Oom Paul's People - Howard Hillegas

South Africa of the Present Time

The population of South Africa may be divided into three great classes of individuals: First, those who are only waiting for the time when they will be able to leave the country—the Uitlanders; second, those who hope that that time may speedily come—the native-born whites; and, third, those who have no hope at all—the negroes.

The white population, south of the Zambezi River, is almost as large as the population of the city of Philadelphia. Half of the population is Boer, or of Dutch extraction, while the remainder consists of the other Afrikanders and the Uitlanders. The Afrikander class comprises those persons who were born in the country but of European descent, while the Uitlanders are the foreigners who are, for the most part, only temporary residents. The negro population is estimated at five millions, divided into many tribes and scattered over many thousand miles of territory, but united in the common cause of subdued hostility toward the whites.

The discovery and first settlement of South Africa were made about the same time that America was being won from the Indians; but, instead of having a people that united in the one object of making a great and influential nation, South Africa is rent asunder by political intrigue, racial antagonism, and internal jealousies and strife. The Dutch and Boers have their mutual enemies, the Uitlanders; the Cape Colonists are unfriendly with the Natalians, yet unite to a great extent in opposing the Dutch and Boers; while all are the common enemy of the black race.

Strife is incessant in the country, and a unification of interests is impossible so long as the enmity continues. Meanwhile the natural growth and development of the country are retarded, and all classes suffer like consequences. A man who is capable of healing all the differences and uniting all the classes in a common bond of patriotism will be the saviour of the country, and far greater than Kruger or Rhodes. A fugitive bit of verse that is heard in all parts of South Africa affords a clearer idea of the country than can be given in pages of detailed description. With a few expurgations, the verse is:

"The rivers of South Africa have no waters,

The birds no song, the flowers no scent;

The child you see has no father,

The whites go free, while the negroes pay the rent."

A person who has derived his impressions of the physical features of the continent of Africa from books generally concludes that it is either a desert or a tropical wilderness throughout. South Africa combines these two features in such a way that the impression need not be entirely shattered, and yet it is not a truthful one.

South Africa is at once a tropical garden, a waterless desert, a fertile plain, and a mountainous wilderness. It has all the distinctions of soil, climate, and physical features that are to be found anywhere in the world, and yet in three hundred years less than half a million persons have found its variety agreeable enough to become permanent residents. Along the coast country, for one hundred miles inland, the territory is as fertile as any in the world, the climate salubrious, and the conditions for settlement most agreeable. Beyond that line is another area of several hundred miles which consists chiefly of lofty tablelike plateaus and forest-covered mountains.

Farther inland is the Great Karroo, a desert of sombre renown, and beyond that the great rolling plains of the Kimberley region, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal. Here, during the dry season, the earth is covered with brown, lifeless grass, the rays of the sun beat down perpendicularly, and great clouds of yellow dust obscure the horizon. No trees or bushes are seen in a half-thousand-mile journey, the great broad rivers are waterless, and the only live objects are the lone Boer herders and their thirsty flocks.

A month later the rainy season may commence, and then the landscape becomes more animated. Rains, compared with which the heaviest precipitations of the north temperate zone are mere drizzles, continue almost incessantly for weeks; the plain becomes a tropical garden, and the traveller sees some reasons for that part of the earth's creation.

In the midst of these plains, and a thousand miles from the Cape of Good Hope, are the gold mines of the Randt, richer than California and more valuable than the Klondike. The wonder is that they were ever discovered, and almost as marvellous is it that any one should remain there sufficiently long to dig a thousand feet below the surface to secure the hidden wealth. Farther north are the undeveloped countries, Mashonaland and Matabeleland, the great lakes, and the relics of the civilization that is a thousand years older than ours.

According to the American standard, the most uninhabitable part of South Africa is the Transvaal, that inland territory of sun and plain, which has its only redeeming feature in its underground wealth. Had Nature placed her golden treasure in the worthless Kalahari Desert, it would have been of easier access than in the Transvaal, and worthy of a plausible excuse. But, excluding the question of gold, no one except the oppressed Boers ever had the weakest reason for settling in countries so unnatural, unattractive, and generally unproductive as the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Cape Colony and Natal, the two British colonies on the coast, are the direct opposites of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in physical and climatic conditions. The colonies are comfortably settled, the soil is marvellously productive, negro labour is cheap, and everything combines to form the foundation for a great nation.

Cape Town, the city where every one is continually awaiting the arrival of the next mail steamer from England, and the capital of Cape Colony, is a modern city of fifty thousand inhabitants, mostly English. It was the metropolis of the country until Johannesburg was born in a day, and caused it to become a mere point in transit. The city has electric lights, electric street railways, fine docks, excellent railways into the interior, and all the other attributes of an English city, with the possible exception that it requires a four-weeks' passage to reach London.

It is a city of which Englishmen are proud, for its statue of Queen Victoria is beautiful, the Government society is exclusive, "Tommy Atkins" is there in regiments, and the British flag floats on every staff. Cape Town, too, is the home of the politicians who manage the Colonial Office, which in turn has charge of the South African colonial affairs. Two cable lines lead from South Africa to London, and both dive into the ocean at Cape Town, where live Cecil J. Rhodes, Sir Alfred Milner, and the other politicians who furnish the cablegrams and receive the replies. Farther north on the east coast, about three days' sail around the Cape, is the colony of Natal, peaceful, paradisaical, and proud. Taken by conquest from the Zulus a half century ago, it has already distanced its four-times-older competitor, Cape Colony, in almost all things that pertain to the development of a country. Being fifteen hundred miles farther from London than Cape Town, it has escaped the political swash of that city, and has been able to plough its own path in the sea of colonial settlement.

Almost all of Natal is included in the fertile coast territory, and consequently has been able to offer excellent inducements to intending settlers. The majority of these have been Scotchmen of sturdy stock, and these have established a diminutive Scotland in South Africa, and one that is a model for the entire continent. Within the last year the colony has annexed the adjoining country of the Zulus, which, even if it accomplishes nothing more practical, increases the size of the colony. Durban, the entry port of the colony, is the Newport of South Africa, as well as its Colorado Springs. Its wide, palm-and-flower-fringed streets, its 'ricksha Zulus, its magnificent suburbs, and its healthful climate combine to make Durban the finest residence city on the Dark Continent. Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the colony, on the other hand, has nothing but its age to commend it. The colony produces vast quantities of coffee, tea, sugar, and fruits, almost all of which is marketed in Johannesburg, in the Transvaal, which is productive of nothing but gold and strife.

The Orange Free State, which, with the Transvaal, form the only non-English states in South Africa, also lies in the plain or veldt district, and is of hardly any commercial importance. Three decades ago it found itself in almost the same situation with England as the Transvaal is to-day, but, unlike the South African republic, feared to demand its rights from the British Government. At that time the Kimberley diamond mines were discovered on acknowledged Free State soil. England purchased an old native chief's claims, which had been disallowed by a court of arbitration, and pushed them as its own. The Free State was weak, and agreed to forfeit its claim in return for a sum of four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The mines, now owned by a syndicate, of which Cecil J. Rhodes is the head, have yielded more than four hundred million dollars' worth of diamonds since the Free State ceded them to England for less than half a million dollars.

The natives, who less than one hundred years ago ruled the whole of South Africa with the exception of a small fraction of Cape Colony and several square miles on the east coast, have been relegated by the advances of civilization, until now they hold only small territories, or reservations, in the different colonies and republics. They are making slow progress in the arts of civilization, except in Cape Colony, where, under certain conditions, they are allowed to exercise the franchise, and on the whole have profited but little by the advent of the whites, notwithstanding the efforts of missionaries and governments. They smart under the treatment of the whites, who, having forcibly taken their country from them, now compel them to pay rental for the worst parts of the country, to which they are circumscribed, and to wear brass tags, with numbers, like so many cattle.

Comparatively few natives work longer than three months of the year, and would not do that except for the fear of punishment for non-payment of hut taxes. With the exception of those who are employed in the towns and cities, the negroes wear the same scanty costumes of their forefathers, and follow the same customs and practices. Witchcraft and superstition still rule the minds of the majority, and the former is practised in all its cruel hideousness in many parts of the country, although prohibited by law.

The sale of rum, the great American "civilizer " of the Indians, is also prohibited in all the states and colonies, but it frequently is the cause of rebellious and intertribal wars. Notwithstanding the generous use of "dum-dum" bullets in the recent campaigns against the negroes, and the score of other agents of civilization which carry death to the natives, the black population has increased greatly since the control of the country has been taken from them. In Natal, particularly, the increase in the Zulu population has been most threatening to the continued safety of that energetic colony. The Colonial Office, through generous and humanitarian motives, has fostered the development of the native by every means possible. No rabbit warren or pheasant hatchery was ever conducted on a more modern basis.

Everything that the most enthusiastic founder of a new colony could do to increase the population of his dominion is in practice in Natal. Polygamy is not prohibited, and is indulged in to the full extent of the natives' purchasing ability. Innumerable magistrates and police are scattered throughout the country to prevent internecine warfare and petty quarrels. The Government protects the Zulu from external war, pestilence, and famine. King Tshaka's drastic method of recurring to war in order to keep down the surplus population has been succeeded by the Natal incubation scheme, which has proved so successful that the colony's native population is fourfold greater than it was when Tshaka ruled the country. The situation is a grave one for the colony, whose fifty thousand whites would be like so many reeds in a storm if the half million Zulus should break the bonds in which they have been held since the destruction of Cetewayo's army in the recent Zulu war.

The only tribe of natives that has made any progress as a body is that which is under the leadership of King Khama, the most intelligent negro in South Africa. Before his conversion to Christianity, Khama was at the head of one of the most bloodthirsty, polygamous, and ignorant tribes in the country. Since that event he has been the means of converting his entire tribe of wild and treacherous negroes to Christianity, has abandoned polygamy and tribal warfare, and has established a government, schools, churches, and commercial enterprises. In addition to all his other good works, he has assisted Great Britain in pacifying many belligerent tribes, and has become England's greatest friend in South Africa.

Khama is the paramount chief of the Bawangwato tribe, whose territory is included in the British Bechuanaland protectorate, situated about one thousand miles due north from Cape Town. There are about fifteen thousand men, women, and children in the kingdom, and every one of that number tries to emulate the noble examples set by their king, whom all adore. The country and climate of Khama's Kingdom, as it is officially called, are magnificent, and so harmless and inoffensive are the people that the traveller is less exposed to attacks by marauders than he is in the streets along New York's water front.

Many Europeans have settled in Khama's Kingdom for the purpose of mining and trading, and these have assisted in placing the Bawangwatos on a plane of civilization far above and beyond that attained by any other negro nation or tribe in the country. A form of government has been adopted, and is carried out with excellent results. The laws, which must be sanctioned by the British Government before they can be put in force, are transgressed with an infrequency that puts to shame many a country of boasted ancient civilization. Theft is unknown and murders are unheard of, while drunkenness is to be seen only when a white man smuggles liquor into the country. A public-school system has been introduced, and has resulted in giving a fairly good education to all the youth. Even music is taught, and several of the brass bands that have been organized compare favourably with such as are found in many rural communities in America.

Well-regulated farms and cattle ranches are located in all parts of the territory, and in most instances are profitably and wisely conducted. The negroes have abandoned the use of beads and skins almost entirely, and now pattern after Europeans in the matter of clothing. Witchcraft and kindred vices have not been practised for fifty years, and only the older members of the tribe know that such practices existed. The remarkable man to whom is due the honour of having civilized an entire nation of heathen is now about eighty years old. He speaks the English language fluently, and writes it much more legibly than his distinguished friend Cecil Rhodes.

Khama is about six feet in height, well proportioned, and remarkably strong despite his great age. His skin is not black, but of that dark copper colour borne by negro chiefs of the royal line. He has the bearing of a nobleman, and is extremely polite and affable in his treatment of visitors. He is well informed on all current topics, and his knowledge of South African men and affairs is wonderful. In his residence, which is constructed of stone and on English lines, Khama has all the accessories necessary for a civilized man's comfort. He has a library of no small size, a piano for his grandchildren, a folding bed for himself, and, not least of all, an American carriage of state.

It is a strange anomaly that the Boers, a pastoral people exclusively, should have settled in a section of the earth where Nature has two of her richest storehouses. Both the Kimberley diamond mines and the Witwatersrandt gold mines, each the richest deposit of its kind discovered thus far, were found where the Boers were accustomed to graze their herds and flocks. It would seem as if Nature had influenced the Boers to settle above her treasures, and protect them from the attacks of nations and men who are not satisfied with the products of the earth's surface, but must delve below.

This circumstance has been both fortunate and unfortunate for the Boer people. It has laid them open to the attacks of covetous nations, which have not been conducive to a restful existence, but it has made their country what it is to-day—the source from which all the other South African states draw their means of support. The Transvaal is the main wheel in the South African machinery. Whenever the Transvaal is disturbed, Cape Colony, Natal, and the Orange Free State are similarly affected, because they are dependent upon the Boer country for almost their breath of life. When the Transvaal flourishes, South Africa flourishes, and when the Transvaal suffers, then the rest of the country is in dire straits.

Before the diamond and gold mines were discovered, South Africa was practically a cipher in the commercial world. The country exported nothing, because it produced no more than was needed for home consumption, and it could import nothing because it was too poor to pay for imported goods. The discovery of the diamond mines twenty-five years ago caused the country to be in a flourishing condition for several years, but the formation of the De Beers syndicate ended it by monopolizing the industry, and consequently starving the individual miners. The country was about to relapse into its former condition when the Transvaal mines were unearthed. No syndicate having been strong enough to consolidate all the mines and monopolize the industry, as was done at Kimberley, and the Boers having resisted all efforts to defraud them out of the valuable part of their country, as had happened to the Orange Free State Boers, the Transvaal soon attained the paramount position in the country, and has retained it since.

Until Lobengula, the mighty native chief of the regions west of the Transvaal, was subdued and his country taken from him, the British empire builders were limited in their field of endeavour, because the Transvaal was the only pass through which an entry could be made into the vast Central African region. When Lobengula's power yielded to British arms, the Transvaal became useless as the key to Central Africa, but, by means of its great mineral wealth, became of so much greater and more practical importance that it really was the entire South Africa.

The Witwatersrandt, the narrow strip of gold-bearing soil which extends for almost one hundred miles east and west through the Transvaal, is the lever which moves the entire country. In the twelve years since its discovery it has been transformed from a grass-covered plain into a territory that is filled with cities, towns, and villages. Where the Boer farmer was accustomed to graze his cattle are hundreds of shafts that lead to the golden caverns below, and the trail of the ox-team is now the track of the locomotive and the electric cars.

The farmer's cottage has developed into the city of Johannesburg, the home of more than one hundred thousand persons and the metropolis of a continent. All the roads in South Africa lead to Johannesburg, and over them travels every one who enters the country either for pleasure or business. The Transvaal is the only great producer of money, as well as the only great consumer, and consequently all other communities in the country are dependent upon it for whatever money it chooses to yield to them. The natural conditions are such, however, that, while the Transvaal has almost all the money in South Africa, it is compelled to support Cape Colony, Natal, and the Orange Free State like so many poor relations.

The Transvaal, being an inland state, is the feeding ground of those states which are located between it and the sea. Every ton of foreign freight that enters the Transvaal through Cape Colony is subject to high customs duties and abnormal freight rates. The railway and the customs house being under the same jurisdiction, it will readily be seen to what extent Cape Colony derives its revenues from the Transvaal commerce. The Orange Free State again taxes the freight before allowing it to pass through its territory. The third tax, which makes the total far greater than the original cost of the freight, is added by the Transvaal Government. Certain classes of freight shipped from Europe are taxed by the steamship line, the Cape Colony Railroad, the Transvaal Railroad, and with Cape Colony, Orange Free State, and Transvaal customs duties.

This vast expenditure is borne by the consumers in the Transvaal, who are compelled to pay from three to five times as much for rent and food as is paid in England or America. Cape Colony, in particular, has been fattening upon the Transvaal. The Government railroads in one year showed a profit of more than eight per cent upon the capital invested, after accounting for the great losses incurred with unprofitable branch lines, showing that the main line to the Transvaal must have produced a profit of from fifteen to twenty per cent. The customs duties collected by Cape Colony on almost all freight in transit is five per cent of its value. The inhabitants of the Transvaal are obliged to pay these large amounts, and are so much poorer while the Cape Colony Government preys upon them. The Transvaal Government receives none of this revenue except that from its customs, which is insufficient for its expenses.

After having grown wealthy in this manner, the colony of Natal has recently become conscience-smitten, and allows freight to pass in transit without taxing it with customs duties. The Government owns the railroad, and is content with the revenue it secures from the Transvaal freight without twice preying upon the republic.

Not only have the colonial governments profited by the existence of the gold mines in the Transvaal, but the cities, towns, and individuals of Cape Colony, Natal, and the Orange Free State have also had a period of unparalleled prosperity. Although the natural resources of the Transvaal are very great, they have not been developed, and the other colonies which have been developed along those lines are supplying the deficit. Almost every ounce of food consumed in the Transvaal arrives from over the border. Natal and Cape Colony supply the corn, wheat, cattle, and sugar, and, having a monopoly of the supply close at hand, can command any price for their commodities.

Industries have grown up in Natal and Cape Colony that are entirely dependent upon the Transvaal for their existence, and their establishment has been responsible for much of the recent growth of the population of the colonies. The large sugar factories and fruit farms in Natal have the only market for their products in the Transvaal, and the large farms and vineyards in Cape Colony supply the same demand. The ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth, and East London, as well as Cape Town, are important only as forwarding stations for goods going or coming from the Transvaal, and but for that Godsend they would still be the listless cities that they were before the discovery of gold on the Randt. Owing to the lack of raw material, the cities have no large factories and industries such as are found even in small American towns, and consequently the inhabitants are obliged to depend upon the traffic with the interior. Notwithstanding this condition of affairs, which causes Natal and Cape Colony to be commercial weaklings, swayed by the Transvaal tide, the colonists are continually harassing the Government of the republic by laws and suggestions. The republic's mote is always bigger than the colonies' own, and the strife is never-ending.

The Transvaal is a country of such enormous value that it has attracted, and will continue to attract, investors from all parts of the earth. The gold production, in the opinion of the first experts on the Randt, will rapidly reach one hundred and twenty-five million dollars a year. It already yields one hundred million a year, or more than a third of the world's production, of which the United States is credited with less than seventy-five million. The very fact of that production, and the world being enriched to that extent, will provide the money for further enterprises. So long as the gold supply continues to appear inexhaustible, and mines continue to pay dividends ranging from one to one hundred and fifty per cent., so long will the Transvaal remain supreme in the commerce and finance of South Africa.