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Ian D. Colvin

The War

By January 1897 he was in England once more, as he said, "to face the music." He was in good heart: "When I arrived in London," he said, "and saw the 'busmen and cabbies and other working men touch their hats to me in a friendly way, I knew I was all right and that the man in the street had forgiven me." Rhodes loved the working men. He knew their contact with hard realities gave them a sense which the upper classes often lack—a sense to cut down to the rough justice of the business. He had also a deep regard for the opinion of good women. One, the wife of an old friend whom he met after the Raid in a London house, he drew aside, and said to her quite simply that the blow of Fate had done him good; it had made him more humble, less arbitrary.

To the Select Committee he made a fair and frank statement of his case. What he had done he did to gain civic rights for "the majority of the population, possessing more than half the land, nine-tenths of the wealth, and paying nineteen-twentieths of the taxes in the country," who were denied any share in the administration. There is no need to go further into the case; it had yet to be decided; it was Kruger that was on his trial, and when doom was pronounced it was Kruger that fell.

In the meantime, the Raid had produced what might be called a precipitation in Cape politics. Parties had divided anew upon nearly racial lines, and stood, the Progressives for the Empire and the South African party for the Republics. Rhodes's old friends and colleagues were now opponents and usually enemies—Hofmeyr, Sauer, Merriman, Schreiner; all, somewhat against their will but by the force of circumstances, were driven into the service of Kruger. None of them, it may be believed, approved of Kruger's policy. Merriman certainly had encouraged the rebellion of the Outlanders before the Raid.

It will help us to understand some of these animosities, if I go back for a moment to the Cabinet split of 1893, an affair which I had omitted owing to the narrow compass of this little book. Three members of Rhodes's Cabinet, Merriman, Sauer, and Sir James Innes, combined against their colleague, Sir James Sivewright, owing to his treatment of a railway refreshment contract. The charges somewhat resembled those made as to the recent Marconi contract—that Sivewright had given to a personal friend, and without tender, what amounted to "a virtual monopoly for twenty years." Rhodes was in England when the charges were made, and, although he tried his best to settle matters amicably, he refused to side with the majority by prejudging the case. The upshot was that he formed a new Ministry which excluded all four, and from that time on Merriman and Sauer were his enemies. Their animosity, which, like all their motives, was personal in its origin, was, however, impotent until the Raid gave it a pretext and a weapon. Mr. Schreiner was a later colleague, who fell away from his chief and friend after the Raid. He was honest, but weak, sentimental, and self-deceiving, and became the tool of less scrupulous men. Behind, there was Hofmeyr, always obedient in the last resort to the racial impetus, which drove him forward, and giving an unwilling allegiance to the power behind Setebos, Kruger, the true antagonist of Rhodes.

Rhodes held his own well against great odds. He had still the affection, open or secret, of a large number of the Dutch Cape Colonists, although the Bond was officially against him. He stood for a United South Africa under the British flag against the corrupt republicanism of the Transvaal; and he gained power from the persistent refusal of Kruger to grant any concession, the scandalous corruption of his government, and its continued hostility to the interests of the Cape Colony. Rhodes was able to point out that he had developed the North on lines that helped the trade and agriculture of the Cape: "There are 10,000 people taking the whole of their wheat from Malmesbury, Piquetberg, and Caledon, because we have given them this protection on the railways, namely, a halfpenny per ton per mile for 600 miles, instead of the ordinary rate paid on the flour purchased in Australia." In the Transvaal, on the other hand, "all they thought of was of excluding us. This state tries to isolate itself and exclude all South Africa." The Transvaal Government was "attempting the impossible." It had even driven out its Chief Justice, a Dutch colonial, because he could not stand the depravity of the administration. Such arguments were well designed to gain the support of the Dutch Colonial farmer, and they naturally led up to the great argument of the advantages of union: "We human atoms may divide this country, but nature does not, and the Almighty does not; and whether you are residents here, or in Durban, Johannesburg, or the newly formed state of Rhodesia, the interests are the same, connected in family and thought and domestic relations, and any one who tries to separate them in thought, dealing, and connection is attempting an impossibility."

But things had gone too far for argument, however reasonable and self-evident in its truth. There is an element in life of which Rhodes perhaps never quite appreciated the full strength, and that is racialism. The call of the blood is stronger than reason, and silences the voice even of interest. War was now inevitable, although almost to the last moment Rhodes believed that Kruger would give way, as he had given way before force in Bechuanaland, in Matabeleland. Rhodes was wrong: affairs had reached that tragic pitch when it becomes impossible for anyone to give way.

When war was at last seen to be certain, Rhodes went to Kimberley, the place he loved best, and the place to him of most danger. He threw his whole energy into the defence of the town; saw to the reserves of coal and food in the mines; gave his gardeners orders to plant large quantities of vegetables, organised a weekly distribution of fruit among the troops, built a fort where he thought the line of fortifications was weak on the Kenilworth side, organised its garrison, and raised and provided horses for a corps of mounted men. In the course of these activities, it was almost inevitable that there should be friction with the commandant of the garrison, Colonel Kekewich, a good soldier, with his own ideas of what was to be done and whose orders were to be obeyed. As for Rhodes he had grown accustomed to authority, and had never known discipline, while the progress of the disease which was to kill him made him arbitrary and irritable in his manner. It is none the less true that Rhodes was the life and soul of the civilian side of the defence, and that such measures as he took were considerate, humane, practical. Here, as in Rhodesia, he showed himself personally brave. He rode everywhere on his pony, the white flannel trousers which he always wore on horseback making him a conspicuous mark for Boer riflemen.

And when the siege was raised, Rhodes lost no time in pointing the moral of the war. On 23rd February 1900, a few days after the siege was raised, he made a speech at the annual meeting of De Beers. "All contention will be over," he said, "with the recognition of equal rights for every civilised man south of the Zambesi. That principle, for which we have been so long struggling, is the crux of the present struggle, and my belief is that, when the war is over, a large number of the Dutch in this country will throw in their lot with us on this basis, that neither race shall claim any right of preference over the other. We have no feeling against them. We have lived with them, shot with them, visited with them, and we find, owing I suppose to the race affinity, that there is not much difference between us."