19 MAY 1961, Page 23


The Unbeloved Republic

BY PETER DUVAL SMITH IN these days every smiling liberal has his Panacea for the ills of South Africa, but seldom are their remedies founded on any more knowledge of the country than can be got from reading the pamphlets of the political priests. The plans they propose may hasten a solu- tionof some sort to the Union's troubles, but


may not be a solution inspired by much under- standing. The present discontents did not begin With Sharpeville: they are part of the history of the last 300 years, a history as rich in tragedy and fraud as that of most European countries in that period. If there is to be any but a bloody Way out of them, this is the time for strong nerves. Those who cry havoc do not help. It was unpleasant to see with what glee South Africa's departure from the Commonwealth was greeted in this country. If she had to go, surely this was not the best occasion for self-congratulation by British people. A short course of recent history is recommended for all those high thinkers who Parade with little black badges in Trafalgar Square.

Perhaps they could start with The Fall of kruger's Republic,* in which the Professor of History at Witwatersrand University considers the events that led up to the Boer War. Professor Marais could not have foreseen the aptness with Which his book appears twelve days before the old Republic is reborn, but I would guess he is not displeased: behind a façade of objectivity, his book is a very partial study of those lament- able events. Indeed, it is hard to see how it could ne otherwise,- for nearly all the facts are on his side. He had no need to press his points against the British. It is a tale to make us squirm, which is perhaps what we should be doing at the moment, instead of preening ourselves that we are not as the South Africans are. For there is no doubt that a large part of the blame for the calamitous state of the Union today lies with the British Government for its conduct of rela- tions with the South African Republic between 1895 and the outbreak of the Boer War in Octo- ber, 1899. Those four years are the theme of Professor Marais's book.

It all began when Joe Chamberlain was installed in the Colonial Office by Salisbury in

June, 1895. 'Pushful Joe' (as Hofmeyr, the

moderate Cape Afrikaner leader, called him) was a man to whom Imperialism was a religion. In

(iladstone's ministry of the early Eighties he had been a strong force behind the decision to bombard Alexandria, a quondam Suez which led

to the occupation of Egypt. For years he had hankered for the Colonial Office. According to Professor Marais, he swung into action at once. The Jameson Raid took place in the last days of

1895, and the professor is sure that Chamberlain was privy to it. He rightly pokes fun at the

notorious Commons 'Committee of No Enquiry,' which reported on the conspiracy, but his evi- dence that the Colonial Office was implicated is merely circumstantial or else based on unreliable

* TIIE FALL OF KRUGER'S REPUBLIC. By J. S. Marais. (O.U.P., 35s.)

documents, such as the reminiscences of a minor cfficial written many years later. The impression is that the professor is forcing his case. Why does he bother, one wonders? By poring through the Colonial Office archives, he has discovered an interminable series of the most deplorable communications between Chamberlain and his agents in South Africa. There is no doubt he would have supported the Jameson Raid if he could have been sure of its success, and if he hadn't been frightened of Rhodes. There is a bad gap in Professor Marais's otherwise almost tediously detailed narrative, probably because the professor works almost entirely from official documents, and the devious methods of Rhodes would tend to escape him. He does not explain, for instance, why Rhodes was able to treat Chamberlain virtually as a subordinate. One would like to hear more about the dirty business of the Missing Telegrams, apparently used by Rhodes to blackmail Chamberlain and keep him- self out of prison after his part in Jameson's adventure.

The workings of diplomacy are not often shown to be quite so dishonest as in the ex- changes between Chamberlain and the Kruger Republic. Of the lying and the spying there was no end, and rather more of it on the British side, it must be said. It is unfair of Professor Marais not to give us more from the Boer documents, though. Some of them are of a splendid absurdity, and some are very moving. On the eve of hostilities, a Boer spokesman said: 'If we are to lose our independence, since that is what is demanded, leave us at all events the consolation that we did not sacrifice it dishonourably.' It is a great pity that no sort of picture of Kruger emerges from this book, for he (with Rhodes) is the colossus of the scene. To some he is still 'the father of woe' that J. L. Garvin dubbed him, the two-faced monster denounced by Kipling: 'cruel in the shadow, crafty in the sun.' Professor Marais emphasises his gift for negotiation, his integrity, his fine determination. Garvin in his Life of Chamberlain says that Joe 'was convinced that Kruger, when firmly summoned, would always climb down.' How wrong! There is no really good life of Kruger: the man who writes it will find some important clues as to what inspires the seeming madmen who govern South Africa today. These Afrikaners are not diverting people, but Professor Marais reports one nice recollection of Kruger, from an gold Boer general: Old friend it is like this I do stand up against him, I know he is wrong and I tell him so: but first he argues with me, and if that is no good he gets into a rage and jumps round the room roaring at me like a wild beast; and if I don't give in then he fetches out the Bible and he even quotes that to help him out. And if all that fails he takes my hand and cries like a child and begs and prays me to give in. Say, old friend, who can resist a man like that?

The bit about the Bible is important: Kruger, like Vcrwoerd, was a fundamentalist of the

craziest kind. Early in the 1890s, it was much in his interest to take a census in the Republic, so that he could prove to the British that the Uitlanders of British nationality were in a con- siderable minority and so did not deserve politi- cal privileges. He refused, citing a Biblical objec- tion to 'numbering the people.'

That sort of thing was typical of Oom Paul. In his youth he had been a founder of the `Doppers,' a sect of the Dutch Reformed Church remarkable for its intransigence even in that bigoted body. To the end of his life he could be heard screaming away on Dopper pulpits. Kruger was convinced there was a clear resemblance between the fortunes of his own people and the Biblical story of the Israelites escaping from Egypt into the Promised Land. Indeed, much of his hatred for the Uitlanders was a form of righteousness, for they were a pretty unpre- possessing lot, the drunken trash of a gold rush. Such high-and-mightiness was always a charac- teristic of the Boers. During the years of humilia- tion that followed their defeat by the British, steel . entered into-the Afrikaner soul. I cannot see how ii will be rooted out now. Whatever one's judgment of the motives of a man like Verwocrd, it is impossible to doubt his complete confidence in his high call. In the present situation, nothing is more frightening.

Kruger was to find his match in high-minded-. ness in Chamberlain's High Commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner. If Chamberlain was 'almost the greatest Jingo' (as Granville said after Alex- andria), Milner declared himself roundly as a 'British Race Patriot.' For him Imperialism was 'a great movement of the human spirit' with 'all the depth and comprehensiveness of a religious faith.' Professor Marais gives Milner too Machiavellian a sound. Actually, he was the type of British official, like Curzon, who believed that politics was nothing but a great game for power with no holds barred. After Chamberlain had rebuked him for his belligerent speech at Graaff-Reinet, he cabled despondently to his agent in Johannesburg, 'It seems for the time being we must keep up our wickets but not attempt to force the game.' However, from the day of Milner's arrival in South Africa in 1897, war was certain.

It is a nasty story. Why did it happen? Proles. sor Marais says in his preface that the discovery of gold on the Rand was the cause of the whole thing, but he does not really believe this. All the emphasis of his book is on the imperial theme. Chamberlain and Milner were frightened of the strength of Afrikaner nationalism. They saw that it was incompatible with British influence. If the will to independence of the Kruger Republic was not mastered, undoubtedly the ultimate outcome (Milner declared) would be an independent Republic of South Africa. Well, after the Boer War and everything since, that is what will happen On Wednesday week. Searching through Professor Marais's book for a crumb of comfort, I found one small thing: Milner's marginal com- ment on some document: . . it shows a breadth of view, a liberality of judgment, and a force of expression, which . . . give me quite a new idea

of the niveou hitched:re! of the Boer.' Granted

that Milner was not the best judge, such qualities still exist among the Afrikaners. It is a pity if these people are to be abandoned. They have many troubles coming, and chiefly one that the detached professor has nothing to say about.

Warring factions fill his pages, yet one is con- spicuously absent, the most important by far, only mentioned half a dozen times briefly--that which he calls, with such insolence, the 'non- Whites.'