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THE CONVENTIONS


As may be remembered, Sir Evelyn Wood was ordered to conclude an armistice,  whereby the troops that had garrisoned the Transvaal might evacuate it. In the case of Potchefstroom, the execution of this design was treacherously prevented by Commandant Cronje'. This officer, after the armistice had been  arranged, withheld the news from the garrison, and prevented supplies from reaching the fort. As a natural consequence, he became a national hero, and led the burghers against Dr Jameson in 1895 and the forces on the Western  frontier in 1899.

The armistice was concluded in March 1881, and in August the Convention of Pretoria was signed. Some form of inquiry was held into the conduct of persons who had been guilty of acts contrary to the rules of  civilised warfare, but the whole thing proved to be a mere farce; and, as a matter of fact, not one of the perpetrators of murder and other crimes during the course of the war was brought to justice. The Commission insisted on a  definite agreement for the purpose of securing British persons from oppressive legislation, but, as we know, Boer promises were as completely pie-crust as Boer contracts were mere waste paper.

At the beginning of June Mr.  Gladstone wrote a letter in answer to that received from the loyal inhabitants. In this he said

"Her Majesty's Government willingly and thankfully acknowledge the loyal co-operation which her Majesty's forces received at  Pretoria and elsewhere by the inhabitants, and we sympathise with the privations and sufferings which they endured. I must, however, observe that so great was the preponderance of the Boers who rose in arms against the Queen's  authority that the whole country, except the posts occupied by the British troops, fell at once practically into their hands. Again, the memorialists themselves only estimate the proportion of settlers not Transvaal Boers at  one-seventh. Nearly, though not quite, the whole of the Boers have appeared to be united in sentiment, and her Majesty's Government could not deem it their duty to set aside the will of so large a majority by the only possible  means, namely, the permanent maintenance of a powerful military force in the country. Such a course would have been inconsistent alike with the spirit of the Treaty of 1852, with the grounds on which the annexation was sanctioned, and with the general interests of South Africa, which especially require that harmony should prevail between the white races.

"On the other hand, in the settlement  which is now in progress, every care will be taken to secure to the settlers, of whatever origin, the full enjoyment of their property, and of all civil rights.''

The pledges conveyed in the last sentence received such fulfulment  as they were to have by the insertion in the Convention of the following clauses

"Article XII.-All persons holding property in the said State, on the 8th day of August 1881, will continue to enjoy the rights of property  which they have enjoyed since the annexation. No person who has remained loyal to her Majesty during the recent hostilities shall suffer any molestation by reason of his loyalty, or be liable to any criminal prosecution or civil  action for any part taken in connection with such hostilities, and all such persons will have full liberty to reside in the country, with enjoyment of all civil rights, and protection for their persons and property.

"Article  XXVI.-All persons, other than natives, conforming themselves to the laws of the Transvaal State (a) will have full liberty, with their families, to enter, travel, or reside in any part of the Transvaal State; (b) they will be  entitled to hire or possess houses, manufactories, warehouses, shops, and premises ; (c) they may carry on their commerce either in person or by any agents whom they may think fit to employ; (d) they will not be subject, in respect of their persons and property, or in respect of their  commerce or industry, to any taxes, whether general or local, other than those which are or may be imposed upon Transvaal citizens."

The Convention itself is now well known, but brief allusion to it may not be out of place.  The preamble is important, and runs as follows

"Her Majesty's Commissioners for the settlement of the Transvaal territory, duly appointed as such by a Commission passed under the Royal Sign Manual and Signet, bearing date  the 5th April 1881, do hereby undertake and guarantee, on behalf of her Majesty, that from and after the 8th day of August 1881 complete self-government, subject to the suzerainty of her Majesty, her heirs and successors, will be  accorded to the inhabitants of the Transvaal territory, upon the following terms and conditions, and subject to the following reservations and limitations. . .

The new State was to be styled "The Transvaal State. A British  Resident was appointed, and the right to move British troops through the State guaranteed. External relations were to be under British control, and intercourse with foreign Powers to be carried on through her Majesty's diplomatic  and consular officers. The independence of Swaziland was guaranteed. Article 4 of the Sand River Convention, forbidding slavery, was reaffirmed in Article 16. Natives were to be allowed to acquire land, and to move about the  country "as freely as may be consistent with the requirements of public order" Complete freedom of religion was established. Protection to loyalists was guaranteed by the Triumvirate. The British Resident was given wide  authority in native affairs; was, in fact, constituted as an official protector of natives. The boundaries of the State were defined, and it engaged not to transgress them.

The government of the country was handed over to the  Triumvirate, who engaged to summon a Volksraad as soon as possible. The Volksraad when it assembled, however, Was disinclined to ratify the Pretoria Convention. The burghers wanted the Old Republic of the Sand River Convention, and  fretted at the idea that they should have agreed to acknowledge British suzerainty. This acknowledgment was made a condition of the grant of autonomy, and the British Resident in Pretoria was to have large powers in the direction  of native affairs. The position of the post of British Resident was to be similar to that held by a British Resident in one of the Native States of India. "Africanus;" in his useful book on "The Transvaal  Boers," thus describes the practical difference between the status of the two officials: "A Resident in an Indian State, though sometimes exposed to the risk of assasination, or of a general mutiny, is known by the  inhabitants to have behind him the enormous military force of the Indian Empire, whereas the unhappy Resident at Pretoria was given no means of enforcing any protests which he might be called upon to make. His only course was to  report disobedience to the High Commissioner; and if the disobedience was not of such a character as to force the Imperial Government to undertake military measures, it was sure to be overlooked. Thus the Resident, so far from  controlling the policy of the Transvaal, was reduced to the position of counsel holding a watching brief"'

As will be seen, the interests of the Uitlanders were protected, but no provision was made by the Convention for  future immigrants. Mr. Kruger, whose assurances at the time were believed to be sound, had promised to place them on equal footing with the burghers as regards freedom of trade. His words were: "We make no difference as far as  burgher rights are concerned. There may, perhaps, be some slight difference in the case of a young person who has come into the country," but the term "young person," it was afterwards explained, had no reference to  age, but to time of residence in the country.

Mr. Kruger, as leader of the reactionary section of the Boers, finally became the President. The rival of Mr. Kruger was Mr. Joubert, otherwise known as "Slim Piet," on  account of his wily ways, and between them from that day up to the present time considerable jealousy existed. They were always of one accord, however, in struggling to slip or squeeze out of any Conventions with the British. The  first contravention of treaty engagements was the return of the State to the old title of South African Republic. The Home Government feebly remonstrated-it was too sunk in the sl6ugh of "magnanimity" to do more. As a  natural result the Boers snapped their fingers at such remonstrances. After taking an inch they helped themselves to a hell! They had engaged to respect boundaries, but soon they began to lap over into Zululand and Bechuanaland.

The Boer process of expansion is simple and time honoured. A case of spirits is exchanged for the right to graze on land belonging to an independent chief. The cattle graze, the master locates himself. If the intrusion is resented,  a campaign follows, and the stronger ousts the weaker. Sometimes the Boer lends his services in warfare to a petty chief and those services are rewarded with a grant of land.

When the British annexed the Transvaal and conquered  Sekukuni, the other chiefs submitted to the British Government. On the resumption of Boer rule, however, the chiefs were inclined to defy their authority. The territories of the Mapoch, Malaboch, and Mpefu were assigned to the  Boers by the Convention of 1881, and consequently quarrels began. In 1883 Mapoch broke out against authority, and there was a campaign to subdue him. Malaboch became obstreperous in 1894 , and Mpefu followed his example in 1898. Most of the campaigns arose over the refusal to pay the hut  tax. Before the Mapoch campaign in 1883 the Volksraad made a change in the terms of the franchise. It may be remembered that for burgher rights a residence of one year in the country and an oath of allegiance were necessary  conditions. It was arranged that in future all candidates for citizenship must have resided and been registered in the Field Cornet's lists for five years, and must pay the sum of £25.

About this time Messrs. Kruger, Du Toit, and  Smith traveled to England to agitate for a new Convention. The Transvaal Government had "broken the spirit, and even the letter," of the old Convention, and Lord Derby in the House of Lords expressed his opinion that  "it would be an easy thing to find a casus belli in what had taken place." In spite of all this, Mr. Gladstone in 1884 obligingly agreed to a new Convention. By examination of its terms, it will be seen how far and  how ignobly the Government went on the road to concession. By this Convention the British Resident was replaced by a diplomatic agent; the old title of South African Republic was restored; the Republic was allowed to negotiate on  its own account with foreign Powers, limitations on treaty-making alone being imposed. Complete freedom of religion was promised and the Republic agreed to "do its utmost" to prevent any of its inhabitants from making any  encroachments upon lands beyond the boundaries laid down. Article 14 will be seen to be verbally similar to Article 26 of the Pretoria Convention of 1881, only the words South African republic being substituted for Transvaal State.  Nothing was said about the preamble to the Pretoria Convention or the question of British "suzerainty." The word was omitted from the new text; but it was supposed to be operative as before. Over this matter there has  been so much argument that, unless we can devote a volume to solving the Convention riddle, it is best left alone. We must show that the ambiguity of an already ambiguous Ministry had here reached its climax! Certain it is that the  Transvaal representatives returned to inform the Raad that the suzerainty had been abolished, and that statement they were allowed to maintain without contradiction! As a natural consequence of this indecision and weakness on the  part of the then Government, subsequent Governments have been placed in an unenviable quandary. The Boers contend that the omission of the word "suzerainty" in 1884 was intentional, and designed to permit the State to  style itself an independent Republic, while all level headed persons are fully aware that no Republic could have been granted complete independence while under a weight of debt for money and Mood spent for years and years to save  it from collapse and annihilation. Moreover, the guarantee of independence of the Transvaal was so unmistakably a result of suzerainty that the repetition of the word was unnecessary.