Lord Milner and Mr. Kruger
The Milner Papers : South Africa, 1897-1899. Edited by Cecil Headlam. (Cassell. 30s.) LORD 141II.NER did a service to history and to his own reputation in directing that his papers should be published, in place of a so-called official biography. For the first instalment, very skilfully edited by Mr. Headlam, throws much light on the situation in South Africa during the two years before the Boer war. The confidential messages from home emphasize the reluctance of Lord Salisbury and his Cabinet to press the controversy with the Transvaal to an extreme. On the other hand, the wiser Afrikanders, including men of prominence in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, deplored the obstinacy of President Kruger in refusing concessions to the unenfranchized Uitlander majority. Sir Alfred Milner, as he then was, had gone out to Capetown as High Commissioner 'with the good will of both parties, but he soon found his position to be intolerable. More than once it is made plain in intercepted messages that Mr. Kruger and his friends counted on a change of Government in England to free them from the Convention of 1884. The advanced Liberal section which openly supported Mr. Kruger's claims and ridiculed the grievances of the Johannesburg people was thought by the Boer leaders to represent English opinion. Thus Mr. Kruger was encouraged in his stubbornness, and the conciliatory policy of the Colonial Office was brought to nought. The editor is not, of course, able to do more than make passing reference to the frequent and heated debates in which Mr. Chamberlain was attacked on account of his efforts to secure decent treatment for the Uitlanders. But there can be no doubt that these debates did more harm than good. Mr. Courtney on one occasion allowed himself to describe the High Commissioner as " a lost mind," because Sir Alfred Milner was carrying out the policy of the Govern- ment and not that of a small part of the Liberal Opposition.
To Sir Alfred the native question seemed most important. In 1897 he told his friends in England that much comment has been excited because the wife of his attaché had kissed a black child as well as a white one, when both children had presented her with bouquets :
" Most white people in South Africa think she was wrong. There you have the great South African problem posed at once. It is the Native Question. Tho Anglo-Dutch friction is bad enough. But it is child's play compared with the antagonism of White and Black. That the white man must rule is clear—but how ? "
It is often forgotten that much of the friction with the Transvaal was occasioned by the ill-treatment of coloured people from Cape Colony by the Transvaal police. Sir Alfred was unfortunate in having as the General commanding in the Colony that very ardent politician, Sir William Butler, who strongly sympathized with the Boers and advised the War Office not to send out reinforcements for fear of provoking -hostilities. Sir William doubtless meant well, but when at last the Transvaal and the Free State delivered an ultimatum there was barely time for the troops from India to save Natal
from being overrun.
It is interesting to find, side by side with friendly messages
from President Steyn of the Free State professing his pacific intentions, a series of telegrams arranging for the supply of munitions to Bloemfontein from Pretoria and prescribing the joint plan of campaign. Diplomacy and truth do not always walk hand in hand, but they are seldom so far asunder as in Steyn's case in the autumn of 1899. One may note that, a few weeks before the delivery of the Boer ultimatum, on October 11th, Rhodes was of opinion that Mr. Kruger would climb down, and that Mr. Chamberlain, writing on October 5th, doubted " under existing circumstances whether the Boers will really take the offensive." They had, of course, been arming on a large scale for years past. Our own War Office was unable to send any considerable body of troops from home at short notice, and the Boers apparently -hoped to gain the upper hand in Cape Colony as well as Natal before the reinforcements arrived. Mr. Schreiner, the Bond Premier in Cape Colony, thought—until he was undeceived by the High Commissioner—that the Colony might remain neutral if war broke out. But a number of his supporters meant to help the Transvaal. The Milner papers set one speculating about what might have happened if a reasonable and youngish man had been ruling in Pretoria, in place. of Mr. Kruger. With him as President a clash was inevitable with the Suzerain Power, whoever the High Commissioner might be.