The Dream of Cecil Rhodes
While France and Germany were fighting out their quarrels in Europe, England was playing a vacillating part in South Africa.
The country occupied by the Boers, between the Orange river and the Vaal, was without adequate central government: the emigrant farmers had a very primitive way of managing their own affairs, and they were continually at strife with the natives.
For this reason, Sir Harry Smith, Governor at the Cape, formally annexed this region, under the name of the Orange River Sovereignty, established an administration under an English resident at Bloemfontein, and withdrew to Cape Town. This was in 1848. But peace was short-lived. The Boer farmers rebelled against British authority, and called on Pretorius to lead them to battle.
There is a story told of the Boer leader, which rivals the heroism of the old Romans. When the messenger arrived to summon him to command the Boers, the wife to whom he was utterly devoted lay dying, and Pretorius refused to leave her. But her courage was equal to her patriotism: "By staying here," she urged, "you cannot save my life. Your countrymen need your services: go and help them."
Pretorius went, and never saw his wife again. He led the Boer army to Bloemfontein; the English resident and his small force surrendered, and the conquering army marched southwards. At Boomplaats, between the Orange river and Bloemfontein, they were met and utterly defeated by Sir Harry Smith himself. The Boers fled hastily across the Vaal river, and the Orange River Sovereignty was re-established.
But further trouble was in store. The powerful tribe of Basutos, under their king Mosesh, made a disturbance on the frontier, which the English resident tried in vain to quell. Pretorius alarmed the English by suggesting the possibility of his joining the Basutos with a Boer army. In these circumstances, and not wishing for further fighting, the English decided to grant independence to Pretorius and his Transvaal emigrants.
On January 17, 1852, in a farm on the Sand river, a document, known to history as the Sand River Convention, was signed, granting to the Transvaal Boers, the right to manage their own affairs apart from England.
Soon after this, Sir Harry Smith sailed away from South Africa. The two towns of Harrismith and Ladysmith keep alive the memory of his energetic work. No sooner had he gone, than the Basutos began to plunder the Orange River Sovereignty. The new governor at once marched an army into Basutoland, but he greatly underrated the strength of the Basutos and the difficulty of transport over the high mountain passes. After some skirmishing the English were defeated, but they had fought so well that Mosesh made peace, and it was decided that the Orange River Sovereignty too must be relinquished.
Another convention was signed at Bloemfontein February 23, 1854, by which the inhabitants of that colony were declared to be a free and independent people. They at once took the name of the Orange Free State.
In this way the two Dutch republics—the Transvaal and the Orange Free State—sprang into existence.
The infant republics at once set to work to form their governments, which consisted of a President and an assembly known as the Volksraad. Under its clever Dutch President, the Orange Free State was peacefully governed. "All shall come right," was the motto of President Brand, words now engraved on his monument at Bloemfontein.
War and peace alternated between Boers and Basutos, till at last Mosesh turned in despair to the English.
"Let me and my people rest and live under the large folds of the flag of England," he prayed.
England listened, and in 1869, she took Basuto-land under her protection, thus establishing her authority from Natal to Cape Colony.
Such was the state of affairs when an event took place, which changed the whole course of South African history.
One day, a trading hunter, saw a child in the house of a Dutch farmer, playing with some pebbles from the Orange river, which had been given him by a native boy. Struck by the brilliance of one of them, the trader examined it carefully, and convinced that it was no ordinary stone, he took it away. It was discovered to be a diamond worth £500. Not long after this, a Hottentot produced a magnificent diamond, which was sold as the "Star of South Africa," for an enormous sum of money. In a surprisingly short time, no less than 10,000 diggers had made their way to the Orange river, and thence up the Vaal, in their search for diamonds. Hundreds of adventurers made their way from Europe and America, turning the quiet life of the colonists into a restless, fevered search for riches. A dispute arose as to the ownership of this rich country. It was necessary for some strong hand to keep order there; so England bought the claims of the Orange Free State, and raised the British flag over the new territory called Griqualand West.
Among the early arrivals at the diamond-fields was a young Englishman, named Cecil Rhodes. He had left the university of Oxford, with signs of advanced consumption, and the doctors had given him just one year more to live. But the dry, clear, rainless air of the veld soon established his health, and he worked hard as a diamond-digger at the mines near the new settlement in Kimberley. Men who knew him in these early days of rough camp-life noted his industry, his ability, and his perseverance. They noted his eagerness, as the Kaffirs hauled up in buckets the diamond-bearing blue ground, beat it into gravel, and handed it to young Rhodes to pick out the diamonds. A few years later, a young Scottish doctor arrived at Kimberley. Dr Jameson and Cecil Rhodes soon became great friends. They lived together, and in long rides over the measureless veld, Rhodes began to unfold his plans to the sympathetic ears of his friend. He had already framed the purpose of his life. The wealth he was acquiring, was but a means to an end, and that end was a vast imperial federation for South Africa. The great Dark Continent, with its almost unknown interior, had already fascinated the delicate dreamy Englishman, who was thus to become the founder of the British Empire in South Africa.