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Ian D. Colvin

Rhodes's Policy of Union

And now, having seen how Rhodes secured the key to the North, and the North itself, for the British Empire, let us retrace our steps a little and examine Rhodes's political policy in the Cape Parliament. We have seen that his aim was to establish a United States of South Africa under the British flag, and his experience in the De Beers Mine had led him to believe that this great amalgamation was not to be accomplished all at once, but by one step on another. He had learnt much from looking down upon the checkered claims; he had seen the value of position—how one block might be used to dominate another block—how control over lines of communication might give a vital advantage—how, above all, the dominating interest was able to dictate the character and terms of the amalgamation; and, looking at the map of Africa, he saw the same checker of claims, the same anarchy of working—English, Dutch, and Portuguese, Crown Colony and Responsible Government, interior interests and coast interests, a tangle of conflicting forces that had somehow to be reconciled and brought together in a true union.

When Rhodes entered the Cape House in 1881, the Dutch vote, afterwards organised into the Afrikander Bond by the genius of Mr. Hofmeyr, was a growing force. It was the Conservative agricultural party; it had a single aim and knew what it wanted. The conflicting interests of the various British communities weakened and divided the other side, so that although the British members had almost a monopoly of showy political talent, the control of Cape politics fell more and more under the sway of the Dutch element. Now Rhodes had himself the land-holding instinct: he came of farming stock, and, although he did look "too young and damnably like an Englishman," he soon won the confidence of the farmers by his sympathetic understanding of their needs. In his favourite phrase, he could work with them. The stand he made against the jingoism of Warren and Mackenzie, while it antagonised some of the British stalwarts, made the Dutch farmers his friends. When he protested against the Warren policy of excluding Dutchmen from Bechuanaland, he gave the Dutch a definition of the British Empire which they could accept. "I remember, when a youngster, reading in my English history of the supremacy of my country and its annexations, and that there were two cardinal axioms—that the word of the nation, when once pledged, was never broken; and that, when a man accepted the citizenship of the British Empire, there was no distinction between races." Then his customs policy was after the farmer's heart: "The House," he said in 1886, "has been wandering year by year in the direction of improper Protection. A Bill has been put in to encourage cotton and woollen manufactures; we all know that this will be a total failure. The country is not adapted for such manufactures. The true protection lies in the encouragement of the growth of our grain and wine. . . . The real protection is to stop the drain on the country by its payment for foreign corn, and produce our own." To "turn a barren desert into a fruitful cornfield"—that was his definition of a customs policy. Then he believed in irrigation, and in State assistance for great irrigation works; he advocated an excise that would not bear directly on the wine-grower; and his policy of expansion was popular because it gave the farmers land for their sons.

Rhodes was a believer in real politics. He saw that South Africa was swayed by two important material interests, land and communications. Land meant expansion, railways meant progress—these were the two dynamic forces which he sought to use. He knew that if he could extend the Cape railway system into the Transvaal, the Cape would dominate the Transvaal; he feared that if the Transvaal succeeded in opening communications with Delagoa Bay, the Transvaal might dominate the Cape. And here again he appealed to the farming interest to support his Imperial policy, for he pointed out that the Transvaal was a good market for Cape produce, and that railways to the Transvaal were necessary to convey that produce. But the prevailing Cape view at that time was narrow and parochial; as Rhodes said, "the mist of Table Mountain covered all." The Cape policy was, as to railways, not to build outside their own borders; and, as to customs, to charge full rates upon through trade and keep the whole. In fact, the Cape was like a robber baron who, holding the door to South Africa, charged an extortionate ransom for all goods that passed through. Now this might be a good enough policy if there was only one door; but Rhodes realised that there were three—the side door of Natal, the back door of Delagoa Bay, as well as the front door of the Cape. He also realised that, if these doors were once opened, not only would the Cape lose most of her interior trade, but the union of South Africa upon the lines he favoured would be made far more difficult. Kruger, as Rhodes discovered, had made a proposal to Sir Gordon Sprigg of Free Trade between the two countries, and of a joint railway policy which would have extended the Kimberley line to Pretoria. Rhodes supported the scheme with all his energy; to him it seemed a heaven-sent opportunity for the real union of South Africa. In May 1886 we find him appealing to the Cape House to take a large view of the subject and embrace the offer. He urged both the sentimental and the commercial view. It would give them trade, it would give them union. "What is staring the House in the face at the present moment is that unless action is taken at once, the Delagoa Bay Railroad will be carried out. That means that if the Delagoa Bay Railway is carried out, we shall not get a continuation of the line from Kimberley to Pretoria. Commercial people will be always inspiring or instilling into the rulers of the Transvaal hostile action against the Cape Colony. In other words, if the Delagoa Bay Railway is carried out, the real union of South Africa will be indefinitely deferred. If that is not done this session, it will be too late; the interests of the Transvaal will be turned towards Delagoa Bay, and their commerce will go with their interests. From being connected in commerce, union will come, and that is the only way in which it can come. . . . . Commerce should come first, and union will follow by having our interests in common." He went on to urge a Customs Union with the Transvaal. As it was, the Transvaal was being forced by mere want of money to impose a tariff on goods from the Colony. "We must do away with the internal duties, and, if we are going to improve the feeling that exists, we must deal with them on the basis of giving them some share of the customs." But Rhodes was defeated—he stood almost alone; the parochial view prevailed. The Transvaal offer was, as Rhodes said, "rudely refused." In the same year came the gold rush to the Transvaal, providing the funds for the railway to Delagoa Bay. In 1888 Rhodes had to deplore the inevitable disaster which comes to communities, as to individuals, who repent when it is too late. "The balance of the history is a hideous and humiliating attempt to obtain connection with the Transvaal after the rejection of the proposals which the Transvaal had themselves submitted." A little later Rhodes made a stupendous effort to redress the balance so lost. With the financial backing of Lord Rothschild, he offered to buy Delagoa Bay outright from the Portuguese Government. Sir Thomas Fuller has told us how that negotiation failed. The Portuguese Government would have accepted the offer; but feared to outrage the pride of their people. Thus Rhodes was defeated, and events took their evil course. Kruger, to strengthen his Delagoa Bay Railway, first stopped the Cape line at the frontier, and then heaped charges on the Cape trade when the connection was made. The Cape merchants were reduced to unloading their merchandise at the frontier, and conveying it by cart to the gold fields. Then Kruger closed the drifts, and the Colony and the Republic were brought to the verge of war. If Rhodes had been listened to there would have been no such collision—there would have been a practical customs and railway union of the South African States. If that had happened, there would have been no raid, and no war.

On native policy Rhodes again followed a course which conciliated the Dutch vote and made for union. It is true that he set himself dead against the sale of liquor to natives, and thereby risked antagonising the wine farmer; but against that he set a favourable excise policy. But he went some way with the Dutch on the question of the native franchise. He was against the raw native having a vote; if the native became a civilised man, by work and education, then he was to be given the privilege. Rhodes favoured a property and educational franchise; holding that the "blanket Kafir" neither understood nor desired the vote. "Why," he asked, "should we not settle all these grievances that exist between Dutch and English? I offer to the opposite benches the pomegranate; I ask you to clear away all grievances between you and me, and the native question is the greatest. Do not let the real interests of the natives of South Africa be complicated with the question of the franchise. I repeat they do not want it. . . . The liquor ought to be kept from the natives, and there the missionary sphere ends. The natives on communal tenure must be kept as a subject race." And he showed how the republics could never accept the native policy of the Cape, which must remain a bar to union. "What is the use of talking about a united South Africa if the native question remains undealt with? Does the House think for one moment that the republics of the Transvaal and the Free State would join with the Colony with its native franchise infinitely beyond the native franchise of Natal. It is impossible." This speech was made in the middle of 1887, and Rhodes was, of course, accused of betraying the rights of the native; but long afterwards, when he was in power, he showed that he understood the native's true interests by framing the measure known as the Glen Grey Act, which gives to the native control over his own affairs. I may sum up Rhodes's native policy here, although I have no space to go into it at length. It was to keep them apart from the white man; to encourage them to work; to give them control over their own affairs under the guidance of the magistrate; to give them primogeniture in land; to educate them gradually in work and civilisation. They were, he said, "fellow-tribesmen of the Druids"; they had two thousand years to make up; they must be helped along the road, but they must not be thrust into a position for which they were not yet fitted.

I have, however, left the main lines of Rhodes's policy which I am now engaged in tracing out. We have seen that he sympathised with the Dutch in their land and protection policy, and that he only differed from them when their leaders endeavoured to throw the development of the North, and therefore the balance of power, into the hands of the Transvaal. Thus in the nine years before 1890 he showed the Dutch that he was their friend, and when in that year Sir Gordon Sprigg was defeated on his railway policy, it was found that Rhodes was the only man who could carry on the Government. In that year Rhodes took office as Prime Minister, and from then on to 1896 he ruled the Cape Colony with increasing power and authority, not obeying the Bond, as previous Prime Ministers had done, but working with it and through it for certain ends which were common to both. Thus, as to the new territory, he made the Bond his allies by offering its members the land for their sons. His policy is set forth in a letter addressed to the secretary of the Cape Town branch on 17th April 1891. In that letter he invites a deputation to inspect and report upon the new country, and asks the Bond for advice on the terms of settlement. He states that he has arranged for the admission of a hundred farmers from the Transvaal; and as opportunity offers he will admit others from the Transvaal and the Free State, but promises that "no undue preference will be given to them over the Cape Colony farmers." And, having made the point clear, he informs them of the threatened invasion of the Chartered Territory by the Transvaal trekkers, leaving it open to the Cape Dutch to deduce that such an invasion would be hostile to their interests as possible settlers.

Again, in a speech he made to the Afrikander Bond at Kimberley on 30th March 1891, he held before them the hope (which the Dutch had never altogether abandoned) of regaining the differential rate on Cape wines in the British market. For that he was negotiating, and by that he hoped to get "a good market in preference to and against those who are outside the circle of the British Empire and its Colonies." Then he reminded them that their aim was substantially his—"working quietly, year after year, to bring South Africa into one system as to its railways, as to its customs, and as to its trade in the various products of the country." The obstacle to that end was the existence of the independent states, which Sir Bartle Frere had in vain tried to unite with the Cape. And then comes a passage which I must quote, as it put Rhodes's policy as it were in a nutshell:

"Although there may be two different ways of working it out, the object is the same; and I would say to-night that the only time I ever differed with the Afrikander Bond was when I saw that you were relying too much upon a sentimental arrangement (I am speaking now with regard to the northern states) rather than upon a practical basis. At one time you were prepared to let the whole of the northern territories go from you, in the hope that they would at some future time be united with you. Well, I have been through the fire in the work of amalgamating the diamond mines; and one powerful rule to follow is that you must never abandon a position. It is perfectly true that the northern states may accept your sentiment as to a union with South Africa; but you must come to a bargain with every card you have in your hand. That is the secret of the Bechuanaland development, and the development of Zambesia, now going on. I have not one single atom of antagonistic feeling, in so far as the Transvaal or any of the neighbouring states are concerned; but if your ambition or policy is a union of South Africa, then the Cape Colony must keep as many cards as it may possess. That idea led to the settlement of Bechuanaland, and that idea has led to the possession of districts in the Zambesia region. . . . It is not for us to interfere with the independence of the states that are neighbouring to us; it is for us to obtain customs relations, railway communication, and free trade in products with them, but never to interfere with their independence. But it is for us, when we have the power and the means, to take the balance of the map and say, 'That shall become part of our system.' . . . The mistake that has been made in the past is to think that a union can be made in half an hour, whether rightly or wrongly, for the good of the country. It took me twenty years to amalgamate the diamond mines. The amalgamation was done by detail, step by step, attending to every little matter in connection with the people interested; and so your union must be done by detail, never opposing any single measure that can bring that union closer, giving up even some practical advantage for a proper union, educating your children to the fact that it is your policy, and that you must and will have it, telling it them and teaching it them in your district Bestuurs  and house-holds, and demanding that they shall never abandon the idea. In connection with this question, I may meet with opposition; but if I do, I shall not abandon it."

And here Rhodes touched upon his Education policy. He proposed, he said, to found a Teaching Residential University in Cape Colony, where young men from the Free State, the Transvaal, Natal, even Mashonaland, would meet and would go back to their own countries "tied to one another by the strongest feelings that can be created, because the period in your life when you indulge in friendships which are seldom broken is from the age of eighteen to twenty-one. Therefore, if we had a Teaching Residential University, these young men would go forth into all parts of South Africa prepared to make the future of the country, and in their hands this great question of union could safely be left . . . . Nothing will overcome the associations and the aspirations they will form under the shadow of Table Mountain."

Here, then, was Rhodes's policy,—to unite South Africa under the Colonial system, and therefore under the British flag, by making the Cape Colony the dominating factor, and using to this end customs, railways, the new territory, even the native question and education. All these various questions fitted into one another as parts of a great scheme. It was a great conception, entitling Rhodes—if there had been nothing else—to the name of Statesman.

In the working out of this project Rhodes gradually obtained complete ascendancy over the Cape Parliament. We have seen how he treated the Bond; as for the opposition, he incorporated its most formidable elements in his Government, so that in time he became as strong in the Cape Colony as Kruger was in the Transvaal, while he had also the advantage of absolute rule over the North. And Kruger by his hostility to the Cape added to Rhodes's power, for it threw the Cape Dutch more and more into his hands. When Kruger finally closed the drifts against the Cape trade, Rhodes had almost the entire Colony, Dutch as well as English, at his back. It is true that there always was a Dutch party in the Cape devoted to the purely racial ideal and willing to make any sacrifice to that end. This party favoured Krugerism, and, being strong in Stellenbosch, it checkmated Rhodes's scheme of a Teaching University to bring together the two races. Rhodes offered a magnificent site on the slopes of Table Mountain, and promised the support of his great fortune if only the colleges would unite in his scheme. But the Stellenbosch Theological Seminary, the stronghold of Dutch nationalism, stubbornly refused, and in this part of his scheme Rhodes had to acknowledge himself beaten.

Whether this spirit of Dutch nationalism would have beaten him on the greater project if the Raid had not cut across his plans we shall never know, and it is not profitable to guess.