23 Self-Government
From Part Of The British Empire Part 2 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

BOTHA and Smuts were now the leaders recognised by the Dutch in the Transvaal and accepted by the English administration. Botha was earning good money as a commission agent and as a farmer. He lived spaciously, all his doors open, and to him came everyone who wanted advice or was suffering under a grievance, as they had come in the old days of the Republic to President Kruger. And like Kruger, and with some of Kruger's patriarchal benevolence, Botha received them all. He had time and to spare for everyone. The stoep of his house was always crowded with men and women, mainly ruined farmers from the veld, with their children, who came for help and trusted Botha with a pathetic, trustful helplessness. He had the art, moreover, even if he had to send them away, of being able to make them feel that they had gained everything by coming to see him.

Smuts continued his legal work, but those who came to see him with requests for personal help kept strictly to business. He would come out of an inner room still preoccupied with something he had been reading or studying out of a book or document. If his visitors wasted time or meandered he did not conceal his irritation.

He and Botha kept steadily on with their policy—to attack the English administration and to organise Het Volk. They encouraged the Dutch to become discontented. They criticised and found fault and twisted every mishap against Milner. They refused to give any active help in the reconstruction of the country. The English Government offered them a modified form of self-government as the first stage towards complete self-government. They refused it and made it clear that they would make such a constitution unworkable: they would accept complete self-government or nothing. "Our attitude," said Smuts, "is that we ask not for half an egg, but a whole one."

Everything worked to help them. In the middle of 1905 Milner's term of office came to an end and he was replaced by Lord Selborne, an aristocrat with a pleasant, courteous manner. His instructions were to conciliate the Dutch. In his first speech he flattered Botha and Smuts, calling Smuts, "the brilliant lawyer, the brilliant soldier," and so began to break down the rigid fence which mutual dislike and distrust had built between him and the English administration.

To the last minute and long after he was gone, the Dutch, and especially Smuts, hated Milner. They would hear no good of him. His qualities they did not appreciate. He had many faults. He over-centralised. He was often high-collared, autocratic, overbearing, and he hated well; but his qualities more than adjusted the balance with his faults. He was a great ruler, clean handed, clean in his dealings and in his promises, and with wide vision and great ideals. He knew before he accepted his post that he would have to bear the brunt of the war-hatred and the even fiercer hatred of the reaction after the war. No man could have escaped that hatred. He was often weakly backed from England, but he remained strong and determined: weakness in the first days of the peace would have been a crime. Without complaining, with absolute loyalty to superiors and subordinates, with ceaseless self-denying effort and unlimited patience, he worked on. He laid the foundations for the future. He laid them soundly and securely, bedded them deep down in live rock. His successors, Dutch and English, those who cursed him most, Botha and Smuts especially, built on his foundations. Left to themselves the Dutch could never have laid such foundations, and any structure they might have built would have collapsed.

Milner left quietly, taking ship without fuss or show, dignified and self-controlled, outwardly unmoved by the hatred he had roused, a great man who had destroyed himself doing a great work for lesser men, and, as he left, Smuts wrote him a letter of good-bye. It cost Smuts an effort to write that letter, though it had about it an air of self-satisfied patronage, of speeding the unwanted guest who would never return. "I am afraid," he wrote, "you have not liked us. . . . What is good in our work can safely appeal to the ear of the future. To that ear you have appealed: so do we." Always Milner set Smuts' hackles up, angered, irritated, and enraged him. He and Milner were two stiff-lipped and stiff-necked, reserved, self-opinionated strong men, both irritated by opposition, and they had jostled into each other where their roads had crossed. They could not walk together, and neither would stand aside for the other.

And then, with Milner gone, the stumbling-block to Dutch desires out of the way, Smuts turned back with a sigh of relief, to work again for self-government.

Events moved quickly. In England the Government was rapidly being shaken to pieces: it lost by-election after by-election; the members of the Cabinet disagreed among themselves. The inevitable reaction, which followed every war, was coming in on a full tide. The Transvaal was brought into English local politics. The cry of" Chinese Slavery in the Gold Mines" was being used freely to excite the voters against the Conservatives.

In December the Conservative Government fell. Kitchener's prophecy had come true. Balfour, the Prime Minister, resigned. Campbell-Bannerman took his place with a full Liberal Cabinet, including Lord. Morley, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. John Burns, and Mr. Winston Churchill as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. He dissolved Parliament and went to the country.

At once Smuts, with Botha's full approval and backing, made post-haste for England. He did not advertise his coming, refused to be interviewed or to make any statement, said he had come for a holiday, but went quietly to a small hotel off the Strand and got into touch with the Liberals who had shown pro-Dutch sympathies during the war and since.

England was twisted in the agony of that General Election, which was fought with great bitterness and no scruples. The people were tired of the Conservatives, of war policies, of the old Imperialism. The working classes, the middle classes, the vast mass of Nonconformists, wanted a change. The Liberal leaders raised the cries of "The Conservatives are Slave-traders!" "Slavery under the Union Jack! "Chinese Slavery in the South African Mines! "—the Chinese whom Milner had brought to South Africa to work in the gold mines. At every meeting and demonstration there were pictures and banners of Chinese being flogged, Chinese chained in gangs as they were dragged down into the mines by fat, bloated Rand capitalists; the newspapers were full of similar cartoons. The moral indignation of the whole nation, the natural hatred of the English for slavery in any form, was roused, worked upon, heated up into a fury. Nonconformist ministers in their chapels, Church of England divines, orators on the street-corners, preached and howled at the Slave Traders, the Conservatives. The elections swept out the Conservatives and swept into power Campbell-Bannerman and the Liberals with an enormous majority.

Smuts approached the important men. The Conservatives called him "a Dutchman come to bargain for what he could get," which was exactly what he was. He bargained with the Cabinet Ministers. He had come for immediate self-government for the Transvaal. Winston Churchill thought he asked for too much: was astonished that he expected it. Lord Morley hedged and wondered whether public opinion would go so far, which disappointed Smuts, who had expected to find in Morley a philosopher who would think more of justice and right than his own career or public opinion. Lloyd George, who had publicly denounced the South African War, promised him all his help.

Lastly Smuts saw Camphell-Bannerman, who listened stolidly. The line Smuts took was very reasonable. "Once and for all," he said, "all the Dutch and their leaders do not wish to raise the question of the annexation of the colonies or of the British flag. They accept accomplished facts. . . but they wish to take part in responsible government." Campbell-Bannerman asked why he and the other Dutch leaders had refused to help on Milner's Legislative Council. He explained that away and pleaded that to give immediate self-government would win the final loyalty of the Dutch. Campbell-Bannerman was a quiet, slow-thinking man. At last he was convinced.

At his next Cabinet Meeting the proposal—" Self-government for the Transvaal" was discussed. Lloyd George and John Burns agreed. Winston Churchill and Asquith agreed in principle but wanted safeguards and conditions. Asquith had no great belief in Smuts. He distrusted him and thought little of his ability. All the Cabinet knew that self-government must eventually be given: the Conservatives had promised it and they, the Liberals, had promised to give it as soon as they got into power. All the Cabinet knew that the Chinese imported by Milner into the mines were not treated as slaves and were even freer than the local natives: that they were not generally flogged or maltreated by their capitalist employers. They knew that the Chinese had saved the mines and saved South Africa from bankruptcy, and that Milner, forced by necessity, had done the right thing, and finally, as the Colonial Secretary told them, it would be impossible to send the Chinese back home, at once, without ruining the mines and the work of reconstruction.

And they knew that with these blatant lies—for many of them had told the voters that the Chinese were slaves, beaten and ill-treated and imported only because they were cheap and to take away work from white men, and had promised that they should at once be sent to their homes—they had deliberately and unscrupulously roused the most just and the most generous instincts of the nation and so persuaded the people to put them into power. The Chinese could not be sent home at once. They did not want to go. Even the Dutch wanted to keep them. If they went, the mines and South Africa would suffer.

The Cabinet were in an awkward dilemma. How could they now go to the country and tell their supporters of the fraud and of the lies in their election promises? It was out of the question! And here was this Dutchman. Smuts, who represented the Dutch leaders, at the door demanding his pound of flesh. Would it not be a way out of this dilemma to give the Transvaal self-government and let it deal with its troublesome Chinese? Smuts seemed only too ready to take it on; and after all, now the elections were over, the Chinese were of little interest in England: better forget them as quickly as possible. Let the Transvaal shoulder the burden.

As they argued and discussed, Campbell-Bannerman intervened. None of his colleagues knew what he had decided. He spoke for ten minutes with great force, but simply. They were all agreed that self-government would eventually have to be given. Let them give it at once, without safeguards or conditions, without bartering and niggling; with a fine, open gesture: making a fine gesture of necessity. They owed their victory to the Transvaal: let them pay their bill at once, and so by "a big-hearted . . . a noble decision . . . by a magnificent gesture of faith" let them—taking a risk no doubt, but since he had talked with Smuts he was convinced that the risk was small —win the loyalty of the Dutch and so of South Africa.

Lloyd George recorded that the speech moved more than one member of the Cabinet to tears. Campbell-Bannerman was honest and simple, but this was not true of the rest, and those tears must have been shed by some other members far more astute and must, if they really were shed, have been tears of relief.

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