South Africa - Ian D. Colvin


Here I must draw my little history to an end, though how much it leaves out no one knows better than its author. Indeed, I feel like Sinbad, leaving the Valley of Diamonds with only a pocketful, for the past of South Africa is thickly strewn with the ungarnered jewels of romance. Of the Basuto wars I have said nothing, of the Kalihari and the terrible treks through the "thirst-veld" nothing, of the great missionaries and explorers nothing, of the shipwrecks on the coast nothing. I have left untouched the wonderful story of the diamond mines and the gold-fields. Of the wars between Boer and Boer, of Kruger and Joubert, Brand and Burgers, and all the other figures of the republics, there is next to nothing, and I have had to pass over such great Governors as Sir George Grey and Sir Bartle Frere with only a reference. I should like to have written of the early days of Kimberley; when Cobb's coaches took roaring loads of diggers along the rock-hewn road over Bain's Kloof, where one may still see the old names cut on the rock, and over the wide Karoo to where the tents clustered round the claims. It would be interesting to go over the old story of the pretensions of the Orange Free State to land which she never possessed, and the attempts of the Boers to rule a mining camp which ended so happily with British annexation. It would be interesting also to trace the growth of Johannesburg and the attempts of the Dutch there also to hold new wine in old bottles. This would bring us to the legacy of the great surrender, to the struggles of the Reformers who asked in vain for a share in the government of which they were the main support, and ultimately to the Jameson Raid, to the great work of Lord Milner, and to the last Transvaal War. In leaving such parts of the story alone, it is my excuse that while the remote past with which I have mainly dealt is apt to be forgotten, these later chapters are fresh in the minds of most of us, and have been written, not once, but a hundred times.

Then what thrilling romances are the lives of Cecil Rhodes and Dr. Jameson, and their work, the opening of the Great North Road and the annexation of those huge territories which are now called Rhodesia. Both men have been much abused and ardently defended; but the abuse can hardly come from the student of South African history, who is also a Briton and a lover of his race, nor indeed can it come from the South African colonist himself, Dutch or English, who realises the vast heritage conferred by these men upon generations of South Africans yet unborn. The Great North Road is an open road now, with its long ribbon of railway reaching almost to Tanganyika and the heart of Africa, but it was won in the face of odds so great and against foes so many and strong—the Boers, the Germans, the Matabele—that to open it was an achievement nothing short of heroic. And now we may hope that the other dreams of the great dreamer are coming true. "I believe in a United States of South Africa, but as a portion of the British Empire," said Rhodes in 1888, and again in 1888 he said: "We must endeavour to make those who live with us feel that there is no race distinction between us; whether Dutch or English, we are combined in one object, and that is the union of the states of South Africa, without abandoning the imperial tie."

The main obstacle to such a union in the past has been the refusal of one race to admit the equal claim of the other. How nearly equal these claims are may be gathered from this little book. The Dutch conquered the Western, the English the Eastern Province of Cape Colony. The Dutch overthrew Moselekatse and Dingaan; the English Cetewayo and Lobengula; the Dutch cleared the trans-Orange and the Transvaal, the British settled Rhodesia and developed Natal. The Dutch have raised cattle and ostriches, vines and grain; the English have built roads and railways, opened harbours and mines. Each race has supplied what the other lacked, and neither can claim to have the first title or boast of being able to walk alone. Nor can South Africans forget what England has done for their benefit in spite of the blunders and the ignorance which have led to so much bitterness. It is not only that Great Britain conquered the Cape and paid six millions for it; but that she spent vast sums of treasure and many thousand lives in developing the country and conquering the native tribes. She helped the Cape to fight the Kafirs; she settled the Basuto question and thus protected the Orange Free State; she defeated Cetewayo and Sekukuni to the benefit of the Transvaal and Natal. With the two races united in South Africa and the benignant power of Britain watching over them, there should surely be a great future. The danger is that separatism and jealousy and reaction may yet triumph over the better feelings. There are still enemies who sow tares in the night, and a rank crop is growing up in such movements as the artificial fostering of the Dutch teal, which tends to keep the country bilingual and therefore divided. Oh this point colonists would do well to remember the admirable advice of their great Chief-Justice Sir Henry de Villiers, who presided at the Convention from which we all hope so much. "Surely," he said—in the Cape Monthly Magazine (1876)—"it would be a more genuine patriotism to improve and elevate the mental condition of our countrymen by opening up to them those vast resources, which a study of English literature must reveal. And if any prejudices stood in his way, the true patriot would combat them at the risk of his own popularity in order that his countrymen might not be left behind in the race after culture and mental improvement."

But a book which is concerned only with the romance of South Africa's history should not end in a political dissertation, however tempting the union proposals may be as a text. It should end rather with an appeal to South Africans to study their common history, so rich in great figures and picturesque events. Why not, for example, celebrate the opening of the United Parliament in Cape Town, which has infinitely the best title to be capital of South Africa, by a pageant which would illustrate the wealth of this history? We should have Bartholomew Diaz and the terrible Vasco da Gama, Dom Stephen d'Ataide and Francesco Barreto in their morions and coats of mail. There would be Father Monclaro with his crucifix aloft, and the first martyr, Father Goncala, in his new surplice. We should see the sturdy Elizabethans, Shilling and Fitzherbert, walking with Jourdain the merchant. Then van Riebeck would come along in knickerbockers and broad-brimmed hat, his lady by his side in ruff and farthingale, and Hendrik Boom the gardener, and Eva the interpretress. There we should see the stately figures of Simon van der Stel and his friend the Lord of Mydrecht, and Willem Adriaan his son. Swellingrebel and all the other eighteenth century governors would follow in their footsteps, and then we should have Lady Anne Barnard and her friends of the first conquest, the good General Janssens and Sir David Baird, and the choleric Lord Charles Somerset, Sir Benjamin d'Urban, and Sir Harry Smith and his Spanish lady in her black mantilla. What fine figures might be made out of the old soldiers and sailors of the Dutch East India Company, the sailors led by van der Decken, the Flying Dutchman himself, with his white beard and his seven pairs of breeches. We should have the pirates that defied van der Stel to lay a finger upon them, we should see Anthon Anreith, the sculptor, and Pringle, the poet, and old Predikants in Geneva gowns might walk with the 1820 settlers. Then there would be Chaka and Dingaan and Hintza, and the Boer heroes of the treks, and many other figures that have flitted through these pages! It would be a brave show, winding past the old Castle or under the spreading oaks of the Gardens, and would serve to demonstrate to South Africa what she is apt to forget, that she has a great past as well as a great future.