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Ian D. Colvin

The Road to the North

Now it is a matter of great interest, as bearing on the life and character of Rhodes, to know why he entered the Cape Parliament in 1881. He did not enter politics with a mere vague notion of coming to the front, of gaining power, of securing something for Kimberley, of protecting the diamond industry. He had something bigger in view. He had hammered it all out beforehand, sitting on the upturned bucket looking into the depths of the mine. He had his policy, and his policy was nothing less than this—the union of South Africa under the British flag.

I have already mentioned that long before Rhodes went into Parliament at all he had expressed his intention to devote his life to the British Empire. And he had determined not merely on this end; but on the means to the end. He had to use not the Imperial factor—that was a broken reed—but the Dutch themselves; he had to make the Cape Colony the dominant power in South Africa, controlling the railway system, controlling the interior, hemming in the republics, commanding the trade, so that when the union came to be made, the republics would adhere to the Colony, and not the Colony to the republics.

He made his declaration of faith early—only two years after he entered Parliament. Speaking in the Cape House on July 18, 1883, he said: "I have my own views as to the future of South Africa, and I believe in a United States of South Africa, but as a portion of the British Empire. I believe that confederated states, in a colony under responsible government, would each be practically an independent republic, but I think we should also have all the privileges of the tie with the Empire." That was in reply to a speech made by Jan Hofmeyr at a Bond Congress, where he had spoken of a "United States of South Africa under its own flag." It is proof sufficient of the end in view, and now as to the means. In 1898 he said to his constituents: "I will give you the history of a thought. I have been seventeen years your member. . . . When I was elected I went down to the Cape Parliament, thinking, in my practical way, I will go and take the North."

This was no empty boast, for, going back over his speeches, we find that he had publicly declared himself in the House, at least as early as August 16, 1883, when he said: "I look upon this Bechuanaland territory as the Suez Canal of the trade of this country, the key of its road to the interior. The House will have to wake up to what will be its future policy. The question before us really is this, whether this Colony is to be confined to its present borders, or whether it is to become the dominant state in South Africa—whether, in fact, it is to spread its civilisation over the interior." Probably this declaration was made two years earlier, for we know that Rhodes spoke on June 15, 1881, on this same question, although, most unfortunately, no record of that speech remains. But I have said enough to show that both the end and the means were in Rhodes's mind in those early political days. He was a man who laid down his plans at the beginning, and followed them year after year.

We have the whole idea not only clearly expressed, but beautifully illuminated in a speech made on June 23, 1887: "I am not going to say that you could make a united South Africa to the Zambesi to-morrow, but I do say that this thing could be done gradually by promoting the means to the end. . . . I have the satisfaction of knowing that in the disorganised state of this House, I can come down session after session with an object and an idea. To express it a little more clearly, it is as if I were a little sailing-boat on Table Bay, and knew exactly what port I am aiming for. The honourable member for Stellenbosch (Mr. Hofmeyr) has no bait that can tempt me. I know exactly what I am after. I have got my interest in this country, I have my mining speculation, I have my interest in its future, and, coupled with all this, I am a member of the House. Every year I can come down here and work at my problem. It took me fifteen years to get a mine, but I got it. Though my boat may be slow in the race, I know exactly what I am starting for. There are honourable members opposite who have racing boats, but I dare to challenge them, and to say that they do not know what ports they are sailing for; and though they may be manned with a smarter crew, what with their backing and filling, I am not sure they will not scuttle and go to the bottom. I have an object, and I can wait to carry it out."

When Rhodes went to Cape Town he found politics unstable and uncertain. Gordon Sprigg was in office; but he was supported only by a majority of two, and he already depended on the Dutch vote as organised by Jan Hofmeyr, the "mole," as Merriman called him—the "Captain who never appears on deck," as he was more respectfully described by Mackenzie. Hofmeyr could not take office because his Dutch following had no experience of affairs, so he ruled a nominated Ministry from the back benches. Sprigg was content with the position; he had been a reporter in the House of Commons, and knew all the technical tricks of the Parliamentary trade; he was a dry and arid man who managed Ministerial affairs with the narrow efficiency of a good clerk; but remained in ignorance of the springs of human nature and of his own political power. He was a Shagpat complacently ignorant of the fact that his power lay in a hair of Jan Hofmeyr's head. He had got the Colony into a bad mess by an attempt to disarm the Basutos—in the obvious interest of Hofmeyr's good friends of the Orange Free State. The Basutos had resisted, and, being brave men, strongly entrenched in their mountain country, they had defeated the Colonial troops. Rhodes found his Colony beaten by a native power in a war in which, as he believed, the native was in the right. For the rest, Sprigg was refusing to build the railway to Kimberley, a project both profitable and necessary, and was preparing instead an enormous programme of railways, which would have been of benefit to the Dutch farmer, at a cost of twelve millions to the Colony. With the Colonial finances as they were, such a policy meant bankruptcy. Rhodes acted with decision. He had been returned to support the Sprigg Ministry. He refused to support them; he carried his colleague with him. The majority of two was thus turned into a minority of two, and Sprigg was forced to resign. Rhodes returned to a hostile Kimberley, and in a single speech converted his critics. Thus in his first session, the young politician of twenty-eight had proved his power by turning out a Ministry he had been sent to support and carrying his constituency with him.

The Scanlen Ministry succeeded, and Rhodes was given a hand in the settlement of the Basutoland question as Compensation Commissioner. His view was that the Colony had made such a mess of the affair that it could neither carry on the war nor administer Basutoland upon a peace. The only thing to be done was to hand the country over to a British Resident under the Colonial Office. Gordon, who had been asked by Scanlen to make a settlement, had come to the same conclusion, and after some delay this policy was carried out, and with complete success. In the course of these negotiations Rhodes and Gordon came to know each other well—knew, loved, and trusted each other. Two years later, when Gordon went to the Soudan, he telegraphed to Rhodes to join him; and when Rhodes heard of Gordon's death he exclaimed more than once, "I am sorry I was not with him."

Rhodes wanted Basutoland out of the way. He saw there was no advance in that direction. With its large and warlike native population, entrenched in their mountains, truculent with victory, it was likely to be a disastrous embarrassment for the Cape Government. He saw a better future for his Colony than in this deadly tangle of waachte-en-beetje  thorn. He meant to have the North, "the Suez Canal of the trade of South Africa." That is, he meant to make the Cape Colony have it, so that the road to the interior should be kept open under the British flag. He knew that settlers from the Transvaal, the "freebooters," as they were called, were already swarming into the country, and he shrewdly suspected that the Transvaal Government designed to take it over. He knew also that Germany was bent upon securing Damaraland; and he knew that if the Transvaal and Germany joined hands the road to the interior was lost. He set to work with his usual care and circumspection. He discovered that the Colonial boundaries in Griqualand West were incorrectly aligned; as a matter of fact they included seventy farms on the territory of Mankoroane, the Bechuana chief. In 1882 he moved for a Commission of Inquiry, was himself appointed a commissioner, and went up to Griqualand West with an official status. He found the Bechuanas extremely nervous at the incursion of the Boers. Mankoroane was willing to place himself under the protection of the Cape Colony so as to secure himself in the remainder of his land. As for the freebooters, they were already in "effective occupation" of their farms, and their chief anxiety was to secure their titles to the land. At the price of security, they were also willing to be annexed to the Colony. Thus Rhodes returned to Cape Town with petitions for annexation both from Mankoroane and the Stellaland freebooters. It was a "splendid piece of work, when it is thought over. He was a young Englishman, unknown, with no power behind him, and by mere negotiation he secured the most important part of South Africa for his country. His method had the fine simplicity of genius. He pointed out to the freebooters that under a Cape title their land would be worth more per morgen than under a Transvaal title. And to the natives he pointed out that only the Cape Government would secure them in such land as they still possessed.

He went back to the Cape exulting; but he rejoiced too soon. The Parliament of the Colony was by this time under the control of men who saw the future of South Africa not British but Dutch, not Imperial but Republican. Their policy was to strengthen and extend the Transvaal so as to make it the dominant State of South Africa, trusting that when union came the whole would then take the colour of the dominant part. For that reason Jan Hofmeyr and his friends refused the option secured to the Colony by Rhodes. Rhodes, speaking in the House, put the subject forcibly, cogently, almost passionately, before Parliament: "You are dealing," he said, "with a question upon the proper treatment of which depends the whole future of this Colony. I look upon this Bechuanaland territory as the Suez Canal of the trade of this country, the key of its road to the interior. The question before us is this: whether the Colony is to be confined within its present borders, or whether it is to become the dominant State in South Africa, and spread its civilisation over the interior." It is a remarkable speech, this speech of 16th August 1883, for it contains, as it were in the germ, the future of South Africa.. In reply to Hofmeyr, he pointed to the hostile policy of the Transvaal, which was already arranging with Delagoa Bay a tariff which would annihilate the Cape trade. If the Transvaal were to take over Stellaland the interior could be shut against them. The interior was a great country, almost empty, and suitable for settlement by the sons of Cape Colony. "I have," he said, "been favoured with reports from Tati, and I have learned how great are the prospects of the territory beyond the Transvaal," and he ended with a solemn warning: "I solemnly warn this House that if it departs from the control of the interior, we shall fall from the position of the paramount State in South Africa, which is our right in every scheme of federal union in the future, to that of a minor state."

This appeal was made in vain, and Van Niekerk, the freebooter, proclaimed his republic of Stellaland, which everyone knew was a preliminary to annexation by the Transvaal. But Rhodes refused to be beaten. Through the High Commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson, also a staunch and loyal servant of the Empire, he interested Lord Derby in the matter, and persuaded Sir Thomas Scanlen to take joint responsibility for the territory with the Imperial Government. But again Hofmeyr countered the move: the Cape Parliament repudiated the arrangement. But events were to force the Colonial Office further on the road, even if the Cape refused to follow. On the 1st of May 1883 the German flag was hoisted at Angra Pequena, a move that Rhodes had tried in vain to prevent. Sir Hercules warned the Home Government that Kruger and Bismarck would join hands across Africa. Lord Derby at last took decisive action. By the Convention of London the Transvaal boundary was definitely fixed on lines that left the road to the interior outside the republic. That was on February 27, 1884, and on the same day Bechuanaland was made a Protectorate. But Kruger was not yet beaten. He knew by experience that the Imperial factor was weak and vacillating. He therefore raided east and west, supporting his freebooters both in Zululand and Bechuanaland. Mr. Merriman described the President's policy at this time with perfect accuracy: "From the time," he said, "the Convention was signed, the policy of the Transvaal was to push out bands of freebooters, and to get them involved in quarrels with the natives. They wished to push their border over the land westwards and realise the dream of President Pretorius, which was that the Transvaal should stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. The result was robbery, rapine, and murder."

The situation was complicated by the fact that the Colonial Office had entrusted the charge of the new Protectorate to John Mackenzie, the missionary. Now a good deal has been made of the difference between Mackenzie and Rhodes; but I have space only to state briefly my conclusions on a very bulky controversy.

Mackenzie, then, held the Livingstone view, that the natives were the true owners of the soil, and that the Dutch were wrongful usurpers. The Dutch, let us remember, had attacked Livingstone's mission station, massacred his people, and carried away his four hundred mission children into slavery. It was Mackenzie's object to make Bechuanaland a native reserve under Imperial protection, and this involved the expulsion of the Dutch settlers. Now in justice Mackenzie had a strong case; but it was a case not only against the Dutch settlement in Bechuanaland, but the white settlement in South Africa. Rhodes, on the other hand, recognised the accomplished fact. The Dutch were there, and any attempt to drive them out must fail because it would enlist upon their side the whole white population of South Africa. The Imperial factor would give way; it had withdrawn from the Orange Free State; it had withdrawn from the Transvaal. It would withdraw from Bechuanaland. Moreover, Rhodes regarded the white settlement of South Africa as not only inevitable but desirable. It was like the settlement of America which dispossessed the Red Indians. Rhodes was willing to compromise: the natives should have sufficient locations; they should be left the right to hunt and to farm on their own land as well as to work on the land of the white settler; but they must not bar the progress of the white man. In the speech I have summarised he put his point of view: "The republic of Stellaland," he said, "was offered as their territory. Some honourable members may say that this is immorality to deal with these men at all after what has occurred. 'The lands,' they may say, 'belong to the chief Mankoroane. How improper! How immoral! We must not do it.' Now I have not these scruples. I believe that the natives are bound gradually to come under the control of the Europeans. I feel that it is the duty of this Colony, when, as it were, her younger and more fiery sons go out and take land, to follow in their steps with civilised government."

Whatever may be said on the score of ethics, Rhodes's was the only practicable policy. But the matter had gone too far for settlement without force. Rhodes, who was sent up by Sir Hercules Robinson in supersession of Mackenzie, went straight to the Stellaland ringleaders, Van Niekerk and De la Rey, encamped with a commando on the Hartz River. He found them in a dangerous mood. "I shall never forget our meeting," said Rhodes long afterwards. "When I spoke to De la Rey, his answer was, 'Blood must flow,' to which I remember making the retort: 'No, give me my breakfast, and then we can talk about blood.' Well, I stayed with him a week. I became godfather to his grandchild, and we made a settlement. Those who were serving under De la Rey and Van Niekerk got their farms, and I secured the government of the country for Her Majesty the Queen, which I believe was the right policy, and so both sides were more or less satisfied."

Rhodes succeeded with Stellaland; but he failed with the other freebooting settlement of Goshen. Like Stellaland, Goshen lay across the road to the interior, and here Kruger made his stand. Rhodes arrived at Rooi Grond to find Kruger's commissioner, Joubert, hand in glove with the freebooters. They were in laager round the kraal of Montsoia, the Bechuana chief, at Mafeking, and the very night that Rhodes arrived they made a determined attack upon the hard-pressed garrison. Rhodes protested with vigour both to Joubert and Van Pittius, the leader of the freebooters. He pointed out to them that they were attacking a tribe under the protection of Her Majesty. But his warning went unheeded. He withdrew after receiving a despairing message from Montsoia that if he surrendered it was merely to save his women and children from massacre. A few days after Rhodes left, Montsoia did surrender, and Kruger, "in the interests of humanity," proclaimed the annexation of Montsoia's country to the Transvaal. This was too much for the Imperial Government. The Warren Expedition was the result.

Colonel Warren advanced into Bechuanaland with a fine fighting force of four thousand men. Kruger was in no position to resist. His treasury was bankrupt, and his forces inadequate. Colonel Warren besides was advancing on his soft side; there was no Drakensbergen to help the defence. Kruger therefore submitted with as good a grace as he could summon. The two parties met at Fourteen Streams on 7th February 1885. Warren, against the advice of Rhodes, still Deputy Commissioner, was accompanied also by Mackenzie. Kruger had with him as secretary Dr. Leyds. Thus Rhodes came face to face with the man against whom he had hitherto worked in the dark. In this the first round of the fight, Kruger was beaten, and sought only to find the best way out. He pleaded that he had been powerless to check the raiders. Rhodes, remembering with indignation the treatment of Montsoia, replied hotly: "I blame only one man for the events that followed my arrival at Rooi Grond, and that is Joubert. Why is he not here to answer for himself?

But here, as elsewhere, Rhodes was all for a line of policy that would reconcile the Boers to British rule. For that reason he had protested against the presence of Mackenzie, and for that reason he protested against the Warren-Mackenzie scheme of land settlement. The Colonial Office blue-books of the time give a full account of this difference. Warren, influenced by Mackenzie, desired to turn the Boers out of their farms, and he proposed to allow none but British settlers on the land. Such a scheme was fatal to any permanent settlement, and it amounted besides, as Rhodes and Sir Hercules Robinson both held, to a breach of faith with the Stellaland settlers. At the same time Warren arrested Van Niekerk on an unsupported charge of murder. His policy was, in fact, a policy of hostility to the Boers, and Rhodes knew that such a policy was bound to fail. He took a strong course: he resigned, and, being supported by the High Commissioner, in the end he carried the day. And in the end his whole policy was adopted. The Imperial factor was eliminated, Bechuanaland was taken over by the Colony, and the road to the interior was saved for the Empire.

Rhodes learned a great deal from Bechuanaland; but chiefly he learned that the Cape Colony could not be relied on to support a forward policy as against the Transvaal. This was the weakness of Bond policy as directed by Hofmeyr. It sacrificed the present good of the Cape for the sake of an ultimate end. Of that weakness, as we shall see, Rhodes was to take full advantage. His aim was to arouse the ambition of Cape Colony, to help it to become the dominant state in South Africa, to extend the British Colonial interest to the north, and surround the Transvaal with British Colonial territory, to make the railways and the ports to the interior British Colonial, so that when the time came to federate, the British Colony should be able to determine the character of the federation. Kruger's policy was the exact opposite. He wanted to secure the interior, to open out his own ports, to control the railway system of South Africa, and so, when the time came, to make Pretoria the political centre of South Africa.