OUR SOUTH AFRICAN EXPERIMENT.
TWO or three years ago few Englishmen would have contemplated the prospect of what is now an accomplished fact in South Africa ; many, indeed, would have regarded it as an abandonment of everything for which this country and her Colonies had fought with so much fervour and so much obstinacy from 1899 to 1902. For more than a year the Transvaal has enjoyed responsible government under a Ministry presided over by the Com- mander-in-Chief of our enemies of. six years ago ; the Orange River Colony is under a Cabinet which contains General De Wet ; while in Cape Colony, for the first time in its history, the Bond has undertaken the responsibilities of office, and has the largest majority ever held by any Cape party. We have now by our grant of responsible government to the two latest Colonies practically abjured th0 right of interfering in the internal affairs of the greater part of South Africa; and although the great experiment has not lasted sufficiently long for a final verdict on its wisdom, we have at any rate seen enough to enable us to farm some judgment on the tendency of events, and on the policy which has led to this state of things.
At the outset, in view of criticisms still occasionally heard against the policy of granting responsible govern- ment, we feel it necessary once more to state our belief that the grant of responsible government at the time it was given was not e.nly right but inevitable. heottose there was no other practical policy. Responsible government was bound to come within a comparatively short period if the terms of the Vereeuigiug Treaty meant anything, and delay would merely have served to embitter relations and make the reaction greater when it eventually came. Any preliminary safeguards against full self-government in a transitional Constitution would have been valueless if the Government agreed with the elected representatives ; while if these safeguards were used to combat public opinion, they would have made its expression a mere farce. The only conceivable means of maintaining the supremacy of the British race over the Dutch race in the Transvaal in 1906 would have been by continuing Crown Colony government, which nobody even suggested, for the very good reason that all parties and races in South Africa. were alike against it.
Apart from the justice and expediency of granting responsible government in its effect ou South Africa itself, we believe that it has very much strengthened our position as a civilising power iu the world. England's power has for many centuries rested not merely on her own might, but also on the credit which she has gained as an upholder of liberty. Not only the weak nations, but the weak and oppressed in every nation, have consistently looked with hope and fondness on England as the Liberal Empire. The self-confidence and the belief in human nature which our great ex- periment in South Africa displayed form one of those dramatic episodes reminding the rest of the world that we are still true to our old traditions, and still have our strength undiminished. A Power that can so rule the conquered will always have friends in the world who would deplore and fight against her fall. It is one more of those examples in government with which we have inspired half the civilised world, and which take away much of the envy that our strength would otherwise arouse. It is one of those acts of simple justice which enable the Englishman abroad to speak proudly with the foreigner and to win his respect. Merely to take one instance, our concession to freedom in South Africa has added enormously to our authority in Europe for determining the right and just policy in settling the Macedonian difficulty.
But just and expedient though this experiment may have been in some ways, it might conceivably have turned out ill in South Africa, from our own previous errors, or front the ingratitude of those on whom the experiment was tried. Is there any indication of this ? The worst danger that could be foreseen was that the strength of the connexion between Great Britain and South Africa might be diminished. The phrase was put about that what the Boer had lost in the field he would regain in the ballot- box. Of this there is at present not the slightest evidence. On the contrary, all the utterances and all the actions of the responsible Ministers in the new Colonies show not only a profound gratitude to the Mother-country for the gift of freedom, but a deep-seated sentiment of loyalty to the British flag such as no other policy could have brought to life. All who heard or spoke to General Botha last year must have been impressed by this truth, unless they have lost all faith in human nature; and all the speecties of Mr. Smuts, the other leading member of the Transvaal Ministry, must carry the same conviction. With regard to Mr. Smuts, the recent attempt by a contemporary to convict him of disloyalty to the British flag was triumphantly refuted by the correspondent who wrote from the el-wrier Carlton Club to Monday's Times. So far from attacking the Imperial connexion, it is now proved by the bald state- ment of the facts, dispassionately narrated by this gentle- man, that the most ardent Imperialist could not have spoken more loyally of the protection enjoyed by the Transvaal " under the majesty and the safety of the British flag." We have thought it worth while to recall this incident because we believe that all the facts point in the same direction, to the unquestioning spirit of thankfulness and content with which all responsible statesmen in the new Colonies accept the Imperial connexion. In truth, Mr. Smuts's speech was a good, not a bad omea. Another omen of a similar kind is to be found in a fact just reported from Canada. General Botha has become a vice-president of the Champlain Tercentenary and Quebec Battlefields Association. This evidence of his desire to al;erthiarightztarevtrii the consecration of the ground where the foundation of Greater Britain was laid is surely a most satisfactory and significant fact.
But it is not merely by speeches or sympathetic acts that the new Ministry have shown their care for the just susceptibilities of the Mother-country. In the settlement of the Indian difficulty in the Transvaal last year a compromise honourable to all parties was arrived at largely, we have good reason to believe, owing to the anxiety of the Ministry to consult Imperial as well as local interests. We still think that in this business much unnecessary friction could have been avoided if at the outset precautions had been taken to find out the views of the Government of India as to the least irritating method of dealing with Indian traders ; but after the initial mistakes had once been made, it showed considerable strength of purpose and the best Imperialism in the Transvaal Government to yield gracefully as they did. Again, in the matter of education, which, though in a sense a purely internal affair, has far-reaching effects in inculcating the right methods of training citizens of the Empire, it is admitted on all hands that Mr. Smuts's settlement of the problems connected therewith, agreed to unanimously by the Transvaal Parliament, was fair and wise. Complaints are, no doubt, made that in some districts the local busybodies are not acting in the spirit of conciliation which animated the measure ; but these cases are exceptional, and similar difficulties are not un- known even in our own country ; while, considering the peculiar circumstances of the Transvaal, the wonder is that the complaints are not more widespread than they are.
We now come to the question of retrenchments and changes in the public service,—one which has naturally attracted considerable attention, not merely in the Trans- vaal, but also in England. In treating of this matter there is one aspect which must not be left out of account, although in the special circumstances it must not be too academically insisted upon. Having granted self- government to the new Colonies, we have granted it in as real and full a measure as to Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. In those Colonies we should be very chary of criticising the arrangements made for the conduct of their Civil Service, and should never dream of venturing to interfere. In the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony equally we have neither the will nor the means of effective interference, and for that reason criticism should be cautious and based on a full know- ledge of the facts, otherwise it is liable to defeat its own object. For it must always be remembered that in South Africa public opinion, not merely Dutch, but English at least as strongly, is suspicious of any interference from England in its own affairs. With this in mind, we are,' however, justified in con- sidering broadly how far the present changes in the Civil Service are indicative of a fair treatment of the men who have worked devotedly and ungrudgingly for the public service of the new Colonies. In the first place, it is admitted on all hands that considerable retrenchments in the Civil Service were inevitable. A staff was not required for normal conditions on the same scale as was necessary for the entire reorganisation of the country after a devas- tating war, and in fact the policy of retrenchment had been inaugurated before the establishment of responsible government. In the second place, it was hardly, to be expected that under the new conditions room should not be found in the Civil Service for a certain proportion of new blood as vacancies might occur. As far as any evidence has yet been produced, there is none that the changes and retrenchments effected have shown any settled policy to replace a predominantly English by a Dutch Civil Service. On the other hand, there have been many very hard cases. With regard to these, we think our Government were guilty of a grave omission in not qdopting the suggestion understood to have been made by Sir West Ridgeway's Commission, that stipulations for the protection of the financial interests of discarded Imperial servants should have been laid down in the Letters Patent granting the Constitution. Further, we think that the Transvaal Government also have made mistakes. Notably, for instance, the arrangement by which Sir William St. John • Carr was removed from a position which he was well qualified to hold, in order to effect changes in the Legislative Council, was indefensible from all the evidence that we have seen; and the wholesale creation of field-cornets without any regard to the claims of unemployed officials bears an unfortunate aspect. Moreover, the proposal made by the Government for the future regulation of the Civil Service does not bear that impress of freedom from political considerations which has been found to be the strength of our own Civil Service. But this is merely a proposal'at present, and may be amended in the Legislature. Hew_ ever, from the broadest point of view, we cannot discover any signs, in spite of isolated instances, that the Govern- ment have not attempted to hold the balances even. It must be remembered that there is still a very strong party in the Transvaal of the old inhabitants who are constantly urging the Government to return to the old methods of Krugerism. So far General Botha and his colleagues have valiantly withstood these influences, but there is possibly a danger that if they gain no credit among moderate men for these efforts they may be insensibly forced back on the support of the less far-seeing and more obscurantist section of their party. At present the mineowners of Johannesburg have no serious cause for complaint against the fairness of the Government's dealings with them, and their comparative prosperity within the last year is one of the best indications that no revolutionary measures are apprehended in that com- munity, so naturally sensitive to change and depressing conditions.
Perhaps, however, the most hopeful sign in the South African prospect is the great step which has already been made towards closer union. This is too important a question to be dealt with in so short a space as the end of an article, and we hope to return to it later, merely confining ourselves to this remark for the present. The Customs Conference has decided to ask the Governments of the four self-governing States to send representatives to a Conference next October which is to formulate a plan for union. Three of the States are undoubtedly anxious for a prompt settlement of the question. Natal is more doubtful as to the urgency. Probably the doubts of Natal would very soon vanish if she were assured, not only that full consideration to her own views will be given by the delegates, but also that the important minorities in the other States should be given adequate means of expressing their opinions. From. utterances of Mr. Smuts and of Mr. Merriman it seems that their Governments entirely realise the importance of making the Conference really represen- tative of the whole of South African opinion. No greater calamity could be conceived than that anything should be done which would give this all-important question even the appearance of party colour, and we gladly believe that all South African statesmen are fully alive to this consideration.