22 Botha Returns
From Part Of The British Empire Part 2 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

Botha came to Pretoria and he was for Smuts like some cool firm breeze after a night of fever; for wherever he went Botha gave a sense of solidarity, of quiet inevitable stability. And he gave men confidence in themselves and in him, belief in others, and he inspired faith and hope.

Smuts had had too much success and too quickly. He was a bad patient now that he was suffering from defeat. He had never had to submit to the close discipline of a master or an employer, so that he was restive and impatient. He would not openly play second to any man on any venture. He appeared to be self-sufficient and self-confident, but he was at heart doubting, and this came from that sense of inferiority, which was still part of his character though now hidden, but which rose to the surface in defeat and which had been his marked characteristic as a nervous, shy child. He would not have acknowledged it, but actually he needed a leader. He had fallen in behind Rhodes, and then behind Kruger. Now he fell in behind Botha.

Mrs. Botha had been in Holland during the last year of the war. As soon as she returned, Botha took a house in Sunnyside, near to that in which Smuts lived. It was a pleasant suburb on a hill-side covered with gardens and shady trees and well-built houses. Here the two men spent long hours sitting and discussing on the stoep of Botha's house, from where they could see Pretoria laid out below them and beyond Pretoria the immense stretch of the veld.

For Botha the journey to Europe and England had been an experience and a lesson. He had learned how little value there was in the windy sympathy of the European nations and the real value of practical help from England. He had with difficulty collected £100,000 from sympathisers, but he had brought back the promise of a loan of eight million pounds for relief work from the English Treasury. He had seen the wealth, power, and majesty of the British Empire. With the leading politicians in London he had established useful contacts, and he had an uncanny political instinct, almost akin to second sight, so that he had realised that there was a change in England: that the English public were swinging away from the Conservatives towards the Liberals—and the Liberals had promised that when they came to power they would give self-government to South Africa. He had above all realised that the English, whether Conservatives or Liberals, did not look on the Dutch of South Africa as a defeated enemy to be held down, trodden on, and ruled, but as fellow subjects within one Empire: they were to be treated more as rebellious children who had been beaten to keep them at home, but as soon as they had learnt this lesson would be left to look after themselves and fashion their own lives. Even Joseph Chamberlain, the arch-enemy, the man who backed Milner the Imperialist, had talked with Botha of self-government in the near future and the need for the English and Dutch to work together. Shortly after the peace Botha had said that the place for South Africa was within the British Empire. His experience in Europe had satisfied him that this was so.

Smuts was of the same mind Despite the war and despite Kruger's influence, Smuts was thinking in terms of Rhodes' ideal—an indivisible South Africa: a South African nation of all white men, of Dutch and English combined, ruling their own land themselves without the interference of the officials in England; and yet within the British Empire. Both he and Botha realised that self-government was coming. At the time of the official annexation of the Transvaal during the war it had been promised. Kitchener's statement during the peace conference, Botha's talks and experiences in England, Joseph Chamberlain's remarks, a1I bore that out. They could count on self-government in time, but the problem was how to get it as quickly as possible and to chase out Milner and his brood of imported young graduates and officials.

Under Botha's influence, Smuts began to revive, to become hopeful once more, and to plan for the future. The two settled on their line of action. They would studiously observe the treaty. If, by agreement, they could get it modified, they would do so and it would be to the good: if they failed, it could not be helped. Anyway they would proclaim their acceptance of the Empire, but they would, on all occasions and on all points, attack Milner and his administration. They would refuse to give him any active help. Milner would need their help and advice. Advice they would give, but without taking any responsibilities. Milner would make mistakes. They would use them. It was a shrewd, clever policy created by the brain of Smuts and given weight and dignity by Botha.

But it was not an easy policy, for in defeat the Dutch attacked their leaders, and especially Botha and Smuts. Some attacked them for having carried the war on for another year after they knew that it was useless, and so ruining the country. A meeting of Dutchmen in Johannesburg passed a vote of censure on them, both for this and also for refusing to help Milner in the work of reconstruction. Others attacked them equally bitterly for having surrendered and called them traitors for saying they would be loyal. The population of the towns, because of their lost trade, treated them as pariahs. The farmers cursed them because their farms were in ruins and the compensation which had been promised did not come. Large numbers of the Dutch had given up and sat back with their hands in their laps and made no effort to help themselves. The English, and especially the local-born English, despite their declaration of loyalty, suspected them. They and many of the Dutch had always looked on Smuts as over-clever. It was "slim Jannie" again. They nicknamed him "the little grey cardinal" and wondered what he was scheming for, what plot he was preparing.

Led by Botha, the Dutch leaders of the Transvaal, however, kept steadily on, ignoring the criticism and the curses. Shortly after Botha's return, Joseph Chamberlain paid a flying visit and toured South Africa. The Dutch leaders took the chance and made use of it. They met Chamberlain in the Assembly Hall of the Volksraad Building in Pretoria, and they presented him with an address of welcome. Smuts acted as spokesman. "We are loyal." he said, "to the Treaty and the Empire. We now come to you, to our new Government, and offer our loyalty, and it would be wiser," he pleaded, "now and at once to give self-government and so win the complete confidence of South Africa."

Chamberlain cut him short, saying that he would not listen to a reopening of the questions settled at Vereeniging; but from then onwards, on all occasions, very subtly and cleverly, the Dutch leaders, while making much of Chamberlain, flattering him, showing him exaggerated attention, disparaged Milner, his staff, and his administration. Chamberlain was very impressionable and easily affected by such personal propaganda and began, half-heartedly, to doubt Milner; but he was not easily hoodwinked, and once he sat back his temporary impression passed and his judgment again took control. Milner too was as shrewd as his opponents and detractors. There was an easy way to test the Dutch leaders. A Legislative Council was ruling the Transvaal. With Chamberlain's permission, Milner invited Botha, Smuts, and de Ia Rey to serve on it: if the Dutch leaders were so loyal, he said, and so ready to be helpful, let them serve and show what they could do. But they refused, saying that the time was not propitious, and Chamberlain went back to England once more doubtful of them and their protestations of loyalty.

Hardly was Chamberlain gone before the Dutch concentrated on a general criticism of Milner; and for Milner everything went wrong. 1903 was a year of drought such, as had not been seen for forty years. The Caledonian River ran dry, which had not happened within the memory of any living man. The crops sown while the war was ending were burnt up as soon as they sprouted. The mealies failed. What was left of the wheat was destroyed by exceptional frosts and hailstorms and eaten up by plagues of caterpillars and locusts. The end of the war had led to a boom, but this had been brief and followed by a general slump. The mines ceased to work satisfactorily. The natives would not come to work in them again: they had made money in the war and wished to laze for a time in the sun; they had received high war-wages and were not going to accept reduced wages in peace, especially as there was good money to be made working for the reparations department. On the gold that came out of the mines, Milner had counted to pay his way for reorganisation. The gold did not come and his reorganisation had to be curtailed.

Every misfortune, every piece of ill-luck, every error of judgment of the English officials, the Dutch leaders exaggerated and used for attacking Milner. They criticised and blamed him for the failure of the crops, the economic slump, the unsatisfactory mines. They misrepresented his every action and his every intention. The "Kindergarten," they said, consisted of inexperienced young men: they were scandalously overpaid. There were robbery, theft, and dishonesty on all sides, and these young men did not know how to handle them. A few local men would have cleared up quickly and far more cheaply and repatriated the prisoners and the deported families back to their homes and reconstructed the life of the country in half the time. Milner was creating a vast and expensive administration for the benefit of his friends. Milner, they repeated, was intent on grinding down and crushing, even of destroying, the Dutch.

Of all the leaders, Smuts was the bitterest. He acted often as spokesman. He drafted many of the documents, letters, and protests. There was a personal element in all that he did that made his actions waspish. He could not restrain his hatred of Milner. "Milner," he wrote, "has dreamed a dream of a British South Africa. . . loyal with broken English and happy with a broken heart, and he sees the dream is coming true. Milner's heart will be thumping with holy joy." His hatred put a sting into all his attacks. With his agile brain he handled every incident to the discredit of the administration. He was relentless and untied by scruples. He attacked all the officials. Milner's administration was "a carnival of extravagance", the Reparations Commission was "a horde of incapable and dishonest officials."

Botha had accepted the treaty, and though he had personally suffered heavily—his farm had been blown up—he accepted it in good spirit and worked for goodwill. Smuts accepted, but remained resentful.

As the months went by and all his attacks had no effect, for Milner remained as before, in control, Smuts became very moody. At one minute he was hopeful. At the next he was depressed beyond any hope. He wrote of "the gloom of despair which is more and more enveloping us all." At other times he was impatient. He was seized with a fever of impatience: impatient and resentful at having to be idle; impatient to get control, to push Milner out quickly, at once. Self-government was on the way, but he wanted it at once, there and then, without delay. He itched to get his fingers back on to power. "Patience is the greatest quality of a statesman." Smuts, like Rhodes, had no patience, while Botha, more solid, sounder, and more stable, remained more steady and had great patience. He tried to hold Smuts in. He was afraid of what Smuts might do, for he was still only young, and in this state of impatience his lack of worldly wisdom and his inability at handling men became more pronounced. He was wrought up and capable of any impetuous foolishness. Possibly by his wits and his quick brain he might extricate himself from the difficulties he created, but could he and would he extricate the rest of them? Of that Botha was never sure and it made him watchful. Smuts often showed a great lack of judgment and common sense. Sometimes Botha saved him. There was a conference between Milner and the Dutch leaders. The interpreter employed was useless and there was no other available. Milner could read and write Dutch, but could not speak it. He appealed to Smuts to interpret, but Smuts pretended not to understand until Botha—who had begun to study English and knew a few words—in despair brushed aside this childishness and endeavoured to interpret in lame, halting phrases.

Again, there was a Miss Hobhouse, an English woman, an enthusiast but unbalanced woman, capable of doing great good, but obsessed with the belief that her own people were always in the wrong. She worked for the Dutch and wrote to Smuts.

He replied personally. Though with those round him and with his associates he was usually secretive, to this English woman, whom he knew a little, he opened his heart and without restraint poured out his woes, his complaints, and his despair in a stream of letters. "South Africa is on the down grade....South Africa has been untrue to herself. . .The Dutch are being undermined . . . demoralised by disaster. . . . I am tired of life's toil and endless endeavour. I begin to long for rest," and such unbalanced views as that the mines were no good. "A sham industry. . . a bogus industry, with its reputation kept going for the purpose of still further swindling the investing public of Europe. The general good of the country.. . is sacrificed for this sham industry."

Miss Hobhouse wrote also to Botha, but he was wiser. He had summed her up correctly and he instructed his wife to send her a courteous but curt note of acknowledgment. Later Miss Hobhouse published one of Smuts' letters in the Daily New in London, and it supplied excellent material for his enemies.

Botha's quiet patience and steady judgment often irritated Smuts. He tried to hustle Botha into more action, as he had tried to hustle Kruger, and to get the Dutch leaders to do more. But Botha would not be hustled; and the others, though they recognised Smuts' brains and abilities, came to Botha for advice and relied on Botha for judgment and leadership.

But at last the time for action arrived. The stage was set; the circumstances propitious for forming an organisation to work for self-government. Milner was in difficulties. He had achieved a great deal but his repatriation and reconstruction schemes had fallen short, the failure of the crops had taken away his resources, so that he had to do famine relief before he could reconstruct; he was being attacked in England by the Liberals; he was harried by criticism both in South Africa and in England, some of which was justified, for his task was immense and complicated and no staff with experience and knowledge of such work could be found, so that his assistants had to learn as best they could by their own mother-wit and by experiment; there was much waste of material and money, much inefficiency, and some dishonesty.

The mines were still short of labour and did not produce enough gold. Milner decided to import Chinese. Some sixty thousand arrived and set to work. The Dutch raised a tremendous outcry. Smuts led the outcry. "The Chinese are coming," he wrote. "More disaster for the country. . . . Here are the birds of prey voraciously feeding on the corpses of Liberty." The Liberals in England made a battle-cry of "Chinese slavery." The tide was turning in their favour. One after another they won by-elections fought on "Chinese slavery." From their friends in England, Botha and Smuts received warnings that a change of Government was near, and there would be a general election. In that election "Chinese Slavery" in the South African gold mines would be used as the spearhead of attack. Chamberlain had resigned. The time was ripe.

The foundations of an organisation already existed and the Dutch had been taught to despise the English administration and to expect self-government. The old fighting commando organisation had been retained and the men grouped by wards and districts under the commando leaders of the war into Farmers' Associations. Under another name and ostensibly for peaceful objects, the old fighting organisation remained. The Afrikander Bond in the Cape was in sympathy. In the Free State, Hertzog was making a similar system and calling it the Orangia Unie.

Botha at first moved cautiously, for he expected Milner to break up any such organisation. Milner was suspicious, but received orders from England not to interfere. Botha, therefore, widened his plans and worked for official recognition. Again Milner, though unwilling, was forced to agree by order from England. In the middle of 1904 Botha summoned the leaders to him in Pretoria. They came readily, threshed out an elaborate organisation, and finally in January of 1905 they came in full strength. They crowded into the Empress Theatre in Pretoria so that they filled it to suffocation, and long queues waited at the doors. They formed themselves into Het Volk, the People's Party, nominated Botha, Smuts, de la Rey, and Beyers, their old guerilla leaders of the war, to be their central committee, gave them full powers, and laid down that their policy was "complete self-government" for the Transvaal.

Once more Smuts had swung back into active politics—into the work for which he was fitted.