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Howard C. Hillegas

American Interests in South Africa

An idea of the nature and extent of American enterprise in South Africa might be deduced from the one example of a Boston book agent, who made a competency by selling albums of United States scenery to the negroes along the shores of the Umkomaas River, near Zululand. The book agent is not an incongruity of the activity of Americans in that part of the continent, but an example rather of the diversified nature of the influences which owe their origin to the nation of Yankees ten thousand miles distant. The United States of America have had a deeper influence upon South Africa than that which pertains to commerce and trade. The progress, growth, and prosperity of the American States have instilled in the minds of the majority of South Africans a desire to be free from European control, and to be united under a single banner, which is to bear the insignia of the United States of South Africa.


Cape Town and Table Mountain.

In public, editors and speechmakers in Cape Colony, Natal, and the Transvaal spend hours in deploring the progress of Americanisms in South Africa, but in their clubs and libraries they study and discuss the causes which led to America's progress and pre-eminence, and form plans by which they may be able to attain the same desirable ends. The influence and example of the United States are not theoretical; they are political factors which are felt in the discussion of every public question and in the results of every election. The practical results of American influence in South Africa may now be observed only in the increasing exports to that country, but perhaps in another generation a greater and better demonstration will be found in a constitution which unites all the South African states under one independent government. If any corroboration of this sentiment were necessary, a statement made by the man who is leader of the ruling party in Cape Colony would be ample.

"If we want an example of the highest type of freedom," said W. P. Schreiner, the present Premier of Cape Colony, "we must look to the United States of America."

American influences are felt in all phases of South African life, be they social, commercial, religious, political, or retrogressive. Whether it be the American book agent on the banks of the Umkomaas, or the American consul-general in the governor's mansion at Cape Town, his indomitable energy, his breezy indifference to apparently insurmountable difficulties, and his boundless resources will always secure for him those material benefits for which men of other nationalities can do no more than hope. Some of his rivals call it perverseness, callousness, trickery, treachery, and what not; his admirers might ascribe his success to energy, pluck, modern methods, or to that quality best described by that Americanism—"hustling."

American commercial interests in South Africa are of such recent growth, and already of such great proportions, that the other nations who have been interested in the trade for many years are not only astounded, but are fearful that the United States will soon be the controlling spirit in the country's commercial affairs. The enterprise of American business firms, and their ability to undersell almost all the other firms represented in the country, have given an enormous impetus to the export trade with South African countries. Systematic efforts have been made by American firms to work the South African markets on an extensive scale, and so successful have the efforts been that the value of exports to that country has several times been more than doubled in a single year.

Five years ago America's share of the business of South Africa was practically infinitesimal; to-day the United States hold second place in the list of nations which have trade relations with that country, having outranked Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, and Italy. In several branches of trade America surpasses even England, which has always had all the trade advantages owing to the supremacy of her flag over the greater part of the country. That the British merchants are keenly alive to the situation which threatens to transfer the trade supremacy into American hands has been amply demonstrated by the efforts which they have made to check the inroads the Americans are making on their field, and by the appointment of committees to investigate the causes of the decline of British commerce.

American enterprise shows itself by the scores of representatives of American business houses who are constantly travelling through the country, either to secure orders or to investigate the field with a view of entering into competition with the firms of other nations. Fifteen American commercial travellers, representing as many different firms, were registered at the Grand Hotel, Cape Town, at one time a year ago, and that all had secured exceptionally heavy orders indicated that the innovation in the method of working trade was successful.

The laws of the country are unfavourable in no slight degree to the foreign commercial travellers, who are obliged to pay heavy licenses before they are permitted to enter upon any business negotiations. The tax in the Transvaal and Natal is $48.66, and in the Orange Free State and Cape Colony it amounts to $121.66. If an American agent wishes to make a tour of all the states and colonies of the country, he is obliged to pay almost three hundred and fifty dollars in license fees.

The great superiority of certain American manufactured products is such that other nations are unable to compete in those lines after the American products have been introduced. Especially is this true of American machinery, which can not be equaled by that of any other country. Almost every one of the hundreds of extensive gold mines on the Randt is fitted out wholly or in part with American machinery, and, at the present rate of increase in the use of it, it will be less than ten years when none other than United States machinery will be sent to that district. In visiting the great mines the uninitiated American is astonished to find that engines, crushing machinery, and even the electric lights which illuminate them, bear the name plates of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago firms.

The Kimberley diamond mines, which are among the most extensive and most elaborate underground works in the world, use American-made machinery almost exclusively, not only because it is much less costly, but because no other country can furnish apparatus that will give as good results. Almost every pound of electrical machinery in use in the country was made in America and was instituted by American workmen.

Instances of successful American electrical enterprises are afforded by the Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Pretoria street railways, almost every rail, wire, and car of which bears the marks of American manufacture. It is a marvellous revelation to find Philadelphia-made electric cars in the streets of Cape Town, condensing engines from New York State in Port Elizabeth, and Pittsburg generators and switch-boards in the capital of the Transvaal, which less than fifty years ago was under the dominion of savages. Not only did Americans install the street railways, but they also secured the desirable concessions for operating the lines for a stated period. American electricians operate the plants, and in not a few instances have financially embarrassed Americans received a new financial impetus by acting in the capacities of motormen and conductors.

One street car in Cape Town was for a long time distinguished because of its many American features. The Philadelphia-made car was propelled over Pittsburg tracks by means of the power passing through Wilkesbarre wires, and the human agencies that controlled it were a Boston motorman and a San Francisco conductor. It might not be pursuing the subject too far to add that of the twelve passengers in the car on a certain journey ten were Americans, representing eight different States.

One of the first railroads in South Africa—that which leads from Lorenzo Marques to the Transvaal border—was built by an American, a Mr. Murdock, while American material entered largely into the construction of the more extensive roads from the coast to the interior. American rails are more quickly and more cheaply obtainable in South Africa than those of English make, but the influence which is exerted against the use of other than British rails prevents their universal adoption. Notwithstanding the efforts of the influential Englishmen to secure British manufactures wherever and whenever possible, American firms have recently secured the contracts for forty thousand tons of steel rails for the Cape Colony Railway system, and the prospects are that more orders of a similar nature will be forthcoming.

It is not in the sale of steel rails alone that the American manufacturer is forging ahead of his competitors in South Africa. American manufactured wares of all kinds are in demand, and in many instances they are leaders in the market. Especially true is this of American agricultural implements, which are so much more adaptable to the soil and much cheaper than any other make. Small stores in the farming communities of Natal and Cape Colony sell American ploughshares, spades, forks, rakes, and hoes almost exclusively, and it amazes the traveller to find that almost every plough and reaper used by the more progressive agriculturists bears the imprint "Made in the United States."

It is a strange fact that, although South Africa has vast areas covered with heavy timber, almost all the lumber used in the mining districts is transported thither from Puget Sound. The native timber being unsuited for underground purposes and difficult of access, all the mine owners are obliged to import every foot of wood used in constructing surface and underground works of their mines, and at great expense, for to the original cost of the timber is added the charges arising from the sea and land transportation, import duties, and handling. The docks at Cape Town almost all the year round contain one or more lumber vessels from Puget Sound, and upon several occasions five such vessels were being unloaded at the same time.

American coal, too, has secured a foothold in South Africa, a sample cargo of three thousand tons having been despatched thither at the beginning of the year. Coal of good quality is found in several parts of the Transvaal and Natal, but progress in the development of the mines has been so slow that almost the total demand is supplied by Wales. Cape Colony has an extensive petroleum field, but it is in the hands of concessionnaires, who, for reasons of their own, refuse to develop it. American and Russian petroleums are used exclusively, but the former is preferred, and is rapidly crowding the other out of the market.

Among the many other articles of export to South Africa are flour, corn, butter, potatoes, canned meats, and vegetables—all of which might be produced in the country if South Africans took advantage of the opportunities offered by soil and Nature. American live stock has been introduced into the country since the rinderpest disease destroyed almost all of the native cattle, and with such successful results that several Western firms have established branches in Cape Town, and are sending thither large cargoes of mules, horses, cattle, and sheep. Cecil J. Rhodes has recently stocked his immense Rhodesian farm with American live stock, and, as his example is generally followed throughout the country, a decided increase in the live-stock export trade is anticipated.

Statistics only can give an adequate idea of American trade with South Africa; but even these are not reliable, for the reason that a large percentage of the exports sent to the country are ordered through London firms, and consequently do not appear in the official figures. As a criterion of what the trade amounts to, it will only be necessary to quote a few statistics, which, however, do not represent the true totals for the reason given. The estimated value of the exports and the percentage increase of each year's business over that of the preceding year is given, in order that a true idea of the growth of American trade with South Africa may be formed:

YEAR.Value.Per cent increase.
189716,000,00033 1/3
1898 (estimated)20,000,00025

A fact that is deplored by Americans who are eager to see their country in the van in all things pertaining to trade is that almost every dollar's worth of this vast amount of material is carried to South Africa in ships sailing under foreign colours. Three lines of steamships, having weekly sailings, ply between the two countries, and are always laden to the rails with American goods, but the American flag is carried by none of them. A fourth line of steamships, to ply between Philadelphia and Cape Town, is about to be established under American auspices, and is to carry the American flag. A number of small American sailing vessels trade between the two countries, but their total capacity is so small as to be almost insignificant when compared with the great volume carried in foreign bottoms.

The American imports from South Africa are of far less value than the exports, for the reason that the country produces only a few articles that are not consumed where they originate. America is the best market in the world for diamonds, and about one fourth of the annual output of the Kimberley mines reaches the United States. Hides and tallow constitute the leading exportations to America, while aloes and ostrich feathers are chief among the few other products sent here. Owing to this lack of exports, ships going to South Africa are obliged to proceed to India or Australia for return cargoes in order to reduce the expenses of the voyage.

However great the commercial interests of the United States in South Africa, they are small in comparison with the work of individual Americans, who have been active in the development of that country during the last quarter of a century. Wherever great enterprises have been inaugurated, Americans have been prominently identified with their growth and development, and in not a few instances has the success of the ventures been wholly due to American leadership. European capital is the foundation of all the great South African institutions, but it is to American skill that almost all of them owe the success which they have attained.

British and continental capitalists have recognised the superiority of American methods by intrusting the management of almost every large mine and industry to men who were born and received their training in the United States. It is an expression not infrequently heard when the success of a South African enterprise is being discussed, "Who is the Yankee?" The reason of this is involved in the fact that almost all the Americans who went to South Africa after the discovery of gold had been well fitted by their experiences in the California and Colorado mining fields for the work which they were called upon to do on the Randt, and, owing to their ability, were able to compete successfully with the men from other countries who were not so skilled.

Unfortunately, not all the Americans in South Africa have been a credit to their native country, and there is a considerable class which has created for itself an unenviable reputation. The component parts of this class are men who, by reason of criminal acts, were obliged to leave America for new fields of endeavour, and non-professional men who follow gold booms in all parts of the world and trust to circumstances for a livelihood. In the early days of the Johannesburg gold fields these men oftentimes resorted to desperate means, with the result that almost every criminal act of an unusually daring description is now credited against them by the orderly inhabitants. Highwaymen, pickpockets, illicit gold buyers, confidence men, and even train-robbers were active, and for several years served to discredit the entire American colony. Since the first gold excitement has subsided, this class of Americans, in which was also included by the residents all the other criminal characters of whatever nationality, has been compelled to leave the country, and to-day the American colony in Johannesburg numbers about three thousand of the most respected citizens of the city.

The American who has been most prominent in South African affairs, and the stanchest supporter of American interests in that country, is Gardner F. Williams, the general manager and one of the alternate life governors of the De Beers Consolidated Diamond Mines at Kimberley. A native of Michigan, Mr. Williams gained his mining experience in the mining districts of California and other Western States, and went to South Africa in 1887 to take charge of the Kimberley mines, which were then in an almost chaotic condition. By the application of American ideas, Mr. Williams succeeded in making of the mines a property which yields an annual profit of about ten million dollars on a nominal capital of twice that amount. He has introduced American machinery into the mines, and has been instrumental in many other ways in advancing the interests of his native country. Although Mr. Williams receives a salary twice as great as that of the President of the United States, he is proud to be the American consular agent at Kimberley—an office which does not carry with it sufficient revenue to provide the star-spangled banner which constantly floats from a staff in front of his residence.

Dr. J. Perrott Prince is another American who has assisted materially in extending American interests in South Africa, and it is due to his own unselfish efforts that the commerce of the United States with the port of Durban has risen from insignificant volume to its present size. Dr. Prince was a surgeon in the Union army during the civil war, and afterward was one of the first Americans to go to the Kimberley diamond fields. He it was who later induced Dr. Leander Starr Jameson to accompany him to Kimberley in the capacity of assistant surgeon—a service which he performed with great distinction until Mr. Rhodes sent him into Matabeleland to take charge of the military forces, which later he led into the Transvaal.

Dr. Prince's renown as a physician was responsible for a call to Madagascar, whither he was summoned by Queen Ranavalo. He remained in Madagascar as the queen's physician until the French took forcible possession of the island and sent the queen into exile on the Reunion Islands. Dr. Prince has lived in Durban, Natal, for several years, and during the greater part of that time conducted the office of American consular agent at a financial loss to himself. Unfortunately, Dr. Prince was obliged to end his connection with the consular service, and the United States are now represented in Durban by a foreigner, who on the last Fourth of July inquired why all the Americans in the city were making such elaborate displays of bunting and the Stars and Stripes.

The consular agent at Johannesburg is John C. Manion, of Herkimer, N. Y., who represents a large American machinery company. Mr. Manion, in 1896, carried on the negotiations with the Transvaal Government by which John Hays Hammond, an American mining engineer, was released from the Pretoria prison, where he had been confined for complicity in the uprising at Johannesburg. American machinery valued at several million dollars has been sent to South Africa as the result of Mr. Manion's efforts.

In the gold industry on the Randt, Americans have been specially active, and it is due to one of them, J. S. Curtis, that the deep-level mines were discovered. In South Africa a mining claim extends only a specified distance below the surface of the earth, and the Governments do not allow claim-owners to dig beyond that depth. Mr. Curtis found that paying reefs existed below the specified depth, and the result was that the Government sold the underground or deep-level claims with great profit to itself and the mining community.

The consulting engineers of almost all the mines of any importance in the country are Americans, and their salaries range from ten thousand to one hundred thousand dollars a year. John Hays Hammond, who was one of the first American engineers to reach the gold fields, was official mining engineer for the Transvaal Government, and received a yearly salary of twenty-five thousand dollars for formulating the mining laws of the country. He resigned that office, and is now the consulting engineer for the British South Africa Company in Rhodesia and several gold mines on the Randt, at salaries which aggregate almost one hundred thousand dollars a year. Among the scores of other American engineers on the Randt are L. I. Seymour, who has control of the thirty-six shafts of the Randt Mines; Captain Malan, of the Robinson mines; and H. S. Watson, of the Simmer en Jack mines, in developing which more than ten million dollars have been spent.

Another American introduced the system of treating the abandoned tailings of the mines by the cyanide process, whereby thousands of ounces of gold have been abstracted from the offal of the mills, which had formerly been considered valueless. Others have revolutionized different parts of the management of the mines, and in many instances have taken abandoned properties and placed them on a paying basis. It would not be fair to claim that American ingenuity and skill are responsible for the entire success of the Randt gold mines, but it is indisputable that Americans have done more toward it than the combined representatives of all other nations.

Every line of business on the Randt has its American representatives, and almost without exception the firms who sent them thither chose able men. W. E. Parks, of Chicago, represents Frazer & Chalmers, whose machinery is in scores of the mines. His assistant is W. H. Haig, of New York city.

The American Trading and Importing Company, with its headquarters in Johannesburg, and branches in every city and town in the country, deals exclusively in American manufactured products, and annually sells immense quantities of bicycles, stoves, beer, carriages, and other goods, ranging from pins to pianos.

Americans do not confine their endeavours to commercial enterprises, and they may be found conducting missionary work among the Matabeles and Mashonas, as well as building dams in Rhodesia. American missionaries are very active in all parts of South Africa, and because of the practical methods by which they endeavour to civilize and Christianize the natives they have the reputation throughout the country of being more successful than those who go there from any other country. In the Rhodesian country Mr. Rhodes has given many contributions of land and money to the American missionaries, and has on several occasions complimented them by pronouncing their achievements unparalleled.

A practical illustration will demonstrate the causes of the success of the American missionary. An English missionary spent the first two years after his arrival in the country in studying the natives' language and in building a house for himself. In that time he had made no converts. An American missionary arrived at almost the same time, rented a hut, and hired interpreters. At the end of two years he had one hundred and fifty converts, many more natives who were learning useful occupations and trades, and had sent home a request for more missionaries with which to extend his field.

It is rather remarkable that the scouts who assisted in subduing the American Indians should later be found on the African continent to assist in the extermination of the blacks. In the Matabele and Mashona campaigns of three years ago, Americans who scouted for Custer and Miles on the Western plains were invaluable adjuncts to the British forces, and in many instances did heroic work in finding the location of the enemy and in making way for the American Maxim guns that were used in the campaigns.

The Americans in South Africa, although only about ten thousand in number, have been of invaluable service to the land. They have taught the farmers to farm, the miners to dig gold, and the statesmen to govern. Their work has been a credit to the country which they continue to revere, and whose flag they raise upon every proper occasion. They have taken little part in the political disturbances of the Transvaal, because they believe that the citizens of a republic should be allowed to conduct its government according to their own idea of right and justice, independently of the demands of those who are not citizens.