39: The End
<< 38: De La Rey's Campaign of 1902 || TOC
It only remains in one short chapter to narrate the progress of the
peace negotiations, the ultimate settlement, and the final
consequences of this long-drawn war. However disheartening the
successive incidents may have been in which the Boers were able to
inflict heavy losses upon us and to renew their supplies of arms and
ammunition, it was none the less certain that their numbers were
waning and that the inevitable end was steadily approaching. With
mathematical precision the scientific soldier in Pretoria, with his
web of barbed wire radiating out over the whole country, was week by
week wearing them steadily down. And yet after the recent victory of
De la Rey and various braggadocio pronouncements from the refugees at
The Hague, it was somewhat of a surprise to the British public when it
was announced upon March 22nd that the acting Government of the
Transvaal, consisting of Messrs. Schalk Burger, Lucas Meyer, Reitz,
Jacoby, Krogh, and Van Velden had come into Middelburg and requested
to be forwarded by train to Pretoria for the purpose of discussing
terms of peace with Lord Kitchener. A thrill of hope ran through the
Empire at the news, but so doubtful did the issue seem that none of
the preparations were relaxed which would ensure a vigorous campaign
in the immediate future. In the South African as in the Peninsular
and in the Crimean wars, it may truly be said that Great Britain was
never so ready to fight as at the dawning of peace. At least two
years of failure and experience are needed to turn a civilian and
commercial nation into a military power.
In spite of the optimistic pronouncements of Mr. Fischer and the
absurd forecasts of Dr. Leyds the power of the Boers was really
broken, and they had come in with the genuine intention of surrender.
In a race with such individuality.it was not enough that the
government should form its conclusion. It was necessary for them to
persuade their burghers that the game was really up, and that they had
no choice but to throw down their well-worn rifles and their
ill-filled bandoliers. For this purpose a long series of negotiations
had to be entered into which put a strain upon the complacency of the
authorities in South Africa and upon the patience of the attentive
public at home. Their ultimate success shows that this complacency
and this patience were eminantly the right attitude to adopt.
On March 23rd the Transvaal representatives were despatched to
Kroonstad for the purpose of opening up the matter with Steyn and De
Wet. Messengers were sent to communicate with these two leaders, but
had they been British columns instead of fellow-countrymen they could
not have found greater difficulty in running them to earth. At last,
however, at the end of the month the message was conveyed, and
resulted in the appearance of De Wet, De la Rey, and Steyn at the
British outposts at Klerksdorp. The other delegates had come north
again from Kroonstad, and all were united in the same small town,
which, by a whimsical fate, had suddenly become the centre both for
the making of peace and for the prosecution of the war, with the eyes
of the whole world fixed upon its insignificant litter of houses. On
April 11th, after repeated conferences, both parties moved on to
Pretoria, and the most sceptical observers began to confess that there
was something in the negotiations after all. After conferring with
Lord Kitchener the Boer leaders upon April 18th left Pretoria again
and rode out to the commandos to explain the situation to them. The
result of this mission was that two delegates were chosen from each
body in the field, who assembled at Vereeniging upon May 15th for the
purpose of settling the question by vote. Never was a high matter of
state decided in so democratic a fashion.
Up to that period the Boer leaders had made a succession of tentative
suggestions, each of which had been put aside by the British
Government. Their first had been that they should merely concede
those points which had been at issue at the beginning of the war. This
was set aside. The second was that they should be allowed to consult
their friends in Europe. This also was refused. The next was that an
armistice should be granted, but again Lord Kitchener was obdurate. A
definite period was suggested within which the burghers should make
their final choice between surrender and a war which must finally
exterminate them as a people. It was tacitly understood, if not
definitely promised, that the conditions which the British Government
would be prepared to grant would not differ much in essentials from
those which had been refused by the Boers a twelvemonth before, after
the Middelburg interview.
On May 15th the Boer conference opened at Vereeniging. Sixty-four
delegates from the commandos met with the military and political
chiefs of the late republics, the whole amounting to 150 persons. A
more singular gathering has not met in our time. There was Botha, the
young lawyer, who had found himself by a strange turn of fate
commanding a victorious army in a great war. De Wet was there, with
his grim mouth and sun-browned face; De la Rey, also, with the
grizzled beard and the strong aquiline features. There, too, were the
politicians, the grey-bearded, genial Reitz, a little graver than when
he looked upon "the whole matter as an immense joke," and the
unfortunate Steyn, stumbling and groping, a broken and ruined man.
The burly Lucas Meyer, smart young Smuts fresh from the siege of
Ookiep, Beyers from the north, Kemp the dashing cavalry leader, Muller
the hero of many fights—all these with many others of their
sun-blackened, gaunt, hard-featured comrades were grouped within the
great tent of Vereeniging. The discussions were heated and
prolonged. But the logic of facts was inexorable, and the cold still
voice of common-sense had more power than all the ravings of
enthusiasts. The vote showed that the great majority of the delegates
were in favour of surrender upon the terms offered by the British
Government. On May 81st this resolution was notified to Lord
Kitchener, and at half-past ten of the same night the delegates
arrived at Pretoria and set their names to the treaty of peace. After
two years seven and a half months of hostilities the Dutch republics
had acquiesced in their own destruction, and the whole of South
Africa, from Cape Town to the Zambesi, had been added to the British
Empire. The great struggle had cost us twenty thousand lives and a
hundred thousand stricken men, with two hundred millions of money;
but, apart from a peaceful South Africa, it had won for us a national
resuscitation of spirit and a closer union with our great Colonies
which could in no other way have been attained. We had hoped that we
were a solid empire when we engaged in the struggle, hut we knew that
we were when we emerged from it. In that change lies an ample
recompense for all the blood and treasure spent.
The following were in brief the terms of surrender
1. That the burghers lay down their arms and acknowledge themselves
subjects of Edward VII.
2. That all prisoners taking the oath of allegiance be returned.
3. That their liberty and property be inviolate.
4. That an amnesty be granted-save in special cases.
5. That the Dutch language be allowed in schools and law-courts.
6. That rifles be ~lowed if registered.
7. That self-government be granted as soon as possible.
8. That no fr~nchise be granted for natives until after self-governinent.
9. That no special ~nd tax be levied.
10. That the people be helped to reoccupy the farms.
11. That £3,000,000 be given to help the farmers.
12. That the rebels be disfranchised and their leaders tried, on
condition that no death penalty be inflicted.
These terms were practically the same as those which had been refused
by Botha in March 1901. Thirteen months of useless warfare had left
the situation as it was.
It had been a war of surprises, but the surprises have unhappily been
hitherto invariably unpleasant ones. Now at last the balance swung
the other way, for in all the long paradoxical history of South
African strife there is nothing more wonderful than the way in which
these two sturdy and unemotional races clasped hands the instant that
the fight was done. The fact is in itself a final answer to the
ill-natured critics of the Continent. Men do not so easily grasp a
hand which is reddened with the blood of women and children. From all
parts as the commandos. came in there was welcome news of the
fraternisation between them and the soldiers; while the Boer leaders,
as loyal to their new ties as they had been to their old ones, exerted
themselves to promote good feeling among their people. A few weeks
seemed to do more to lessen racial bitterness than some of us had
hoped for in as many years. One can but pray that it will last.
The surrenders amounted in all to twenty thousand men, and showed that
in all parts of the seat of war the enemy had more men in the field
than we had imagined, a fact which may take the sting out of several
of our later mishaps. About twelve thousand surrendered in the
Transvaal, six thousand in the Orange River Colony, and about two
thousand in the Cape olony, showing that the movement in the rebel
districts had always been more vexatious than formidable. A
computation of the prisoners of war, the surrenders, the mercenaries,
and the casualties, shows that the total forces to which we were
opposed were certainly not fewer than seventy-five thousand well-armed
mounted men, while they may have considerably exceeded that number.
No wonder that the Boer leaders showed great confidence at the outset
of the war.
That the heavy losses caused us by the war were borne without a murmur
is surely evidence enough how deep was the conviction of the nation
that the war was not only just but essential—that the possession of
South Africa and the unity of the Empire were at stake. Could it be
shown, or were it even remotely possible, that ministers had incurred
so immense a responsibility and entailed such tremendous sacrifices
upon their people without adequate cause, is it not certain that, the
task once done, an explosion of rage from the deceived and the
bereaved would have driven them for ever from public life? Among high
and low, in England, in Scotland, in Ireland, in the great Colonies,
how many high hopes had been crushed, how often the soldier son had
gone forth and never returned, or come back maimed and stricken in the
pride of his youth. Everywhere was the voice of pity and sorrow, but
nowhere that of reproach. The deepest instincts of the nation told it
that it must fight and win, or for ever abdicate its position in the
world. Through dark days which brought out the virtues of our race as
nothing has done in our generation, we struggled grimly on until the
light had fully broken once again. And of all gifts that God has
given to Britain there is none to compare with those days of sorrow,
for it was in them that the nation was assured of its unity, and
learned for all time that blood is stronger to bind than salt water is
to part. The only difference in the point of view of the Briton from
Britain and the Briton from the ends of the earth, was that the latter
with the energy of youth was more whole-souled in the Imperial cause.
Who has seen that Army and can forget it—its spirit, its
picturesqueness—above all, what it stands for in the future history
of the world? Cowboys from the vast plains of the North-West,
gentlemen who ride hard with the Quorn or the Belvoir, gillies from
the Sutherland deer-forests, bushmen from the back blocks of
Australia, exquisites of the Raleigh Club or the Bachelor's, hard men
from Ontario, dandy sportsmen from India and Ceylon, the horsemen of
New Zealand, the wiry South African irregulars—these are the
Reserves whose existence was chronicled in no Blue-book, and whose
appearance came as a shock to the pedant soldiers of the Continent who
had sneered so long at our little Army, since long years of peace have
caused them to forget its exploits. On the plains of South Africa, in
common danger and in common privation, the blood brotherhood of the
Empire was sealed.
So much for the Empire. But what of South Africa? There in the end
we must reap as we sow. If we are worthy of the trust, it will be left
to us. If we are unworthy of it, it will be taken away. Kruger's
downfall should teach us that it is not rifles but Justice which is
the title-deed of a nation. The British flag under our best
administrators will mean clean government, honest laws, liberty and
equality to all men. So long as it continues to do so, we shall hold
South Africa. When, out of fear or out or greed, we fall from that
ideal, we may know that we are stricken with that disease which has
killed every great empire before us.
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