Following the Equator

Chapter LXVI.

Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Mark Twain

WHEN I scribbled in my note-book a year ago the paragraph which ends the preceding chapter, it was meant to indicate, in an extravagant form, two things: the conflicting nature of the information conveyed by the citizen to the stranger concerning South African politics, and the resulting confusion created in the stranger’s mind thereby.

But it does not seem so very extravagant now. Nothing could in that disturbed and excited time make South African politics clear or quite rational to the citizen of the country because his personal interest and his political prejudices were in his way; and nothing could make those politics clear or rational to the stranger, the sources of his information being such as they were.

I was in South Africa some little time. When I arrived there the political pot was boiling fiercely. Four months previously, Jameson had plunged over the Transvaal border with about 600 armed horsemen at his back, to go to the “relief of the women and children” of Johannesburg; on the fourth day of his march the Boers had defeated him in battle, and carried him and his men to Pretoria, the capital, as prisoners; the Boer government had turned Jameson and his officers over to the British government for trial, and shipped them to England; next, it had arrested 64 important citizens of Johannesburg as raid-conspirators, condemned their four leaders to death, then commuted the sentences, and now the 64 were waiting, in jail, for further results. Before midsummer they were all out excepting two, who refused to sign the petitions for release; 58 had been fined $10,000 each and enlarged, and the four leaders had gotten off with fines of $125,000 each with permanent exile added, in one case.

Those were wonderfully interesting days for a stranger, and I was glad to be in the thick of the excitement. Everybody was talking, and I expected to understand the whole of one side of it in a very little while.

I was disappointed. There were singularities, perplexities, unaccountabilities about it which I was not able to master. I had no personal access to Boers—their side was a secret to me, aside from what I was able to gather of it from published statements. My sympathies were soon with the Reformers in the Pretoria jail, with their friends, and with their cause. By diligent inquiry in Johannesburg I found out—apparently—all the details of their side of the quarrel except one—what they expected to accomplish by an armed rising.

Nobody seemed to know.

The reason why the Reformers were discontented and wanted some changes made, seemed quite clear. In Johannesburg it was claimed that the Uitlanders (strangers, foreigners) paid thirteen-fifteenths of the Transvaal taxes, yet got little or nothing for it. Their city had no charter; it had no municipal government; it could levy no taxes for drainage, water-supply, paving, cleaning, sanitation, policing. There was a police force, but it was composed of Boers, it was furnished by the State Government, and the city had no control over it. Mining was very costly; the government enormously increased the cost by putting burdensome taxes upon the mines, the output, the machinery, the buildings; by burdensome imposts upon incoming materials; by burdensome railway-freight-charges. Hardest of all to bear, the government reserved to itself a monopoly in that essential thing, dynamite, and burdened it with an extravagant price. The detested Hollander from over the water held all the public offices. The government was rank with corruption. The Uitlander had no vote, and must live in the State ten or twelve years before he could get one. He was not represented in the Raad (legislature) that oppressed him and fleeced him. Religion was not free. There were no schools where the teaching was in English, yet the great majority of the white population of the State knew no tongue but that. The State would not pass a liquor law; but allowed a great trade in cheap vile brandy among the blacks, with the result that 25 per cent. of the 50,000 blacks employed in the mines were usually drunk and incapable of working.

There—it was plain enough that the reasons for wanting some changes made were abundant and reasonable, if this statement of the existing grievances was correct.

What the Uitlanders wanted was reform—under the existing Republic.

What they proposed to do was to secure these reforms by, prayer, petition, and persuasion.

They did petition. Also, they issued a Manifesto, whose very first note is a bugle-blast of loyalty: “We want the establishment of this Republic as a true Republic.”

Could anything be clearer than the Uitlander’s statement of the grievances and oppressions under which they were suffering? Could anything be more legal and citizen-like and law-respecting than their attitude as expressed by their Manifesto? No. Those things were perfectly clear, perfectly comprehensible.

But at this point the puzzles and riddles and confusions begin to flock in. You have arrived at a place which you cannot quite understand.

For you find that as a preparation for this loyal, lawful, and in every way unexceptionable attempt to persuade the government to right their grievances, the Uitlanders had smuggled a Maxim gun or two and 1,500 muskets into the town, concealed in oil tanks and coal cars, and had begun to form and drill military companies composed of clerks, merchants, and citizens generally.

What was their idea? Did they suppose that the Boers would attack them for petitioning for redress? That could not be.

Did they suppose that the Boers would attack them even for issuing a Manifesto demanding relief under the existing government?

Yes, they apparently believed so, because the air was full of talk of forcing the government to grant redress if it were not granted peacefully.

The Reformers were men of high intelligence. If they were in earnest, they were taking extraordinary risks. They had enormously valuable properties to defend; their town was full of women and children; their mines and compounds were packed with thousands upon thousands of sturdy blacks. If the Boers attacked, the mines would close, the blacks would swarm out and get drunk; riot and conflagration and the Boers together might lose the Reformers more in a day, in money, blood, and suffering, than the desired political relief could compensate in ten years if they won the fight and secured the reforms.

It is May, 1897, now; a year has gone by, and the confusions of that day have been to a considerable degree cleared away. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Dr. Jameson, and others responsible for the Raid, have testified before the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry in London, and so have Mr. Lionel Phillips and other Johannesburg Reformers, monthly-nurses of the Revolution which was born dead. These testimonies have thrown light. Three books have added much to this light: “South Africa As It Is,” by Mr. Statham, an able writer partial to the Boers; “The Story of an African Crisis,” by Mr. Garrett, a brilliant writer partial to Rhodes; and “A Woman’s Part in a Revolution,” by Mrs. John Hays Hammond, a vigorous and vivid diarist, partial to the Reformers. By liquifying the evidence of the prejudiced books and of the prejudiced parliamentary witnesses and stirring the whole together and pouring it into my own (prejudiced) moulds, I have got at the truth of that puzzling South African situation, which is this:

1. The capitalists and other chief men of Johannesburg were fretting under various political and financial burdens imposed by the State (the South African Republic, sometimes called “the Transvaal”) and desired to procure by peaceful means a modification of the laws.

2. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Premier of the British Cape Colony, millionaire, creator and managing director of the territorially-immense and financially unproductive South Africa Company; projector of vast schemes for the unification and consolidation of all the South African States into one imposing commonwealth or empire under the shadow and general protection of the British flag, thought he saw an opportunity to make profitable use of the Uitlander discontent above mentioned—make the Johannesburg cat help pull out one of his consolidation chestnuts for him. With this view he set himself the task of warming the lawful and legitimate petitions and supplications of the Uitlanders into seditious talk, and their frettings into threatenings—the final outcome to be revolt and armed rebellion. If he could bring about a bloody collision between those people and the Boer government, Great Britain would have to interfere; her interference would be resisted by the Boers; she would chastise them and add the Transvaal to her South African possessions. It was not a foolish idea, but a rational and practical one.

After a couple of years of judicious plotting, Mr. Rhodes had his reward; the revolutionary kettle was briskly boiling in Johannesburg, and the Uitlander leaders were backing their appeals to the government—now hardened into demands—by threats of force and bloodshed. By the middle of December, 1895, the explosion seemed imminent. Mr. Rhodes was diligently helping, from his distant post in Cape Town. He was helping to procure arms for Johannesburg; he was also arranging to have Jameson break over the border and come to Johannesburg with 600 mounted men at his back. Jameson—as per instructions from Rhodes, perhaps—wanted a letter from the Reformers requesting him to come to their aid. It was a good idea. It would throw a considerable share of the responsibility of his invasion upon the Reformers. He got the letter—that famous one urging him to fly to the rescue of the women and children. He got it two months before he flew. The Reformers seem to have thought it over and concluded that they had not done wisely; for the next day after giving Jameson the implicating document they wanted to withdraw it and leave the women and children in danger; but they were told that it was too late. The original had gone to Mr. Rhodes at the Cape. Jameson had kept a copy, though.

From that time until the 29th of December, a good deal of the Reformers’ time was taken up with energetic efforts to keep Jameson from coming to their assistance. Jameson’s invasion had been set for the 26th. The Reformers were not ready. The town was not united. Some wanted a fight, some wanted peace; some wanted a new government, some wanted the existing one reformed; apparently very few wanted the revolution to take place in the interest and under the ultimate shelter of the Imperial flag—British; yet a report began to spread that Mr. Rhodes’s embarrassing assistance had for its end this latter object.

Jameson was away up on the frontier tugging at his leash, fretting to burst over the border. By hard work the Reformers got his starting-date postponed a little, and wanted to get it postponed eleven days. Apparently, Rhodes’s agents were seconding their efforts—in fact wearing out the telegraph wires trying to hold him back. Rhodes was himself the only man who could have effectively postponed Jameson, but that would have been a disadvantage to his scheme; indeed, it could spoil his whole two years’ work.

Jameson endured postponement three days, then resolved to wait no longer. Without any orders—excepting Mr. Rhodes’s significant silence—he cut the telegraph wires on the 29th, and made his plunge that night, to go to the rescue of the women and children, by urgent request of a letter now nine days old—as per date,—a couple of months old, in fact. He read the letter to his men, and it affected them. It did not affect all of them alike. Some saw in it a piece of piracy of doubtful wisdom, and were sorry to find that they had been assembled to violate friendly territory instead of to raid native kraals, as they had supposed.

Jameson would have to ride 150 miles. He knew that there were suspicions abroad in the Transvaal concerning him, but he expected to get through to Johannesburg before they should become general and obstructive. But a telegraph wire had been overlooked and not cut. It spread the news of his invasion far and wide, and a few hours after his start the Boer farmers were riding hard from every direction to intercept him.

As soon as it was known in Johannesburg that he was on his way to rescue the women and children, the grateful people put the women and children in a train and rushed them for Australia. In fact, the approach of Johannesburg’s saviour created panic and consternation there, and a multitude of males of peaceable disposition swept to the trains like a sand-storm. The early ones fared best; they secured seats—by sitting in them—eight hours before the first train was timed to leave.

Mr. Rhodes lost no time. He cabled the renowned Johannesburg letter of invitation to the London press—the gray-headedest piece of ancient history that ever went over a cable.

The new poet laureate lost no time. He came out with a rousing poem lauding Jameson’s prompt and splendid heroism in flying to the rescue of the women and children; for the poet could not know that he did not fly until two months after the invitation. He was deceived by the false date of the letter, which was December 20th.

Jameson was intercepted by the Boers on New Year’s Day, and on the next day he surrendered. He had carried his copy of the letter along, and if his instructions required him—in case of emergency—to see that it fell into the hands of the Boers, he loyally carried them out. Mrs. Hammond gives him a sharp rap for his supposed carelessness, and emphasizes her feeling about it with burning italics: “It was picked up on the battle-field in a leathern pouch, supposed to be Dr. Jameson’s saddle-bag. Why, in the name of all that is discreet and honorable, didn’t he eat it!

She requires too much. He was not in the service of the Reformers—excepting ostensibly; he was in the service of Mr. Rhodes. It was the only plain English document, undarkened by ciphers and mysteries, and responsibly signed and authenticated, which squarely implicated the Reformers in the raid, and it was not to Mr. Rhodes’s interest that it should be eaten. Besides, that letter was not the original, it was only a copy. Mr. Rhodes had the original—and didn’t eat it. He cabled it to the London press. It had already been read in England and America and all over Europe before Jameson dropped it on the battlefield. If the subordinate’s knuckles deserved a rap, the principal’s deserved as many as a couple of them.

That letter is a juicily dramatic incident and is entitled to all its celebrity, because of the odd and variegated effects which it produced. All within the space of a single week it had made Jameson an illustrious hero in England, a pirate in Pretoria, and an ass without discretion or honor in Johannesburg; also it had produced a poet-laureatic explosion of colored fireworks which filled the world’s sky with giddy splendors, and, the knowledge that Jameson was coming with it to rescue the women and children emptied Johannesburg of that detail of the population. For an old letter, this was much. For a letter two months old, it did marvels; if it had been a year old it would have done miracles.

Following the Equator - Contents    |     Chapter LXVII.

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