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The Political Situation. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 60


I believe I shall not be suspected of unreasonable advocacy of Boer rule; but I do contend that South Africa as a whole, and the English-speaking world at large, would have lost less by the civilisation of these countries under the auspices of the Boer flag than under that of the Chartered Company. Boer rule has its evils; the Boer is seldom just and considerate to the aborigines of a country which he annexes page: 61 (though, as a rule, I do not know whether they tend to disappear faster under his rule than under that of other white men); but as far as the European is concerned, the rule in a Boer republic is, in most respects, healthy and natural. The Cape Colonist or foreigner from Europe has never been refused admittance to these republics; and if in the Transvaal the civic franchise has been somewhat injudiciously withheld from certain newcomers, they possess every other privilege and right. As time passes the little racial line between English colonists and their forerunners will pass away page: 62 throughout South Africa; the English language will be universally used by all cultured persons; English manners and customs will prevail (Pretoria is to-day more English than Cape Town!); and in the long run, which in this case will only be a run of thirty or forty years, it will make no difference whether any part of this country was first civilised under the flag of the Boer or the Englishman. The incoming streams of English-speaking men and women will slowly but continuously mingle themselves with the body of earlier settlers, and in forty years' time, whether we wish it or do not, there will page: 63 be no Boer or Englishman as such in South Africa—only the great South African people, speaking the English tongue, following English precedents, and as closely united to England as Australia or Canada.

This process of amalgamation and growth was in progress long before the European speculator arrived among us, and it will go on were the Fates to remove him from us tomorrow.

Had Dutch Voortrekkers taken possession of the regions between the Zambesi and Transvaal there would not, on the whole, have been greater loss of native life, nor more perfidy in page: 64 dealing with them, than under the Chartered Company; and one gigantic evil which is now fixing itself upon those territories would not have come into existence. The Boer tradition, like that of the genuine English settler all over the world, has been this: that, in the new lands they inhabited, the soil and the valuable productions of the land should be apportioned fairly among the men who came personally to dwell and labour on it with their wives and families. Rare minerals have not even as a rule been regarded as the property of the individuals in whose lands they were page: 65 found, but they have been regarded as the property of the community, to any member of which it was open to obtain a share in that property if he were willing to expend his own labour upon it. In States founded in this manner the land and its wealth tended to be distributed with tolerable equality throughout the community. This will never be in Rhodesia. By the time the mass of men from the Colony or Europe enter the country they will find everything of value—mines, fertile lands, town properties—all in the hands of a small knot of men headed by the leaders of the Chartered page: 66 Company, consisting in part of persons who have never seen South Africa, such as the Duke of Fife and others.

The great evil is not that these men possess the country as shareholders and directors in the Chartered Company, nor that they retain the right to levy a tribute of 50 per cent. on all precious stones and minerals found in the entire territory, and that for many years to come they will hold extensive control over the whole government of the country; but, what is immeasurably more disastrous, before the country can be peopled by the ordinary colonist a small knot of men (not page: 67 the body of shareholders as a whole, but that small body in whose interest the Chartered Company was formed, and for whose benefit it is worked) will, either in their own persons or by means of their emissaries, have gone over the whole land, and whatever of real value these lands contain will be their private property. If the Chartered Company were in ten or fifteen years' time, or much sooner, to explode, and as a company to loosen its control over the land and people, it would yet be found that the whole real wealth of the country was appropriated and in the hands of a few private indivi- individuals page: 68 duals forming syndicates and trusts.

The worst social diseases which afflict the old countries of Europe will make their appearance full grown in this virgin African land at the outset of its career. That unequal division of wealth, which bestows vast riches upon some individuals while the majority of the community are in abject poverty, is, in those old countries, the outcome of institutions which are the growth of centuries, and it is often softened by traditions binding the owners of wealth to the land itself, and those who labour on it. In these new territories no tradi- traditions page: 69 tions will bind the owner to the land and soften his relations with the people; the financial possessors of the wealth of the country will exhibit on a colossal scale the worst evils of absentee ownership, or the possession of a country by men who regard land and people merely as a means for acquiring wealth.

The political life in these territories will be diseased. Even in the Cape to-day we have seen how disastrous are the effects of gigantic wealth held in a young country by a few individuals. There may be no deliberate intention to bribe, but the mere possession of wealth page: 70 which is enormous in comparison to the wealth of the whole community (if the possessors be not singularly large and impersonal in their aims, and if they interest themselves at all in politics) throws into their hands a power of conferring benefits or inflicting evils which will inevitably lead to an undue subjection to their will; to the vitiation of representative institutions, and the destruction of independent public life.

The colonist and the stranger from Europe will arrive and settle in these territories, but they will discover that its townships, its valuable mines, its richest lands have already been page: 71 taken possession of. They will find it a cake from which all the plums have been carefully extracted, or like a body when the vultures have visited it, leaving nothing but bare bones.

Is it for colonisation carried out on such lines as these that the Cape Colony is to be asked to sacrifice its internal political and social welfare? Is it to aid and abet a handful of men in gaining this disastrous control over South Africa and its resources that the Cape Colony is to obliterate itself? Is it to submit to any use which may be made of it, so it only affords a stepping-stone, and gives prestige in Europe by allowing page: 72 its public appointments to be held by them?

I think not.