Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

British South Africa

"Together, sundered once by blood and speech,

Joined here in equal muster of the brave,

Lie Boer and Briton, foes each worthy each.

May peace strike root into their common grave,

And blossoming where the fathers fought and died,

Bear fruit for sons that labour side by side."

— Edmund Garrett in the Monthly Review

W HILE progress and the fruits of civilisation followed the Mashonaland Pioneers to golden Rhodesia, the Transvaal under its President, Paul Kruger, still pursued its old-fashioned mode of life. Severed from Europe two hundred years before, the Boers clung tenaciously to the ideas of their ancestors. Their religion was that of the seventeenth century, rigid and stern. They had few books and newspapers: they were ignorant of much that was passing in the world beyond. Two hundred years of solitary pastoral life had given them a distaste for commerce and industry, so that when, in 1884, a sudden swarm of gold-diggers flocked into their country, they went on their way unaffected by the movement.

Meanwhile the new-comers, by hundreds and thousands, made their way to the high veld south of Pretoria—to the Witwatersrand, or the white water ridge, where they found gold in abundance. Soon Johannesburg—the "city of the golden reef"—sprang up in the midst of the famous gold-fields, and the treasury of the Transvaal grew full to overflowing. From this time onwards, Europeans flocked to the golden city, until they became more numerous than the Boers themselves. In their own countries—England, Germany, France—these Europeans, or Outlanders, as they were called by the Dutch, had been accustomed to have a voice in public affairs; and this they now demanded of Paul Kruger. But the President disliked the intrusion of foreigners in his country. He thought that to give them a voice in the government meant ruin to the ancient customs of his forefathers. He feared the tide of modern ideas, which was even now lapping nearer and ever nearer, and which must, in due course, flow over his land too at the last.

As time went on, the voices of the Outlanders grew louder: their grievances increased. "Reform! reform!" they cried persistently. But the old President was firm. He would concede nothing to these Outlanders—nothing. He could not be brought to see that the very principle of acting in accordance with the wishes of the people, which had induced England to forego her dominion over the Transvaal, now pointed to new conditions of government, in which Outlanders and Dutch should have equal political rights.

"Africa," said Herodotus of old, "is a land of surprises."


British Possessions in Africa, 1837

A surprise was now in store for all. It was the end of December 1895. Some of the Outlanders, tired of their vain efforts to obtain justice by other means, planned rebellion. They were in communication with Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister at the Cape, and Dr. Jameson, Administrator of Rhodesia. Dr. Jameson had collected a small force at Mafeking, on the Transvaal borders, and agreed with the Outlanders to join them on a given day, to take possession of Johannesburg and seize the arsenal at Pretoria. He sadly underrated the intelligence, the courage, the infinite resource of the Boers, and started off with his troops, only to be met at Krugersdorp by a strong force of Boers under General Cronje, to whom he had to surrender. The raid deservedly failed. Punishment in England was meted out to Dr. Jameson and his officers, the Johannesburg Outlanders were heavily fined by the Transvaal Government, and Cecil Rhodes resigned his position as Prime Minister of the Cape and retired to Rhodesia.

But no punishment could undo the evil that had been done. Kruger was sterner than ever with the Outlanders, and a Government, elected by only one class of the population, was carried on. Arms for the Dutch burghers now poured into the Transvaal in ever-increasing quantities. Rapidly and feverishly, preparations for inevitable war were pushed on, until 1899. It was a question of who was to be supreme in South Africa.

"Africa for the Africanders!" cried the Dutch.

"Equal rights for all white men!" cried the English.

It was an impossible state of affairs. A conference between Lord Milner and Mr. Kruger—representatives of England and the Transvaal—led to no result. In the autumn of 1899, war was declared by the Boers. The storm-cloud that had hung over the country for so long had burst at last. The story of the South African war need not be told again. The resistance was splendid, but the end was certain. The tide of modern thought that the President had stayed through the long years of his Presidency, swept over the Transvaal and Orange Free State at the last, and Paul Kruger fled to Europe.


British Possessions in Africa, 1903

But the great statesman, who had seen from the first that progress and modern ideas of government were bound up with a British South Africa, lay sleeping his last sleep amid the Matoppo hills in Rhodesia. Before peace was proclaimed, Cecil Rhodes had died in the land of his adoption. With all his faults, he was the greatest statesman South Africa has ever seen; with all his limitations, he was cast in "heroic mould, with an impulse towards noble ends." A "dreamer devout by vision led, beyond our guess or reach," his ideas were colossal, his outlook on life was vast, his strength magnificent. One purpose ran through his life, and he worked with all his manhood's power to achieve that purpose.

His wish to be buried among the Matoppo hills above Buluwayo, looking forth "across the lands he won," was characteristic of the man's solitary grandeur; and as the long procession wound amid the hills and valleys of Rhodesia, even the natives dimly realised that a great man had passed from their midst.

"The immense and brooding spirit still

Shall quicken and control;

Living, he was the land; and dead,

His soul shall be her soul."

Within two months of his death, in 1902, peace was declared.

To-day Boer and Briton stand shoulder to shoulder, "forged in strong fires, by equal war made one," both members of one great Empire; and as time rolls onward into space, they may feel

"The touch of human brotherhood, and act

As one great nation, true and strong as steel."

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Founding of Rhodesia  |  Next: The Dominion of Canada
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.