Arthur M. Mann.

The Boer in Peace and War online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryArthur M. MannThe Boer in Peace and War → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

E-text prepared by Michael Ciesielski, Jeannie Howse, and the Project
Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team (

Note: Project Gutenberg also has an HTML version of this
file which includes the original illustrations.
See 15561-h.htm or




Author of _The Truth From Johannesburg_

With Sixteen Illustrations

John Long
6 Chandos Street, Strand























A Boer may know you, but it will take you some time to know him, and
when a certain stage in your acquaintance is reached, you may begin to
wonder whether his real nature is penetrable at all. His ways are not
the ways of other people: he is suspicious, distant, and he does not
care to show his hand - unless, of course, there is some pecuniary
advantage to be gained. He is invariably on the alert for advantages
of that description.

His suspicious nature has probably been handed down to him from
preceding generations. When he first set foot in South Africa he was
naturally chary concerning the native population. He had to deal
firmly with Bushmen, and the latter certainly proved a source of
continual trouble. The Boer set himself a difficult task when he
undertook to instil fear, obedience, and submission into the hearts of
these barbarians - a task that could only be faced by men of firm
determination and unlimited self-confidence.

These characteristics have always inspired the Boer, and although he
may often have been the object of derision, it is to his credit that
the predominant qualities mentioned have enabled him to pull through
the miry clay. Without these qualities, it is patent that the little
band which landed at the Cape long years ago would have succumbed
before the conflicting forces which then existed. And as succeeding
years passed on, and the sun still shone upon the heads of the
pioneers, it is worthy to note that, despite the difficulties which
continually presented themselves, the little band multiplied,
prospered, and evolved an ensample not too mean to contemplate.

The Boer cannot be charged with any incapacity where the mere
treatment of natives is concerned; he can manage that business
perfectly. In the first place, he does not make the too common mistake
of allowing the black populace to insert the thin end of the wedge.
This is a mistake too often fraught with serious results, and the Boer
knows it. A native, no matter if he be Swazi, Zulu, Basuto, or any
other nationality, will always take advantage where such is offered,
and he will follow it up with enough persistence to warrant ultimate
success. In Natal, at the present time, this mistake is very apparent,
and, in consequence, one very seldom encounters a native who is
content to attire himself in any other manner than that adopted by his
master. He demands decent clothing, and, if possible, it must be new
and fashionable. I have known cases where a 'boy' has been presented
with a respectable suit of clothes a little too small for him, and it
is unnecessary to add that he disposed of that suit. People who have
hitherto allowed their children to put their pennies in the Sunday
School Mission box, will perhaps hesitate to continue supporting the
'poor, down-trodden native' when they learn that he is so fastidious,
and perhaps, after all, their spare coppers might be assigned to a
more deserving cause.

The Boer does not treat his black servants in any such fashion - he
knows better. He puts them on a sound footing to begin with, and he
leads them to understand that they must remain there.

This method of treatment where the natives are concerned has, to a
great extent, insured the progress of the Boer in South Africa. He has
laid down certain laws at the outset, and he has rigidly adhered to
those laws. He employs a different method of treatment from that which
is attributed to the Natal farmer and others who employ native
servants. He has never allowed his original attitude towards natives
to become compatible with the British idea; he prefers still to look
upon them as slaves, although he is perforce required to regard them
as servants. The difficulty in Natal with regard to the rapidly
increasing native populace, and how to deal effectually with the
question, might have arisen in the Orange Free State, for instance,
were it not for the fact that the native, in comparison with the white
population, is small. By a Law passed in the Volksraad some few years
ago, it became compulsory for farmers to allow only a limited number
of native families to remain on the farms. This created considerable
dissatisfaction among both farmers and natives, and the result was
that native labour approached the inadequate in a very short time.
Hundreds of native families left the State, and although the Law
ultimately admitted of a wider interpretation, the native populace has
not materially increased. The present attitude of natives in the towns
is not altogether satisfactory since the passing of this Law. Labour
being scarce, they are inclined to take up an independent attitude,
which, if fraught with little danger, is at least calculated to
produce a certain amount of friction between white and black. Added to
this, there is the fact that the education of natives, which is
becoming more general, undoubtedly assists the growth of this
independence. The Boer farmers in this connection adhere to their
pristine view of the matter, namely, that educating natives amounts to
casting pearls before swine; and although this does not tend to
encourage the work of the missionary, there may possibly be a certain
amount of truth in it.

Before the arrival of British subjects at the Cape, the Boer had it
all his own way. He looked upon himself as practically the ruler of
the country, and it was not natural that he should look with favour
upon the advent of a probable rival. He lived peacefully in a
way - that is, when he was not in open conflict with the natives. He
killed his game and cooked it and ate it heartily, and he enjoyed a
measure of happiness. He had found a home; the free-and-easy life
suited him; and if he was not possessed of riches (which would have
been of little value to him then), he had, at least, health and
strength and an abundance of daily food.

But one day the now accursed Englishman crossed his path, and that
made a considerable difference. He perhaps wondered why the English
came there at all, when he was just beginning to develop a great
country. But he did not, of course, know then what he knows now,
namely, that the English are insatiable land-grabbers! He looked upon
their advent more in the light of a huge slice of impertinence. He
knew also that it was dangerous to meddle or contend with them, so he
merely looked on with a suspicious eye. He watched their every
movement, and he also very probably looked for the day of their
departure. But they did not depart; they had come to stay.

The Boer did not like his English neighbours from the start; there was
far too much of the go-ahead persuasion about them. He wanted to jog
along quietly and cautiously, and he very naturally resented the
presence of people in whom the desire for progression was strong. So
long as the Boer was left to himself he was not aware of his own
tardiness. He was very much in the position of a cyclist on the track;
it needed a 'pacer' to show how slowly he was travelling. The 'pacer'
in this instance brought with him no commendation in the eyes of the
Boer; he merely created suspicion and ill-feeling, which ultimately
developed into rancour.

When suspicion lays hold of a man it invariably changes the whole of
that man's character. It did so in the case of the Boer. It debarred
any chance of reconciliation with the English for the future. The Boer
does not know the meaning of compromise, and if he did, it would go
against his grain to entertain it. His nature is stubborn; he cannot
bring himself to look at a question from any other view-point than his
own. He will argue a point for hours, and although he may be in the
wrong, it is a moral impossibility to convince him that he is not in
the right. His consummate ignorance may largely account for this; but
even semi-educated Boers are not much better in this respect.

The Boer makes an excellent pioneer, and when he found that the
English ideas were not compatible with his own, he decided to move
farther north. That is another of his characteristics - independence.
He is not only independent to a degree, he is sensitive; and when he
discovers by accident that he is a much-aggrieved party, his
indignation does not usually take a violent form - he simply clears
out. He may be somewhat different where the Transvaal is concerned - he
may be indignant, but he has no intention in this instance of adopting
the procedure of his forefathers. The latter had not yet dropped into
an inheritance glittering with gold; they were merely agriculturists,
and they desired pastures of their own. Some of them found desirable
pastures in the barren wastes of the Free State, and subsequently the
majority wended their way to the Transvaal.

It is not, of course, my intention to reiterate history. History is
good enough when it is new, but I should only be covering ground which
is already familiar to most readers. My purpose is to present glimpses
of the Boer as he is to-day.


The Boers are very much like the Scotch - they are clannish. Every Boer
has a solid belief in himself, to begin with, and every Boer has a
profound belief in his brother. This characteristic has many
advantages: it not only welds a people together, it is a sufficient
guarantee of success in times of trouble and difficulty, and it has
stood the Boer in good stead. He likes to tell you that no difficulty
is insurmountable in his eyes - nay, further, he does not believe in
the existence of any difficulty which he is not competent to overcome.
Rumours of trouble with natives do not appal him, because he knows
before he slings his gun over his shoulder that he is going forth to
inflict due punishment upon the insurgents. He does not in any
instance entertain the thought of a repulse. He marches to the front
with a firm, determined step, and he does not rest until he has
conclusively settled the matter.

The march to the front is a sort of family concern. I have tried
occasionally to unravel the relations of the numerous families in
certain districts, but it seems to me that the complications are too
great to admit of analysis. For instance, it will be found that the
family of Wessels is closely allied to the family of Odendaals, and
the Odendaals, on the other hand, are related to the De Jagers. This
kind of thing worries and tantalizes a man, and the only safe
conclusion to arrive at is that the entire nation is linked together
in some way or other by family ties. This may account for the fact
that it is seldom necessary to introduce one Boer to another - they are
very well acquainted without such formalities; if they are not, they
very soon strike up an acquaintance.

Of course there are exceptions, and I remember one in particular. The
instance I refer to occurred in a store. One of the gentlemen in
question was leaning heavily against the counter, and one could
observe at a glance that he, at least, had a good opinion of himself.
Presently Boer number two entered. He was small in stature, like the
other man, but there was a note of uncertainty about him which seemed
to betoken that his opinion of himself did not measure up in
proportion to that of the other Boer. Number two looked about him a
bit, and occasionally directed a furtive glance at number one, who, on
the other hand, stolidly regarded the array of goods spread out before
him. Number two seemed to have settled the question in his own mind at
last, for he approached the other party and held out his hand.

'I am Britz,' he said laconically, as the other touched the
outstretched hand indifferently.

'Ja!' said number one; 'I am Papenfus.'

The conversation ended here, and number two made a silent departure.


The preliminary salutations of another pair of Boers are probably as
interesting. It was during a prolonged drought, and both gentlemen had
evidently experienced a difficulty in finding a sufficiency of
water for the purposes of ablution. They had not met for a number of
years, but the recognition was mutual.

'Almachtig, Gert, you are still as ugly as ever!'

'Ja!' replied the other readily; 'and you are still alive with that

The Boer is coarse in his conversation, although he prefers to regard
it as wit. He likes to participate in a conversation bristling with
this sort of wit, but when you come to tell him a really good thing,
he fails entirely to grasp the point, and your joke falls flat,
resulting usually in a painful silence.

He is also very chary of complications in the handling of money. He
brings his wool into town once, and sometimes twice, a year, and that
staple comprises the current coin of the country. His clip is weighed
off in due course, and he proceeds to the store and sits down while
the clerk figures up the amount. You may be foolish enough to ask him
if he will buy a plough or a bag of coffee, but he continues to smoke
hard and expectorate all over the floor without giving a definite
reply. He wants to handle the money first, and then he will arrange
about his purchases. Within half an hour he will probably have in his
pocket two or three hundred golden sovereigns (he does not look upon
bank-notes with favour; he wants something hard and substantial), and
he will at once proceed to the matter of buying. At the end of the day
his waggon is loaded up with a variety of household and agricultural
necessities, for which he has paid, say, £150 of the money received
for his wool. This is his way of doing things, and he thinks it is the
right one.

During the Boer War of 1880 merchants in the Free State had a bad time
of it. The Boers were, of course, very much excited, and the English
merchant was looked upon scornfully and contemptuously. One Boer had
already drawn up a memorandum of what he considered should be the
_modus operandi_ in dealing with the storekeepers. Two or three were
to be hanged, and the others were to be tied up in front of their own
buildings and shot down like crows. That was in Harrismith.

The Boer has not much to boast of in the matter of brains, but what he
does possess he is careful not to abuse. A man can abuse his brains in
many ways - by taking to strong drink, for instance. I have been among
Boers for some years, and I can honestly say that I never yet saw a
Boer the worse for drink. He may indulge occasionally, but he very
seldom carries the practice to excess. When he does take it he likes
it strong - as strong as he can get it. He scorns the idea of mixing it
in water. He reckons that he did not go to the canteen or hotel to pay
for water. He wants the full value of his money, and he takes it.

I have said that the Boer is suspicious; he is likewise jealous by
nature. If there happens to be rinderpest on the next farm to his, he
is never contented until he gets his full share. He does not mind if
the visitation plays extreme havoc among his stock so long as he is
not left in the lurch. I remember some time ago hearing of a Boer who
had decided to build a large dwelling-house on his farm in place of
the wretched little building he and his family had hitherto occupied.
This Boer had made some money, and contact with English people in the
towns had resulted in more advanced ideas. He determined, therefore,
to spare no expense on this new project - he even included a bath-room.
The building was scarcely completed, when about a dozen Boers, who
were also capitalists in a way, immediately set about making
arrangements for similar structures. This form of jealousy is, of
course, good where trade is concerned.

If the Boer is nothing else, he is at least talked about. I say
nothing else advisedly, because he is nothing else. In his own country
he is nothing, and out of it he is less, if that were possible. It may
seem out of place on the part of a Scotsman to make such an assertion,
because a Scotsman (and a Yorkshireman, too, by the way) is, in the
eyes of the Boer, a friendly being, and far removed above a mere
Englishman. A Boer will give a Scotsman the best in the house, and put
up his horse comfortably, but an Englishman in the same circumstances
fares differently. It is, of course, unnecessary to say that while
a Scotsman makes no objection to exceptional hospitality, his views of
the Boer do not differ materially from those of any other person of
whatever nationality. He drinks the Boer's coffee, and shakes hands
with him and all his family, but there may be, and usually is, a great
deal of deception mixed up with such extreme good-feeling. I could
never understand, nor has it been explained to me, why the Boer is so
partial towards Scotsmen, unless it be that a great many Scotch words
resemble words in the Dutch language. Perhaps that may in some degree
account for it, although I do not think there is anything to be proud
of on the Scottish side.

[Illustration: A BOER HOMESTEAD]

It is necessary to reside in the Boer Republics to place one in the
position of knowing something of the Boer, and a mere fortnight won't
do it. Of course, there are Boers and Boers, as there are Englishmen
and Englishmen. There are Boers who are competent to rank with any
English gentleman, and whose education and abilities are of no mean
order. Unfortunately, however, these are altogether in the minority.

The Boers are all farmers, and, according to their own statements, a
poverty-stricken people. They plead poverty before an English merchant
because they fancy it will have the effect of reducing prices.
Fortunately, the merchants possess rather an accurate knowledge of
such customers, and in consequence they lose nothing. One would as
soon believe the generality of Boers, as walk into the shaft of a coal
mine. He has a reputation for lying, and he never brings discredit
upon that reputation. When he lies, which, on an average, is every
alternate time he opens his mouth, he does so with great enthusiasm,
and the while he is delivering one lie, he is carefully considering
the next. When he can't think of any more lies, he starts on the
truth, but in this he is a decided failure. He is afraid of being
found out. For instance, a merchant will approach a Boer respecting an
overdue account. The Boer will at once plead poverty, and speculate
on how he can possibly manage to liquidate his liability. If the
merchant knows the ropes sufficiently (and the majority of merchants
do), he will drop the subject for half an hour, at the end of which
time he will ask the Boer if he wants to sell any cattle or produce,
as he (the merchant) can find an outlet for either or both. The Boer's
diplomacy is weak, and he falls into the trap. He has fifty cattle to
dispose of; the merchant buys them, and the overdue account, with
interest, is paid.

The Boers are very superstitious in a great many things. For instance,
they regard locusts as a direct visitation from the Almighty. When the
pest settles down upon ground occupied by Kaffirs, all the available
tin cans and empty paraffin tins are requisitioned, and there is a
mighty noise, that ought to frighten off any respectable locust swarm;
but the Boer, when he sees them coming, goes into his house and lays
hold of his Bible, and reads and prays until he thinks there ought to
be some good result. The Boer is gifted with great and abiding
patience (in such cases only), and, no matter if the locusts stop long
enough to eat up every green blade on his farm, he will continue to
study his Bible and pray. But, as I have remarked parenthetically, it
is only in cases of emergency where he evinces such a display of
patience and exercises such a pious disposition. When he is not
praying, he is putting ten-pound stones in his bales of wool to be
ready for the merchant's scales, and transacting other little matters
of business of a like nature.

The Boer is not particular in the matter of cleanliness. It suits him
just as well to be dirty as to be clean. It is no exaggeration to say
that numbers of Boers do not wash themselves from one week's end to
another; and they wear their clothes until they drop off. It is always
a matter for speculation what the womenfolks do. It is certain that
they do not exert themselves too much, if at all, in their own homes.
They generally do all the cooking and eating in one room, and in the
other end of the house you will probably find a litter of pigs, a
score of hens, etc. And the one room is about as clean as the
other - most people would prefer to sleep alongside the pigs and the

The most painful proceeding is to dine in such a place. Unless you are
blessed with a cast-iron constitution and a stomach of the same
pattern, you are not likely to survive. Usually they put down boiled
meat first, after which comes the soup. The chief regret in your case
is that the soup had not come first, so that you could have disposed
of it right away and had something on top of it. Coffee, of course, is
never forgotten, and it would be a direct insult to refuse it. Coffee
is a great thing with the Boer. He would as soon be without house and
home, as his bag of coffee. Before selling his wool to the merchant,
almost the first thing he asks is: 'What is your price for coffee?' If
a satisfactory quotation is forthcoming, he does not hesitate long in
disposing of his staple, although, of course, at the highest price

The story goes that once upon a time a Boer, whose conscience had
remained dormant from his birth, came to a certain town to purchase
goods in exchange for produce. One of the articles he bought was,
naturally, coffee, and of that he took half a bag. While the clerk was
engaged in attending to some other matters, the Boer quietly and, as
he thought, unobserved, undid the cord which secured the mouth of the
coffee bag, and slipped in a quarter of a hundred-weight of lead which
was lying in the vicinity and which he evidently calculated on finding
useful. The clerk observed this movement without betraying the fact,
and when the order was completed his eye fell upon the coffee bag

'Oh! wait a moment,' he remarked. 'I fancy I have forgotten to weigh
that coffee.'

He weighed it over again and carefully noted down the figures in his
little book, no doubt much to the chagrin of the silent Boer, who
probably had not reckoned on paying for his lead in the same
proportion as the cost of his coffee per pound.

On another occasion, a Boer, the extent of whose wealth was probably
unknown to himself, found it necessary to dispute certain items in his
account with his storekeeper. This sort of thing, by the way, is the
rule and by no means the exception. It seems natural also when it is
noted that the majority of Boers run twelve-monthly accounts, and by
the time they come to square up, they find a difficulty in recognising
some of the articles purchased eleven or twelve months previously.
This particular gentleman's argument had reference to a pair of spurs,
which he deposed had been given to him as a present by the manager,
and his hitherto good opinion of the clerk who had charged the spurs
in his account was permanently damaged. He said he wasn't a man of
that sort. If he wanted to buy spurs, he could pay cash down for about
fifteen thousand pairs and, in short, he could buy up all the spurs in
the country! He would pay for those spurs now: he wouldn't take a pair
of anything, gratis or otherwise, from that merchant as long as he

1 3 4

Online LibraryArthur M. MannThe Boer in Peace and War → online text (page 1 of 4)