Pity me for caring about this. It's the cross Mhambi has to bear. On Wednesday evening Mhambi was half watching BBC2 while surfing the Net. A program Adventure for Boys: The Lost Worlds of Rider Haggard was on. Only the previous evening the same series featured John Buchan. Commentators like conservative politician William Hague sang Haggard's praises.
The first program was interesting but not a little dubious, but this time the program's inaccuracies, arrogance and facile racism had me flabbergasted. So audacious was it, that I felt, I was perhaps wrong?
To summarise the program's central theme: Haggard was a jolly good fellow and a talented writer. Africa was a dark continent unknown to Europeans back then, but Haggart went were angels fear to tread. In the context of his time he was'nt a racist, in fact, although he called Africans violent savages he admired them as noble - especially the Zulus. And tried in vain to protect the Zulus from the evil exploitative Boers, which was why he was pro the annexation of the Transvaal Republic. The Boers were nothing but Europeans gone very bad.
Such was the assurance with which this message was transmitted over a respected TV channel, that it lay some seeds of doubt in my mind. I love history and although I'm very aware that the British and particularly the English think were incurably racist, I had never heard this particular version of history.
But perhaps my closeted upbringing in South Africa had protected me from even a few more unsavoury aspects of my tribes behaviour than those I was already aware of.
I am aware. I was one of the only 4000 regular buyers of the left independent Afrikaner paper Vrye Weekblad when it exposed the apartheid state's death squads. Mhambi was employed an investigator at the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) for two and a half years. My beat was a string of massacres in the Vaal from 1990 to 1993, including the famous Boipatong massacre, an industrial area South of Johannesburg. I was quite aware of what my tribe was accused and capable of.
But I knew that there were no Zulus in the Transvaal back then. Something was rotten in what the program proclaimed. So Mhambi did a bit more research.
Who was the jolly fellow? Rider was a Victorian writer who wrote adventure stories set in exotic lost worlds, the best known which is King Solomon's mines.
One of many children his father - A Sir and a barrister - thought him the most unremarkable of his 10 kids and that an expensive private (called public schools in the UK) school education would be lost on him. After failing the British army entrance, Haggard was sent by his father in 1875 to Natal as an unpaid secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, Governor of Natal colony. A colony which itself was a Boer Republic until taken by the British some 30 years before.
Indicating perhaps the little importance the British attached to the landlocked Boer Republic bordering Natal (no gold had been discovered yet), and being at the right place in the right time, Haggard was sent as the British envoy to annex the South African Republic (The Transvaal).
Haggard himself raised the Union Flag in Pretoria and was forced to read out much of the proclamation following the loss of voice of the official originally entrusted with the duty. He was very proud none the less. It was 1877 and the British now controlled Africa, from the Cape to Cairo.
Haggard wanted to return to England to marry his childhood sweet heart, but his father forbade him, telling him in no uncertain terms to first establish his career in the colonies. And so Haggard stayed in the Transvaal as Master and Registrar of the High Court. A very senior position in the now ex-Republic.
Haggard seemed to have been imbued with the British colonial sense of purpose: to civilise the the Natives and the Boers.
"The position of South Africa with reference to the Mother Country is somewhat different to that of her sister Colonies, in that she is regarded, not so much with apathy tinged with dislike, as with downright disgust. This feeling has its foundation in the many troubles and expenses in which this country has been recently involved, through local complications in the Cape, Zululand, and the Transvaal: and indeed is little to be wondered at. But, whilst a large portion of the press has united with a powerful party of politicians in directing a continuous stream of abuse on to the heads of the white inhabitants of South Africa, whom they do not scruple to accuse of having created the recent disturbances in order to reap a money profit from them...Trouble was brewing in Haggard's fiefdom and he wanted the Empire to engage fully for fear that the British would loose control. The Boers were restless, agitating to get their independence back. In his personal life things were not better because back in blighty his sweet-heart married another man.
Now, if there is any country dependent on England that requires the application to the conduct of its affairs of a firm, considered, and consistent policy, that country is South Africa. Boers and Natives are quite incapable of realising the political necessities of any of our parties, or of understanding why their true interests should be sacrificed in order to minister to those necessities."
Haggard left for England just as things were hotting up in the ex-republic.
Towards the end of 1880 the republican forces issued an ultimatum, independence or war. The British government dismissed it out of hand. Sure that the Empire would not tolerate the insurrection Haggard had returned to South Africa, but waited in Natal for the British military to establish control. When hostilities broke out he was still in Natal desperately waiting for British victory.
But the British suffered a string of defeats, and soon in 1881 the Transvaal regained its independence. Haggard was devastated.
But unlike the assertion in the TV program that the War was fought to protect the Zulus, the truth, which I knew and was confirmed when I researched it, was quite the contrary. The reasoning of prime minister Gladstone in giving independence was this: Further losses and instability could encourage the Zulus, adjacent to the Republic to also rise up against the British control. The British had just managed (in 1878) to subjugate the Zulus after the massive Zulu war. Something incidentally the Boers had never attempted.
Haggard, who was not present in Pretoria, praised the bravery of the loyal subjects of the crown who remained in Pretoria:
"On the news of this disaster reaching Pretoria, Sir Owen Lanyon issued a proclamation placing the country under martial law. As the town was large, straggling, and incapable of defence, all the inhabitants, amounting to over four thousand souls, were ordered up to camp, where the best arrangements possible were made for their convenience. In these quarters they remained for three months, driven from their comfortable homes, and cheerfully enduring all the hardships, want, and discomforts consequence on their position, whilst they waited in patience for the appearance of that relieving column that never came. People in England hardly understand what these men and women went through because they chose to remain loyal. Let them suppose that all the inhabitants of an ordinary English town, with the exception of the class known as poor people, which can hardly be said to exist in a colony, were at an hour's notice ordered--all, the aged, and the sick, delicate women, and tiny children--to leave their homes to the mercy of the enemy, and crowd up in a little space under shelter of a fort, with nothing but canvas tents or sheds to cover them from the fierce summer suns and rains, and the coarsest rations to feed them; whilst the husbands and brothers were daily engaged with a cunning and dangerous enemy, and sometimes brought home wounded or dead. They will, then, have some idea of what was gone through by the loyal people of Pretoria, in their weak confidence in thegood faith of the English Government."How ironic. Twenty years later as part of their scorched earth policy the British burned almost every house and farm in the Transvaal to the ground, killed the livestock, poisoned the wells, and forced all of the population they could find into concentration camps, where women and children lived in tents on open plains, while their men fought the British.
27,000 of the died, which was 10% of the population. Between 14,000 and 20,000 black South African also died in the camps. The Boers never claimed this was done on purpose. But why did this happen? I digress.
Haggard wrote a book - Cetywayo and his White Neighbours - upon his return to England proclaiming how calamitous this acceptance of Boer independence was. He agitated for intervention and subjugation of the Republic. The whole book it seems is available online to read, and I will quote from it liberally. But do go and read it yourself. The invective and accusations come thick and fast. The Heart of Darkness of the Afrikaner laid bear. And it's author is hailed on BBC2.
In other words before it was annexed by the British it was rather dull.
"The Transvaal is a country without a history. Its very existence was hardly known of until about fifty years ago. Of its past we know nothing. The generations who peopled its great plains have passed utterly out of the memory and even the traditions of man, leaving no monument to mark that they have existed, not even a tomb.
About the time that Mosilikatze was conquered, 1835-1840, the discontented Boers were leaving the Cape Colony exasperated at the emancipation of the slaves by the Imperial authorities. First they made their way to Natal, but being followed thither by the English flag they travelled further inland over the Vaal River and founded the town of Mooi River Dorp or Potchefstroom. Here they were joined by other malcontents from the Orange Sovereignty, which, although afterwards abandoned, was at that time a British possession. Acting upon The good old rule, the simple plan "Of let him take who has the power, And let him keep who can".
The Boers now proceeded to possess themselves of as much territory as they wanted. Nor was this a difficult task. The country was, as I have said, peopled by Macatees, who are a poor-spirited race as compared to the Zulus, and had had what little courage they possessed crushed out of them by the rough handling they had received at the hands of Mosilikatze and Dingaan. The Boers, they argued, could not treat them worse than the Zulus had done. Occasionally a Chief, bolder than the rest, would hold out, and then such an example was made of him and his people that few cared to follow in his footsteps.
The history of the Republic between 1852 and 1876 is not very interesting, and is besides too wearisome to enter into here."
It will be observed that the country is almost surrounded by native tribes. Besides these there are about one million native inhabitants living within its borders. In one district alone, Zoutpansberg, it is computed that there are 364,250 natives, as compared to about 750 whites.Haggard had a very low opinion of the Transvaal Boers but loved the country.
Altogether there is little doubt that the Transvaal is the richest of all the South African states, and had it remained under English rule it would, with the aid of English enterprise and capital, have become a very wealthy and prosperous country. However there is little chance of that now.
Personally Boers are fine men, but as a rule ugly. Their women-folk are good-looking in early life, but get very stout as they grow older. They, in common with most of their sex, understand how to use their tongues; indeed, it is said, that it was the women who caused the rising against the English Government.
None of the refinements of civilisation enter into the life of an ordinary Boer. He lives in a way that would shock an English labourer at twenty-five shillings the week, although he is very probably worthy fifteen or twenty thousand pounds. His home is but too frequently squalid and filthy to an extraordinary degree. He himself has no education, and does not care that his children should receive any. He lives by himself in the middle of a great plot of land, his nearest neighbour being perhaps ten or twelve miles away, caring but little for the news of the outside world, and nothing for its opinions, doing very little work, but growing daily richer through the increase of his flocks and herds.
His expenses are almost nothing, and as he gets older, wealth increases upon him. The events in his life consist of an occasional trip on "commando," against some native tribe, attending a few political meetings, and the journeys he makes with his family to the nearest town, some four times a year, in order to be present at "Nachtmaal" or communion.
Foreigners, especially Englishmen, he detests, but he is kindly and hospitable to his own people. Living isolated as he does, the lord of a little kingdom, he naturally comes to have a great idea of himself, and a corresponding contempt for all the rest of mankind. Laws and taxes are things distasteful to him, and he looks upon it as an impertinence that any court should venture to call him to account for his doings.
He is rich and prosperous, and the cares of poverty, and all the other troubles that fall to the lot of civilised men, do not affect him. He has no romance in him, nor any of the higher feelings and aspirations that are found in almost every other race; in short, unlike the Zulu he despises, there is little of the gentleman in his composition, though he is at times capable of acts of kindness and even generosity.
His happiness is to live alone in the great wilderness, with his children, his men-servants and his maid-servants, his flocks and his herds, the monarch of all he surveys. If civilisation presses him too closely, his remedy is a simple one. He sells his farm, packs up his goods and cash in his waggon, and starts for regions more congenially wild.
Such are some of the leading characteristics of that remarkable product of South Africa, the Transvaal Boer, who resembles no other white man in the world.
But wait there's more.
Perhaps, however, the most striking of all his oddities is his abhorrence of all government, more especially if that government be carried out according to English principles. The Boers have always been more or less in rebellion; they rebelled against the rule of the Company when the Cape belonged to Holland, they rebelled against the English Government in the Cape, they were always in a state of semi-rebellion against their own government in the Transvaal, and now they have for the second time, with the most complete success, rebelled against the English Government.
The fact of the matter is that the bulk of their number hate all Governments, because Governments enforce law and order, and they hate the English Government worst of all, because it enforces law and order most of all. It is not liberty they long for, but license. The "sturdy independence" of the Boer resolves itself into a determination not to have his affairs interfered with by any superior power whatsoever, and not to pay taxes if he can possibly avoid it.
But he has also a specific cause of complaint against the English Government, which would alone cause him to do his utmost to get rid of it, and that is its mode of dealing with natives, which is radically opposite to his own. This is the secret of Boer patriotism. To understand it, it must be remembered that the Englishman and the Boer look at natives from a different point of view. The Englishman, though he may not be very fond of him, at any rate regards the Kafir as a fellow human being with feelings like his own. The average Boer does not. He looks upon the "black creature" as having been delivered into his hand by the "Lord" for his own purposes, that is, to shoot and enslave.
He must not be blamed too harshly for this, for, besides being naturally of a somewhat hard disposition, hatred of the native is hereditary, and is partly induced by the history of many a bloody struggle. Also the native hates the Boer fully as much as the Boer hates the native, though with better reason.
Now native labour is a necessity to the Boer, because he will not as a rule do hard manual labour himself, and there must be some one to plant and garner the crops, and
herd the cattle. On the other hand, the natives are not anxious to serve the Boers, which means little or no pay and plenty of thick stick, and sometimes worse. The result of this state of affairs is that the Boer often has to rely on forced labour to a very great extent. But this is a thing that an English Government will not tolerate, and the consequence is that under its rule he cannot get the labour that is necessary to him.
But he does spare what he calls the Cape Boers and even to my surprise the Voortrekkers:
"These remarks must not be taken to apply to the Cape Boers, who are a superior class of men, since they, living under a settled and civilised Government, have been steadily improving, whilst their cousins, living every man for his own hand, have been deteriorating.
The old Voortrekkers, the fathers and grandfathers of the Transvaal Boer of to-day, were, without doubt, a very fine set of men, and occasionally you may in the Transvaal meet individuals of the same stamp whom it is a pleasure to know. But these are generally men of a certain age with some experience of the world; the younger men are very objectionable in their manners."
He even comments on the Boer's commando system and although he does not like it, it all seems rather egalitarian. All male citizens between 16 and 60 were liable for service:
"Each ward is expected to turn out its contingent ready and equipped for war, and this can only be done by seizing goods right and left. One unfortunate will have to find a waggon, another to deliver his favourite span of trek oxen, another his riding-horse, or some slaughter cattle, and so on. Even when the officer making the levy is desirous of doing his duty as fairly as he can, it is obvious that very great hardships must be inflicted under such a system. Requisitions are made more with regard to what is wanted, than with a view to an equitable distribution of demands; and like the Jews in the time of the Crusades, he who has got most must pay most, or take the consequences, which may be unpleasant. Articles which are not perishable, such as waggons, are supposed to be returned, but if they come back at all they are generally worthless.
In case of war, the native tribes living within the borders of the State are also expected to furnish contingents, and it is on them that most of the hard work of the campaign generally falls. They are put in the front of the battle, and have to do the hand-to-hand fighting, which, however, if of the Zulu race, they do not object to."
Allot of the shop keepers in the Republic were English, Haggard says:
Haggard recounts with indignation a campaign by the Republic with their allies the Swazies against Secucuni, a Basotho chief. Haggard decribes the Basothos as a timid race, not nearly as warrior like as the Zulus, while he casts apersions on the Boer Swazi pact. First proclaiming that the Boers copied what the English did in creating alliances, then doubting - the Swazis must have been coerced or tricked.
The revenue of the State is so arranged that the burden of it should fall as much as possible on the trading community and as little as possible on the farmer.
At first all went well, and the President, who accompanied the commando in person, succeeded in reducing a mountain stronghold, which, in his high-flown way, he called a "glorious victory" over a "Kafir Gibraltar."
"On the 14th July another engagement took place, when the Boers and Swazies attacked Johannes' stronghold. The place was taken with circumstances of great barbarity by the Swazies, for when the signal was given to advance the Boers did not move. Nearly all the women were killed, and the brains of the children were dashed out against the stones; in one instance, before the captive mother's face.
Johannes was badly wounded, and died two days afterwards. When he was dying he said to his brother, "I am going to die. I am thankful I do not die by the hands of these cowardly Boers, but by the hand of a black and courageous nation like myself . . ." He then took leave of his people, told his brother to read the Bible, and expired. The Swazies were so infuriated at the cowardice displayed by the Boers on this occasion that they returned home in great dudgeon.
Mr. Haggart goes on to list cases of forced labour he knows of. And after that, he lists massacres the Boers were involved in. He never saw this himself, but claims it on good authority. And there are many, here is but one:
"I do not relate these horrors out of any wish to rake up old stories to the prejudice of the Boers, but because I am describing the state of the country before the Annexation, in which they form an interesting and important item. Also, it is as well that people in England should know into what hands they have delivered over the native tribes who trusted in their protection.
The character of the Transvaal Boer and his sentiments towards the native races have not modified during the last five years, but, on the contrary, a large amount of energy, which has been accumulating during the period of British protection, will now be expended on their devoted heads.
These are strong words, but none too strong for the facts of the case. Injustice, cruelty, and rapine have always been the watchwords of the Transvaal Boers. The stories of wholesale slaughter in the earlier days of the Republic are very numerous. One of the best known of those shocking occurrences took place in the Zoutpansberg war in 1865. On this occasion a large number of Kafirs took refuge in caves, where the Boers smoked them to death. Some years afterwards Dr. Wangeman, whose account
is, I believe, thoroughly reliable, describes the scene of their operations in these words:
"The roof of the first cave was black with smoke; the remains of the logs which were burnt lay at the entrance. The floor was strewn with hundreds of skulls and skeletons. In confused heaps lay karosses, kerries, assegais, pots, spoons, snuff-boxes, and the bones of men, giving one the impression that this was the grave of a whole people.
Some estimate the number of those who perished here from twenty to thirty thousand. This is, I believe, too high. In the one chamber there were from two hundred to three hundred skeletons; the other chambers I did not visit."
He lists instances of slavery and claims that even the President of the Republic partook of it.
"It would be easy to find more reports of the slave-trading practices of the Boers, but as the above are fair samples it will not be necessary to do so. My readers will be able from them to form some opinion as to whether or not slavery or apprenticeship existed in the Transvaal. If they come to the conclusion that it did, it must be borne in mind that what existed in the past will certainly exist again in the future.
Natives are not now any fonder of working for Boers than they were a few years back, and Boers must get labour somehow.
If, on the other hand, it did not exist, then the Boers are a grossly slandered people, and all writers on the subject, from Livingstone down, have combined to take away their character."
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