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RAILWAY MONOPOLY


This is another carefully designed burden upon the mines and country. The issued capital and loans of the Netherlands Company now total about £7,000,000, upon  which an average interest of about 5¥? per cent.-guaranteed by the State-is paid, equal to £370,000 per annum. Naturally the bonds are at a high premium. The company and its liabilities can be taken over by the State at a years  notice, and the necessary funds for this purpose can be raised at three per cent. An offer was recently made to the Government to consolidate this and other liabilities, but the National Bank, which is another concession, has  the monopoly of all State loan business, and this circumstance effectually disposed of the proposal. At three per cent a saving of £16o,ooo per annum would be made in this monopoly in interest alone. The value represented by  the custom dues on the Portuguese border we are not in a -position to estimate, but roughly these collections and the fifteen per cent. of the profits paid to the management and shareholders must, with other leakages, represent  at least another £ 100,000 per annum which should be saved the country. As the revenue of the corporation now exceeds £2,000,000 a year, of which only half is expended in working costs, the estimate we have taken does not err  upon the side of extravagance. By its neglect of its duties towards the commercial and mining community enormous losses are involved. Thus in the coal traffic the rate, which is now to be somewhat reduced, has been 3d. per ton  per mile. According to the returns of the Chamber of Mines, the coal production of the Transvaal for 1895 was 1,045,121 tons. This is carried an average distance of nearly thirty miles, but taking the distance at twenty-four  miles the charges are 6s. per ton. At 1½d. per ton per mile-three times as much as the Cape railways charge-a saving upon the coal rates of 35. per ton would follow, equal to £150,000 per annum. Again, by the 'bagging' system  an additional cost of 2S. 3d. per ton is incurred-details of this item have been recently published in this paper-and if this monopoly were run upon ordinary business lines, a further saving of £110,000 would be made by  carrying coal in bulk. The interest upon the amount required to construct the necessary sidings for handling the coal, and the tram-lines required to transport it to the mines, would be a mere fraction upon the amount; and as  the coal trade in the course of a short time is likely to see a fifty per cent increase, the estimate may be allowed to stand at this figure without deduction. No data are available to fix the amount of the tax laid upon the  people generally by the vexatious delays and losses following upon inefficient railway administration, but the monthly meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce throw some light upon these phases of a monopolistic management.  The savings to be made in dealing with the coal traffic must not be taken as exhausting all possible reforms: the particulars given as to this traffic only indicate and suggest the wide area covered by this monopoly, which  hitherto has made but halting and feeble efforts to keep pace with the requirements of the public. Dealing as it does with the imports of the whole country, which now amount in value to £1o,ooo,ooo, the figures we have given  must serve merely to illustrate its invertebrate methods of handling traffic, as well as its grasping greed in enforcing the rates fixed by the terms of its concession. Its forty miles of Rand steam tramline and thirty-five  miles of railway from the Vaal River, with some little assistance from the Delagoa line and customs, brought in a revenue of about £1,250,000 in 1895. Now that the Natal line is opened the receipts will probably amount to  nearly £3,000,000 per annum, all of which should swell the ordinary revenue of the country instead of remaining in the hands of foreigners as a reservoir of wealth for indigent Hollanders to exploit. The total railway earnings  at the Cape and Natal together over all their lines amounted to £3,916,566 in 1895, and the capital expenditure on railways by these colonies amounts to £26,000,000. The greater portion of these receipts come from the Rand  trade, which is compelled to pay an additional £2,500,000 carrying charges to the Netherlands Company, which has £7,000,000 of capital. Thus, railway receipts in South Africa amount now to £7,000,000 per annum, of which  the Rand contributes at least £5,000,000.

"The revenue of the company is now considerably over £3,000,000 per annum. The management claim that their expenses amount to but forty per cent of revenue, and this is regarded  by them as a matter for general congratulation. The Uitlanders contend that the concern is grossly mismanaged, and that the low cost of working is a fiction. It only appears low by contrast with a revenue swollen by  preposterously heavy rates and protected by a monopoly. The tariff could be reduced by one-hali, that is to say, a remission of taxation to the tune of one and a half million annually could be effected without depriving the  company of a legitimate and indeed very handsome profit."

Perhaps the dynamite monopoly was even more aggravating than the railway one. Mr. Fitzpatrick says it has always been "a very burning question with the  Uitlanders. This concession was granted soon after the Barberton Fields were discovered, when the prospects of an industry in the manufacture of explosives were not really very great. The concessionaire himself has admitted  that, had he foreseen to what proportions this monopoly would eventually grow, he would not have had the audacity to apply for it. Of course, this is merely a personal question. The fact which concerned the industry was that  the right was granted to one man to manufacture explosives and to sell them at a price nearly 200 per cent over that at which they could be imported. It was found, upon investigation after some years of agitation, that the  factory at which this 'manufacture' took place was in reality merely a depot in which the already manufactured article was manipulated to a moderate extent, so as to lend colour to the President's statement that a local  industry was being fostered. An investigation, held by order of the Volksraad, exposed the imposition. The President himself stated that he found he had been deceived, and that the terms of the concession had been broken, and  he urged the Raad to cancel it, which the Raad did. The triumph was considerable for the mining industry, and it was the more appreciated in that it was the solitary success to which the Uitlanders could point in their long  series of agitations for reform. But the triumph was not destined to be a lasting one. Within a few months the monopoly was revived in an infinitely more obnoxious form. It was now called a Government monopoly, but 'the agency'  was bestowed upon a partner of the gentleman who had formerly owned the concession, the President himself vigorously defending this course, and ignoring his own judgment on the case uttered a few months previously. Land en Vo/k, the Pretoria Dutch newspaper, exposed the whole of this transaction, including the system of bribery by which the concessionaires secured their renewal, and among other things made the charge which it has  continued to repeat ever since, that Mr. J. M. A. Wolmarans, member of the Executive, received a commission of one shilling per case on every case sold during the continuance of the agency as a consideration for his support in  the Executive Council, and that he continues to enjoy this remuneration, which is estimated now to be not far short of £10,000 a year. Mr. Wolmarans, for reasons of pride or discretion, has declined to take any notice of the  charge, although frequently pressed to take action in the matter. It is calculated that the burden imposed upon the Witwatersrandt mines alone amounts to £6oo,ooo per annum, and is, of course, daily increasing."

Between  the years 1890 and 1895 there were many negotiations over Swaziland. The South African Republic, ever anxious to extend its borders, longed to advance eastward to the sea. Negotiations were started in regard to this  arrangement. The Transvaal had recognised the British occupation of Rhodesia, and the British in return agreed to allow the Transvaal to make a railway through Amatongaland to Kosi Bay, and acquire a seaport, if; within three  years, it joined the South African Customs Union.

But Mr. Kruger, luckily for imperial interests, would not entertain the idea. He did not want to come into confederation with the Cape. The Orange Free State, however, joined  the Cape system, and the South African Customs Union was started. The advantages to the Free State of this arrangement, though unforeseen, were many; the principal being the privilege of importing, unmolested, arms and  ammunition over the Cape Government railway lines. Finally, in 1895, the administration of Swaziland was transferred to the South African Republic on certain conditions. It was not to be incorporated with the Republic, European  settlers were to have full burgher rights, monopolies were forbidden, English and Dutch languages were to be on an equal footing, and no duties higher than the maximum tariff rates imposed by the South African Republic or by  the Customs Union were to be allowed. The territory of Amatongaland was annexed by the British in 1895, and the Transvaal thus lost its one chance of an outlet towards the sea.