What Could Have Been?
After Britain occupied the Cape in 1806, there were clashes and resistance between the Afrikaners and the British. Attempts by the British, especially by Lord Charles Somerset, to anglicise the Afrikaners, failed. When religious ministers for the Afrikaners could no longer be obtained from the Netherlands (due to the annexation) he imported Scottish Ministers. At the time it was customary for ministers of religion to be paid by the government. This was only to change some time later. Dr. Andrew Murray is the best known of them. The Scottish ministers performed their duties faithfully and served their congregations well. They remained true to their origins but were dedicated ministers of religion who are still revered in the history of the Afrikaners. All of them became fluent in Afrikaans and Dutch – Dutch was still the written language and the language of religion for the Afrikaners. An Afrikaans translation of the Bible appeared for the first time in 1923.
The British established governmental organs in many towns; built schools and appointed trained teachers and appointed magistrates. The changes did not take place without resistance. The Afrikaners in the area surrounding Graaff Reinet were the most unruly of all. While the colony was still a Netherlands possession, they regarded themselves as independent. When the British took over the resistance was merely increased. As already mentioned the “rebellion” of Slachtersnek occurred in that area. In the main, however, the English and Afrikaners got on increasingly well with each other and progress took place in many fields.
The only real problem was the continuing and serious conflict on the Eastern Border. The main objections to British rule were the emancipation of the slaves and judicial equality of all persons. These have been dealt with. After the recalcitrant persons had left the Cape Colony the remaining Afrikaners and English were reconciled increasingly. The Afrikaners became progressive, often well educated and often wealthy and settled. Their leaders were sober, intelligent and educated persons. Their power grew with little resistance and unpleasantness.
They also experienced a growing need to have their language recognised together with English as an official language. They succeeded to a large degree in this. Afrikaans instead of Dutch also became more and more important to them. The First Language Movement originated there. It is important to note that F.W.Reitz, who lived in Cape Town, when he was invested as State President of the Free State was shocked to find that the investiture was conducted in high flying Dutch while he had expected this to be in Afrikaans. He was not fluent in high Dutch. He remarked on this after the ceremony and was then told that they reserve High Dutch only for State occasions! In the two republics where the Afrikaners ruled themselves they were more than fifty years behind their compatriots in the Cape Colony in the recognition and use of Afrikaans. However, it is often stated as the main justification of the South African War that it made the Afrikaners conscious of their national identity and fused them into a nation. Again, a consideration of the facts will immediately make clear the invalidity of that statement. The Afrikaners in the Cape Colony had advanced very far beyond both republics in the use and development and recognition of Afrikaans and in their Afrikaans nationalism. They were a solid, unified cultural and political bloc. There are Afrikaans writers who dispute this and allege a secret odious complot between the leaders of the Afrikaner Bond and certain English leaders such as Rhodes, to undermine Afrikaans and the Afrikaners. This is simply either a distortion or a deliberate misinterpretation of the facts.
The Afrikaners in the Cape held the balance of the political power. W.P. Schreiner the son of a German missionary and an English mother was English speaking and was the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. He became Prime Minister with the support of the Afrikanerbond under Jan Hofmeyer – Onze Jan. The Afrikaners in the colony were therefore overall a contented, responsible people with a rosy future. This must be borne in mind when the period of James Barry Munnik Hertzog is dealt with.
In the Free State matters were developing on a similar basis although not at the same pace as in the Cape Colony. The two groups there experienced few problems and lived in harmony. The republic was well governed from the start. The only problem arose during the short period when Pretorius of the Transvaal tried to sit on two chairs at the same time, because he wanted to unite the two republics – and this at a time when the Transvaal was torn asunder with civil strife and had various States President and Commandants-General. The problems – for the Free State passed away quickly and left no permanent scars.
Had the South African War not taken place matters in the Free State would have progressed very much as they had in the Cape Colony.
In the Transvaal the position was quite different. There were at many places a significant English population where as in Heidelberg, the two groups also lived in increasing harmony and mutual appreciation. Details of this can be found inter alia in Heidelbergers of the Boer War by Ian Uys.
Emotions before, during and after the Anglo-Boer War ran high between both sides. In spite of this there were numerous incidents which showed that the English speaking people and the Afrikaners could, if this had after the war been pursued properly, as Louis Botha and Jan Smuts attempted incompetently, have lived and worked in great harmony to build this country into a prosperous and stable one. Most of the English speaking people at Heidelberg (T) remained neutral and did not assist the Boers. On the other hand they neither assisted the British. However, when the British forces occupied Heidelberg and the surrounding area, the British military authorities persecuted many of the English speaking people on totally false and spurious allegations of co-operating with the Boers. Some of them were interned and others were imprisoned. There were as usual the injustices caused by the avarice and unscrupulousness of individuals. A British commander who was stationed at Heidelberg wanted the home of a prominent English family as his headquarters. In order to achieve this he had the husband interned and imprisoned at Cape Town and the wife banned to Cape Town on completely false and unfounded charges of conspiring with the Boers.
On the other hand during the period when the Republican Government still controlled the Transvaal and while the commandos had several resounding successes the English people in the towns were not molested nor ill treated.
A few, because they considered themselves to be Transvaal citizens, joined the Transvaal forces such as Commandant Mears of Heidelberg and Cheere Emmet of Boksburg. Emmet was Louis Botha’s brother in law and rose to the rank of general. Both were among the most competent of the officers on the Transvaal side. Mears was a disciplinarian who did not brook any indiscipline or unwillingness to fight. He used the sjambok to inspire his burghers with both. On occasion Louis Botha remonstrated with him about this and Mears then threatened to take his commando to the Free State and to fight there. He was then left in peace. (Christiaan de Wet also used the sjambok as an effective disciplinarian).
Milner took over the government of the two new colonies and imported a number of brilliant and enthusiastic young men to assist him. They came to be known rather derisively as “Milner’s Kindergarten.” His ideal was to forge the whole of South Africa into an English speaking colony. The Afrikaners had to become Englishmen – after all the Anglo-Saxon race was the best race in the world and they were fit, able and destined to rule the world.
Much of what Milner intended and attempted to achieve was admirable. The Kruger National Park was but an idea in a law passed by the Transvaal Volksraad under Kruger. It had, however in the Treaty of Vereeniging been stipulated that the laws of the Transvaal would be carried out and enforced. He then appointed Colonel Stevenson-Hamilton to carry out the provisions of the act and the Kruger National Park became a reality.
The reconciliation of the disparate factions in the Afrikaner people had to be achieved. The enmity between the Bitterenders and the “Handsuppers” and “Joiners” had to be resolved. This had to be done, not to consolidate the Afrikaners but to remove the enmity in their ranks which was a stumbling block for Milner in the achievement of his greater ideal. The adults could not be anglicised but if they could be reconciled their children could be turned into English men and women.
The Commissioners at all the various centres had to report regularly on the progress that had been made in this. The commissioner at Pietersburg on occasion reported that the enmity there was still very deep and alive and gave as an example the incident when a Bitterender had at a meeting called a Joiner a donnerse bliksem. This he said was apparently a very serious insult although the literal meaning was merely thunder and lightning.
He took measures to protect the impoverished burghers from being exploited by traders and others.
However, like Sir Charles Somerset, his actions to anglicise had exactly the opposite effect. Dutch was relegated to the position where for all practical purposes it was not taught in the schools. Except for this the schools which were established under his rule were in the circumstances of a high quality. In the Free State general James Barry Munnik Hertzog, a man who is not credited with real abilities as a statesman by the Afrikaners, thwarted Milner. In the Transvaal Smuts as minister of Education toed the Milner line. Private schools were established where the Afrikaans youth was taught in their “language” – which was not Afrikaans but Dutch.
Homo sapiens is the only animal which does not learn from experience. If the British Government had considered and analysed the previous attempts, particularly by Lord Charles Somerset to anglicise the Afrikaners, they would have realised that Milner was probably the most unsuitable person to be appointed to South Africa.
There is a striking resemblance in one particular aspect between Rhodes, Milner and Hitler. All three were men in a desperate hurry. All three of them had a burning desire to see their ambitions realised fully within their own life times. Rhodes, Chamberlain and Milner wanted the British Empire to be expanded to encompass most of the world. Rhodes wanted this to start at the Cape and progress from there to Cairo – but with Rhodes acknowledged as the main architect of this – and very quickly. Chamberlain did not like the idea of Rhodes having the desire to be the main architect and was willing to let matters develop “of their own accord and more or less in their own time” towards that end, with the Colonial office of which he was the Secretary, as the main architect. Milner had a similar ambition to that of Rhodes and with Rhodes, after the Jameson Raid, out of the picture, took over. He was in many ways, especially in his personal life, a frustrated man. He would not, like Chamberlain wait until Kruger died or retired and a progressive government in the Transvaal took over, as in all probability it would have, but was determined to find or invent a casus belli to force matters to a head and to incorporate both republics in the British Empire. Hitler wanted to see his ambitions in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union realised in his own lifetime.
There had been strong opposition in Britain to Milner’s appointment, and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had asked for his recall. Eventually on the 2nd April 1905 Milner left – a disillusioned man. He had come up against the stone wall of indestructible nationalism. It is possible to subjugate a nation and to incorporate it into the empire of the victorious country. There are certain unalterable requirements for this to succeed. If the soul of the nation is sought to be destroyed that nation will oppose the conqueror with all the means at its disposable. Any nation’s language is one of its most important possessions. It is, probably invariably, the one characteristic which more than anything else makes it a nation. At the peace conference in Pretoria Milner and General James Barry Munnik Hertzog clashed. When article 5 of the treaty, the article dealing with language rights, was being discussed Milner in reply to Hertzog said that he wanted only one language in South Africa. Herztog replied that that was what he wanted. They were not talking about the same language. Milner wanted the Afrikaners to become English. This desire of many British rulers in this country has probably done more than anything else to antagonise even the most moderate Afrikaners.
If there had been no deliberate attempt after the war to anglicise the Afrikaners, reconciliation between them and the English speaking people would quite possibly have been achieved to a very large extent. The atrocities committed by the British; the concentration camps, the rape, murder and pillage committed on a large scale by them, the permitting and even encouraging the black populations in several areas and of those black men in their employ to also commit these atrocities; might have become somewhat more dim in their memories. This would only have occurred if the government by the British after the war was in every sense a benevolent one towards them.
This was not so. Their language was suppressed. Their country had been wantonly destroyed. Their children, especially their children, had been killed in their camps. They were in a far worse position then than their forebears had been when they had trekked in their wagons with their possessions from the Cape into the Free State and the Transvaal. Their forbears had hacked out of the country a stable civilisation, in a country where nothing like that had existed before. They returned after the war to black burnt ruins where there was nothing but desolation and the putrid smell of death; penniless and in poverty.
The British Government had agreed to the paltry sum of three million pounds to put them back on their feet. Most of this went to the traitors – even then in drips and drabs, given reluctantly and grudgingly.
If, in view of the Afrikaners’ ability to forgive and forget, the leaders on both sides had made a concerted effort to mould the two groups into a South African nation with the retention of their separate identities, the country and its peoples would have benefited tremendously. Botha and Smuts, especially Smuts after the death of Botha in 1919, emphasised the English interest to the almost total non-recognition of the Afrikaner interest. The English speaking political leaders made no attempt to further any real co-operation.
In the Free State Hertzog mobilized the Afrikaners and fought the English education system tooth and nail. After self government was granted to the Free State, after Milner had left, he introduced an education system that put Dutch on a par with English. In the Transvaal Smuts, after self government was granted, became the minister for education. At first sight this might seem a strange port folio for a man like Smuts. If what he had done before, if what has been set out about him before is borne in mind, it fits in well with his overall strategy. He had nestled into the niche which he had prepared all along. Whichever way the war went, Smuts would emerge victorious. He would take over where Milner had left off. He would make the Afrikaner children and the subsequent Afrikaner generations English. His education policy was directed to this end.
Botha genuinely desired to reconcile the two groups but he was out of his depth. It was a difficult task and with Smuts at his side an impossible one. Botha had come out of the war with a well deserved reputation as an extremely capable general. He had a great following due to this. His party’s resounding victory at the first election was proof of this.
The English speaking section of the Transvaal made his work no easier. The animosity towards the Afrikaners was intense. The feeling that England’s – not Britain’s – interests were paramount was uppermost in their minds. The Afrikaners were barred from all but the most menial and unskilled employment.
The conditions which developed in the Cape Colony and the Free State could have occurred in the Transvaal only if an informed, intelligent person such as Piet Joubert had been State President and not Paul Kruger.
Had Piet Joubert been State President the South African War would not have taken place. The governments of Natal, the Cape Colony and the Free State agreed with the British government that the territories in South Africa should unite in a political and economic unit. The most important uncertainty was whether this should be by means of a federation or con federation of states. For any informed, intelligent person the necessity of this would have been clear.
If this had happened, as it inevitably must have happened once Paul Kruger was no longer the President, Smuts would not have been one of the main actors on the political stage. His divisive and therefore destructive role would not have been in the script.
A system was evolving in the Cape Colony and Natal which to the incalculable harm of the country was destroyed by the South African War – in 1910 with unification. In these two colonies any person could, if he complied with certain requirements, obtain the right to vote. The requirements had mainly to do with a certain measure of literacy and income. A natural development thereof would eventually have led to a peaceful and generally accepted solution of the colour problem.
In order to obtain the co-operation of the black people in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, the British government had promised that they would be granted political rights similar to those pertaining in the Cape Colony. This promise was not kept. It was deferred until self government was to be granted. When the four colonies, as they then were, were united in 1910 the matter was not dealt with. It was left to be dealt with by the Union Government. In 1906 chief Segale of the Kgatla tribe reported that he had found that extreme disillusionment existed among the black people in the Transvaal because of the non-fulfilment of British promises and that if war between the Boers and the British were then to break out then the black people would support the Boers as their treatment under the Boers had been better than under the British. To these indispensable allies of the British in the war, allies without whose assistance they could not have fought that war, the British, the English as the world in general refers to them, were the perfidious Albion of the French or the promiscuous Hussy of the Russians.
This deliberate neglect, the disregard of a serious undertaking and pledge, was as so often in the history of the British Empire made in order to achieve an immediate advantage. The advantage in this case being to be rid of the responsibility for the governing of the colonies. The material benefit to the Empire of the Witwatersrand gold had been assured. The ideal of the expansion of the empire had been secured. The politicians and the Randlords greed had been satisfied.
Milner had in mind for South Africa a great preponderance, a tremendous majority of Britons to make sure that the British would permanently be in control of the country. To this end a mass emigration of Britons to South Africa would have to take place. The British Government did not succeed in this; immigrants arrived here only in small insignificant numbers. The reason was that the British people had no wish to immigrate to a country beset with a “Native Problem” which could only become more serious as time went on. They went to places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States in great numbers.
Without the South African War the Afrikaners in the Free State and the Transvaal would not have lost l3,6% of their population – 28000 deaths in the concentration camps and 6000 deaths on the battle fields.
The Afrikaners’ entry into the trade and industrial sectors would not have taken place with the animosity and opposition of the English with which it had to cope until well into the second half of the twentieth century.
The deep seated resentment, resistance and soul destroying frustration of being prohibited from following any occupation which was the lot of other races for decades would not have taken place. The country was known to be rich in minerals. Industrial development would have taken place rapidly in spite of the rabid jingo opposition to such progress. South Africa would quite possibly have surpassed Australia in this respect. This development allied with the liberal policy of the Cape and to a lesser extent that of Natal would have ensured that the political integration of the various people would have followed a course whereby most of the major problems would have been solved almost unnoticed.
The country would have progressed unstoppably much further in all spheres of trade and industry as is at present the case.
The enmity between Boer and Brit which still bedevils the relations between the two groups would not have existed. The Afrikaners in the Cape Colony had a greater consciousness of identity than those in the Free State and Transvaal. The progress in the Cape Colony would inevitably have spread to the two republics.
The South African War was disastrous in several ways. If the route which Gladstone preferred had been followed this would not have been the case. As mentioned earlier the Cape, Natal and the Free State were in agreement that some kind of union, whether a federation or a con federation of states, was necessary. Many Transvalers were also in favour of this. The schemes of Milner, Rhodes, Chamberlain and several others wrecked this possibility. The evil that men do live after them.
It destroyed the British Empire. After the humiliations which British arms had suffered repeatedly at the hands of a few untrained farmers, after almost half a million men were unable to subjugate a handful of men who were still fighting, very few if any countries took the British seriously as a military power. India in particular, the Crown jewel in the Empire, began to realise that it could look forward to throwing off that yoke – other possessions woke to the same fact.
The dream of Milner, Rhodes and Chamberlain of an Empire ruled by the Anglo-Saxon English, the people of destiny, assisted by the white Anglo-Saxons of the colonies, would rule the world and would take the non-white colonies under their collective wings was a shattered dream.
The material loss of the war to Britain was severe – it cost more than two hundred million pounds – a colossal sum in those days. But much more than this was the loss of international prestige. The pursuit of the ideal to extend the empire to cover most of the planet lost impetus – it came to almost a standstill. The Great War, the First World War, was due to a power struggle between Britain and Germany. The assassination at Sarajevo was merely the spark in the powder keg. If the South African War had been avoided Britain’s prestige and the fear in which it was held by the other powers would not have been diminished. It is a real possibility that war between Britain and Germany would then not have taken place.
If the First World War had not taken place the Second World War would not have taken place. That conflict, taking everything into account would, if any war had broken out, have been confined to the Pacific Ocean area. (The war in the West in fact persuaded Japan that it could attack and seize areas rich in raw material in the Far East with impunity and at one tremendous blow cripple the United States of America to such an extent that it could not wage war against Japan effectively) Europe and Russia would not have been involved – Hitler could in the circumstances which then obtained not have arisen as the trumpet call to arms for the German people to set right the injustices of the treaty of Versailles as that treaty would not have existed. There would have been no Treaty of Versailles. Hitler with his dream of acquiring lebensraum eastwards would not have been on any political front or horizon.
Stalin might not have been obsessed with the arms race. The Soviet Union might possibly have progressed far more peacefully and with far greater material benefits to its people. The communist ideal of a communist world might, however, have necessitated a war against that state. Such a war would not have had the devastating and ruinous effect which the Second World War had.
A federation of the South African states was rendered impossible. The union of only the Cape, Natal, the Transvaal and the Free State made this impossible. This was to the detriment of the territory.
Enmity between the Afrikaners and the English would not be eliminated in a hundred years. There is still a great deal of that.
The Afrikaners would not have lost a major portion of their people. Recovery of this loss has been impossible.
The balance sheet of that war shows only losses. Even the mining magnates were losers. Their gains, if the war had not taken place, would have been greater.
There are better ways than war to solve differences and problems.
Like the Transvaal which had the men with the intelligence and the knowledge and the vision to lead it into its industrial revolution after the discovery of gold but who were brushed aside by its people and a militant ignorant narrow minded incompetent man placed at its helm, Britain had its men of vision who also were brushed aside and it had militant, self-seeking, narrow minded men at its helm. Gladstone and his supporters could have taken Britain and its empire to greater heights – peacefully and successfully.”