James Cappon.

Britain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek online

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of General Craig's remonstrance against the examina-
tion of slaves and natives by torture to the Emancipa-
tion Act, the British Government, British magistrates
and British missionaries had been engaged in teaching
him another point of view, and as regards the greater
part of the Colony not perhaps without success. But
the Boer of the frontier, at least, could not reconcile
himself to the establishment of anything like legal
equality between him and the native races ; and after
the British immigration and the establishment of
the new jury laws in 1827, legal equality between
white man and black had become a stern reality to
the Boers. As to the facts let the reader consider
the following testimony of Stephen Kay, the Wes-
leyan missionary, as to what he saw with his own
eyes in the district where he worked. Speaking of


the establishment of the new jury system in Albany,
in 1828, he writes :

Upon this very important improvement in the administration
of justice .... I cannot but dwell with peculiar delight ; and
shall here give the particulars of two or three cases which have
come under my own eye, and which may serve to exhibit the
enlightened principles now in active operation .... Enough
has surely been said in proof of the unrighteous conduct of
colonists in former years towards the defenceless native ; and
of the inveterate spirit with which he has long had to contend.
His colour, his habits, and even his place of habitation, have all
been used as grounds of argument to prove that he belonged
not to the human family so much as to the more sagacious
tribes of the quadruped race. To see him, therefore, called in
evidence against his oppressors, or the latter made to feel the
utmost rigor of the law for wantonly taking his life, cannot but
constrain every lover of humanity to rejoice in the change
already effected. Scenes of this kind are now frequently wit-
nessed ; and the white of every grade in society is, from the
bench, explicitly informed that with blood only can he atone for
the crime of maliciously shedding the blood even of a Bushman.
This, to many, is quite a new doctrine, and one which makes
the ignorant nomad and slave-driver look about, like men
just awake out of sleep. {Researches and Travels in Caffraria^
page 432.)

Mr. Kay then gives his cases, which need not, how-
ever, take up our space here. The passage itself will
sufficiently illustrate the conflict which was bound to
arise between two such different standards of civilisa-
tion as that of the British Government, and that of
the frontier Boer.

It was the missionary's great and legitimate


triumph, but it is almost a pity to see the naive
exultation of the good man, as he relates how Boers
were condemned under the new penal laws side by
side with Kaffirs and Hottentots, for, in the exulting
account of the missionary, we begin to realise how
bitterly the rude Boer of the frontier felt his altered
position. And it was not only in his pride and
supremacy of race that the Boer suffered. The
change involved an economic loss to him. To get
cheap labour had always been his grand object,
and the only sure way to that end was to make
labour compulsory, either by means of slavery or by
vagrancy laws sufficiently stringent to put the native
under the power of the white man. But the result
of the Government's legislation, combined with the
labours and the native settlements of the mission-
aries, had been to teach the Hottentots the ad-
vantages of independence, and Hottentot labour in
consequence was neither so plentiful, nor procurable
on as easy terms as before. It was not, as Boer
writers pretend, the memory of Slachter's Nek, or
the inadequacy of the compensation for the aboli-
tion of slavery, that was at the bottom of the trek-
Boer's great anxiety to cut himself loose from
the jurisdiction of the British Government ; it was
plainly the determination which that Government
had shown to deal out equal justice between white
man and black, and protect the latter against the


oppression of the former.^ To this day that con-
tinues to be the fundamental difference between the
standard of civihsation estabHshed in South Africa
by the British Government and that maintained by
the Transvaal Boer. What are the rights of the
natives, and by what methods should you deal with
them ? Can the coloured man be educated and dis-
ciplined sufficiently to be dealt with on terms of legal
equality at least, or must he be treated as one whose
evidence and whose engagements are worth nothing,
who must be disciplined as the beast of the field is
disciplined ? On this question the voice of the mis-
sionaries was clear, and it found its most powerful
expression in the work of Dr. John Philip, the super-
intendent of the London Missionary Society. He
can be educated and disciplined, that able and ener-
getic advocate of the black man pleaded, and there-
fore the sooner you begin to treat him as a human
being whose rights are sacred, the better. It was
from this point of view that he opposed the free use
of the reprisal system, the proposal for a Vagrancy
Act, the policy of annexation.

But this view brought him, and the British
Government with him, into irreconcilable conflict
with the Boer of the frontier, with wild Jan

^ Let the reader consider Articles 2 and 5 of the proclamation
issued by Piet Retief, one of the leaders of the Great Trek, from
this point of view. See Appendix A.



Bezuidenhout, who, as Dr. Thcal represents him,
was forbidden " by tlic law of honour " to accept it.
It is possible that the missionaries of that period
were too sanguine regarding the complete civilisa-
tion of the African — I mean as to the time required
for it. Amongst the Kaffirs and Hottentots they
found many persons of high intelligence and capable
of reaching all modern refinements of thought and
feeling ; and in their enthusiasm they sometimes
seemed to speak as if they thought it needed only
a generation or two till education and good treat-
ment should raise the native races to a level with
the whites ; till, as Pringle sang,

"the long-scorned African,
His Maker's image radiant in his face,
Among earth's noblest sons shall find his place."

Their point of view may be illustrated by two state-
ments which often occur in their writings ; first, that
the native children were found to be just as intelli-
gent in the schools as those of the whites ; and,
second, that the percentage of blackguards was not
higher among the Kaffirs than amongst some Euro-
pean nations.

But we have a long way to go yet, evidently, before
such comparisons will be in order. The civilisation
of a race is determined not by the capacities of some
exceptional individuals, or even many exceptional
individuals, nor by its capacity, up to a certain point,


for understanding a theorem, but by its collective
ability to produce a state representation and establish
a public opinion of what is best in itself and to
maintain that as a moral order over all its individuals.
And that collective power, which must always repre-
sent a general level, rises but slowly. But that it
had a chance to rise at all amongst the native races
of South Africa, was certainly owing to the labours
of the missionary societies, and, most of all, to those
of the London Missionary Society with its zealous
three, Vanderkemp, Read and Philip.

Y 2


Ihe Rights ot Briton and Boer in South Africa determined l:)y
their work there — Defects of Dr. Theal's Histories of South
Africa — Paul Kruger the Representative of the Old Tradi-
tions of the Frontier Boer.

This conflict between the civilisation of the Briton
and that of the trek-Boer has had a long and varied
history since 1836, and it has not quite ended yet,
although Paardeberg has been won and the British
flag flies over Pretoria. There have been mistakes,
of course, and the question has been perplexed by the
chronic tendency of the leaders of the Liberal party to
evade and put aside, and even at times to lay down
altogether the responsibilities of the Empire. But
judging from the condition and conduct of the native
tribes to-day, it is the policy of the British Government
and that of Dr. John Philip, which history so far has
justified in South Africa, and not that of the Boer of
the trek. The policy of the latter and his habits, had
they been free to develop unmodified by British in-
fluence, could only have ended in brutalising all the


races in South Africa, including his own. That is an
aspect of the question which the future historians of
South Africa will have to take into account.

Great Britain's title in South Africa, then, is not so
defective as some good people are ready to suppose.
It seems to me that Dr. Theal has missed a great
opportunity of explaining alike to Briton and Boer
the different nature of their rights in South Africa —
rights which are surely capable of adjustment when
well understood on both sides ; the rights of the
Boer as the first settler, the hardy pioneer, and foun-
der of a unique civilisation which may yet come to
be of value to the world, though at present the only
outstanding types it has produced are the old Boer
of the veldt, a hard-grained honest bigot, somewhat
deeply streaked with touches of savage craft and
cunning, and the young Boer of the cities, whose
conceit is at least as remarkable as his hardihood
and patriotism.

The rights of the Briton are not less valid. With
much inferior claims as a settler, he has been the
moving spirit of progress in South Africa, the mediator
between its various races and the educator of the
native ones ; he has been the support of all liberal
and enlightened ideas, and at great expense of blood
and treasure to himself has maintained a standard
of law and justice there, which is on a par with that
of the most civilised countries of Europe ; it is his


presence alone wliich, as far as one can sec, has kept
South African civiHsation from developing into a
tremendous slave-holding aristocracy with social and
political features as bad as those of the Turkish

Unfortunately the historiographer of Cape Colony
and official literary man of the British Empire in that
part of the world has not comprehended his task or
has been unfaithful to it. Perhaps the pressure of
the party with which he has evidently allied himself
has been too much for him and has spoiled what
might have been one of the most instructive histories
of the nineteenth century. For the spirit in which
Dr. Theal has written his histories has been fatal to
them. He has been obliged to avoid any thorough
treatment of the great questions involved in the de-
velopment of South Africa, the principles of civil
and religious liberty, the management of the native
races, the work of the missionary amongst the Kaffir
tribes, the character and history of the Dutch Re-
formed Church, and the peculiar indifference with
which it left the work of educating and disciplining
the native races in South Africa to Outlander mis-
sionary societies, chiefly British ones ; the results of
British influence in Cape Colony, and its present
condition as compared with the civilisation of the
Transvaal. He has been obliged to pass over these
topics in silence or with a casual and fragmentary


remark, for the discussion of them would have set the
history of the trek-Boer in its true light. His
history is defective accordingly in philosophical
analysis and survey. Even his economical sum-
maries are of little value, partly from being at one
time inadequate and undigested, and at another so
evidently partial and polemical. It is a bad sign
also, that he so rarely adopts the method of concrete
representation, which gives the reader a chance of
judging for himself, but prefers the old-fashioned
method of general statements, with an uncommon
scarcity of references to documents or of quotations
from the original materials. It is a history really
dead at heart, uninspired by any ideas or beliefs,
for even Dr. Theal is hardly Boer enough to have
any serious belief in the ideal of the Bezuidenhouts
and their " law of honour," though he may write on
occasion as if that piece of savagery were the same
thing as the patriotism of a Tell, or that of the
widow of Haarlem.

One thing, at any rate, is sufficiently clear from
Dr. Theal's histories, namely, that they could hardly
have been written by a historiographer of Cape
Colony, unless something like an organised con-
spiracy under the protection of the predominant
political party had existed against the British name
and British traditions in South Africa. But these
traditions are in many respects amongst the noblest


of the British Empire, and arc not to be obscured so
easily as Dr. Theal and Mr. Reitz may fancy. These
traditions have been shared by many Cape Dutch
famiHes of the best class, who have contributed in
the past much more to all that is best in the civi-
lisation of South Africa than the wild race of the
frontier. But owing to British neglect these traditions
seem almost to have died out amongst the Cape
Dutch. The surrender after Majuba Hill was of
itself enough to kill them. Their only basis now in
South Africa is the British population there. That
population is the progressive and enterprising portion
of South Africa, and could hold its own under any
ordinary economic and constitutional conditions, but
it cannot keep its ground against the military
organisation, the gold and the despotism of the
Transvaal. There should be no illusions now at any
rate. The Transvaal has for twenty years been a
centre from which British traditions and interests
have been assailed with untiring perseverance and by
deep-laid and long-maturing schemes, which but for
the courage of Mr. Chamberlain would probably
have been successful. You must kill Krugerism or
abandon the British population of South Africa,
British farmers, shop-keepers, and miners, to a system
of Dutch Terrorism. And it is not easy to see any
other way of extinguishing Krugerism than by taking
away the independence of the Transvaal. Leave


that existing, and what can you expect but to have
the whole comedy acted over again, the Reitz-Theal
propaganda, the nominal concessions and real evasions
of franchise rights, the crafty terrorism, the huge and
scientific military preparations and the calling in of
Albrechts, Leyds, and a crowd of clever foreigners
to conspire against you ; followed, of course, by the
old disputes about the rights of a suzerain to interfere
and protect itself, with half the Radical leaders work-
ing hard to make it impossible for you to anticipate
or prevent anything ; the whole to end in a tragedy,
as now, or possibly, the next time, in a catastrophe.
To leave the British colonists of Natal once arain


at the mercy of the Transvaal would be much the
same thing as if Britain had abandoned the young
and scattered English communities on the Atlantic
seaboard of America, the men of Boston, New York,
and Philadelphia to struggle alone against the bold
and vast designs of the French governors of Canada
for making America a French continent.^ Some
people, with a head for economics, may say that
Britain had a poor return for settling that matter by
the conquest of Canada. I cannot think so. The
presence of a great English-speaking people on the
American continent, instead of a French or Dutch-
speaking one, has been one of the latent factors in
the maintenance and development of the British
^ See Parkman, A Half Century of Cofifiici, vol. ii. p. 44.


Empire, and, in spite of the New Americanism,
which is not quite so wild a thing as it looks to be,
is so at this day.

At any rate the lesson of South African history
from 1795 to the present time is clear enough. It is
that nothing is gained by shelving difficulties and
responsibilities ; they only accumulate with terrible
interest. It was Emerson, the purest and most
peaceable of men, who said that the terror and
repudiation of war may be a form of materialism.

There are fine ironies in history. The conspiracy
against its name and honour might have gone on
unchecked and even unnoticed by the British nation,
which has great faith in freedom of speech and an
honest equanimity in the face of hostile criticism, had
it not been for the arrogance of one man, who was
rash enough to trample openly, ostentatiously, and
perhaps quite needlessly for his chief design, on every
principle of civil liberty and economic progress which
the British nation has stood for in South Africa, and
to end by throwing the gauntlet in its face. Paul
Kruger is a living link between the Boers of to-day
and the wild Jan Bothas and Bezuidenhouts of the
past. He is a Boer of the Great Trek, a genuine son
of the savage soil of Bruintjes Hoogte, with the
fierce memories of the old Graaff-Reinet frontier
still living in his heart, fresher probably than the
things of yesterday. He is a man of another genera-


tion, more distant from the present than can be
measured by the mere lapse of time. Behind that
awful visage live rude and stern conceptions of
human life inherited from men who knew Rarabe
and Ndlambe, and whose waggons were the first to
enter the passes of the Kaffir country. The distinc-
tions and subtleties of modern civilisation can be
nothing to such a man ; its watchwords of humanity,
progress, freedom of speech, the whole creed of
modern liberalism, with the Christian virtues at the
head of it, but slight figments covering the moral
antinomies of a life less natural in his eyes than a
cattle-lifting raid or the moonlight revels of a Kaffir
kraal. His public proclamations speak of a triune
God, but the God he really knows and worships is
the old Hebrew god of battles, the exterminator of
the heathen. What is modern civilisation to him,
with its characteristic agencies and exponents, the
S.P.C.K., the great joint-stock company, with its
machines on the Rand, the smart American journalist
and his interviewing? Nothing but the buzzing of
wasps about his ears ; nothing but what Joubert,
writing in sympathetic Bantu idiom to a native chief,
called " the stink of the English." All that he has
any use for is comprised in its Creusots and Maxims.
He is a unique figure for the nineteenth century to
number amongst its remarkable rulers, a magnificent
incarnation of the traditions of his race, which with-


out his personality would hardly have won so much
consideration, or even notice, from the civilised
peoples of Europe and America. The old lion
(with much of the fox in him) of the race of
Bruintjcs Iloogte must be content with having
secured that place in history for the traditions of
the trek-Boer. And that is perhaps as much as
they deserve, for they are not altogether of a kind
to be a light to the path of civilisation in South
Africa, or to merit perpetuation in its institutions.


PIET RETIEF'S proclamation

In Chapter XI I referred to the much quoted Pro-
clamation which Piet Retief issued when he led a trekking
party from Graaff-Reinet in January 1837. Articles 2
and 5 illustrate particularly the offence which the Govern-
ment's protective legislation for slaves and native servants
had given to the Boer. " We complain," Mr. Retief says in
Article 2, " of the severe losses which we have been forced
to sustain by the emancipation of our slaves, and the vexatious
laws which have been efiacted respecting them." Article 5 is
very cautiously worded, the sagacious Boer knowing very
well the complications which were sure to arise on the
native question : " We are resolved that wherever we go,
we will uphold the just principles of liberty ; but whilst we
will take care that no one is brought by us into a con-
dition of slavery, we ivill establish such regulations as zvill
suppress crime and preserve proper relations betweefi master
and servant."

Piet Retiefs proclamation had no claim to authority
outside of the band of twenty-six families who accompanied


him, and indeed ^had no binding authority over them;
and his ideas about slavery and other things were not
necessarily those of other trekking parties. Their disagree-
ments and dissensions were so great indeed that it was hardly
possible to establish any responsible government amongst
them. But the proclamation embodies Retief's ideas of the
conflict between the Government and the Boers, and is care-
fully drawn up with a view of leaving the Cape Government
no grounds for interfering with them, as far as that could
be effected by the proclamation and its professions. Piet
Retief, from everything we learn of him, was an honourable
and courageous man, the highest type of burgher, moderate
and wise in his ways. But it is impossible for any one who
has studied the early history of Graaff-Reinet to believe
that some of the professions in his famous proclamation
have any very substantial meaning, or are much more
than the expression of a pious hope which he knew could
hardly be realised. Consider, for example, the professions
in Articles 6 & 8 :

(6) . . . " We will not molest any people, nor deprive
them of the smallest property ; but, if attacked, we shall
consider ourselves fully justified in defending our persons
and effects, to the utmost of our ability, against every

(8) " We purpose, in the course of our journey, and
on arrival at the country in which we shall permanently
reside, to make known to the native tribes our intentions,
and our desire to live in peace and friendly intercourse
with them."

But what, as a matter of fact, was Piet Retief proposing to


do when he published these fine words in the Grahanistown
Advertiser 1 He was about to invade territories occupied
by kindred tribes of his hereditary enemy, the Kaffir. And
the Kaffir of Natal and of the plateau, knew perfectly well
the character of his visitor, and was better acquainted even
than we are with the whole history of that bitter warfare
which the Boer had for years been carrying on against his
Kosa cousin on the Fish River. When Piet Retief, therefore,
at the head of a thousand Boer waggons descended through
the Drakensberg passes into Natal, he must have known,
just as well as Dingan, the Zulu chief of Natal, knew, what
kind of a conflict had begun. ^ It might commence in
apparently friendly prehminaries, it might be delayed, as
Piet Retief tried, at the cost of his life, to delay it ; but
between these two races it was inevitable and certain to be
relentless. No doubt Piet Retief would have preferred to
settle quietly in the new region of the Tugela, and would
have honestly tried to make his band live " in peace and
friendly intercourse," as he says in his proclamation, with the
Zulu Kaffirs. But could he reasonably expect to do so ?
There was the history of seventy years' conflict on the Fish
River to show that it was impossible.

Dingan was cunning enough, though it is evident that
neither party stood in much doubt as to what the end was
to be, to inveigle Piet Retief, with sixty-six of his band, un-
armed into his kraal, and slaughtered them, to the last man.

^ Such was the forecast of Harris, who visited Moselekatse in 1836,
Their course, he says of the trekkers, thus far has been marked with
blood, and must end either in their own destruction or in that of
thousands cf the native population of South Africa. — Expedition into
South Africa, p. 367, also p. 353.


The treachery of the Zulu chief was soon avenged by a
commando of Boers under Andries Pretorius, who in their
impregnable laager defeated an army of 12,000 Zulus, slaying
over three thousiuul of them, with a loss to themselves of
three men slightly wounded. That sounds, it is true,
suspiciously like a Pretoria bulletin during the first half of
the present war.



In an introduction to the fifth volume of the Records,
published in 1899, I notice that Dr. Theal makes some-
thing like an indirect and grudging admission of the

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Online LibraryJames CapponBritain's title in South Africa, or, The story of Cape colony to the days of the great trek → online text (page 20 of 21)