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THE ULTIMATUM


After the turmoil of 1896 affairs declined from bad to worse. The state of tension between the oppressed Uitlanders and the now suspicious Boers became
from  day to day and year to year more acute, till at last it was almost unbearable. The incompetence of the police showed that robbery, and even murder, might at any moment be perpetrated and go unpunished, and alarm on this score  was not allayed by the action of a constable in shooting dead a Uitlander named Edgar for having met his insults with a blow.

To thoroughly appreciate the misery and insecurity of the Uitlanders, the atrocity of the  Government, and the uncloaked hostility to Great Britain that has existed till now, we may quote a description of the situation given last year by Professor James Liebmann. He wrote

"In the Transvaal a state of things  reigns supreme which cannot be surpassed by the most corrupt of South American Republics. There the Boer shows his character in its most unpleasant features. Low, sordid, corrupt, his chief magistrate as well as his lowest  official readily listens to 'reasons that jingle,' and, like the gentleman in the 'Mikado,' is not averse to 'insults.' He calls his country a republic-it is so in name only. The majority of the population, representing the  wealth and intelligence of the country-the Uitlanders-are refused almost every civil right, except the privilege of paying exorbitant taxes to swell an already overgorged treasury. Under this ideal (?) government, which is  really a sixteenth-century oligarchy flourishing at the end of the nineteenth, and is, certainly not a land where 'A man may speak the thing he will,'

you have a press censorship as tyrannical as in Russia, a State  supervision of telegrams, a veto on the right of public meeting, a most unjust education law, and an Executive browbeating the Justiciary; and, in order to accomplish so much, the Transvaal has closed its doors to its kinsmen  in Cape Colony-for you must not forget that the oldest Transvaalers, from President Kruger downwards, are ex-Cape Colonists, and quondam British subjects-and imported a bureaucracy of Hollanders to plait a whip wherewith to  castigate her children.

"On the Rand, at present, the Uitlanders are voiceless, voteless, and leaderless, whilst, on the other hand, large quantities of arms have been introduced into the country, and the burghers, every  one of them, trained in the use of these weapons. Fortifications have been raised at Johannesburg and Pretoria, to cowe those who are putting money into the State's purse, and for this purpose the President has acquired the  services of German military officers who will find congenial employment in thus dragooning defenceless citizens.

"This is the state of affairs in the South African so-called Republic in this year of grace (1898), which,  according to the Convention, granted equal rights to Briton and to Boer."

This being no exaggerated picture of the situation, it is small wonder that at last the Uitlanders determined to bear the burden no longer, but  set their grievances before the Queen. Early in the new year the following petition was forwarded to her Majesty :- Humble Petition of British Subjects resident on the Witwatersrand

Gold Fields to her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria.

"1 Your loyal subjects on these fields are by law denied the free right of possessing such arms as may be necessary to protect their lives and property, and such  obstacles are placed in their way as to render the obtaining of the necessary official permit almost impossible. Consequently the Uitlander population of this State is to aU intents and purposes an unarmed community.

"2.  On the other hand, the whole of the burgher section of the community, irrespective of age, are permitted to possess and carry arms without let or hindrance, and are, in fact, on application, supplied with them by the Government  free of charge.

"3. The police force of this State is exclusively recruited from the burgher element, many of the police being youths fresh from rural

districts, without experience or tact, and in many instances  without general education or a knowledge of the English language; therefore, as a whole, entirely out of sympathy with the British section of the community, which forms the majority of the population.

"4. The foot police  of Johannesburg, in whose appointment and control we have no voice, is not a military force; yet its members not only carry batons, but are also armed with six-chambered military revolvers, invariably carried loaded.

"5.  Under these circumstances, given an unarmed community policed by a body of inexperienced rustics carrying weapons of precision and utterly out of sympathy with the community they are supposed to protect, it is not surprising  that the power placed in the hands of this police force should be constantly abused.

"6. For years past your subjects have in consequence had constantly to complain of innumerable acts of petty tyranny at the hands of  the police.

"7. During the last few months, however, this antagonistic attitude of the police has assumed a much more serious and aggressive aspect. Without warrant they have invaded private houses and taken the  occupants into custody on frivolous and unfounded charges never proceeded with; violently arrested British subjects in the streets on unintelligible charges and generally display towards your Majesty's subjects a temper which  undoubtedly tends to endanger the peace of the community. In adopting this demeanour the police are supported, with but a few honourable exceptions, by the higher officials, as instanced by the continual persecution in the  Courts of many of your Majesty's coloured subjects at the very time when negotiations are proceeding between your Majesty's Representative and the Transvaal Government with regard to their status. This feeling is also strongly  evidenced in the particular case which we now bring to your Majesty's notice.

"8. The lamentable tragedy which has been the immediate cause of this our humble Petition cannot, therefore, be regarded as incidental, but  symptomatic.

"9. This case is that of the shooting of Tom Jackson Edgar, a British subject, by Police-Constable Barend Stephanus Jones, a member of the Johannesburg Constabulary.

"10. From the accompanying  affidavits, already published and sworn by eye-witnesses of the tragedy, it would appear that the deceased, while in the occupation of his own house, was shot dead by Police-Constable Barend Stephanus Jones as the latter was in  the act of unlawfully breaking into the house of deceased without a warrant.

"11. Police-Constable Barend Stephanus Jones, though in the first instance placed in custody on a charge of murder, was almost immediately  afterwards let out on bail by the Public Prosecutor, who, without waiting for any Magisterial inquiry, reduced the charge, on his own initiative, to that of culpable homicide.

"12. The bail on which the prisoner was  released was the same in amount-namely, £200-as that required a few days previously from an Uitlander charged with a common assault on a Member of the Government Secret Service, and the penalty for which was a fine of £20.

"13. The widow and orphan of the late Tom Jackson Edgar have been left absolutely destitute through the death of their natural protector.

"14. To sum up: We humbly represent to your Majesty that we, your loyal  subjects resident here, are entirely defenceless since

-(i) The police are appointed by the Government, not by the Municipality; (2) We have no voice in the Government of the country; (3) There is no longer an independent  Judiciary to which we can appeal; (4) There is, therefore, no power within this State to which we can appeal with the least hope of success; and as we are not allowed to arm and protect ourselves, our last resource is to fall  back on our status as British subjects.

"We therefore humbly pray: That your Majesty will instruct your Representative to take such steps as will ensure (a) a full and impartial trial, on a proper indictment, of prisoner  Police-Constable Barend Stephanus Jones, and adequate punishment for his offence, if found guilty; (6) proper provision by the Transvaal Government for the needs of the widow and orphan of the deceased Torn Jackson Edgar,  killed by their agent; (c) the extension of your Majesty's protection to the lives, liberty, and property of your loyal subjects resident here, and such other steps as may be necessary to terminate the existing  intolerable state of affairs.

And your petitioners will ever pray, &c."

Of course, this move enraged the authorities of the Transvaal, who tried to prove the existence of a plot against the Republic, and even to  represent that British military officers were implicated in it. But Sir Alfred ~~ilner exposed the little machinations of the "secret service" people, so that their duplicit efforts were not crowned with the hoped-for  success. Mr. Steyn then succeeded Mr. Reitz as President of the Orange Free State, and his appearance on the political scene was the signal for an offensive and defensive alliance between the two Republics. Following the  example set by President Brand, Mr. Steyn-in the character of umpire or peacemaker

-assisted to promote a meeting at Bloemfontein between Sir Alfred Milner and President Kruger The Uitlander Council drew up the following  declaration

"The proposals submitted at the Bloemfontein Conference by his Excellency the High Commissioner were briefly:

I. That the Uitlanders possessing a certain property or wages qualification, on proving that  they had resided five years in the country and on taking an oath of allegiance, be given full burgher rights.

"2. That there should be such a distribution of seats as would give to the new-comers a substantial  representation in the First Volksraad, but not such as would enable them to swamp the old' burghers.

"All must admit that this scheme is most conservative, because-"(a). It does not restore to the Uitlanders all the  rights of which

they have been unjustly deprived since the retrocession.

"(6). Nearly the whole revenue of the country is derived from the taxation of the Uitlanders.

"(c). The Uitlanders form at least  two-thirds of the total white population. (This was practically admitted by President Kruger at the Conference.)

"(d). In most new countries one or two years' residence ensures full voting power. There is no  reason why there should be more stringent conditions in operation in this State than in Nat~ or Cape Colony, or than those which existed until quite recently in the Orange Free State, and which were only changed from one to  three years on account of the unhealthy political conditions in the South African Republic.

"Notwithstanding, however, the conservative character of the scheme, the Uitlander Council consider that the proposals of his  Excellency the High Commissioner are calculated in no small degree to bring about a practical and permanent settlement. But, in the opinion of the Uitlander Council, it is essential at the outset to fix definitely the  conditions under which:

"1. All duly qualified persons can get the franchise without any unnecessary expense, trouble, or delay, and without being subjected to any kind of intimidation.

"2. Those who have got the franchise shall be able to use it effectively.

"3. Redistribution of seats shall take place periodically by automatic arrangement, and representation shall bear some definite relation to  the number 6f electors.

"Having regard to the recent history of the Government of this country, and the facility with which even fundamental laws are and may be changed, the Uitlander Council are convinced that no  settlement will be of any value unless its permanency is guaranteed by an understanding between the Imperial Government and the Government of the South African Republic.

"Further, knowing by past experience that every  effort will be made by means of the existing Government machinery to obstruct and pervert even the smallest measure of reform, and bearing in mind the immense discretionary power accorded by the laws to all Government  officials, the Uitlander Council are strongly of opinion that the understanding between the two Governments should provide for such immediate changes in the present laws of the country as would make it possible to carry out Sir  A. Milner's scheme, not only in the letter, but also in the spirit.

"The outcome of the understanding between the two Governments should be the inclusion among the permanent and fundamental laws of the South African  Republic of a Reform Act embracing, in addition to the clauses providing for naturalisation and redistribution on the lines already indicated, the following among other provisions:

1. No burgher or alien shall be granted  privileges or immunities which on the same terms shall not be granted to all burghers.

"2. No person shall, on account of creed or religious belie{ be under any disability whatever.

"3. The majority of the  inhabitants being English-speaking, English shall be recognised equally with Dutch as an official language of the State.

"4. The independence of the High Court shall be established and duly safeguarded

"5. Legislation by simple resolution (besluit) of the Volksraad shall be abolished.

"6. The free right of public meeting and of forming electoral committees shall be recognised and established.

"7. The freedom of speech and of the press shall be assured.

"8. All persons shall be secured in their houses, persons, papers, and effects against violation or illegal seizure.

"9. The existence of forts and  the adoption of other measures intended for the intimidation of the white inhabitants of the country, being a menace to the exercise of the undoubted rights of a free people, shall be declared unconstitutional.

10. Existing monopolies shall be cancelled or expropriated on equitable conditions.

"11. Raad members must be fully enfranchised burghers and over twenty-one years of age. Any candidate for the Presidency must be a fully  enfranchised burgher over thirty years of age, and have been resident in the ountry for ten years.

"12. All elections shall be by ballot and shall be adequately

- safeguarded by stringent provisions against bribery and intimidation.

"13. All towns with a population of 1000 persons and upwards shall have the right to manage their own local affairs under a general Municipal Act.  The registration of voters and the conduct of all elections shall be regulated by local bodies.

14. A full and comprehensive system of State Education shall be established under the control of Local Boards.

"15. The  Civil Service shall be completely reorganised, and all corrupt officials shall be dismissed from office, and be ineligible for office in the future.

"i6. Payments from the public Treasury shall only be made in accordance  with the Budget proposals approved by the Raad, with full and open publication of the accounts periodically.

17. No person shall become a burgher, and no fresh constituency shall be created except in accordance with the lines  herein laid down, and officials shall have no discretionary power in this or any other matter affecting the civil rights of the inhabitants of the country."

The 'Conference was a complete failure. Mr. Kruger obstinately  refused to make the proposed concessions, and Sir Alfred Milner would be contented with nothing less.

The President afterwards agreed to grant a "seven years Franchise" on terms that were scarcely practical, while  the Secretary of State for the Colonies held out for the five years Franchise at first demanded. The bargaining was pursued for some weeks with considerable; animation, and in the end Mr Kruger offered to allow the five years'-  franchise on what he knew to be the impossible condition, that the question of suzerainty should be entirely dropped.

The mobilisation of the burghers, which had been secretly on foot for some time, was forthwith carried on  apace, and later-much too tardily-British patience gave way, and troops were despatched to South Africa. Then followed, on the 9th of October, an insulting ultimatum from President Kruger, demanding the immediate withdrawal of  British troops from the Transvaal border, and an assurance that no more should be landed. In default of this assurance, he declared that at 5 P.M. on the 11th of October a state of war would exist. To such an ultimatum only one  answer was possible. British troops at once started for the Cape.

Naturally the whole of Great Britain was in a state of turmoil, and the vast multitude of people-" the men in the street," so to say were inclined to  express surprise that the question of two years difference in the terms of obtaining the franchise should have been made into a casics belli. To all thinking men it was patent, however, that the quibble about the  franchise was merely a Boer '-zese to obtain time for the carrying out of a long-concerted scheme for the elimination of the British from the Cape to the Zambezi. These were aware that the military methods of the  Transvaal were under process of reorganisation, and indeed had been readjusted gradually ever since 1896, and that the simple methods of 1881 had been superseded by newer and more modern principles of warfare. It was known that  great additions had been made to the warlike resources of the Republic, and that the President of the Free State was, if anything more bitter than Mr. Kruger in his hatred of Great Britain and all things British, and that the  two Republics would make common cause with each other against a mutual enemy. It was also known that foreign experts were imported, and foreign stocks of war material-material of the newest and most expensive kind-were prepared  in anticipation of war, and that even such a thing as tactical instruction

-a thing hitherto ignored among the Transvaalers-had been acquired from accomplished German sources, and all this for one sole purpose-war with Great  Britain. In order that there may be no doubt that the Boers were completely prepared and determined to fight long before the insolent Ultimatum was published, it is desirable to read a letter which appeared in the Times of the 14th of October 1899. This epistle, which was appropriately headed "Boer Ignorance," emanated from a Dutch writer, whose address was in a well-known part of Cape Colony. It runs

"Sin,-In your paper you  have often commented on what you are pleased to call the ignorance of my countrymen, the Boers. We are not so ignorant as the British statesmen and newspaper writers, nor are we such fools as you British are. We know our  policy, and we do not change it. We have no opposition party to fear nor to truckle to. Your boasted Conservative majority has been the obedient tool of the Radical minority, and the Radical minority has been the blind tool of  our far-seeing and intelligent President. We have desired delay, and we have had it, and we are now practically masters of Africa from the Zambezi to the Cape. All the Afrikanders in Cape Colony have been working for years for  this end, for they and we know the facts.

"1. The actual value of gold' in the Transvaal is at least 200,OCO millions of pounds, and this fact is as well known to the Emperors of Germany and Russia as it is to us. You  estimate the value of gold at only 700 millions of pounds, or at least that is what you pretend to estimate it at. But Germany, Russia, and France do not desire you to get possession of this vast mass of gold, and so, after  encouraging you to believe that they will not interfere in South Africa, they will certainly do so, and very easily find a casris be/it, and they will assist us, directly and indirectly, to drive you out of Africa.

"2. We know that you dare not take any precautions in advance to prevent the onslaught of the Great Powers, as the Opposition, the great peace party, will raise the question of expense, and this will win over your lazy,  dirty, drunken working classes, who will never again permit themselves to be taxed to support your Empire, or even to preserve your existence as a nation.

"3. We know from all the military authorities of the European and  American continents that you exist as an independent Power merely on sufferance, and that at any moment the great Emperor William can arrange with France or Russia to wipe you off the face of the earth. They can at any time  starve you into surrender. You must yield in all things to the United States also, or your supply of corn will be so reduced by the Americans that your working classes would be compelled to pay high prices for their food, and  rather than do that they would have civil war, and invite any foreign Power to assist them by invasion, for there is no patriotism in the working classes of England. Wales, or Ireland.

"4. We know that your country has  been more prosperous than any other country during the last fifty years (you have had no civil war like the Americans and French to tone up your nerves and strengthen your manliness), and consequently your able-bodied men will  not enlist in your so-called voluntary army. Therefore you have to hire the dregs of your population to do your fighting, and they are deficient in physique, in moral and mental ability, and in all the qualities that make good  fighting men.

"5. Your military officers we know to be merely pedantic scholars or frivolous society men, without any capacity for practical warfare with white men. The Afridis were more than a match for you, and your  victory over the Soudanese was achieved because those poor people had not a rifle amongst them.

"6. We know that your men, being the dregs of your people, are naturally feeble, and that they are also saturated with the  most horrible sexual diseases, as all your Government returns plainly show, and that they cannot endure the hardships of wan

"7. We know that the entire British race is rapidly decaying, your birth-rate is rapidly  falling, your children are born weak, diseased, and deformed, and that the major part of your population consists of females, cripples, epileptics, consumptives, cancerous people, invalids, and lunatics of all kinds whom you  carefully nourish and preserve.

"8. We know that nine-tenths of your statesmen and higher officials, military and naval, are suffering from kidney diseases, which weaken their courage and will-power, and make them shirk  ah responsibility as far as possible.

"9. We know that your Navy is big, but we know that it is not powerful, and that it is honeycombed with disloyalty-as witness the theft of the signal-books, the assaults on officers,  the desertions, and the wilful injury of the boilers and machinery, which all the vigilance of the officers is powerless to prevent.

"10. We know that the Conservative Government is a mere sham, and that it largely  reduced the strength of the British artillery in 1888-89. And we know that it does not dare now to call out the Militia for training, nor to mobilise the Fleet, nor to give sufficient grants to the Line and Volunteers for  ammunition to enable them to become good marksmen and efficient soldiers. We know that British soldiers and sailors are immensely inferior as marksmen, not only to Germans, French, and Americans, but also to Japanese, Afridis,  Chilians, Peruvians, Belgians, and Russians.

"11. We know that no British Government dares to propose any form of compulsory military or naval training, for the British people would rather be invaded, conquered, and  governed by Germans, Russians, or Frenchmen, than be compelled to serve their own Government.

"12. We Boers know that we will not be governed by a set of British curs, but that we will drive you out of Africa altogether,  and the other manly nations which have compulsory military service the armed manhood of Europe-will very quickly divide all your other possessions between them.

"Talk NO more of the ignorance of the Boers or Cape Dutch;  a few days more will prove your ignorance of the British position, and in a short space of time you and your Queen will be imploring the good offices of the great German Emperor to deliver you from your disasters, for your  humiliations are not yet complete.

"For thirty years the Cape Dutch have been waiting their chance, and now their day has come; they will throw off their mask and your yoke at the same instant, and 300,000 Dutch heroes  will trample you underfoot.

We can afford to tell you the truth now, and in this letter you have got, it.-Yours, &c., P. S.

" October 12."

This letter, though false in many particulars, certainly  pointed out some " home truths," which it was desirable for the British public to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. It also served to cast aside the thin veil, which had covered our political relations with  President Kruger and his party, and to show the firm foundations on which the hatred of the Boer for the Briton had been built for years. The question of the franchise was a bagatelle: a soap-bubble would have been pretext  enough for war when the right hour and moment arrived. As allowed by this candid writer, whose valuable avowals cannot afford to be ignored, for many years treachery and disloyalty had existed, and the Doers had only bided  their time. They "desired delay, and had it, replaying their cards so skilfully as to deceive even the British Government, and imply to them and the world that the franchise question and the discontent of the Uitlanders  was the main cause of the disagreement.

Before passing on to the terrible drama that, owing to the defiance of Mr. Kruger, was afterwards enacted, we must assure ourselves that the sad climax was bound to have come sooner or  later. If the future of South Africa is to be saved, the prestige of Great Britain must be maintained; her citizens must be protected, and the betrayals of Downing Street of 1881 and 1896 must be atoned for. Though darkness  reigns at the time of writing, the future of the Transvaal is a bright one. Reactionaries of the Hofmeyer and Kruger stamp will pass away, and we may look to the twentieth century for a happy settlement of the terrible  difficulties which stare us in the face. But the settlement can never be effected by the policy of compromise. It can never be lasting while Conventions are allowed to become the pawns of parties; it can never be noble nor  dignified until the petty ambitions of political strife are subdued and the grand whole, Great Britain-not the infinitesimal is4and, but the immense and populous Empire-is ordered and laboured for with the courage and strength  that comes of undoubted unanimity! It remains, therefore, with each individual man and woman among us so to work that the grand result is not unnecessarily delayed.