Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands
High Commissioner of South Africa — (Continued) 1854-1861. ætat 42-49 — Chapter XI — The Boer States
High Commissioner of South Africa
(Continued) 1854-1861. ætat 42-49
The Boer States
Foundation and history of the Orange River StatE—Moshesh, leader of the Basutos, and his fortress at Thaba Bosigo—Incessant quarrels between the Boer settlers and the Basutos—The boundary dispute—Line drawn by Sir George Grey in 1858—Charges of slavery against the Boers of the Orange Free State—Investigation by the High Commissioner—Cautious expression of his opinion—Difficulties with the Boers of the Transvaal—Settlement of the boundary dispute—Trouble between Dr. Livingstone and the Boers of the Transvaal—The attack on the Bakwains at Kolobeng—Serious charges made by Dr. Livingstone—Evidence to show that "virtual slavery" was practised—Extract from a letter written to Mr. M. G Pretorius—Modification of the treaties in the interests of the natives desired by the High Commissioner—Importance of the Native question in South Africa—The Boer and British points of view contrasted.
On the appointment of Sir George Grey to South Africa there were two independent Boer States in treaty with England; one between the Orange and the Vaal Rivers known as the Orange Free State, the other called the Transvaal Republic, between the Vaal and the Limpopo Rivers. The same problems arise in the High Commissioner's dealings with both of them, but in order to avoid giving a false impression it is necessary to discuss them separately. On the whole Sir George Grey's relations with the Boers were friendly, but there were disputes about boundaries and the slave traffic which caused friction, and recognizing the inefficiency of the governments beyond the Vaal, he was page 144driven to ask that the terms of the treaties might be modified in the interests of the native races.
Both states abutted on native territory, and on Grey's arrival were acting as buffers to break the shock of native attacks on the English settlements. The Orange River Colony had, shortly before Grey's arrival, been a British Sovereignty; but it was abandoned in 1853 because the expense of carrying on petty wars with the natives was too great. The Boers were well fitted to carry on the pioneer work of civilization, and, inured by long experience to the exigencies of a frontier life, they accepted the responsibilities of independence, though not without some protest, for there were English residents among them who maintained that nothing less than an Act of Parliament could deprive them of their allegiance to the British Crown, and, possibly, not even that. Before Sir George Grey's term of office expired, the people of the Orange River State petitioned to be united with Cape Colony under a Federal system of government. This was owing mainly to the warfare against a powerful neighbouring tribe; and it was in his efforts to secure tranquillity on his own borders by reconciling these two powers that the High Commissioner was involved in the affairs of the Orange River State.
Situated between the Orange River and its tributary the Caledon lies Basutoland, the Switzerland of South Africa. Thence some of the great rivers take their rise to flow east and west into the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The northern and western parts of this mountainous region were occupied by the Basutos, whose chief Moshesh is one of the most picturesque figures in the native history of South page 145Africa. The old Kaffir system produced two distinct types —the warrior and the statesman. Tschaka and Dingaan belong to the former, Moshesh is the best representative of the latter.
His character has been and still is the subject of much controversy. To some he was the long-suffering, much-abused defender of his own and his people's rights; to others a wily, unscrupulous savage, making professions of peace only to cloak his murderous designs on native and European neighbours. A photograph of him taken during Prince Alfred's visit to South Africa serves to give an outward impression of the man. Surrounded by his sons, he sits on a chair dressed like a European. With a high top-hat on his head and a loose cloak hanging over his shoulders and a stick in his hand, he presents an ungainly figure. But above the somewhat suppressed lips, and expansive aboriginal nose, are two half-closed inquiring eyes, with wrinkles below, and a broad expanding forehead above them. The face is not weak, but it, suggests craft rather than decision: yet there is something patient in his expression too—almost a trace of benevolence. He would prefer peace—because it was the better policy: "Peace," he once said to Sir George Gathcart, "is like the rain that makes the grass grow, war is like the hot wind that dries it up."
Yet it was one thing to believe in peace, quite another to secure it among the contending tribes of South Africa, and Moshesh had to win his way to fame by means of successful warfare. Driven south and west by Tschaka, the Zulus and Fingoes fell upon the Basutos in 1824; but Moshesh rose to the emergency, overcame them in battle, and threw them page 146back on the Tambookies. For greater security he then retired from Buta Buta to his more famous stronghold at Thaba Bosigo. Pentagonal in form and isolated, the rock-fortress rises to a height of 300 to 400 feet above the neighbouring country; its sides are precipitous, almost perpendicular, and the flat-topped summit, about two miles in contour, is accessible only by means of five narrow footways which in case of attack were blocked with enormous heaps of stones. The rock was almost impregnable, and round its base were twenty-two villages to guard against attack or surprise. Moshesh had a soldier's eye for situation, but his strength lay in defensive rather than offensive warfare.
His jurisdiction extended considerably beyond the Caledon River, and for a long time there was no rival to his authority in the sparsely-populated country stretching far away westward to the Vaal. But in 1836 there came a change. In that year the Boers of Cape Colony trekked northward, partly because some of them had visited the country and realized its fitness for pastoral pursuits, partly also because they suffered economically by England's haste in liberating the slaves; but mainly because their long experience of frontier life had made them nomadic in their habits, and impatient of the manifold checks on individual freedom and caprice which are indispensable to life in organized communities.
Then the argument took a more fundamental turn. The Boers complained that Moshesh was trying to grasp more land than he could use, just as Scottish and English farmers to-day are wont to complain of the waste arising from the unscientific methods of the great landowning Boer farmers. The number of settlers increased, and the question of boundaries arose; but Moshesh becoming fundamental in his turn, declined to discuss it, since it implied what he had never conceded—a right to permanent settlement.
But forces were too strong for him. After Vecksdorp the Boers became more powerful, and Moshesh in alarm sought a treaty with the British Government, which was signed in December 1843, during the administration of Sir George Napier. Under Sir Harry Smith the land between the Orange and the Vaal Rivers was declared a British Sovereignty in 1848, and a boundary line was drawn by Major Warden the following year. To this Letsea, son of Moshesh, agreed "as a dog consents to walk after him who drags it with a rope." From this time the history of the disputes between the Boers and the Basutos entered upon a page 148third phase. The boundary was now a fact, and the quarrels henceforth turned upon the violation of the rights of property, and the alteration, modification or adjustment of that boundary. In 1852 General Cathcart went north "to setde disputes"; judgment was given against Moshesh, who only made partial reparation. Thereupon a combined force was sent "to chastise the Basutos." The battle of Berea was fought, but Moshesh safe in his fortress was not subdued. Soon afterwards British Sovereignty over the land between the Orange and the Vaal was abandoned, and the people were left to their own resources in their disputes with the natives of Basutoland. This was the state of affairs on the arrival of Sir George Grey toward the end of 1854.
His instructions from the Home Government and his position as High Commissioner were incompatible with any other official attitude toward the contending parties than that of strict neutrality; but it was not long before his personal services as mediator were solicited. In 1855 he passed through the Orange Free State on his way to Natal, and Mr. Boshof, who was then acting as President, arranged for him to be present at an interview between himself and Moshesh. After hearing both sides, Grey, who had been very favourably impressed with the government of the Free State, decided that the Basutos were in the wrong. He refrained from giving his opinion at once, however, because he felt that the chief's prestige might suffer if he were criticized in the presence of his followers. Later on, "in plain and strong yet friendly language" he told Moshesh, his sons, and three or four of the principal chiefs that they must come to some definite understanding with the page 149President. This seems to have been accomplished, for Mr. Boshof wrote to Grey six weeks later informing him that "we have enjoyed perfect peace and quietness since you passed through here: no reports of cattle stealing or other annoyances from the natives."
1 In Dr. McCall Theal's History of South Africa, 1854-72, p. 62 (1900), he refers to the correspondence between Moshesh and Mr. Boshof in a way that hardly does justice to the former. Moshesh did say that "he had not yet begun to fight," but that was true; and it does not appear to have been written in a haughty and sarcastic manner, but rather to show that he was clearly in favour of peace.
Grey hesitated, for he had learnt on reliable authority that at the very time when Mr. Boshof had solicited his aid on a former occasion, he was roundly abusing the British Government in a series of confidential letters to the South African Republic beyond the Vaal River. But after he had been petitioned by Moshesh, and both Houses of Parliament in Capetown had urged him to comply, he decided in the "interests of humanity" to do so. The war had arisen out of disputes about the boundary line, and Grey was asked to come and draw another line that might be satisfactory to both parties. This was eventually done after much preliminary difficulty owing to the unfavourable season of the year and the necessity for dispatching men and supplies to India. As far as Jammersberg Drift it was identical with the line drawn by Major Warden in 1849. Then it followed an irregular course indicated by the zigzag line on the map.1
1 The officials in the Surveyor-General's office at Bloemfontein have, with great kindness, traced the boundary line on a map for me, by reference to the proclamation which appeared in the Gazette. After Jammersberg Drift it continues down stream to Sweetfontein, where there is a gap of a few miles that cannot be filled in because all trace of the farms referred to has been lost. Starting again at Zemenloop the line trends south-east, and crossing the Caledon reaches Mooi Meibjesfontein; thence it passes due south to the neighbourhood of Solferino, including an oblong projection extending as far as Leuwfontein, where it turns east again till it reaches Zastron Townlands. Finally it follows an irregular southerly course to Rockwood, whence after another bend to the east by way of Rietfontein, it turns due south and reaches the Orange River at longitude 27′ 15′′.
Both parties sent grateful recognition of the services which had been rendered by Sir George Grey, and there seemed good reason to believe that his work would be productive of permanent good. But it was not so. After Sweetfontein there was no natural barrier to divide one party from the other, and the line simply passed from farm to farm. Cattle lifting continued, and war broke out within a few years.
Meantime there was another cause of strife affecting the interests of European civilization. During an interview on the subject of cattle stealing Moshesh declared that the depredations were simply acts of retaliation. "We complain," he said, "that children (of the Tambookies) have been stolen from us by you (the whites), that they have been made slaves, and they are sixty in number." As the argument proceeded he referred to the incident of January 1850, when an attack was made upon some bushmen between the Modder River and Koesberg, because a settler named Van Hansen, his wife and children had been murdered. On this occasion Major Warden was in command of the expedition, and Moshesh asserted that about one hundred and fifty natives had been seized and distributed among the Boers. After making inquiries the High Commissioner found that one hundred and seven had been captured, and a contract entered into by which they were to serve the Boers for five years in return for fair wages, clothes and food. He also tried in that year (1856) to ascertain whether the terms had been kept, and wrote to Mr. Boshof's predecessor, who "in a friendly manner recommended him to inquire elsewhere."
In using his utmost endeavours to investigate these page 152charges Grey was merely acting upon urgent instructions from the Home Government. From his reply on May 22 it is clear that he had come to the conclusion that the chief difficulty lay in the inability of the Boer Government to enforce its decisions upon the outlying settlers. The high officials, the clergy and the press of the Orange Free State were undoubtedly opposed to these practices. "Can it be possible," asked the editor of The Friend," that any of the Boers in the Orange Free State have been buying any of the children of the Tambookies? Let their names be gibbeted to the world! How can the Government deal with the natives with any prospect of the settlement of affairs if such infamous transactions are carried on?"
There was another difficulty. England was in treaty with both Republics, and it had been definitely stipulated on the part of England that slavery should be abolished. But when Grey consulted legal opinion in the Colony he was informed that "although the law does abolish slavery, and stringently under heavy punishments prohibits the purchasing, selling, bartering and transfer of slaves, yet it prescribes no punishment for having possession of a slave." In answer to the instructions which bade him put down the traffic Grey replied with much caution: he would express disapprobation openly and decidedly on every possible occasion; prevent "apprentices" being brought into British territory under any pretext; and do his best "to educate the slaveholders." The Imperial authorities realized the difficulty, for in his reply the Colonial Secretary agreed that the transactions "do not constitute offences against the statutes Tor the suppression of the slave traffic according page 153to the law advisers of the Crown;" and therefore "Major Warden's highly censurable conduct was not illegal;" but he also pointed out that vigilance was necessary to prevent apprenticing being abused and degenerating into slave dealing.
The difficulties which the High Commissioner experienced with the Orange Free State were intensified in his dealings with the Government of the Republic beyond the Vaal. Here, too, there was a dispute about the boundary with Natal. Grey thought he had settled this satisfactorily in 1855 with Mr. Pretorius, who claimed to be the head of the administration in the Transvaal. But in 1857 he received a letter from a legislative body "styling itself the Volksraad of the New Republic of Leydenberg" (which had recently broken away from the Transvaal), informing him that in course of time they would proceed to fix the boundary between their territory and Natal! Grey wrote at once to the Imperial authorities advising them to adhere resolutely to the boundary already determined upon. By this time he had fully realized the weakness of the Transvaal Government because of internal dissension, and when asked by the Imperial authorities to make inquiries concerning another difficulty, replied that matters had reached such a pass in that country that he actually did not know to what authority to address himself.
The troubles arising from the treatment of the natives by the Transvaal Boers are known to the Christian world because they were associated with the work of the intrepid explorer and Christian missionary, Dr. Livingstone. About eight hundred miles to the north of Capetown the Rev. Mr. page 154Moffat had fixed his head-quarters at a place called Kuruman, and his famous son-in-law went a little further to the north and settled down among the Bakwains at Kolobeng, which lay to the west of the Transvaal border and may be readily distinguished on the accompanying map. Among the Boers of the Transvaal Dr. Livingstone was exceedingly unpopular, and during the administration of Sir George Grey there were two definite issues awaiting settlement, both of them being intimately associated with the native question. Impelled by his zeal for discovery and his devotion to Christian service Dr. Livingstone had decided to pay a visit to Moselekatse Town in order to establish missionary work among the Matabele. Just as he was on the point of setting out he received a letter from the Government of the Transvaal informing him that it would be necessary for him to procure an order from the President, M. W. Pretorius, before they would allow him to pass. Mr. Moffat, who wrote to the Imperial authorities about this, complained that it was simply an attempt to prevent Dr. Livingstone going north at all; whereas by the terms of the treaty signed in 1852 it was stipulated that facilities should be afforded by the Boers to people travelling northward. It was discovered after investigation that the route by which the missionaries intended to reach Moselekatse Town lay at its nearest point about sixty miles beyond the limits of the Transvaal as recognized by treaty. Sir George Grey was therefore instructed to inform the Transvaal Government that their attempts to frustrate the progress of the missionaries northward constituted a "flagrant wrong" according to international law.page break page 155
The second difficulty was much more complicated, and the decision of the Imperial authorities was characterized by caution. In their reports to the London Missionary Society Messrs. Moffat and Livingstone complained that the Boers had made "an unprovoked and murderous attack" on the Bakwains at Kolobeng, killing sixty of them, and capturing many of their women and children, whom they carried off into "unremunerated servitude." They also burnt down the town, and destroyed the library, furniture, and residence of Dr. Livingstone, who was then many miles away on his return from the South. The evidence was eventually sent on to the Imperial authorities and Grey was requested to furnish a report. Before the matter could be cleared up he received the dispatch announcing his recall. But in June 1859 the Colonial Secretary remarked, in a reply to the High Commissioner's complaint about the existing treaties, that there seemed to be jealousy between the missionaries and the Boers, and that, if the missionaries supplied the natives with arms, or incited them against the Boers, they might be very effectively injured by or through the Boers without Her Majesty being able to protect them.
It is very clear from Grey's dispatches that he considered these treaties with the Republic beyond the Vaal and the Orange Free State contained clauses which placed the natives in an unfortunate position. In the Convention of 1852 it was set down that no objection shall be made by any British authority against the emigrant Boers purchasing their supplies of ammunition in any of the British Colonies and possessions in South Africa; it being understood that all trade in ammunition with the native tribes is prohibited page 156both by the British Government and the emigrant farmers on both sides of the Vaal. As early as May 1856 Grey had expressed the opinion that "such treaties amount to a declaration that we abandon the coloured races to the mercy of the two Republics,"1 and two years later, in answer to the instructions from the Imperial authorities that he should preserve a strict neutrality during the war between the Boers and the Basutos, he boldly asserted that so long as these treaties remained unaltered such an attitude was in reality impossible.
1 Grey assumed that a similar arrangement had been made in the treaty with the Orange Free State, but this was denied by the Colonial Secretary in a dispatch dated September 6, 1858. Yet it is clear that Grey's interpretation was the one generally placed upon the Treaty of 1854; for in 1858 Moshesh was obliged to manufacture gunpowder for himself during the struggle with the Boers of the Orange Free State, and it was of such poor quality that it would not carry shot more than two hundred yards.
It was impossible for the Imperial authorities to comply. His arguments did not fail to make an impression on Downing Street, and Sir Bulwer Lytton confessed that the native interests had not been fairly considered in the Convention of 1852. Yet he pointed out that it was well for them to become accustomed to the idea of their sub-ordination to the white races; and in any case England's faith had been pledged, so that "unless absolved by mutual consent of the contracting parties, or by war, or by violation of the terms of the treaty, or some imperious necessity she must discharge her obligations solemnly and faithfully."
Had it been possible to prove by reference to existing acts that slavery was practised in the Transvaal, that would have been a violation of treaty which would have afforded an opportunity for reconsideration. But it was not— despite the accumulation of a vast amount of correspondence which may be found among the enclosures to the dispatches sent by Sir George Grey to the Colonial Office. Nevertheless on the authority of that evidence it may be confidently affirmed that Dr. Livingstone was substantially correct in the general charge that slavery did exist in the Republic; that raids were organized for the purpose of capturing native children; and that those children were "bought and sold." The correspondence of the London Missionary Society may have been conducted with some bias, and the reports of Mr. F. B. Surties, the Portuguese page 158officer for the suppression of the slave trade, though interesting, are not above suspicion of exaggeration; nor is it necessary to rely upon the written assertions of residents in the Transvaal such as Mr. Gustavus Blanch and G. W. Rex. Evidence in support of Dr. Livingstone is available from another source that carries conviction—the correspondence of Mr. Pretorius himself.
Mr. Schoeman, his rival, accused him of being a party to the traffic in native children, and he replied with a tu quoque. It is true that Mr. Pretorius as head of the government did issue a proclamation against buying and selling native children. But there are two copies of a letter written to him by one who knew his private life better than anybody else in South Africa, which contains damaging evidence against him: "Piet has returned home with all the other people—he has for his share six head of cattle and one Kaffir girl. Mr. S. Lombardt had brought with him thirty-two large girls, and has distributed them among the people at the rate of half-a-sovereign each. On the 20th January another commando will go from here to Molocch, but which is as yet kept secret." This may not prove slavery according to the interpretation of legal enactments, but it goes far to justify the charge of "virtual slavery," which is what Dr. Livingstone meant. Writing of the Kolobeng incident he affirmed that "of the women and children captured many of the former will escape, but the latter are reduced to a state of helpless slavery. They are bought and sold as slaves." It is clear that children were bought and sold, and there can be no doubt after a study of his dispatches that Sir George.
Grey believed there was virtual slavery too.page 159
In discussing this question it is difficult to avoid giving an impression too unfavourable to the Boers. Slavery is so repugnant to British people that prejudice is easily aroused by showing that it existed virtually if not legally. No unreserved condemnation would, however, be justified without a patient and exhaustive inquiry into the treatment of the natives after their distribution among the farmers. But this is precisely what Sir George Grey failed to effect; and it is but fair to mention that in every case where the author made inquiries among those who had long experience of the Boers in South Africa, he was informed that, while their attitude collectively toward the natives was severe, and sometimes cruel, yet in their individual relations with them on the farms they were considerate and kindly. This is important, and somewhat reassuring after reading the reports of speeches such as that delivered by Mr. M. W. Pretorius at Aasvogel Kop on March 3, 1860, concerning his treatment of a powerful tribe on the border of the Transvaal.
Nor should it be forgotten in discussing the Boer States in the middle of the last century that, living apart from the rest of the civilized world, they were unaffected by the great Revolutionary movement in France. The teaching of Rousseau and the exertions of Wilberforce had prepared English and European peoples for a change to which the Boers were called upon to adjust themselves very hastily. It is impossible to break with the past; and even if slavery did exist the moral culpability of the Boers had extenuating circumstances. But it does not follow that England was wrong in bringing pressure to bear upon them, for those who cut themselves off from the great world and live apart page 160must pay the price when they are caught up again in the currents of the world's affairs.
The native problem in South Africa is not yet solved, and it is to be feared that the great divergence between the Boer and British points of view will be a stumbling-block in the path that leads to the unity of the two races.
Influenced by the reports of missionaries, and the speeches delivered at Exeter Hall, the English people have shown a tendency to disregard essential differences between the black and the white races, and to assume a measure of equality which, when brought to the test of practical experience, has proved fallacious. The Magna Charta of the Kaffirs, published in 1829, proclaimed that "all Hottentots or other free persons of colour lawfully residing within the limits of Cape Colony, are in the most full and ample manner entitled to all and every right, benefit, and privilege to which any other British subjects are entitled." This enactment does credit to large-hearted sympathy of the British Parliament; but it must not be forgotten that the members were thousands of miles away from South Africa, and had little or no actual experience of Hottentots or Kaffirs.
The Boers had lived among them for centuries, and their opinions were founded not upon sentiment, but experience. The assumption of any measure of equality between themselves and the natives would have been insulting to the last degree, and in practice they would have resisted it at the point of the sword. Sir George Grey went to Natal in 1858, and was advised by some of the British settlers to make the terms of land purchase so difficult that the children of the Boers would be forced into the labour market. He knew page 161the Boers too well to be influenced by such opinions. "Any person," he wrote, "who knows the character and feelings of the present race of South African Boers knows how impossible this would be. To compete with the blacks in the labour market would be the lowest depths of degradation." In the opinion of the Boer the Charter of 1829 was madness. Between his status and that of the native there was an impassable gulf.
It is impossible that the British people who have spent so many millions on the emancipation of the slaves shall ever tolerate the "virtual slavery" that was undoubtedly practised by the Boers of the outlying districts in the middle of the last century. But it is also clear from the reports of the late Commission of Inquiry into Native Affairs in South Africa that experience and scientific investigation will modify the views of the British people. If, in the past, the Boers have erred on the side of severity, the excessive indulgence of absentee Britishers has led to confusion and failure. The Kaffirs understand power; they do not understand equality. For hundreds of years they have been used to the authority of a despotic chief, and it would appear to be undeniable that they are more law-abiding and contented in those districts where they are ruled by proclamation, than they are under representative institutions.
It is significant that Sir George Grey, with all his devotion to the interests and welfare of the native races, was most cautious in his criticism of the conduct of the Boers; and it is clear from a comparison of his native administration in South Africa and New Zealand that he was becoming more deeply conscious of the difficulties of amalgamation. He page 162complained bitterly of the unfair advantages given to the Boers over the natives by treaty; but he acted on the assumption that the Kaffirs should perform the unskilled work under the direction of the Europeans. To him as to Cecil Rhodes the natives were "able-bodied children," and he realized the moral danger of entrusting them with "all and every right," "in the most full and ample manner," which was granted to people who had left their savage instincts far behind them.
The doctrine of equality has had a powerful influence on the history of the world during the past century; many false and artificial distinctions have been removed, and many others are destined to disappear. But the distinctions between the Kaffirs and Europeans are real, and no solution of the industrial problem can ever be attained by over-looking them. There are many English people in South Africa to-day who maintain that Dr. Livingstone spoilt the natives wherever he went "by giving them swelled head." Those who make the charge leave themselves open to the suspicion that they regard the natives simply as industrial units. But, in any case, it would be unfair to estimate the Boers' treatment of the natives by reference to missionary standards. The missionary is a religious man, prepared for great self-sacrifice, and devoted to the highest interests of the natives among whom he labours. All minor distinctions tend to disappear in the contemplation of the equality of men in the sight of God. But the relation between the Boers and the Kaffirs was industrial rather than religious, and in the business of the world equality is the wildest and most impracticable of dreams. In organized page 163effort there are those who command, and others—the great majority—who must obey. Take degree away, and confusion ensues.
South Africa is passing through an industrial crisis now, and the conviction is gaining ground that the Boers understood much more about the Kaffirs than they have been given credit for hitherto. Slavery has gone for ever; but it has at least become clear that "able-bodied children" do not attain to anything like true freedom without discipline. And if the Boers proclaimed their superiority over the natives in the most unequivocal language, they have proved it by maintaining the purity of their race, and avoiding that deterioration which has overcome some of the white races in South Africa, who, by identifying themselves with the natives, have sunk to their level.
[Professor Henderson writes from the standpoint of the statesman and historian. The missionary point of view is determined by the Christian doctrine that the status and treatment of men, black or white, is determined not by what they are, but by what they may become,—Ed.]