.”
“A Boer Machiavelli.”

One who knows anything of the conditions under which the Johannesburgers live need not come to Pretoria to know how hollow and insincere these and countless other professions are; but when read at Pretoria with those four forts constructed at lavish expense commanding the approaches to the capital from the Johannesburg direction, the mendacity of the writer seems appalling. Take these in conjunction with the many promises President Kruger has uttered to interviewers, to casual English visitors, to deputations or in public speeches, in relation to his intentions to adhere strictly to the terms of the Convention of 1884, and one cannot but conclude that, though the President reads the Bible daily, he must have overlooked the sentences that apply to liars. If, despite the cordiality, conciliatoriness, and numerous expressions of goodwill, that are visible in Mr Chamberlain’s despatches, and the entreaties, remonstrances, and the continual patient efforts of the uitlanders to soften the asperities of Boer rule, President Kruger and his burghers, while writing in the style of the above quotations, build these great forts at Pretoria and Johannesburg, it is evident that English people have wholly failed to understand this man, and that their ideal of a “goodish sort of man, kindly and a little old-fashioned, a little slow perhaps, and stubborn after the Dutch type,” never existed since Pretoria was founded. On the contrary, the real Kruger is a Boer Machiavelli, astute and bigoted, obstinate as a mule, and remarkably opinionated, vain and puffed up with the power conferred on him, vindictive, covetous and always a Boer, which means a narrow-minded and obtuse provincial of the illiterate type.
How the Convention was Contravened.

“Go and tell your people,” said he once to a deputation from the uitlanders, “that I will never change my policy.”

For once he spoke the truth, and having seen him I feel convinced he never will, but he has persuaded so well and spoken so fairly, that I doubt if a Colonial Office official will abandon hope of him.

I recall to mind the last portion of Article 14 of the London Convention, which refers to those persons other than natives who may enter the South African Republic. “They shall not be subject, in their persons or property, commerce or industry, to any taxes, local or general, other than those which are or may be imposed on citizens of the South African Republic.”

How does that agree with a fourpenny tax on a four-pound loaf of bread? Or a shilling tax for every four pounds of meat, or a shilling tax on every four pounds of potatoes, or a sixpence for every half-pound of butter eaten at breakfast by a miner and his family?
The Racial War Bogey.

People at home do not stoop to consider what such details mean. They have probably more in their minds the general effect of a racial war in South Africa, and see red ruin in place of the peace and content that ought to prevail here. But what have we to do with racial war and its horrors? Our business is to look at the immediate present, and not anticipate events which need not take place. We have to abide by the Convention; why should not the other party also abide by it? It was a fair understanding. Kruger himself drew up the terms, and they were mutually agreed to, and it is scarcely common sense to suggest that the party which seeks to maintain the Convention instigates a racial war, while the party that has broken the Convention repeatedly should be held innocent and blameless.
The Laws of “A Choleric, Obstinate Old Man.”

There is another point in this article which has attracted my attention here. The first part of Article 14 says, “All persons other than natives, conforming themselves to the laws of the South African Republic, will have full liberty to enter, travel, or reside in any part of the South African Republic.” I am curious to know what laws were meant here. Were they any laws which the sacred twenty-four members of the First Raad might choose to impose, or were they such laws as might be made conformable to civilised countries? If the laws were made by the people of the Transvaal, we, of course, should not hear so much of grievances, but the existing laws of the South African Republic have mostly been proposed by President Kruger, and obsequiously enacted by the twenty-four members of the First Raad without reference to the people, and consequently they could not fail to be intolerable to the larger number. The Grondwet throws a light upon the character of the laws that were meant when the fourteenth Article of the Convention was framed. Its first chapter declares that the Government shall be Republican, that the territory of the Transvaal shall be free to all foreigners, and that there shall be liberty of the Press. Then I think that, as Her Majesty’s Ministers admitted and sanctioned the terms of the fourteenth Article, they understood the “Laws of the South African Republic” to mean the Constitution, and such other laws as obtain in civilised countries, for it is scarcely credible that they would have signed the Convention had they understood that Englishmen could not be admitted into the rights of burghership until after fifteen years’ residence, or if poverty was to be a barrier to that “full liberty” sanctioned by the Grondwet and the fourteenth Article. We may also rest assured that the British Commissioners would not have signed the Convention if that “full liberty” did not include free speech and a free Press, the full use of one’s native language, the full exercise of every faculty according to custom prevailing in all civilised countries, or if certain British individuals who happened to misconduct themselves were liable to receive excessive punishments, or if for writing a market note in English a 5 pound fine was to be imposed, or if for grumbling an Englishman was to be expelled from the country, or if for considering himself as being a little better than a Kaffir he should be compelled to wear a badge that marked him as inferior to a Boer. I think it may be taken for granted also that no British Commissioner would have attached his name to a Convention had he guessed that the Laws of the Republic might mean any odd or fantastic whim that might enter into the head of a choleric, obstinate old man like the present President for instance.
Uitlanders’ Rights secured by a Solemn Convention.

Far from deserving the title of great which some English visitors have bestowed upon Mr Kruger, it seems to be that the most fitting title would be “little.” The gifts the gods have given his State he resolutely refuses. His sole purpose and object seems to be to make the South African Republic the China of South Africa. He declines to admit men who are in every way qualified to the burghership, though every other new country is competing for such men. The Americans welcomed every able-bodied incomer as a fresh ally, and valued each workman as being worth 200 pounds to the State. Thirty years ago citizenship depended upon nativity, and could never be abandoned. The idea was a relic of the Middle Ages, and was traceable to tribal superstition of prehistoric times, but as nearly every country in the civilised world has consented to admit people of all races to citizenship after a probationary period of from three to five years, the South African Republic only marks its own retrogression to barbarism by extending the term to fifteen years. Mr Kruger, instead of granting to foreigners common rights which were sealed to them by a Solemn Convention, for which let it be always remembered the independence of the State was assured, prefers to keep 80,000 uitlanders outside the pale of citizenship, to irritate them by onerous laws passed by an oligarchy of twenty-four men, and to grind them with taxes. If he made them burghers his country would be the premier State in South Africa, and he might then do almost what he liked, except invade his neighbours’ territories. The worst that could befall a Boer is that some candidate might be thwarted in his hopes of the Presidency, but the inviolability of the Republic and its Independence would be placed beyond danger.
What Kruger’s Policy will Lead to.

Mr Kruger professes to seek the prosperity and progress of the State, but I will simply mention the dynamite and other monopolies, of which we have heard so much lately, and point out that it is only a Boer audience that could be persuaded to believe in him. The resources of the State are forbidden to be exploited, the Minister of Mines refuses to proclaim new gold fields; the taxation on those in operation is so heavy that only a few of the richest mines on the main reef can be profitably worked. The expenditure of the State is extravagant—quite 40 per cent, could be saved, I am told. The reforms lately mentioned by the Industrial Commission, if granted, would reduce the cost of working expenses by 4 shillings per ton, and be the means of re-opening mines which were closed as being unprofitable, as well as bringing several miles of the reef into the payable degree. But Mr Kruger’s idea of increasing the prosperity of the State is by raising the taxes on the mines that continue to pay dividends, in order to compensate the Treasury for the loss of revenue incurred from the collapse of the poorer mines. If, as one mine after another succumbs to the burden of taxation, he increases the taxes on the richer mines, every mine must become closed, because no gold mine was ever discovered that did not cost much money and high-priced labour to extract the gold from it.
Those who Pay the Piper.

Mr Kruger’s ideas of government are to divide the people into two classes—those who get their living from the surface soil and those who get it underground. He himself favours the former. According to him they only are entitled to have any voice in the Government, and to be considered as citizens of the Republic. As for the other class, they have no rights, and the country would be relieved if they departed. Yet, according to the last Budget, I find 3,799,913 pounds of the State’s revenue were derived from the class who labour underground, while only 1,086,586 pounds were obtained from the other class.
Kruger’s Cant.

But if we wish to know and realise Mr Kruger thoroughly, we should pay attention to his last election address, issued about a week ago. He says: “As I have before told you, I aim, as instructed by the Scriptures, at justice and righteousness to all men—to by down on our political territory the eternal principles of God as the foundation of our State. The taking to heart of the lessons of that Word enables us to be certain under all our difficulties. These lead us to a recognition of our absolute dependence, not on the great ones and power holders of the world, but upon Him who sent that Word to us.”

“Burghers and fellow-countrymen, the times are such that a wise and judicious development of our sources of aid requires the most earnest consideration. Therefore these must be protected and advanced, and while we lend a helping hand to the mining industry we must not lose sight of the agriculture and cattle farming, so that prosperity and progress may be brought to the doors, not of some only, but of all. That will be my earnest endeavour. Many of you have sustained almost irreparable losses through rinderpest, and you know what has been done in order to help you to tide over these hard times. I desire to proceed in this direction everywhere that such assistance may be required, to the end that many of the very pith of the people, at present bowed under the yoke of adversity and misery, may be helped and heartened by the strengthening of the feeble knees.”

I do not think I need quote any more. As will be seen by the first paragraph, Mr Kruger takes the Scriptures as his guide in matters of policy, and, as he considers the Boers to be the chosen people, we may infer what the miserable Canaanites who dwell along the Raad may expect from the course adopted by Joshua towards their ancient prototypes. The second paragraph is more secular, but the policy of Mr Kruger is just as distinctly indicated. The “very pith of the people,” the Boers, must be helped and heartened by the strengthening of the feeble knees, which means money must be taken from those who did not suffer in their flocks and herds, viz., the miners, and distributed amongst those that sustained almost “irreparable loss through rinderpest.”
Mr Chamberlain’s Lost Opportunity.

Mr Chamberlain has led us to believe that he has a policy which will set these matters right. He has great faith in Sir Alfred Milner and Mr Greene; he has also faith in himself. In brief, his policy consists of conciliatoriness and firmness combined. If I have succeeded in this letter to properly express my convictions and the grounds for them, it will not surprise anyone if, with all my belief in Mr Chamberlain’s genius, I utterly decline to share this faith. Time was, and that not many months back, when he might by other methods, not war, nor necessarily leading to war, have broken down Kruger’s obduracy, and made him more sensible; but that time has passed. It is now too late. Time was, and that not long ago, when the Johannesburgers might have imposed terms on Kruger and, unassisted by outsiders, have rectified matters themselves; but the opportunity was lost through Jameson’s interference.
Force no Remedy.

The Press has frequently suggested other means of bringing Mr Kruger to reason, the author of “Boers and Little Englanders” has stated what he thinks ought to be done, the Johannesburgers themselves are brimful of suggestions, but I think that, though some are partially right, I have not come across any which seems to meet the complex case entirely. We have the sentiments of the Colonies to consider as well as the sentiments of the people of Great Britain, and the whole of Europe in fact. Therefore forcible measures in cold blood are out of the question, because from what I heard I doubt that the people of Johannesburg themselves would be grateful if we resorted to them.
Salvation Lies in a United Johannesburg, Passively Resisting Tyranny.

I quite agree that it is the duty of Her Majesty’s Government to strengthen our forces in South Africa to show the Boers that we are serious, and that power is at hand in case of necessity, but as long as our forces remain inactive their effect will wear away, and the Boers will soon fall back again to their sullen and vindictive attitude. What, then, is to be done? Nothing, absolutely nothing, until the Johannesburgers themselves prove to us that they are serious, united, and firm, and make the first move. It will be said, however, that they have no arms. No arms are needed of any kind, but the will to suffer and the courage to endure. Their lives will be safe in any case, for even Boers do not shoot unarmed and unresisting men, but if they all say that the taxes are ruinous, that their property is confiscated by these legal exactions—why pay the taxes, why continue to pay bribes to those in authority for trifling relaxations, why assist in any way to perpetuate the “corrupt and rotten” Government of which they complain so bitterly? It amounts to this. The Boers have a right to administer their country as they think best, but if their administration is unjust and oppressive, surely the oppressed have the right of passive resistance, for it is in human nature to resist injustice. The consequence of passive resistance will be imprisonment. But when a sparsely populated State is obliged to imprison some score of thousands of non-taxpayers, and to feed them, bankruptcy is not far off. If any die in prison from starvation, or blood is shed, or general confiscation of property takes place, we then shall have a legitimate cause for action. I do not say that this policy of waiting upon Johannesburg is a noble one, but as we have been so indifferent to the obligations of the Convention, as we have closed every sense to our countrymen’s complaints, as we have been the slaves of every petty circumstance, as South Africa is so contentious and fault-finding, as the English uitlanders themselves have threatened to lift their rifles against us if we move to exert pressure on the Boers, it seems to me that we must wait upon Johannesburg and let the people of that city point the way. Every civilised people in Europe can furnish instances of how to resent injustice and defeat oppression. England, Ireland, Wales, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc., all have their examples of what courage can do when nerved by despair, and I think, if it is really serious, it is the turn of Johannesburg to show what it can do; otherwise we must wait until Mr Kruger’s nature changes, which will be “Never, no, never.”


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