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CHAPTER X THE COUNTRY OF BIG THINGS
THE most significant thing I saw in South Africa was an old-fashioned gabled, whitewashed house. The name of it is Groote Schuur, and it stands in very beautiful grounds on the slopes of Table Mountain, a mile or so at the back of Cape Town. That house was the home of Cecil John Rhodes, who, more than any other man, was responsible for the Boer War and for the resultant British predominance south of the Congo, and in his will he directed that it should be used as the official residence of the prime minister of that South African confederation which his prophetic mind foresaw. The welding of the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State with the British colonies of Natal and the Cape of Good Hope produced the great antipodal commonwealth of which the empire-builder dreamed, but the man who, as prime minister, dwells under Groote Schuur's gabled roof and directs the policies of the new nation is a member of that Boer race which Rhodes hated and feared and whose political power he firmly believed had been broken forever. Fortune never doubled in her tracks more completely than when she made General Louis Botha, the last leader of Boer troops in the field, the first prime minister of a united South Africa.

Strange things have happened in South Africa in the dozen years that have passed since the musketry crackled along the Modder and the Tugela, for the country that the world believed had been won for good and all by British arms is being slowly but surely rewon by Boer astuteness. Already the bonds which hold the new union of South Africa to the British Empire have become very loose ones. The man who, as prime minister, is the virtual ruler of the young nation, is a far-sighted and sagacious Dutchman, while seven out of the eleven portfolios in his cabinet are held by men of the same race. The union not only makes its own laws and fixes its own tariffs, but the leading Dutch organ of the country recently went so far as to urge that, in case Great Britain should become engaged in a European war, it would be possible and might be proper for South Africa to declare its neutrality and take no part in it. Not only is the white population of the union overwhelmingly Dutch, but in many parts of the country English is becoming merely a subsidiary tongue, while it is not at all unlikely, in view of the bill recently passed by the Parliament making Dutch compulsory in the schools, that the language of the Netherlands will eventually become the predominant tongue throughout all South Africa. Most suggestive of all, perhaps, the Orange River Colony, upon entering the union, promptly reverted to its old name of the Orange Free State, which it bore before the war with England. Indeed, it may sadly perplex the historians of the future to decide who won the Boer War.

If South Africa is to become a union in fact as well as in name its people will have to face and solve the great national problems of race and colour. Of these, the former are, if not the more important, certainly the more pressing. Two of the four provinces of the union, remember, are British solely by right of conquest; a third is bound by the closest ties of blood and tradition to the Dutch people; while only one of the four is British in sentiment and population. Many intelligent people with whom I talked, both in England and in Africa, assured me that the formation of the union was the first step toward cutting the bonds which join South Africa to the mother country. While most Englishmen scoff at any such suggestion, swaggeringly asserting that they “have whipped the Dutch once and can do it again,” the Dutch retort, on the other hand, that it took England, with all her financial and military resources, four years, and cost her tens of thousands of lives and millions of pounds, to conquer the two little Boer republics, and that she would not have beaten them then if their money had held out. Though there is certainly no love lost between the English and the Boers, I think that the majority of the latter are convinced that it is to their own best interests to be loyal to the new government, in the direction of which they have, after all, the greatest say.

The attitude which the British Government has adopted in its treatment of the Boer population since the close of the war has been remarkable for its generosity and far-sightedness. In all its colonial history it has [Pg 226] done few wiser things than the recognition of the military, as well as the civic, ability of General Botha. Not only is this sagacious Dutchman, who led the forces of the embattled Boers until dispersed by the tremendously superior might of England, and then inaugurated a guerilla warfare by which the conflict was prolonged for two years with victories which will go down in history as notable, now prime minister of the new nation, but, early in 1912, he was appointed to the rank of general in that very army which he so long and so valorously defied. This is, I believe, an almost unprecedented instance of the wise and politic exercise of imperial authority in the strengthening of imperial power and can hardly fail to result in increasing the loyalty of South Africa's Boer population.

The men who planned and brought the union into being have had to pick their steps with care, and more than once their ingenuity has been taxed to the utmost to avoid the outcropping of racial jealousies and enmities. The white population of South Africa, you should understand, consists of three classes: the Boers, which means simply “tillers of the soil,” and which is the name applied by the South African Dutch to themselves; the Colonials, or British immigrants, most of whom have come out with the intention of returning to England as soon as they have made their fortunes; and, lastly, the Africanders, men whose fathers were British immigrants, but who were themselves born and bred in South Africa and who have intermarried with the Boers so often that it is almost impossible to draw [Pg 227] the line between the races. Given these three factions, therefore, with their different customs, ideals, and aspirations, and it needs no saying that the task confronting those who are responsible for the smooth working of the governmental machinery is no easy one. The political jealousy existing between Briton and Boer in South Africa to-day is comparable only to that which existed between Northerners and Southerners during reconstruction days. The racial antagonism which arose over the location of the Federal capital, and which threatened at one time to upset the whole scheme of federation, was only overcome by the novel expedient of creating two capitals instead of one, Pretoria, the old capital of the Transvaal, where Krüger held sway, being made the residence of the Governor-General and the seat of the executive power, while the Parliament sits in Cape Town.

The union Parliament consists of a Senate having forty members—eight of whom are appointed by the Governor-General, the other thirty-two being elected, eight by each province—and a House of Assembly with 121 members chosen as follows: Cape of Good Hope 51, Natal 17, Transvaal 36, and Orange Free State 17. No voter is disqualified by race or colour, but the members of Parliament must be English subjects of European descent who have lived in the colony for at least five years. Now, a very great deal, so far as the well-being of the native races of South Africa are concerned, depends upon the interpretation that is given to the words “European descent.” In Cuban society every [Pg 228] one who is not absolutely black is treated as white, whereas in the United States every one who is suspected of having even a “touch of the tar brush” is treated as black. Though the Federal constitution is very far from giving the native races a standing equal to that of the whites, intelligent government of the natives is promised by a clause which provides that four of the Senate, out of a total of forty, shall be appointed because of their special knowledge of the wants and wishes of the coloured population.

If the racial problem is the most pressing, the colour problem is by far the most serious question before the people of South Africa, for the blacks not only outnumber the whites four to one, but there is the ever-present danger that rebellion may spring up among them without the slightest warning. Apart from all other considerations, the very numbers of the natives in South Africa form a dangerous element in the problem, for there are close on five million blacks south of the Limpopo as against a million and a quarter Europeans. If, in our own South, where the blacks are only half as numerous as the whites, there exists a problem of which no satisfactory solution has been offered, how much more serious is the state of affairs in a country where a handful of white men—themselves split into two camps by racial and political animosities—are face to face with a vast, warlike, and constantly increasing native population! In fact, the colour problem which has arisen would be strikingly similar to that in our Southern States were it not that there is a vast difference in type [Pg 229] and temperament between the South African native and the Southern darky. The native races are three in number: the Bushmen, the aborigines of South Africa, a race of pygmy savages of a very low order of intelligence, who are fast becoming extinct; the Hottentots, a people considerably more advanced toward civilisation but rapidly decreasing from epidemics; and the Kaffirs, as the various sections of the great Zulu race are commonly known, a warlike, courageous, and handsome people who, since the British Government ended their inter-tribal wars, are rapidly multiplying, having increased fifteen per cent in the last seven years. Although the Europeans in South Africa universally regard the Kaffirs with contempt, it is not altogether unmixed with fear, for a nation of fighting men, such as the Zulus, who organised a great military power, enacted a strict code of laws, and held the white man at bay for a quarter of a century, will not always remain in a state of subjection, nor will they tamely submit to being driven into the wilderness north of the Zambezi, a solution of the colour problem which has frequently been proposed.

That the attitude of Great Britain toward the colour question in South Africa is similar to that of the Northern States toward the same problem in the South, while the attitude of the European settlers is almost identical with that of the Southerners, is strikingly illustrated by a case which recently occurred in South Africa, in which a European jury found a native guilty of attempting to assault a white woman, a crime as unknown under the old régime in South Africa as it was [Pg 230] in our own South before the Civil War. Though the judge sentenced the man to death, the Governor-General promptly commuted the sentence on the ground that the “fact of crime” had not been established. Immediately a storm of protest and indignation arose among the white population which swept the country from the Zambezi to the Cape, the settlers asserting that if the decree of commutation were to form a precedent, no white woman would be safe in South Africa. The echoes of this controversy had not yet died away before two other cases occurred which intensely aggravated the situation. One was the case of a settler named Lewis, who shot a native for an insult to his daughters, while the other was that of the Honourable Galbraith Cole, a son of the Earl of Enniskillen, who killed a native on the alleged charge of theft. Both men were tried by white juries on charges of murder, and both were promptly acquitted, though Mr. Cole, in spite of his acquittal, was deported from South Africa by the government. As though to emphasise their colour prejudice, the lawyers of the union about this time took concerted action to prevent native attorneys from practising among them. How, then, can the natives, who form three fourths of the population of the new union, and who are far more children of the soil than the Europeans, be said to have protection of their most elementary rights if they are to be debarred from having men of their own colour and race to defend them, and if no white jury can be trusted to do justice where a native is concerned?

The imperial government deserves the greatest credit, however, for the steps it has taken to preserve his lands to the native. In the native protectorates and reservations of Basutoland, Swaziland, Bechuanaland, Griqualand, Tembuland, and Pondoland the government has reserved for the exclusive use and benefit of the natives territories considerably larger than the combined area of our three Pacific-coast States. Though these territories are under the control of British resident commissioners, the native chiefs are allowed to exercise jurisdiction according to tribal laws and customs in all civil matters between natives, special courts having been established to deal with serious civil or criminal matters in which Europeans are concerned. Though certain small areas of land in these rich territories are held by whites, the bulk of the country is reserved for the exclusive use and benefit of the natives, and it is not at all likely that any more land will be alienated for purposes of settlement by Europeans. (Could anything be in more striking contrast to our disgraceful treatment of the Indian?) Though South Africa has much in common with Canada, and with Australia, and with our own Southwest, it is, when all is said and done, a black man's country ruled by the white man, and it is upon the justice, liberality, and intelligence of this rule that the peace and prosperity of the young nation must eventually depend.

Two great obstacles will always stand in the way of the white man having an easy row to hoe in South Africa: the climate and the lack of water. Though the [Pg 232] climate of the uplands is pleasant and makes men want to lead an outdoor life, I am not at all certain that it tends to develop or maintain the keenness and energy characteristic of dwellers in the north temperate zone. The climate of the coastal regions is, moreover, distinctly bad, the sharply cold nights and the misty, steaming days producing the coast fever, which is a combination of rheumatism, influenza, dysentery, and malaria, and is very debilitating indeed. The white man who intends to make his permanent home in South Africa has, therefore, two alternatives: he can submit to the exactions of the climate, take life easily, leave the black bottle severely alone, and live a long but unprogressive life, or he can exhaust his energies and undermine his health in fighting the climate and die of old age at sixty. If the climate is not all that is desirable for men, it is infinitely worse for animals, for every disease known to the veterinarian abounds. Time and again the herds of the country have been almost exterminated by the hoof-and-mouth disease, or by the rinderpest, a highly contagious cattle distemper which is probably identical with that “murrain” with which Moses smote the herds of ancient Egypt and which helped to bring Pharaoh to terms. In the low-lying regions along the East Coast, and in the country north of the Limpopo it is necessary to keep horses shut up every night until the poisonous mists and dew have disappeared before the sun lest they contract the “blue-tongue,” a disease characterised by a swollen, purplish-hued tongue which kills them in a few hours by choking; [Pg 233] while in certain other districts, especially in the vicinity of the Zambezi and of the Portuguese territories, the deadly tsetse-fly makes it impossible to keep domestic animals at all.

The other great obstacle to the prosperity of South Africa is the lack of water, for less than one-tenth of the country is suitable for raising any kind of a crop without water being led onto it—and irrigation by private enterprise is out of the question, as even the indomitable Rhodes was forced to admit. The government is fully alive to the crying need for water, however, and a scheme for a national system of irrigation is filling a large part of the Ministry of Agriculture's programme. If carried out, this scheme will enormously enlarge the area of tillage, for some of the regions now hopelessly arid, such as the Karroo, have a soil of amazing fertility and need only water to make them produce luxuriant crops. Were the rains of the wet season conserved by means of the great tanks so common in India, or were artesian wells sunk like those which have transformed the desert regions of Algeria and Arizona, the vast stretch of the Karroo, instead of being yellow with sand, might be yellow with waving corn.

Though agriculture is, and probably always will be, the least important of the country's great natural sources of wealth, the development of rural industries is, thanks to governmental assistance, steadily progressing. Roads and bridges are being built, experimental farms organised on a large scale, the services of scientific experts engaged, blooded live-stock imported, agricultural [Pg 234] banks established, and literature dealing with agricultural problems is being distributed broadcast over the country. The exports of fruit are steadily increasing; sugar is being grown on the hot lands of Natal and might be grown all the way to the Zambezi; tea has lately been introduced in the coastal regions and would probably also flourish in the north; the tobacco of the Transvaal is as good a pipe tobacco as any grown, and those who have become accustomed to it will use no other; with the exception of the olive, which does not thrive, and of the vine, which succeeds only in a limited area around Cape Town, nearly all of the products of the temperate zone and of subtropical regions can be grown successfully. Though South Africa unquestionably presents many promising openings in farming, in fruit-growing, and in truck gardening, it is folly for a man to attempt any one of them unless he possesses practical experience, a modest capital, and a willingness to work hard and put up with many inconveniences, for in no other English-speaking country are the necessities of life so dear and so poor in quality, nowhere is labour so unsatisfactory, and nowhere is lack of comfort so general.

South Africa's chief source of wealth is, and always will be, its minerals. It was, strangely enough, the latest source to become known, for nobody suspected it until, in 1867, a Boer hunter, his eye caught by a sparkle among the pebbles on the Orange River, picked up the first diamond. The diamonds found in that region since then have amounted in value to nearly a [Pg 235] billion dollars. Fifteen years after the great diamond finds which sent the adventurers and fortune-seekers of the world thronging to South Africa, came the still greater gold discoveries on the Witwatersrand, or “The Rand,” as the reef of gold-bearing quartz in the Transvaal is commonly called. The total value of the gold production of the Rand for the twenty-five years ending in June, 1910, was nearly one and a half billion dollars. But though the Rand produces more gold than America and Australia put together; thou............
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