Violet R. (Violet Rosa) Markham.

The new era in South Africa, with an examination of the Chinese labour question online

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IV. THE LAND PROBLEM '."$.* * . < - 43


ill.) THE LABOUR DIFFICULTY . . k . . . 86







APPENDICES. . . .'>. i | l1 "' ." . . . 189

INDEX . 195






IT was on October 11, 1899, that President Kruger
flung down that challenge at the feet of Great Britain
which closed one era in South Africa. It was on
May 31, 1902, after a war the magnitude of which
had astonished the whole civilised world, that the new
order was inaugurated by the Peace of Vereeniging.
Between these two dates lies one of the most memor-
able struggles of the British race a struggle the
gravity and importance of which future generations
alone will be in a position to estimate at their true value.
It is unnecessary to linger here over the many events
crowded into the troubled, but withal epoch-making,
years when, from the four quarters of the globe, men
of Anglo-Saxon birth and descent, urged by the sense
of a common unity, hurried to South Africa to draw
sword in defence of the mother country. With the
story of the war itself I am in no way concerned. Its
triumphs, its feats of endurance and valour, and, since
its record after all is but a human one, those disturbing



blunders and mistakes, not wholly valueless for the
lessons they taught and the test they afforded as to
the temper of the nation these things belong to
another chapter of South African history. They are
written elsewhere, and the knowledge of them has
gone abroad throughout the world.

But there is another side to the story left untold
the less familiar victories of peace which followed on
the stirring fighting record known to all. A great war
is necessarily a period of strain and excitement, and
Nature, eternally striving for the average and normal,
decrees that a certain measure of reaction should
follow such a period. The peace, long deferred,
brought with it an overwhelming sense of relief, and,
not unnaturally, public interest, so long riveted on
South Africa, fell back with a sigh of comfort into
the many and varied channels of its normal affairs.
Every detail of the war itself was followed with
the keenest attention, but with that new and mighty
struggle inaugurated by the close of hostilities, a
struggle not for the taking of life but the restoration
of law and order, the general public has felt less con-
cerned. The soldiers at least started with a clear field.
Their failures, when they failed, were due to defects
in their own system. But the men of peace, whose
task began when that of the army came to an end,
were face to face with a very different state of affairs.
The chaos of a continent was the one obvious feature
revealed by the cessation of hostilities, and the nation,
a little weary of the long-drawn-out trials of the war,
shrank somewhat from too close an investigation of
its character. ' We have seen the thing through, the
men on the spot must do the rest.' Such was the tacit
attitude, and perhaps at heart there was a general hope


to hear no more of South Africa for a time to come.
Like Pharaoh and Sergeant Whatsisname, England
gave her blessing to the recent combatants, and lite-
rally ' left 'em in the desert making friends.' She
mobbed the astonished and wholly unimpressed Boer
generals when they visited London, as a further proof
of good will, and settled down happily again to her
own concerns.

War is dramatic and stirring. Above all, its failures
and successes are perfectly obvious. Civil administra-
tion, on the other hand, is largely concerned with dull
details in no sense picturesque or exciting. Still further,
its results are but slowly won and unsensational in
character. But the South African Keconstruction con-
stitutes a very remarkable page in our national record,
and it is one of which the English have good reason to
be proud. The immense difficulties of the task have
received very inadequate recognition in this country.
The trials of South Africa yet again have come promi-
nently before public notice, and a somewhat petulant
impatience makes itself felt that she should linger
thus unaccountably on the road to full prosperity.
Few people realise what has already been achieved, or
the true character of such an achievement in a land
where bricks had literally to be made without straw.

That war sweeps away old landmarks, obliterates
treaties and conventions, and leaves the victor at its
conclusion privileged to write with conquering hand
what he pleases on a new page of history these are
well-established truisms. But in Africa, mysterious,
baffling, paradoxical Africa, a war was bound, more
than in any other land, to follow an abnormal course ;
a peace, when it came, to present problems of unusual

B 2


During the long struggle between 1889 and 1902
the existing landmarks had been wiped out with a com-
pleteness which it perhaps requires some personal
acquaintance with the old order of affairs to realise. A
country had been laid waste, a Government utterly
destroyed, and social, political, and economic life
shattered to their foundations. The whole fabric of
society had been swept away, and the new power was
face to face with a task of reconstruction the magnitude
of which at first sight appeared to be little short of
superhuman. It might well be asked, could mortal
men grapple successfully with so unprecedented a state
of affairs ; could mortal intelligence restore the blessings
of peace and civilisation to so devastated and demoral-
ised a land ?

It will be my endeavour in the following pages to
give some account of the work of reconstruction in
South Africa, and to sketch the outlines of that new
State which owes its existence to the incessant toil
and unwearied energies of Lord Milner and his able
and devoted subordinates. It will rest for a future
generation to appreciate at their full value the labours
of these men, to whose lot has fallen one of the most
complicated and extraordinary tasks in the whole his-
tory of the Empire. To say that they have made no
mistakes in their unparalleled work would be to claim
for them an infallibility their great chief would be the
first to repudiate. Can it be seriously suggested that
from the ashes of such a struggle the new State,
phoenix-like, was to rear itself fair and perfect, without
flaw or blemish of any kind in its structure, or without
experiencing difficulties and hindrances in its erection ?
Any such contention seems childish and unreasonable ;
nevertheless it is tacitly put forward in various quarters.


Criticism not the criticism which desires to help for-
ward a difficult task, but criticism springing too often
from that ungenerous desire to depreciate the work of
others or from the assumption of cheap superiority on
the part of the critics is common at present. The
nation, indeed, seems to be fortunate in the possession
of many Daniels, youthful and otherwise, come to
judgment on her affairs. Whether such Daniels prove
their wisdom by grumbling over the fact that South
Africa possesses no Aladdin's lamp with which to
create a perfect structure in a night is open to question.
Political regeneration, like any other great force, is
bound to move slowly. It is not a question of creation
so much as evolution. Foundations require to be dug
and the structure broad-based if in the years to come
it is to bear the burden of great things. Foundations
are not decorative portions of a building, but their
strength and solidity are nevertheless capital considera-
tions, and it is naturally with foundations the new
Transvaal Administration has been called upon primarily
to occupy itself.

A two-and-a-half years' war had left South Africa
naked, destitute, and temporarily shorn of the common
necessities of civilisation. Still further, in the Trans-
vaal at least, the new authority succeeded to a corrupt
and inefficient Government, the lines of which they
were compelled not so much to remodel as to remake
fundamentally. Certain types of mind may choose to
ignore such considerations ; nevertheless, the marvel
to-day is, not that the whole country has so far failed
to regain its old standard of wealth and prosperity, but
that, after so devastating a war, reconstruction has
already made such strides on the road to new pros-
perity. It is a road which will lead South Africa, if


she be true to herself, to a great place among the
nations of the world ; but there are obstacles in the
path requiring time and patience to overcome, and
patience at the present moment is not the most marked
characteristic of some of her less wise friends. The
wilderness has failed to blossom like a rose within forty-
eight hours of the declaration of peace, and many
voices are raised in loud protest at the fact. I shall
endeavour to show not only how unreasonable is such
a spirit of criticism, in face of the immense construc-
tive work already achieved in South Africa, but to
point out the enormous difficulties which have beset
the Government difficulties which have necessarily
retarded political and economic expansion.

Over and over again one has had occasion to notice
how little the actual geographical conditions of South
Africa are grasped by the stay-at-home, cosy-corner
critic, whose voice is raised on so many occasions.
During the war these good people transported army
corps over the map of Africa or cavilled at generals for
failing to do so, as though they were pushing perambu-
lators from parish to parish in an English county.
And this same ignorance as to the true character of
the vast often desert country which forms the South
African Dominion lies at the root of much careless
criticism and irresponsible grumbling. It is difficult
for a resident in these islands 'to gauge the conditions
of life in a country comprising so huge an area of terri-
tory, where towns are small and scattered and railways
few and inadequate. During the actual war it was
realised vaguely we were fighting under abnormal condi-
tions, for which much allowance must be made. But
the toleration extended to the military power has been
somewhat withdrawn from the civil authority, whose


difficulties at the conclusion of hostilities were no less
formidable, if, indeed, not greater.

For what was the state of South Africa on that
momentous day when the news of peace spread rejoicing
throughout the Empire ? Natal and Rhodesia natu-
rally had come through their trials loyal and undisturbed,
but the Cape, that Achilles' heel of the Empire, was
smouldering with rebellion and disaffection, none the
less acute that her rebels had never suffered the actual
stress of war. A weak Prime Minister, possessed with
a mania of his own importance, and virtually ruled by
the party he was elected to oppose, constituted a poli-
tical problem sufficiently difficult in itself, since the
golden moment of suspension had been allowed to slip
by, thanks to the timidity of the Home Government.
But turning at once to the new Colonies, on whose
fortunes interest is at present focussed, what was the
condition of this territory, fallen to our lot through
right of conquest ?

Imagine a wilderness stripped bare, intersected by
lines of blockhouses and barbed wire, everything in the
shape of live stock driven away, the veldt untilled,
roads and drifts often impassable, railways torn up,
towns and houses wholly destroyed. Not a very pro-
mising outlook ; nevertheless, the new power had not
only to start the whole machinery of administration in
the face of agricultural destitution and congested rail-
way lines, but was at once confronted with the trifling
detail of conveying the major part of an army of 200,000
men out of the country and re-establishing no fewer than
200,000 members of the old burgher population in their
homes. This Herculean task, to which I shall refer in
detail in the next chapter, was accomplished actually
within eight and a half months after the conclusion of


peace. It is a task which for some curious reason has
never received the recognition it deserves ; neverthe-
less, it remains as one of the most admirable ex-
amples of Anglo-Saxon administrative genius known
to the world, as its almost Quixotic generosity is with-
out parallel in the records of warfare.

If the Transvaal Government could point to no
other achievement than the work of repatriation, its
success in this field would distinguish it honourably for
all time. But the labours of the Repatriation Depart-
ment, great though they were, only formed one portion
of the duties of the new authority. In every other
direction the work has been ceaseless and overwhelm-
ing. Before the end of the war preparation had been
made for taking over the country at the close of hos-
tilities, and a rough working administration devised.
But as little by little authority passed from military
into civil hands the magnitude of the task involved
might well have daunted men less brave than those to
whose lot it fell. This complete remaking of a nation
in every branch, the departure of the army, the return
of the old population, the re-settlement of refugees, the
first revival of trade, the spread of education, the
schemes immediately set on foot for the development
of railways, agriculture, and land settlement all these
matters carried forward in the teeth of incredible diffi-
culties will in some far-off day, when the African story is
told in its completeness, rank side by side with the heroic
tales of Ladysmith and Mafeking, victories of peace as
stirring and triumphs of endurance no less remarkable.

For it must be remembered that the backward system
of the old Boer Government, with its hand-to-mouth
legislation, had left the State, in spite of its wealth,
quite unprovided with public works. Their absence


was all the more manifest when, at the conclusion of
hostilities, special efforts were required to meet the
needs of a devastated country. Bailway extension,
improved methods of agriculture, irrigation, and forestry
all demanded a heavy immediate expenditure for their
development, though the schemes were reproductive,
and ultimately would produce good returns. The first
duty which devolved upon the new Government, de-
volved upon it quite inevitably under the circumstances,
was the process disagreeable either to nations or indi-
viduals, that of putting its hand somewhat deeply in
its pocket. Money was required at every turn and
corner to meet the urgent claims and necessities of
administration. The following summary of the finan-
cial position in the new Colonies is succinctly stated
by Mr. Buchan in his admirable work, ' The African
Colony : '

' The liabilities and needs of the country stood as
follows : An advance by the Imperial Government,
to cover the estimated Transvaal deficit of 1901-2,
1,500,0002. ; the old debt of the Transvaal, 2,500,0002. ;
compensation to loyalists in Cape Colony and Natal,
2,000,0002. ; the acquisition of the railways, and the
repayment of the existing railway debt, 14,000,0002. ;
repatriation and compensation in the new Colonies,
5,000,0002. ; railway extension, 5,000,0002. ; land settle-
ment, 3,000,0002. ; various public works, 2,000,0002. a
total of 35,000,0002. This is the sum comprised in the
famous Guaranteed Loan.'

To this 35,000,0002. must be added the contribution
of 30,000,0002. made by the new Colonies to the ex-
penses of the war. 'We have, therefore,' continues
Mr. Buchan, ' to face a total debt of 65,000,0002., of
which 35,000,0002. at 3 per cent, is a charge upon both


Colonies, and 30,000,0002. at 4 per cent, upon the
Transvaal alone, a heavy responsibility for a white
population of a few hundreds of thousands face to face
with a labour problem.'

The normal administrative expenditure of the Trans-
vaal, exclusive of debt charges, is 3,600,0002. The esti-
mated revenue for 1903-4 was 4,500,0002., a total made
up of various items, the largest being mining revenue
at 750,0002. and customs at 1,800,0002. Out of this
4,500,0002. the Transvaal has to find the interest on
the War Loan, but the interest on the Guaranteed
Loan has been a matter for special arrangement be-
tween the Orange River Colony and her sister colony.
Eailway profits are at present the most substantial
form of revenue in South Africa. Rates, though latterly
reduced, are high, but for the moment there is no other
adequate guarantee for the debt charges. By an ex-
ceedingly skilful arrangement, an arrangement in which
it is easy to trace experience gained among the compli-
cated finances of Egypt, the railway profits of both
Colonies have been excluded from their separate budgets
and handed over to a joint committee of the Transvaal
and Orange River Colony, known as the Inter-Colonial
Council. The Inter-Colonial Council has in its hands
the entire administration of the Guaranteed Loan, the
interest of which it pays from this special railway fund.
The Council is also responsible for two departments
common to both Colonies, namely, the Central South
African Railways and the South African Constabulary,
as well as some other small matters. Any deficit is
met by proportionate charges levied on the two Colonies.
The Council, in fact, inevitably reminds us of the famous
Caisse de la Dette, which was at one and the same
moment the financial prop of Egypt and somewhat of


a thorn in the side of her British administrators. But
the arbitrary restrictions dictated by foreign jealousy
and international control are, happily, lacking in this
case, and the Council is not only more elastic in its
composition than the Egyptian Caisse, but in other
administrative respects has proved itself to be a most
practical step in the direction of federation.

But financial arrangements, however skilful, do not
in themselves create prosperity. The Transvaal has
incurred heavy liabilities, incurred them necessarily
and inevitably ; but for the moment they remain a
serious drag on her resources, and the financial strain
is considerable. It would be foolish to hide the fact
that, though the new Colonies are solvent, the margin
is narrow, and administration and finance stand, in
the words of Mr. Buchan, on a needle-point, requiring
ceaseless care and attention. The situation in the
Transvaal to-day is certainly a most extraordinary one.
Here is a country of huge potential wealth, bearing
within herself, on the Band alone, gold estimated by
Mr. Bleloch to the value of 2,871 millions sterling.
Other minerals exist in abundance, including enormous
deposits of coal, iron-ore, lead, and diamonds ; in fact,
the potential resources of this amazing land are very
little realised in England. But for the moment this
fabulous wealth is incapable of exploitation. Every-
thing is at a standstill, owing to the shortage of
labour. Industrial development and mining develop-
ment are checked and crippled, and the State finances,
which naturally reflect the general prosperity of the
country, are crippled in turn. Hence, on all sides diffi-
culty and depression exist, which not unnaturally begin
to find expression in political discontent. ' Would to
God we had died in Egypt ! ' is the irrational cry of the


short-sighted multitude who, delivered from the House
of Bondage, murmur at such privations of the desert
as may lie between it and the Promised Land. All
great leaders, from Moses downwards, have had to
reckon with this spirit, and the new Transvaal Ad-
ministration is no exception to the rule.

At the conclusion of the war the one idea prevalent
in South Africa was that peace would immediately
inaugurate an era of unprecedented prosperity. Every-
where there was an almost feverish anticipation of the
coming boom. The Government was urged to perfect
its administrative machinery, and any attempt to stem
the tide of popular impatience at once created an
outcry. The possibility of labour difficulties seems to
have been lost sight of, and the dislocating effects of
the war on the Kaffir population. Hence, when, owing
to the labour shortage, instead of a boom a slump set
in, with a long period of depression, the reaction was
inevitable. The Government, which had been urged
to administrative efforts of all kinds, was now blamed
for undue optimism and accused of financial reckless-
ness. From extravagant hopes South Africa passed
to equally extravagant gloom. Optimism and pessimism
alike had been hasty and irrational, but, in view of the
financial depression, few people were disposed to reason
calmly as to the origin of the difficulty. Money, as I
have shown, was required largely for the development
of public works, but the utility of public works and
their financial earnings in turn depend on the general
prosperity of the country, and this latter is at a
standstill owing to the labour scarcity.

It would be idle to deny that the financial situation
in the Transvaal to-day is other than serious. Trade
is stagnant, expenditure is heavy, and there has been


an ominous falling-off in revenue. A large number of
the Band mines are at a standstill owing to the labour
shortage, and the country is threatened with an exodus
of its white population. Nervous discontent naturally
vents itself in abuse of the Administration, and the
political agitators of both continents rejoice exceed-
ingly in the fine field thrown open to mischief -making.
Misrepresentation is a plant of very sturdy growth in
South Africa, and a degree of energy is devoted to its
cultivation which might with profit be expended on a
better cause. It is all the more reprehensible in this
instance because no single person possessing an ele-
mentary acquaintance with South African affairs can
entertain any doubt at heart as to the cause of the
present trouble.

Now there is one remedy one remedy alone for
the present state of affairs in the Transvaal, and the
distress and political unrest naturally resulting from
it. That remedy is labour. It cannot be too strongly
insisted upon that the fundamental economic fact in
South Africa is the gold. Without the gold the
Transvaal is an obscure agricultural district. With
the gold it becomes one of the most important coun-
tries in the world. On the gold industry rests the
whole development social, political, industrial, eco-
nomic of South Africa. So long, therefore, as the
gold industry is held back and retarded, so long will
stagnation and bad times, resulting in distress and
discontent, paralyse the country. Granted labour, all
these difficulties will vanish. Industry and trade will
revive. Profits and receipts will flow into the ex-
chequer, thus relieving the financial strain. The

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Online LibraryViolet R. (Violet Rosa) MarkhamThe new era in South Africa, with an examination of the Chinese labour question → online text (page 1 of 15)