A CENTURY OF WRONG
PREFACE (BY W.T. STEAD)
"In this awful turning point of the history of South Africa, on the eve of the conflict which threatens to exterminate our people, it behoves us to speak the truth in what may be, perchance, our last message to the world."
Such is the raison d'être of this book. It is issued by State Secretary Reitz as the official exposition of the case of the Boer against the Briton. I regard it as not merely a duty but an honour to be permitted to bring it before the attention of my countrymen.
Rightly or wrongly the British Government has sat in judgment upon the South African Republic, rightly or wrongly it has condemned it to death. And now, before the executioner can carry out the sentence, the accused is entitled to claim the right to speak freely—it may be for the last time—to say why, in his opinion, the sentence should not be executed. A liberty which the English law accords as an unquestioned right to the foulest murderer cannot be denied to the South African Republic. It is on that ground that I have felt bound to afford the spokesman of our Dutch brethren in South Africa the opportunity of stating their case in his own way in the hearing of the Empire.
Despite the diligently propagated legend of a Reptile press fed by Dr. Leyds for the purpose of perverting public opinion, it is indisputable that so far as this country is concerned Mr. Reitz is quite correct in saying that the case of the Transvaal "has been lost by default before the tribunal of public opinion."
It is idle to point, in reply to this, to the statements that have appeared in the press of the Continent. These pleadings were not addressed to the tribunal that was trying the case. In the British press the case of the Transvaal was never presented by any accredited counsel for the defence. Those of us who have in these late months been compelled by the instinct of justice to protest against the campaign of misrepresentation organised for the purpose of destroying the South African Republic were in many cases so far from authorised exponents of the South African Dutch that some of them—among whom I may be reckoned for one—were regarded with such suspicion that it was most difficult for us to obtain even the most necessary information from the representatives of the Government at Pretoria
. Nor was this suspicion without cause—so far at least as I was concerned.
For nearly a quarter of a century it might almost have been contended that I was one of the leading counsel for the prosecution. First as the friend and advocate of the Rev. John Mackenzie, then as the friend and supporter of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, and latterly as the former colleague and upholder of Sir Alfred Milner, it had been my lot constantly, in season and out of season, to defend the cause of the progressive Briton against the Conservative Boer, and especially to advocate the Cause of the Reformers and Uitlanders against the old Tory Administration of President Kruger. By agitation, by pressure, and even, if need be, in the last resort by legitimate insurrection, I had always been ready to seek the establishment of a progressive Liberal Administration in Pretoria. And I have at least the small consolation of knowing that if any of the movements which I defended had succeeded, the present crisis would never have arisen, and the independence of the South African Republic would have been established on an unassailable basis. But with such a record it is obvious that I was almost the last man in the Empire who could be regarded as an authorised exponent of the case of the Boers.
That in these last months I have been forced to protest against the attempt to stifle their independence is due to a very simple cause. To seek to reform the Transvaal, even by the rough and ready means of a legitimate revolution, is one thing. To conspire to stifle the Republic in order to add its territory to the Empire is a very different thing. The difference may be illustrated by an instance in our own history. Several years ago I wrote a popular history of the House of Lords, in which I showed, at least to my own satisfaction, that for fifty years our "pig-headed oligarchs"—to borrow a phrase much in favour with the War Party—had inflicted infinite mischief upon the United Kingdom by the way in which they had abused their power to thwart the will of the elected representatives of the people. I am firmly of opinion that our hereditary Chamber has done a thousand times more injury to the subjects of the Queen than President Kruger has ever inflicted upon the aggrieved Uitlanders. I look forward with a certain grim satisfaction to assisting, in the near future, in a semi-revolutionary agitation against the Peers, in which some of our most potent arguments will be those which the War Party has employed to inflame public sentiment against the Boers. But, notwithstanding all this, if a conspiracy of Invincibles were to be formed for the purpose of ending the House of Lords by assassinating its members, or by blowing up the Gilded Chamber and all its occupants with dynamite, I should protest against such an outrage as vehemently as I have protested against the more heinous crime that is now in course of perpetration in South Africa. And the very vehemence with which I had in times past pleaded the cause of the People against the Peers would intensify the earnestness with which I would endeavour to avert the exploitation of a legitimate desire to end the Second Chamber by the unscrupulous conspirators of assassination and of dynamite. Hence it is that I seize every opportunity afforded me of enabling the doomed Dutch to plead their case before the tribunal which has condemned them, virtually unheard.
In introducing A Century of Wrong to the British public, I carefully disassociate myself from assuming any responsibility for all or any of the statements which it contains. My imprimatur was not sought, nor is it extended to the history contained in A Century of Wrong, excepting in so far as relates to its authenticity as an exposition of what our brothers the Boers think of the way in which we have dealt with them for the last hundred years.
That is much more important than the endorsement by any Englishman as to the historical accuracy of the statements which it contains. For what every judicial tribunal desires, first of all, is to hear witnesses at first hand. Hitherto the British public has chiefly been condemned to second-hand testimony. In the pages of A Century of Wrong it will, at least, have an opportunity of hearing the Dutch of South Africa speak for themselves.
There is no question as to the qualifications of Mr. F.W. Reitz to speak on behalf of the Dutch Africander. Although at this moment State Secretary for President Kruger, he was for nearly ten years Chief Justice and then President of the Orange Free State, and he began his life in the Cape Colony. The family is of German origin, but his ancestors migrated to Holland in the seventeenth century and became Dutch. His grandfather emigrated from Holland to the Cape, and founded one of the Africander families. His father was a sheep farmer; one of his uncles was a lieutenant in the British Navy.
Mr. Reitz is now in his fifty-sixth year, and received a good English education. After graduating at the South African College he came to the United Kingdom, and finished his studies at Edinburgh University, and afterwards at the Inner Temple, where he was called to the Bar in 1868. He then returned to the Cape, and, after practising as a barrister in the Cape courts for six years, was appointed Chief Justice of the Orange Free State, a post which he held for fifteen years. He was then elected and re-elected as President of the Orange Free State. In 1893 he paid a lengthy visit to Europe and to the United Kingdom. After Dr. Leyds was appointed to his present post as foreign representative of the South African Republic, Mr. Reitz was appointed State Secretary, and all the negotiations between the Transvaal and Great Britain passed through his hands.
Mr. Reitz's narrative is not one calculated to minister to our national self-conceit, but it is none the worse on that account. Of those who minister to our vanity we have enough and to spare, with results not altogether desirable. In the long controversy between the Boers and the missionaries Mr. Reitz takes, as might be expected, the view of his own people.
An English lady in South Africa writing to the British Weekly of December 21st, in reply to the statement of the Rev. Dr. Stewart, makes some observations on this feud between the Boers and the missionaries, which it may be well to bear in mind in discussing this question. The lady ("I.M.") says:—
Dr. Stewart naturally starts from the mission question. I speak as the daughter of one of the greatest mission supporters that South Africa has ever known when I say that the earliest missionaries who came to this country were to a very large extent themselves the cause of all the Boer opposition which they may have had to encounter. When they arrived, they found the Boers at about the same stage of enlightenment with regard to missions as the English themselves had been in the time of Carey. And yet, in spite of prejudice and ignorance, every Boer of any standing was practically doing mission work himself, for when, according to unfailing custom, the "Books" were brought out morning and evening for family worship, the slaves were never allowed to be absent, but had to come and receive instruction with the rest of the family. But the tone and methods which the missionaries adopted were such as could not fail to arouse the aversion of the farmers, their great idea being that the coloured races, utter savages as yet, should be placed upon complete equality with their superiors. At Earl's Court we have recently seen something of how easily the natives are spoilt, and they were certainly not better in those days. When, however, the Boers showed that they disapproved of all this, the natives were immediately taught to regard them as their oppressors, and were encouraged to insubordination to their masters, and the ill-effects of this policy on the part of the missionaries has reached further than can be told. May I ask was this the tone that St. Paul adopted in his mission work among the oppressed slaves of his day?... It is not those who do not know the Boers, like Dr. Stewart, but those who know them best, like Dr. Andrew Murray, who are not only enamoured of their simple lives, but who know also that with all their disadvantages and their positive faults they are still a people whose rule of life is the Bible, whose God is the God of Israel, and who as a nation have never swerved from the covenant with that God entered into by their fathers, the Huguenots of France and the heroes of the Netherlands.
Upon this phase of the controversy there is no necessity to dwell at present, beyond remarking that those who are at present most disposed to take up what may be regarded as the missionary side should not forget that they are preparing a rod for their own backs. The Aborigines Protection Society has long had a quarrel with the Boers, but if our Imperialists are going to adopt the platform of Exeter Hall they will very soon find themselves in serious disagreement with Mr. Cecil Rhodes and other Imperialist heroes of the hour. That the Dutch in South Africa have treated the blacks as the English in other colonies have treated the aborigines is probably true, despite all that Mr. Reitz can say on their behalf. But, whereas in Tasmania and the Australian Colonies the black fellows are exterminated by the advancing Briton, the immediate result of the advent of the Dutch into the Transvaal has been to increase the number of natives from 70,000 to 700,000, without including those who were attracted by the gold mines. In dealing with native races all white men have the pride of their colour and the arrogance of power. The Boers, no doubt, have many sins lying at their door, but it does not do for the pot to call the kettle black, and so far as South Africa is concerned, the difference between the Dutch and British attitudes toward the native races is more due to the influence of Exeter Hall and the sentiment which it represents than to any practical difference between English and Dutch Colonists as to the status of the coloured man. The English under Exeter Hall have undoubtedly a higher ideal as to the theoretical equality of men of all races; but on the spot the arrogance of colour is often asserted as offensively by the Briton as by the Boer. The difference between the two is, in short, that the Boer has adjusted his practice to his belief, whereas we believe what we do not practice. That the black population of the Transvaal is conscious of being treated with exceeding brutality by the Boers is disproved by the fact that for months past all the women and children of the two Republics have been left at the absolute mercy of the natives in the midst of whom they live.