Ch 1: An Ultimatum from the Transvaal

The fiasco of the 1895 Jameson raid alienated many Cape Afrikaners from the British, and united the Transvaal Boers behind President Kruger and his government. In spite of the four years of truce that followed, it also had the effect of drawing the Transvaal and the Orange Free State together in opposition to perceived British imperialism. In 1897 a military pact was concluded between the two republics as they silently and grimly prepared for the inevitable.
   By August 1899 the Transvaal army had been transformed; approximately 25,000 men equipped with modern rifles and artillery could be mobilised within two weeks. However, President Kruger’s victory in the Jameson incident had done nothing to resolve the fundamental problem; the impossible dilemma continued, namely how to make concessions to the Uitlanders, or foreigners, without surrendering the independence of the Transvaal.
   The failure to gain improved rights for Uitlanders became a catalyst for war and a justification for a major military build-up in the Cape Colony. The case for war was developed and espoused as far away as the Australian colonies. Several key British colonial leaders favoured annexation of the independent Boer republics. These figures included Cape Colony Governor Sir Alfred Milner, Cecil Rhodes, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, and mining syndicate owners such as Alfred Beit, Barney Barnato, and Lionel Phillips. Confident that the Boers would be quickly defeated, they planned and organised a short war, citing the Uitlanders’ grievances as the motivation for the conflict.
   Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, believed that the British government had an obligation to British South Africans; and that the Boers’ treatment of black South Africans could not be tolerated. He mistrusted the abilities of the British army but it is difficult to understand why the British government went against the advice of its generals to send substantial reinforcements to South Africa before war broke out. One argument is that they simply prevaricated in accepting that the Boers were preparing for war, and also believed that if Britain were to send large numbers of troops, it would strike too aggressive a posture and so prevent a negotiated settlement being reached.
   The ultimatum, after denying the right of her Majesty’s Government to intervene in the internal affairs of the South African republic, demanded:
1. That all differences should be settled by arbitration.
2. That British troops should be removed from the frontiers.
3. That all troops landed in South Africa since June 1st should be sent home.
4. That no further troops should be landed.
   In the event of these demands not being agreed to within forty-eight hours, the South African republic would consider war declared.
   Until I visited South Africa, I confess that I sympathised with the Boer desire to keep the government in their own hands; superficial investigation there, however, revealed such a mass of corruption and brutality, that all trace of sympathy vanished. In the Transvaal, a warlike spirit had been infused into the burghers; war was the main topic, and when fighting still seemed preposterous to outsiders, hundreds of Uitlanders removed their families from the Republic. Arrogance and intolerance of all things British grew with the martial spirit, and numerous instances of brutality were reported. The open threats of the Boers swelled the steady exodus into a rush that became a mad panic, and spread to the border towns exposed to the threatened invasion.
   As commando after commando was hurried to the border, thousands of Uitlanders barricaded their stores and houses, and started for British territory. The inevitable sufferings of these refugees, exaggerated by the excitement and fear of the moment, were greatly augmented by the crass brutality of the Boers. Mr. Schreiner has officially denied that these outrages were perpetrated. Rabid colonial loyalists say that he was too busy mollifying his supporters by securing the neutrality of British South Africa in a British war, to attend to such matters.
   I can only state facts as I learned them from the refugees themselves, plain British women, typical mothers of the nation, who were crowded into seat-less coal and cattle trucks, and sent over the frontier. On both Cape and Natal journeys Boers gathered at the wayside stations, baiting the refugees being a regular diversion for the burghers. Mr. Langham, a Reformist who ventured to the station when the Krugersdorp commando was entraining, was kicked, beaten, and mortally injured. At Viljoen’s Drift rude official searches were made; at Paarde Kraal ladies were kissed, and told to prepare for Boer paramours; at Kroonstaad a Scotch lady who resented an insult was struck in the face. On at least three trains, fathers who ventured from the station to buy milk for their famished children were driven back to the cars by the sjamboks of mounted burghers; several bore bleeding weals on their faces. A father who protested that his child would die, was assured, with a slash, that it would be one more rooinek in hell. An American was beaten and kicked, the ZAR Police pushing their revolvers in his face when he demanded protection.
   On October 1st at Machadodorp, and at other points at other times, all male passengers were forced to remain bareheaded in the presence of waiting commandoes. Those who declined to comply were dragged to the platform and beaten and kicked; two Englishmen, whose names I withhold by request, bore the marks of their treatment. I conversed with several refugees who showed bruises and weals to confirm their statements. A woman from Grantham stated that her child of two stared fearlessly at an insulting burgher, who snatched the girl from her lap, a comrade pointing a gun at the child’s head. The distracted mother’s appeals caused intense amusement to the crowd, and no one to-day can persuade her that they did not intend murder. A Boer officer shouted jocularly, "Give the child back; let it grow to bear rooineks for us to kill." An Irish sister of charity, protesting, was silenced by a lusty Boer who spat in her face.
   Separated from their husbands, who were held back for night trains, several English ladies were crowded in open trucks with miners and drunken roughs, unable to obtain food or change their position for forty-eight hours. The frights and excitement produced unnatural conditions on several trains. Two women died on reaching the frontier, and several small occupants were added to the cars en route. Individual officers went through some of the cars, examining the cash of the refugees. Small sums were returned, but many who were taking out their savings had the entire amount commandeered, save a pound or two allowed for incidentals.
   Multitudinous Chinese storekeepers had suffered severely, since, to evade the Transvaal prohibition against their holding property, they had traded under the names of British brokers, and had their stocks commandeered in consequence. The numerous Hindu traders also were robbed and severely maltreated ere they crossed the borders, three of their women being stripped naked by one commando, with the jeering excuse that they were no better than niggers, and clothes were unnecessary.
   All this I know was the work of the lowest type of Boer, but the police who enjoyed the "jokes" represented the law and order of the republic. Representative Boers also incited such actions by their speeches, and frequently encouraged them by their acclamations. To the limitations of the minds of the South African Dutch, no real harm was intended. But the extreme type of "Brother Boer," Mr. Lacy, who should know him well enough to speak with authority says, "is the craftiest, most hypocritical, most untruthful, cruellest, most ignorant, most overbearing, most stupid race of whites in the world." A heavy indictment indeed, with many vigorous exceptions.
   Since ninety thousand fugitives left the Republic during the last day’s rush, a large proportion of them penniless, Durban, Cape Town, and many intermediate places on the railroads were soon crowded with destitute Uitlanders of every race. The Rand Relief Committee had disbursed $100,000 during the first week in October, and local committees worked night and day in providing for the needy, though all resources were taxed to the utmost. It was pitiful to witness the acute despondency in the sad, strained faces of the British women and children, as train after train deposited its heavy freight of homeless and helpless innocent beyond the borders.
   Mothers almost denuded themselves to shield their young ones from the chill rains, but as they sat among the bundles of their sole remaining possessions, few asked for charity; despite their sorrow and suffering, all wanted work. Though small-pox broke out among some of the refugees, the colonists, heedless of the danger, threw open their houses to the women and children, and the very poorest offered lodging or food according to their ability. Bureaus also arranged systematised relief, applicants receiving in accordance to their needs, and paying to suit their means. Many of the Dutch co-operated with the British in relieving war’s favourite victims, though in Cape Town, certain of their religious bodies showed no disposition to aid the work; and I found some of the ignorant "Mrs. Jellybys," lights of liberality in their synod, refusing to help the women and children of the Uitlanders, because they "deserved their fate for causing the war."
   Americans, Europeans, from Russians to Polish Jews, coolies and Negroes, all were helped in turn. Many male British subjects, and a number of the Americans joined the colonial irregulars; the miscellaneous crowd finding employment in extensive relief-works.

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