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Cecil Rhodes by  Ian D. Colvin




THOSE who study South African history aright see in the Raid only an episode—picturesque and important, but still only an episode in the long struggle between the Imperial and the Republican systems. Rhodes led on the one side, and Kruger on the other. The object of Kruger, as we have seen, was to extend and strengthen the republican system, to make it independent of the Colonies and to force the Colonies into ultimate union upon republican terms. The object of Rhodes was to extend the Colonial system, to make the Cape predominant, and by predominance in customs and railways, as well as by the influence of the increasing British population in the Transvaal, to secure union on Colonial terms. The fight for Bechuanaland, Mashonaland, Swaziland, Zululand, Amatongaland, are all incidents in the same great [68] contest. Kruger raided freely. He had been raiding all his life. He raided Bechuanaland, he raided Swaziland, he raided Mashonaland. The raid was one of the chief weapons in his armoury. Sometimes it succeeded, and sometimes it failed. And another weapon on which he relied was the blood relationship of the Dutch Cape Colonists. Here Rhodes had a difficult problem to deal with, for it was these Dutch Colonists that he chiefly relied upon in the Cape Parliament. But he skilfully used the hostile policy of Kruger to keep the Dutch on the Colonial side. Thus in 1894, speaking on the high duties imposed by the republic on Colonial products, he said: "Our wagons, our fruit, wine, grain, butter, even our cattle, are being heavily taxed. We have been promised consideration, but the Transvaal has done nothing." And then he skilfully linked the grievance of the Outlanders with this agricultural grievance: "The President is in favour of a system which refuses the franchise to seven-tenths of the population, and rejects commercial relations with a friendly and neighbouring State, which had come forward to help him in time of need. Meanwhile," and here comes the third link in the chain, "we may be thankful that our route to the Zambesi and beyond is open and free, and that the far north will some day be a portion of the Cape Colony. We must, then, be patient and not lose our tempers. Our only course is to maintain a statesmanlike and dignified position."

There were by this time at least forty thousand Outlanders, mostly British subjects, in the Transvaal, and although they were a large majority of the population, and paid nearly the entire amount of the state revenues. they were denied any voice in the government of the country. This in itself was a [69] situation scarcely tolerable to Englishmen; but it might have been borne with fair treatment and just administration. But there was neither justice nor fairness. The chief public services were in the hands of monopolists; justice was overruled by the Volksraad, so that even a Dutch Chief Justice was fain to resign by way of protest; the Outlanders were forced to fight in native wars in which they had no concern; and a foreign Civil Service composed of Hollanders, and under the domination of Leyds, worked against all Outlander interests. Kruger would yield nothing; as far back as 1892 he had said to a representative deputation: "Go back and tell your people, I shall never give them anything, and now let the storm burst!" The High Commissioner, the British Government, the Cape Government, protested in vain.

Thus the storm-cloud grew until it covered the whole land. By 1895 the Cape Colony, Dutch and English, was ready to fight the Transvaal on the drifts question. The Imperial Government was also behind Rhodes. On the 1st November of that year the two Governments, the Imperial Government and the Cape, had agreed to send an expedition into the Transvaal at joint expense. Kruger was informed of this decision, and on 5th November he showed his cleverness as a politician by opening the drifts as a temporary measure, while maintaining his iron grip on the Outlanders. This move was calculated to divide the forces against him; the Cape Dutch were pacified by the opening of the drifts, and the issue was narrowed to a question of Dutch versus British. Thus Rhodes, in the midst of his preparations, with his Chartered Police upon the Transvaal border and the Reformers arming in Johannesburg, was deprived of the cause which gave him the sympathy [70] of the Dutch and the assistance of the British Government,

But the Outlander grievance remained—a wrong, degrading and intolerable. It was resolved between the Reformers in Johannesburg, Jameson on the border, and Rhodes at Cape Town, that in the last resort the Rhodesian Police should be used in support of the Reform movement. The general scheme had fair possibilities of success—to seize Johannesburg by a concerted movement, to hold the Boers at bay, and thus to force the Imperial Government to intervene and make a settlement. That settlement was to guarantee the independence of the Boers in return for redress of grievances, a customs union, equalisation of railway rates, and a common court of appeal—the elements of a future federation; but whether these were to form part of the settlement, or were to be the political result of the extension of the franchise in the Transvaal, is not clear. And it is doubtful if Rhodes's intention was to send in the police at all. It was, no doubt, in his mind that on two occasions, when either force had been shown or the threat of force had been used, Kruger had given way. The Warren Expedition in Bechuanaland was one; the recent threat of an expedition to open the drifts another. Thus Rhodes may have thought that the show of force would be sufficient. On both sides, it was part of the game well understood. Kruger had made several raids and threatened several more. The use of the Rhodesian Police upon the border as a factor of persuasion was then an almost normal incident in South African politics.

But to Jameson it was something more. He had recently conducted an amazingly swift and successful [71] campaign against Lobengula. He had an admirable little force, and it is said that his imagination was fired by the story of Garibaldi and the Thousand. He believed that the scheme of a rapid invasion, and the seizure of the Rand and possibly Pretoria, was the best way out of a situation that had become intolerable.

Thus there may have been two minds at cross-purposes, and it is certain also that Jameson was at cross purposes with the Reformers. They were not ready; they had contrived to smuggle in only two thousand rifles, five guns, and twenty thousand rounds of ammunition; they were divided on the subject of the flag to be raised, and found the date of the proposed rising in Pretoria coincided with the New Year's Nacht-Maal, the Communion Services, when the Boers flocked into town from the country districts. On the other hand, Jameson was ready; his five hundred troopers were fretting at Pitsani on the border; his relays of horses and provisions along the route of march awaited him; he may well have felt that if the opportunity went, no such chance would ever occur again. At the last moment the Reformers tried to stop him; but Jameson rode in nevertheless. He was without orders from Rhodes, and was acting against the advice of his fellow-conspirators. He thought he could manage the affair by himself. The sight of his troopers in Johannesburg, he no doubt believed, would unite all the waverers, and inspire the whole community to a general rising. But his proverbial luck for once went against him. Everything went wrong, as if inspired by a malicious fate. The troopers bungled over the cutting of the wires; many of the relay horses were found to be crocks. Weary, and deceived by firing [72] when Johannesburg was only twenty miles distant, they took the wrong turning, and went some way towards Krugersdorp. Even so, they covered one hundred and ninety miles in eighty-six hours, and were within an ace of getting into Johannesburg.

But the failure was no less disastrous. It destroyed Rhodes's work, his party, his position, at a blow. On 2nd January 1896, Jameson surrendered at Doornkop; on the evening of the same day Rhodes tendered his resignation to the High Commissioner at Cape Town. His credit with the Imperial Government was destroyed; his affiance with the Bond was at an end; the most powerful part of the Dutch party in Cape Colony, unable to withstand the tide of racial feeling let loose by the Raid, took the side of Kruger and the Republic. Rhodes's party, as far as he had a party left, was the British party, which condemned him to a minority: and as Rhodes fell Kruger rose in strength; the President had all the prestige of victory, and the Reform Party were completely in his power. He triumphed; but he failed, for his use of the triumph made inevitable the great war that swept away the republican system in South Africa.

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