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The Political Situation. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 31



When diamonds were first discovered here, in the true old South African manner, the find was considered as one for the people at large. For years there flocked to the Diamondfields colonists from every part of the country, and the wealth discovered went back to the homes of the people. That wealth rebuilt many a Colonial homestead; it educated many a Colonial child; it enabled landowners to carry out improvements otherwise impos- impossible page: 32 sible; it saved from insolvency many a Colonial firm which had sent members to dig; it spread throughout the country a glow of well-being, owing to the general diffusion in small sums of the wealth made by South Africa from the diamonds. Something analogous took place in the early days at the Transvaal gold-fields; and gold-digging has never yet become quite so complete a monopoly in the hands of a few as the diamond industry.

Time forbids that I should enter into a detailed account of the way in which these industries passed from their early and healthy condition; the page: 33 facts are well known to you all. There were in South Africa certain men from Europe, of great shrewdness, and with large abilities for speculation, who saw at once the possibilities our natural industries opened out before them. The many small original possessors of the wealth of South Africa were not men of vast means, and were rather hard workers than sharp financial speculators; and the keen-sighted strangers quickly discerned that, could they buy out the small interests one by one and then amalgamate among themselves, slowly but surely the wealth of the country would pass into their hands.

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It needed no vast capital to buy out the original possessors.

To-day a small, resolute, and keen body of men, amalgamated into Rings and Trusts, are quickly and surely setting their hands round the mineral wealth of South Africa. Our diamonds are already a complete monopoly in their hands; our gold, our coal, the richest portions of our soil, and even our public works, are tending to fall into the grasp of our great amalgamators. Not only are these men not South Africans by birth, which would in itself matter nothing, but in the majority of cases they are men who regard South Africa merely page: 35 as a field for the making of wealth and the furthering of their own designs. When they have attained their end they do not feel themselves bound to the spot which has enriched them, but in most cases retire to Europe to expend the wealth of South Africa in the purchase of social distinction and in the luxuries of old-world life, or in further increasing their command over South African resources.

And South Africa grows poorer!

Yet, were this all, we should be inclined to say, What ground have we for complaint? These men are but taking advantage page: 36 of that competitive system which we to-day still uphold. If the men of South Africa are not skilled enough in the methods of gathering together the wealth of a people; and if they have not that fellow-feeling to be able to defeat them, which would enable them to combine, and so retain the land for the people at large; can we blame the men who take advantage of our ignorance and disunion? They are but carrying out their operations on the most approved financial principles! In truth, were this all, we should merely be suffering in a most exaggerated degree from a disease common to many other countries.