12 Preparations For War
From Part 1 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

Now all work in the Transvaal was concentrated in preparing for war. The construction of the forts round Pretoria was hurried on. Arms and ammunition, 80,000 rifles with ample ammunition, were imported and sent up through Portugues territory or shipped in cases marked as merchandise from Cape Town and Durban. Long-range cannon, field artillery Creusot guns, quick-firers, were brought in and German and French experts engaged to give instructions in their use. From all over Europe free-lance soldiers came flocking into Pretoria. The commando leaders in all districts were told to prepare, and in every area, including parts of the English colonies of the Cape and of Natal, the able-bodied Dutchmen began musketry practice. The Free State followed suit, ordered big consignments of arms, and began to train the men.

Kruger, with Reitz and Smuts, worked whole-heartedly for war. Reitz was a dreamer who dreamt of "Africa for the Afrikander," an intellectual and a cultured man, but impulsive and unbalanced in judgment. Smuts, though far the younger man, was more practical and bitter.

Their immediate object was to gain time until they had completed their preparations While doing this, they must not provoke the English too far, as it was clear that the English were living in a fool's paradise, being neither ready nor even preparing. They must also stave off the crisis until the rain came in the autumn and it would be possible for the burghers to find grazing for their horses and so to fight. Also somehow they hoped to jockey England into the wrong and to find some help from outside, in Europe or elsewhere.

Together with Reitz, Smuts kept in close touch with Leyds, the Hollander whom Kruger had sent to Europe as his free-lance ambassador. Leyds was doing his best to find help among the nations. The Germans seemed willing. The Kaiser made many promises. Leyds was able to plant two pieces of false information through a Russian agent in London which Joseph Chamberlain took as genuine and as so important that they nearly involved the Germans in a quarrel with the English. But soon Leyds realised that though there was much sympathy in France, Germany, and Holland, yet no practical help would be given, and he warned Kruger.

Smuts' immediate problem was the Uitlanders. They were now a menace: the menace of the enemy within the gates; right in the heart of the State and controlling its wealth; traitors and dangerous. He determined to stand no nonsense from them. He would make them harmless, frighten them into impotence. Some of their grievances were just, but most of them were propaganda. If they held illegal meetings, broke the law, threatened, or published hostile news in the papers, he arrested them — but he had to be careful not to go too far or give Milner an excuse for interfering. He had already experience of that, for early in May that year, before the Conference at Bloemfontein, he had arrested five Englishmen on poor evidence supplied by a detective convicted of perjury, and had to withdraw the charge hurriedly and with much loss of dignity.

Now he worked to keep things going, and this he did with such skill that he earned his nickname of "Slim — crafty — Jannie." To keep the Uitlanders quiet, he put a new franchise law before the Volksraad, but so vaguely worded and so complicated and so full of pitfalls that he had to supply a supplementary memorandum before the members of the House could understand the original, and then it still remained vague and unsatisfactory.

He arrested a number of English officers on a charge of spying and then offered to release them without trial. But Milner saw through this an attempt to give the Transvaal Government the chance to say that the English had forced them to release the officers: the Great Power treading on the little nation. Milner demanded a trial.

Suddenly, to frighten the Uitlanders, Smuts ordered the arrest of two of their leaders — Pakeman, the Editor of the Transvaal Leader, and Monypenny, Editor of the Star. Moneypenny got warning and escaped, but Pakeman was arrested, and his arrest created such a furious uproar that Smuts promptly issued a public statement "that no instructions had been issued from Pretoria for the arrests," and left the blame with his subordinate in Johannesburg, a Dr. Krause; and the Government washed its hands of the whole affair. But the facts were known and clear, and the denial was "a demonstrable falsehood."

With Reitz also Smuts wrote dispatches showing that England was the aggressor, accusing Milner, and cursing Rhodes as the incarnation of unclean capitalism, and later the two produced a pamphlet known as A Century of Wrong: a bitter diatribe which they published as more propaganda for Europe.

Nearer at home he sent out agents into Natal and the Cape to rouse the Dutchmen and arranged for one of his own immediate subordinates to go to the western district of Cape Province to his own area of Malmesbury and beyond.

Time was getting on. The rain would come in October and then they would be ready. It was already mid-August. Kruger wanted to find out the English attitude. With war so near they seemed strangely quiet and unprepared. A new English representative had come to Pretoria, Conyngham Greene by name. Kruger sent Smuts to talk with Greene — unofficially, as if on his own initiative, binding no one, only to give the impression that negotiations might be possible, and so gain more time.

Smuts visited Greene one evening and made friends with him. He talked with him at the English Residency in Pretoria, in his own office, and at his house in Sunnyside on the hills above Pretoria. They discussed much. They came to various agreements — verbal agreements, nothing written at the time — about some sort of franchise for the Uitlanders, the use of English in the Volksraad, and suzerainty, whether the Transvaal was independent or would recognise a nominal suzerainty by the English. All very friendly and hopeful. Greene, thinking these talks were official and the proposals from the Transvaal Government, sent them on as such.

Hardly had he done so when the Transvaal Government produced different proposals and, attached to these, conditions that could not be accepted. Milner, who had very shrewdly summed Smuts up before and understood what he was at, refused to accept any verbal assurances from him. He gave Greene orders that all official business must be done through the official channels and in writing. Smuts wrote to Greene saying that the last proposals were final and that "it will be necessary for you to arrive at your decision on the terms stated as they stand." Greene expressed surprise and quoted Smuts' promises. Smuts said Greene had misunderstood him; but Greene had as good a memory as Smuts and had written down the conversations immediately after they had been made. Ten days later Smuts said that Greene had lied, had misused his friendly overtures, had "tricked and decoyed him," and had tried to catch him out; and later he published a Green Book with his point of view, which was more propaganda for the world in general to know the crookedness and deliberate aggression of the English. But those who studied the documents remembered the denial of Pakeman's arrest and similar cases and called it "a garbled account," and de Villiers wrote, as his deliberate opinion:

"After reading the correspondence I am by no means satisfied that the British Resident was guilty of a breach of faith."

It was in fact a ruse de guerreall things being fair in war — a means of finding out what the English intended, why they remained passive, and also to keep them talking until the rain came. Before the correspondence was over it was mid-September and only a month, perhaps only three weeks, before the rain came and the commandos could get on the move.

And while he was talking to Greene as one trying to find a compromise before it was too late, and then protesting his own injured innocence and upbraiding Greene for misusing his friendship, Smuts was himself preparing a carefully detailed and extremely efficient report for the President showing that the way to defeat the English was not by attacking directly in South Africa, but in the weakest parts of their Empire — by sending agents not only through the Cape and Natal, but to India and to Ireland and to every point where they could find English subjects dissatisfied with English rule and prepared to rise against England; and he was estimating the necessary organisation to carry out this scheme.