In the Cape, meanwhile, Rhodes, as well as pursuing his business interests, sought political power. As a member of the Cape parliament, he cultivated links with Afrikaner politicians who had begun to develop their own political organisations, far in advance of English-speaking politicians. His motive was largely opportunistic. Afrikaners constituted three-quarters of the Cape’s population. They were, Rhodes told Jameson, ‘the coming race’. By contrast, he was disparaging about the ability of English-speaking politicians, who lacked a political organisation of their own and operated on the basis of personal allegiance. ‘The “English” party in the Cape Assembly was hopelessly divided and individually incapable,’ Rhodes recalled. ‘And it had nothing beyond that of serving office.’ By collaborating with Afrikaner politicians, Rhodes aimed to establish a power base for himself from which he could promote his own scheme for Cape expansion to the north as well as his commercial interests. He was, moreover, impressed by the calibre of the Afrikaner leader, Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr - ‘Onze Jan’ - describing him as ‘without doubt the most capable politician in South Africa’.
Hofmeyr was a talented journalist, the son of a wine farmer, born in Cape Town in 1845. At the age of twenty-six, he took over as editor of De Zuid-Afrikaan, a Dutch language newspaper, founded in 1830, that was read by the Afrikaner business and professional elite. An intellectual with broad interests, at ease in both English and Afrikaner circles, he possessed a library of 250 books ranging from religion to mathematics.
In 1878, when the Cape government decided to tax Cape brandy producers to raise extra funds for railway construction and to pay for the cost of the Xhosa war, Hofmeyr used De Zuid-Afrikaan to attack the measure and went on to found a farmers’ protection association in the western Cape -Zuid-Afrikaansche Boeren Beschermings Vereeniging (BBV) - to promote and defend the interests of farmers who formed the vast bulk of the population. What Hofmeyr hoped to achieve was an organisation that would unite Afrikaner and English farmers. He saw no merit in the formation of an Afrikaner party on an ethnic basis. He was concerned about protecting Afrikaner culture but did not seek to elevate it to become a divisive issue. With similar purpose, he campaigned for the extension of Dutch language rights. Though he opposed Britain’s annexation of the Transvaal, he urged Afrikaners in the Cape to remain loyal to the empire and the Colony. Cape Afrikaners, he said, were ‘as loyal British subjects as any other people’ but were not prepared to become Englishmen. In parliamentary elections in 1879, BBV candidates won nearly half of the upper-house seats and one-third of lower-house seats. Hofmeyr won the Stellenbosch seat.
Hardly had they taken their seats when a far more ambitious scheme was launched by the militant Paarl cleric Stephanus du Toit. In an editorial in the Patriot in June 1879, du Toit proposed the formation of an Afrikaner Bond with the slogan of ‘Afrika voor de Afrikaners’ and with branches across southern Africa:
An Afrikaner Bond, in which no nationality divides us from each other, but in which everyone who recognises Africa as his Fatherland can live together and work as brothers of a single house, be they of English, Dutch, French or German origin, with the exclusion of those who talk of England as their ‘home’ or of Holland and Germany as their ‘Fatherland’, and only want to fill their pockets with African wealth in order to go and spend it in Europe.
It would be the task of the Bond, he said, to prevent ‘the sacrifice of Africa’s interest to England, or those of the Farmer to the Merchant’; to develop trade and industry for the benefit of the land and ‘not to fill the pockets of speculators’; to stop the money market from being dominated ‘by English banks’. He also protested against the ‘millions of pounds’ spent on education for English-speakers, while the Afrikaner majority was ‘totally neglected’. He proposed consumer boycotts, calling it the duty of ‘every true Afrikaner not to spend a copper at an Englishman’s shop if he can avoid it’.
Du Toit’s Afrikaner Bond made a slow start, but benefited from an upsurge of nationalist sentiment inspired by the Boer victory at Majuba. Becoming even more radical, Du Toit tried to push the Bond into adopting an anti-liberal, neo-Calvinist platform, but only succeeded in arousing the wrath of more moderate Calvinists in the Dutch Reformed Church. In February 1882, he decided to throw in his lot with Kruger’s Transvaal, accepting a position as head of its education department, and went on, in a fit of patriotic fervour, to raise the Vierkleur in the Land of Goshen, the incident that eventually provoked British intervention in Bechuanaland.
Hofmeyr had no liking for Du Toit’s brand of politics, nor his objective of establishing an independent republic, but saw the Bond as a potentially useful vehicle for mobilising the Afrikaner community. As the tide of nationalist sentiment receded in the wake of the 1881 settlement that Britain reached with the Transvaal, Hofmeyr joined the Bond, seeking to moderate its aims. In a speech to parliament in October 1881, thanking the British government for the generous terms of peace with the Transvaal, he set out his position in clear terms:
It cannot be denied that since the annexation of the Transvaal, the feeling of Dutchmen towards the Crown has to some extent grown cool. All that feeling will now be done away with by the concessions accorded to the Transvaal. That will not only remove any momentary feeling of opposition towards British institutions and the British Government, but it will do more than this in establishing a new feeling in the hearts of Dutchmen which never existed before. Instead of resting upon simply a cool and calculating feeling as to the material advantages of British rule, they will now have a warm-hearted feeling of thorough attachment to the Crown, just such a feeling as animates the most loyal and patriotic Englishman. If this has been the result of the Transvaal war, then that war has not been in vain.
In May 1883, the BBV and the Afrikaner Bond amalgamated, using the occasion to display loyalty to the British crown. According to the official minutes of the congress in Richmond, three cheers were given to ‘Our Honourable Queen’ with ‘the greatest enthusiasm’.
Though Hofmeyr was the Bond’s acknowledged leader, he preferred to operate in the background, turning down the opportunity of becoming prime minister in 1884, supporting instead a succession of English prime ministers to avoid exacerbating tension between Afrikaners and the English minority. The parliamentarian John Merriman referred to him as ‘the Mole’ - ‘You never see him at work, but every now and then a little mound of earth, thrown up here or there, will testify to his activities’. Hofmeyr’s home in Camp Street, Cape Town - the White House - was used as a regular meeting place for the party caucus and considered to be the Bond’s headquarters. ‘The White House,’ complained Merriman in 1884, ‘are the arbiters of our destiny.’
When contemplating how best to advance his political career, Rhodes initially viewed the Afrikaner camp with deep resentment. Arriving in parliament as a political novice only six weeks after the Boer victory at Majuba, Rhodes felt humiliated that the British defeat had been met not by revenge but by concessions. According to Francis Dormer, the editor of the Cape Argus, Rhodes was ‘one of those whom the stirring events of 1880-81 left in an attitude of violent antagonism towards a settlement which was based upon the undeniable defeat of British arms’. The paramount issue for the future, Rhodes believed, was whether the Dutch or the English would prevail. Dormer discussed the matter with Rhodes when he came to negotiate purchasing a controlling interest in the Cape Argus. Rhodes favoured a pro-English line. Dormer advocated a more even-handed approach and refused to adopt an active anti-Afrikaner position.
According to Dormer, Rhodes, after pacing up and down, remarked:
‘I suppose you are right . . . I think we understand one another. I don’t dislike the Dutchmen. Your plan of working with Hofmeyr is the best - [Gordon] Sprigg impossible - [Saul] Solomon, he’d wreck an empire for what he is pleased to call his principles - and there’s nobody else . . . But let us understand one another. We are not going to be trampled upon by these Dutchmen.’
Rhodes added: ‘I don’t pretend to have many fixed principles; but I do believe in doing to others as we would be done by, and I am sure that vengeance is no policy for a nation [the English] such as ours.’
Hofmeyr’s first encounter with Rhodes came in the aftermath of Majuba. He recalled: ‘When the war was over we had a talk with one another and I said: “It is an awful pity that war broke out.” I was surprised when Mr Rhodes said, “No, it is not. I have quite changed my opinion. It is a good thing. It has made Englishmen respect Dutchmen and made them respect one another.”’ ‘Well,’ added Hofmeyr, ‘when an Englishman could speak like that to a Dutchman, they are not far from making common cause with one another.’
During Rhodes’ early years in parliament, he made a number of gestures to indicate his willingness to assist Bond causes, including support for Hofmeyr’s bill to allow the use of Dutch in parliament. From 1886, as he became ever more determined to pursue northern expansion, he began a concerted campaign to court Cape Afrikaners as political allies, adopting positions he had once opposed to suit their interests. In discussion with Jameson, he was frank about his purpose:
I mean to have the whole unmarked country north of the Colony for England, and I know I can only get it and develop it through the Cape Colony - that is, at present, through the Dutch majority.
One notable volte-face he performed was over the issue of agricultural protection. Afrikaner politicians had long favoured protection against external competition for Cape wine and grain farmers. Rhodes was an avowed free trader, telling parliament in 1884 that he would ‘oppose anything that pandered to protection’. In 1886, however, he declared himself a protectionist, particularly with regard to wine and grain farmers. His old friend Merriman was outraged:
Rhodes’s apostasis has made me feel sicker than a stuck hog [he wrote to a friend in July 1886]. Here you have a fellow with the birth, the manner, the feelings and the education of an English gentleman offering himself publicly for sale to a crew composed of Venters and De Waals . . . and doing it so clumsily that he has spoiled his own market. The idea of Rhodes, who used to quote manuals of political economy with all the zeal of a lad fresh from the Oxford schools, taking his stand on the platform of protection whose sole raison d’être is extreme anti-British feeling.
Rhodes joined Hofmeyr in attempting to repeal a tax on locally produced brandy imposed in 1884. He supported Hofmeyr’s motion in favour of compulsory religious instruction in government schools. He even spoke in favour of a Bond motion calling for a ban on Sunday ‘pleasure’ trains. The motion had been initiated by a Bond member incensed that special trains were allowed to run on Sundays between Kimberley and Modder River Junction, enabling people ‘to spend their day in debauchery, drinking, gambling, dancing etc.’, in direct contravention of the Ten Commandments. Rhodes described the Sunday trains from Kimberley as ‘a public scandal’. Merriman thought Rhodes was making a fool of himself:
The people he wants to conciliate laugh at him while they use him . . . What a curious farce it is that Rhodes, who took a leading part in starting the Empire League, should now be courting the advances of the Afrikaner Bond.
When the issue of ‘native’ policy and the extent of the ‘native’ franchise came under discussion, Rhodes again allied himself to the Bond camp, expressing his views even more vehemently than Bond politicians. The Bond were determined to reduce the political power accorded to non-whites under the 1853 constitution but felt constrained from making an outright attack for fear of mobilising the non-white vote against them at election times. Under the 1853 constitution, all male adult British subjects who owned property worth at least £25 or who received an income of more than £50 a year were entitled to vote, a relatively low qualification that enabled a significant number of non-whites to register. Many Bond opponents in the English-speaking community looked to the non-white electorate to support them at election time. ‘We have continually expressed our conviction,’ said the Port Elizabeth Telegraph in 1881, ‘that if the Afrikaner Bond is to be well beaten it will have to be done by the assistance of the black vote. Look at the question as we may, we always come back to the fact that the Dutch in the colony are to the English as two to one, and that if they combine they can outvote us, and inflict upon us all the absurdities of their national and economic prejudices.’ Rhodes had been one of those who urged native registration.
The franchise issue became increasingly important in 1885 when the Cape incorporated the Transkei, and with it some 80,000 potential new African voters and about 2,000 new white voters, increasing Afrikaner fears that eventually they might be swamped by the ‘blanket’ vote. The Bond urged higher qualifications and a literary test for voters, but was careful not to display racial prejudice. Rhodes, however, had no such inhibitions and made a frontal attack on the Cape’s non-racial franchise, preferring, he said, ‘to call a spade a spade’.
The ‘native question’, he said, was the ‘big test question for South Africa’. He had arrived in the Colony, he said, as ‘the most rabid Jingo’, but he now considered that the Cape had allowed too many Africans the vote. ‘As long as the natives remain in a state of barbarism we must treat them as a subject race and be lords over them . . . There would be no injustice in refusing the franchise to the natives as a whole in the Colony.’ He even argued that ‘the natives did not want the franchise’.
Rhodes endeavoured too to appeal to the trek geest - the trekking spirit - of the Afrikaners. ‘I feel that it is the duty of this Colony, when, as it were, her younger and more fiery sons go out and take land, to follow in their steps with civilised government.’ In line with this, he declared that ‘what we want now is to annex land, not natives’. To wine farmers he offered a free-trade route to the interior for their products, seeking to harness Afrikaner support for northern expansion.
To his fellow Englishmen, he stressed the need for white colonial unity. ‘You cannot have real prosperity . . . until you have first established complete confidence between the two races [English and Afrikaner].’ And he offered his personal endorsement: ‘I like the [Cape] Dutch, I like their homely courtesy and their tenacity of purpose. ’
All this was music to the ears of the Bond. Rhodes also made a favourable impression with speeches to Afrikaner audiences. Recalling an address to wine farmers he made in Paarl, the Cape businessman Charles Kohler wrote:
What a speech he made that day. Though he spoke in English, even the staunchest pro-Afrikaans farmer listened to him with rapt attention. I remember one old Boer patriot called Uys, who was sitting at the extreme end of a table, rising noiselessly and creeping nearer and nearer to Rhodes as he spoke. Like a bent ape, silently, the old fellow shuffled along . . . Finally, he crouched down right opposite Rhodes and sat there motionless, drinking in every word that was uttered, his eyes glued to the speaker’s face.
The Cape’s fortunes, meanwhile, were dramatically affected by the rise of the Witwatersrand gold industry. Accustomed to acting as the regional power, the Cape now faced a rival with immense resources behind it. In 1884, the annual revenues of the Transvaal amounted to £188,000; in 1886, the state was close to bankruptcy, failing to raise a loan of £5,000. By 1887, the Transvaal’s output was equal to the Cape’s. What ensued on one level was a tussle over railway construction and customs tariffs. But the wider issue at stake was whether the Cape or the Transvaal would emerge as the dominant state, whether the colonial or the republican agenda for southern Africa would prevail.
Flush with new revenues, Kruger lost no time in pressing forward with his plan for a railway outlet to Delagoa Bay that would make the Transvaal independent of the Cape’s customs and trading system. Hitherto, the Cape had enjoyed a virtual stranglehold on most goods imported into the interior. Kruger insisted that the Delagoa line would have to be completed before rival contenders from the Cape and from Natal were allowed into the Transvaal. ‘Every railway that approaches me I look upon as an enemy on whatever side it comes. I must have my Delagoa Bay line first, and then the other lines may come.’
Rhodes argued that if the Delagoa line was completed first, then the Cape would effectively be shut out of the Transvaal’s markets. ‘If the Delagoa Bay railway is carried out we shall not get a continuation of the line from Kimberley to Pretoria. Commercial people will be always inspiring or instilling into the rulers of the Transvaal hostile action against the Cape Colony. In other words, if the Delagoa railway is carried out the real union of South Africa will be indefinitely deferred.’ These were arguments with which Hofmeyr and the Bond readily concurred. Cape farmers, as well as businessmen, saw the Transvaal as a valuable market.
A similar struggle occurred over customs duties. A few months before the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand, Kruger, desperate for funds, requested a share in the customs duties collected by the Cape for goods destined for the Transvaal, proposing the creation of a customs union. Though Rhodes urged the Cape government and parliament to respond positively, the Bond took a parochial view and refused to support Kruger’s proposal. Once gold was discovered, the Bond altered course and began preaching the virtues of free trade in southern Africa, anxious to ensure the flow of Cape wine and brandy to the Transvaal market. The Cape government duly responded by despatching a delegation to Pretoria to discuss the possibility of a customs union. But Kruger, stung by the Cape’s earlier rebuff, was no longer interested.
Distrustful of the Cape’s intentions and its links to imperial Britain, Kruger instead sought to develop a republican axis in alliance with the Orange Free State, pointing to the need for ‘closer union’ against ‘British South Africa’. Despatching delegations to Bloemfontein in 1887, he urged the Free State to disengage economically from the Cape and attach itself to the northern economic system of the Transvaal. When Free State politicians pointed out that they needed agreement with the Cape in order to get their share of customs duties collected in the Cape, Kruger responded, ‘Let them keep their money, and wait for us. Cut yourself loose from the south. We cannot enter a customs union while we are dependent on their ports or they will dictate terms to us.’ Kruger even offered the Free State a sum of £20,000 a year for ten years if they failed to secure a share in customs revenues. Although the Cape and the Free State eventually signed a customs agreement in 1889, Kruger was successful in drawing the Free State into a closer republican alliance. In March 1889, the Transvaal and the Free State concluded a defence pact: each Boer republic agreed to come to the aid of its neighbour in case of foreign attack.
Rebuffed by Kruger, Hofmeyr was more amenable to Rhodes’ arguments about ‘northern expansion’ as the Cape’s way forward. In September 1888, Rhodes advised: ‘Let us leave the Free State and the Transvaal to their destiny. We must adopt the whole responsibility for the interior . . . [and] we must always remember that the gist of the South African question lies in the extension of the Cape Colony to the Zambesi.’ Hofmeyr and Rhodes also shared common ground about the need for the Cape to remain within the British orbit. Reminiscing about Hofmeyr, Rhodes remarked:
He was anxious to maintain the [British] connection, not out of love for Great Britain, but because the independence of South Africa was at the mercy of whatever power had command of the sea. And . . . his hatred of the Germans amounted to a passion . . . Hofmeyr was chiefly interested in withstanding free trade and upholding protection on behalf of the [Cape] Dutch . . . I had a policy of my own . . . to keep open the road to the north, to secure British South Africa room for expansion.
When Queen Victoria celebrated her jubilee year in 1887, the Bond was profuse with expressions of loyalty. ‘We assure you humbly and respectfully [of] our true loyalty to your throne, and we feel proud that in the great British Empire there are not more loyal subjects than those we represent.’ In towns throughout the Colony, Cape Afrikaners made similar affirmations. That same year, Hofmeyr attended the first Colonial Conference in London as a member of the Cape delegation, speaking ardently in favour of strengthening the imperial connection.
Hofmeyr also saw a growing convergence of interests between Cape Afrikaner farmers and mine owners. They were, he said in the Zuid Afrikaan in 1888, both ‘owners of land’ needing labourers under proper supervision. ‘Whereas until now the farmers’ party in the Cape have cooperated more with the merchant class than with the mining interests in the diamond fields, it is very possible that a change will soon come, and this change is persistently aimed at by the most powerful representative of the mine owners [Rhodes].’
With Kruger continuing to block plans for a railway linking the Cape to the Transvaal through the Orange Free State and to thwart progress on a customs union, Hofmeyr and the Bond reluctantly abandoned their hopes for closer ties with the Transvaal and were drawn ever deeper into Rhodes’ scheme for northern expansion. ‘Under the British flag and with the help of British capital we are marching to the north,’ declared the Zuid Afrikaan in January 1890. Kruger was furious with Hofmeyr for his willingness to collaborate with the British. ‘You are a traitor,’ he told Hofmeyr when they met in Pretoria in July 1890, ‘a traitor to the Africander cause.’
When the Sprigg government fell in July 1890, Rhodes put himself forward for the post of prime minister. Asking for the Bond’s endorsement at a meeting of Bond members of parliament on 16 July, he reminded them of all the support he had given them in parliament over the past eight years. They duly gave him their unanimous approval. At the age of thirty-seven, Rhodes was installed as prime minister. Describing his pact with Hofmeyr, Rhodes recalled: ‘I . . . struck a bargain with him, by which I undertook to defend the protective system of [the] Cape Colony, and he pledged himself in the name of the Bond not to throw obstacles in the way of northern expansion.’