6 The Jameson Raid
From Part 1 of Grey Steel by H.C. Armstrong

BUT Olive Schreiner and her supporters were right. Rhodes was plotting with the Uitlanders and there was trouble ahead. His quarrel with Kruger was coming to a climax, for he was in a hurry. He was agitating to get his aims quickly. His lungs were growing worse. He knew he had not long to live, and he trusted no one to carry out his work, once he was gone. A dozen new difficulties had arisen. Steyn of the Free State had at last made an agreement with Paul Kruger to protect both republics against the English. The centre of South Africa was shifting from Cape Town to the Transvaal, to Johannesburg, which had been the camp for the gold-miners and was now rapidly growing from a town into a rich city, and Rhodes wanted to con trol Johannesburg. The Germans had come interfering in earnest. They were at work on their plan for a great central African empire from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean which would cut the Cape off from the north and have control of the republics and the gold mines. They had come to some terms with Kruger, though no one, knew exactly what, and Kruger was using them—as Sultan Abdul Hamid in Turkey at that same time was using the Germans—to counterbalance the English and so protect himself. He had given the Germans special freight rates for their goods. He had allowed them to open banks in the Transvaal. He had engaged German officers to train his regular soldiers and his State artillery. He was building a ring of forts round Pretoria with the technical advice of Germans. He boasted that he had the promise of help from Germany if he called for it and that he would welcome such help—and to back up his statements there were lying in the harbour of Delagoa Bay, the harbour he proposed to use instead of Cape Town, two German cruisers.

As Rhodes grew impatient, Kruger sat back. He put his trust in God, and so had unlimited patience. "I wait," he said, "until the tortoise puts out its head, and then..." Rhodes put his trust in no one but himself, and hence could not wait. Again he tried to negotiate with or to bribe the old Dutchman, but Kruger would have nothing to do with him. And as the precious days went by, Rhodes became maddened with impatience. He was not used to being opposed: he was used to elbowing men roughiy on one side; but Kruger remained impassive and unmovable and would not be elbowed aside. At last Rhodes determined to defeat Kruger by force.

The Uitlanders, the foreigners who owned and worked the mines in the Transvaal, were also at loggerheads with Kruger. They had many legitimate complaints: they paid seven-eighths of the taxes, but they had no political rights and no say in the expenditure of the money. For the Dutch children there were State schools, for their children none; the State officials were greedy and corrupt, the municipal officials of Johannesburg even worse; the administration was very inefficient; they were harassed by vexatious taxation; the concessions which Kruger gave his relatives bled them of their profits; they were allowed no freedom of Press, public meeting, or speech. When they complained to Kruger he told them to go to the devil. He hated and despised—and he feared—the Uitlanders. He was convinced that if he gave them any political power, they would swamp the republic and probably call in the English Government as well. They were in the Transvaal, he told them, on sufferance: they said that they could not get justice in the courts or from the police, that they were being fleeced. Well! they could go away when they liked. He would not stop them; but, if they stayed, they must put up with what they got.

The Uitlanders saw that they could get no redress by bribery or persuasion, and they too decided to upset Kruger and his Government by bluff, or, if necessary, by direct action.

They combined with Rhodes, but they had different objects. They wished to eject Kruger and replace him by another government which would be more amenable and in which they would have a share—perhaps the dominant share. The last thing in the world that they wanted was for the English Government to take over or to fly the Union Jack in Pretoria. They wanted to be like the foreign subjects in the Turkish Empire—to live under a weak foreign government and to have special privileges, their own consuls to help them, and even their own consular courts to try them. In this way they would get the best of both, being able to flout the local government and yet not be hindered by their own nationality.

Rhodes wanted to get rid of Kruger and his government, for they were the stumbling-block to his plans, to his great dreams, to his vision of the great united Africa of the future, and now he was convinced that he must force the hands of the English Government. He must jockey the English Government into taking a hand direct. The Germans were too close and too ready to interfere at the first opportunity. He knew that there was a definite treaty of defence between them and Kruger. A weak move, and they would be in the Transvaal as champions of the Dutch and the way to the north would be blocked for ever. They were already acquiring land, buying concessions, and getting control of the railway that ran from Delagoa Bay through Portuguese East Africa to the Transvaal. The English Government must be forced to come in to keep the Germans out.

He sent help and encouragement to the Uitlanders, and he sent to Pitsani, a village on the Transvaal frontier close to Mafeking, his most intimate friend, Dr. Jameson, with four hundred armed police, on the pretext that they had gone there to protect the workmen on a new railway that was being built up to Bechuanaland; but with orders to be ready to cross the frontier if necessary.

The general scheme was simple. On a fixed date the Uitlanders should march out of Johannesburg on to Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal and only thirty miles away, take the arsenal and forts and eject Kruger, and form a new government in the Transvaal. If Rhodes thought it necessary and gave the order, Dr. Jameson should advance over the border from Pitsani and join the Uitlanders.

The plot was a complete fiasco. The Uitlanders boasted and talked openly. The scheme became an open secret. When Smuts was in Kimberley in October defending Rhodes in the Town Hall, the preparations were being freely discussed in every club and bar and public place throughout South Africa. Olive Schreiner had a shrewd suspicion of the facts. Kruger knew and waited his chance. The plotters could not agree. The Uitlanders had little desire to use force. They wished by the threat of force to bluff Kruger into giving way. They also wanted to be sure that the English Government was not going to interfere and that Rhodes was not going to use them for his own plans. Every arrangement was so mismanaged that it was more like a crowd of schoolboys playing at Red Indians than grown men risking their lives for big stakes. Rhodes, not understanding the attitude of the Uitlanders, went on arranging details, but found himself continually held up. He asked what flag the Uitlanders intended to fly when they reached Pretoria: he wanted the Union Jack. After much discussion they decided on the Transvaal republican flag, but flown upside down. He tried to fix the date. They kept postponing and finally refused to act on Christmas Day, not for religious reasons, but because there was a race-meeting that day in Johannesburg and they wished to attend.

Meanwhile Dr. Jameson sat at Pitsani. He was naturally hotheaded. He was ill. His nerves were on edge. He had imagined himself to be a second Clive or Warren Hastings adding a province to the Empire with bold advance. His men were getting weary of the delay and deserting, and he grew angry. Colonel Willoughby, the senior officer with him, constantly urged him to act. He decided to force the issue. Anyhow he refused to go tamely back to Cape Town and be laughed at. Rhodes sent him orders to stand fast, as he was still arranging details. He believed that Rhodes was bluffing and meant him to go ahead. Sending a message to the Uitlanders to tell them that they were cowards, on the twenty-ninth of December of 1895 he crossed the frontier from the Cape into the Transvaal.

Kruger was ready for him. The tortoise had put out its head, and he cut it off. He rounded up Jameson with his men, and turning to Johannesburg he arrested the leaders of the Uitlanders. All the Transvaal went up. The commandos came hurrying out, the men with their rifles ready to fight. Every Dutchman in South Africa blazed up with anger. They believed that England was behind the raid, England and Rhodes, and had meant to destroy the independence of the Dutch republics and make the English dominant in all South Africa.

« NEXT » « Part 1 » « Grey Steel » « General Works » « Library » « Home »