Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Founding of Two Republics

While the eighth Kaffir war was being fought there was trouble in the Orange River Sovereignty too. Moshesh, a great Basuto chief, claimed part of the Sovereignty. He was one of those chiefs with whom the British had made treaties, and thus from being a petty chief he had risen to great power. But now that those treaties had been done away with, Moshesh saw his power again grow less and less. Then, although still pretending to be friendly with the British, he began to quarrel and fight with some other chiefs, hoping in the long-run to be able to throw off British rule. Major Warden, who had been left to govern the Sovereignty, tried at first by peaceful means to quiet Moshesh. But when that failed he marched against him with an army.

But in a battle at Viervoet Moshesh defeated Major Warden, and after that he gave up all pretence of friendship for the British and became an open enemy. There were still some farmers in the Sovereignty who did not like the British, although most of these had crossed the Vaal after the battle of Boomplaatz. Now these farmers made a treaty with Moshesh. They promised not to fight against him, and he on his side promised not to attack them. And this promise Moshesh kept, for although he wasted and destroyed the British settlers' farms, he left the Boers alone.

After a little Moshesh and the Boers wrote to Pretorius and asked him to come with his farmers from beyond the Vaal and help them to fight the British. Pretorius, however, did not come. Instead he wrote to Major Warden telling him that he had been asked to come to help the people of the Orange River Sovereignty to revolt, but that he would rather make peace with the British Government, if the British would acknowledge that the Boers beyond the Vaal were a free people.

Major Warden sent this letter on to the governor, for he had no power to answer it. The governor did not want to acknowledge the independence of the Boers, but he could not help himself. He must either yield to the demand or fight. He could not fight, for he had not a man to spare from the Kaffir war which was still raging on the eastern borders of Cape Colony. If the Boers from beyond the Vaal joined with those who were already discontented in the Sovereignty, there would be an end of British rule there.

So seeing nothing else for it, the governor made up his mind to acknowledge the independence of the Boers beyond the Vaal. And on 17th January 1852, a treaty known as the Sand River Convention was signed. By this treaty the British gave up all rule over the Boers north of the Vaal and acknowledged their right to manage their own affairs. Then those of the Orange River farmers who still disliked British rule trekked over the border to join their comrades. And thus at last after years of wandering and struggle the Boers gained their end, and the South African Republic was founded. Pretorius became the first president of the new republic, and gave his name to the capital Pretoria.

Moshesh had now no more help from the Boers, but he still continued to fight, and although the British officials remained in the Sovereignty the savages did very much as they liked. But as soon as the governor could spare soldiers from the war in Kaffraria, he sent them to fight Moshesh.

The wily chief, however, by this time was growing anxious for peace. He saw that now that the Boers had got what they wanted, there was no longer any hope of help from them. As the war in Kaffraria was over, he knew that more and more soldiers would be sent against him. At present he was the real conqueror. If he fought more he might be beaten. So thinking of all these things, he went to a missionary and asked him to write a letter begging for peace.

"Your Excellency," he said, "this day you have fought against my people and have taken much cattle. I beg you will be satisfied with what you have taken. I entreat peace from you—you have shown your power—you have chastised. Let it be enough, I pray you. Let me no longer be considered an enemy of the Queen. I will try all I can to keep my people in order in the future."

So wrote the wily Moshesh, pretending to be very humble, but not really humble in the least. At first, however, no one could be found willing to carry the letter to the British camp. But at last a man was found who, waving a white flag, took it to the governor.

The governor on his side was very glad to have a good excuse for making peace. The Basutos were far stronger and better drilled than he had expected. To beat them would take a long time, and he did not want to begin another long war. For although Moshesh wrote so humbly the governor knew quite well that he was not really beaten. But that he should pretend was enough, and the governor resolved to make peace.

Many of the officers, however, were very angry. So were the white people and the natives who had helped the British. They all wanted to fight Moshesh until he was really beaten. But the governor would listen to none of them. He proclaimed peace, and marched back to Cape Colony as fast as he could, leaving only a garrison of three hundred men at Bloemfontein, the capital of the Sovereignty.

By this time the people at home had become thoroughly tired of all the wars in South Africa. And they made up their minds that the Orange River Sovereignty was not worth all the blood and money that it had cost, and was likely still to cost. So now a message came from home saying that "Her Majesty's Government had decided to withdraw from the Orange River Sovereignty." And on the 23rd of February 1854, by the Convention of Bloemfontein the Orange River Sovereignty was changed into the Orange Free State, and the people were declared to be free to manage their own country and rule themselves.

About this time too, a change was made in the Cape government. The colonists were no longer ruled by the British Parliament, but chose their own rulers. In June 1854, the first Cape Parliament met.

So now there were five states in South Africa. These were Cape Colony, Natal and British Kaffraria under British rule, and the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, independent countries.

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