PART VII

28

A TALE OF TWO TOWNS

The Transvaal’s new wealth from gold transformed Pretoria from a village into a town. Grand public buildings sprang up around Church Square; electric light and telephone systems were installed. Ralph Williams contrasted the character of Pretoria when he first arrived there as British consul in 1887 with the changes that occurred within the space of a few years. Government buildings then, he said, were ‘homely to a degree’:

The Old Executive Council Office, the workroom of a government strong enough to defy the power of England, was a dirty, tumble-down place, containing a rough deal table and eight or ten common chairs.

His encounters there were similarly basic:

Whenever I had need to put any matters officially forward I was asked to attend the council. At the head of the table sat the State Secretary [Dr Willem Leyds], with on one side of him the famous General Joubert, the Commandant General, and on the other the Vice-President, General Smit, our conqueror at Majuba Hill. The other members sat around the table. The President sat in an easy chair away from the table, smoking continually an old Dutch pipe, and opposite him was another easy chair in which I sat. There was no spittoon in the room, though there was sad necessity for it, and it was the invariable habit of Mr Kruger to put his leg under the table near the State Secretary’s chair and drag out the waste-paper basket to serve as a spittoon for himself (and for me had I needed it) during the interview. He used it copiously, and I was constrained to draw in my legs lest he should exceed its limits and trench within my domain.

Flush with gold revenues, Kruger ordered the construction of an opulent new building for government offices and for parliament on the west side of Church Square. Laying the foundation stone in May 1889, he remarked: ‘Who would have believed five years ago that such a building was possible?’ Designed in the Italian Renaissance style by the government architect, Sytze Wierda, the Raadzaal cost £155,000. Kruger took a lively interest in all its details. On the ground floor, he was provided with two offices to the left of the main entrance. On top of the central tower stood a female statue. Some said it was an allegorical figure representing Freedom or Liberty; others that it represented Minerva, the Roman goddess of war. When Kruger was shown the statue before it was put in place, he was said to have objected to it being bare-headed. ‘A lady can’t stand up there in public with nothing on her head. She must have a hat.’ Accordingly, a helmet was fashioned and fixed on with rivets around the brim. The building was completed in 1891. An 1893 guidebook, Brown’s South Africa, A Practical and Complete Guide for the Use of Tourists, Sportsmen, Invalids and Settlers, described it as ‘one of the handsomest and probably the costliest pile in South Africa’. Kruger enjoyed the routine of the daily ride to his office in a state carriage accompanied by mounted troopers; he also awarded himself a huge salary increase, raising it from £3,000 a year to £8,000. Yet despite the new buildings and the occasional pomp, Pretoria retained the ambience of a sleepy village, where Afrikaner traditions of church and family life were closely observed.

Thirty miles to the south, amid a landscape of mining headgear, ore dumps and battery stamps, stood Johannesburg, an overgrown mining camp, brash and bustling, renowned for drunkenness, debauchery and gambling. On windy days, clouds of yellow dust from the ore dumps swirled through the streets. On the northern outskirts, over the crest of the ridge, wealthy whites lived in luxury houses, with views stretching away to the Magaliesberg hills, protected from the noise and dust of the mine workings by northerly winds which blew it all southwards. But most white miners and other employees lived in boarding houses in working-class districts close to the mines, frequenting the bars and brothels set up there. Two-thirds of the uitlander population consisted of single men. Black mine workers were confined to compounds, as in Kimberley.

During the boom years of 1888 and 1889, scores of prostitutes arrived from the Cape Colony and Natal. More came when the rail link to the Cape was completed in 1892. With the opening of the railway from the port of Lourenço Marques on Delagoa Bay in 1894, there was an influx of prostitutes from Europe and New York City. A survey in 1895 counted ninety-seven brothels of various nationalities, including thirty-six French, twenty German and five Russian; the brothels in one part of Johannesburg were so numerous that it became known as ‘Frenchfontein’.

A correspondent for the London Times, Flora Shaw, visiting Johannesburg in 1892, said she was repelled by its brash character. ‘It is hideous and detestable, luxury without order, sensual enjoyment without art, riches without refinement, display without dignity. Everything in fact which is most foreign to the principles alike of morality and taste by which decent life has been guided in every state of civilisation.’ Olive Schreiner, who went to live in Johannesburg with her husband, described it in 1898 as a ‘great, fiendish, hell of a city which for glitter and gold, and wickedness, carriages and palaces and brothels and gambling halls, beat creation’.

Kruger found it difficult to come to terms with this industrial monster in his backyard and the godless uitlander community that lived there; Duivelstad - Devil’s Town - he called it. Rhodes, initially, expressed some sympathy for Kruger’s predicament, telling the Cape parliament in July 1888:

I regard him as one of the most remarkable men in South Africa, who has been singularly unfortunate. When I remember that Paul Kruger had not a sixpence in his Treasury when his object was to extend his country over the whole of the northern interior, when I see him sitting in Pretoria with Bechuanaland gone, and other lands around him gone from his grasp, and last of all, when he, with his whole idea of a pastoral Republic, finds that idea vanishing, and that he is likely to have to deal with a hundred thousand diggers, who must be entirely out of sympathy and touch with him, I pity the man.

Kruger also resented the way in which foreign mining magnates - the Randlords, as they were dubbed by the British press - made fortunes on the Witwatersrand and then took their money abroad to indulge in luxury lifestyles in Britain. Beit bought himself a house on London’s Park Lane and a Georgian mansion with a 700-acre estate in Hertfordshire; Wernher lived at Bath House, Piccadilly, filling it with treasures from around the world; Barnato bought a site on Park Lane for £70,000 and built a new house there, spending recklessly on horses, West End shows and lavish parties; and J. B. Robinson took up residence in Dudley House, a stately mansion on Park Lane, spending his money on assembling a fabulous art collection.

Kruger’s encounters with the uitlander community became increasingly abrasive. Fearing that the sheer weight of their numbers would swamp the Boer population, he resisted demands to accord them political rights. ‘I will make no difference in my treatment of old or new burghers - except one or two points, namely in regard to voting and representation in the Volksraad,’ he said. Even at a local level, Johannesburg was not allowed its own municipality but was run by a sanitary board with limited powers. Despite the preponderance of English-speakers on the Witwatersrand, the only official language remained Dutch; the only medium of instruction allowed in state-supported schools was Dutch. ‘Every attempt to expand education in English will help towards the destruction of the landstaal,’ declared Kruger.

During the slump in 1890, when many uitlanders were thrown out of work and lost their savings through speculation in gold shares, their mood was particularly truculent. Passing through Johannesburg in March, on his way to Blignaut’s Pont to meet Loch, Kruger addressed a mass meeting at the Wanderers’ Club pavilion where he was greeted by loud grumbling, interjections, and the strains of ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God Save the Queen’. Later in the day, an angry crowd gathered outside the magistrate’s house where he was staying, wrecked the garden railings and part of the garden wall, then moved on to the post office and tore down the Vierkleur flag and trampled on it. When Loch asked him what had happened, Kruger replied:

Sir Henry, those people remind me of a baboon I once had, which was so fond of me that he would not let anyone touch me. But one day we were sitting round the fire, and unfortunately the beast’s tail got caught in the flames. He now flew at me furiously, thinking that I was the cause of the accident. The Johannesburgers are just like that. They have burnt their fingers in speculations and now they want to revenge themselves on Paul Kruger.

In 1891 Kruger endeavoured to meet the uitlander demand for political representation by establishing a second volksraad while simultaneously tightening the qualification for the franchise. The original qualification that uitlanders needed for the franchise was one year’s residence. Then, in 1882, to counteract the influx of new immigrants to the Lydenburg goldfields, Kruger raised the qualification to five years’ residence and payment of a £25 fee for naturalisation. His new scheme raised the residence qualification for the full franchise from five years to fourteen years and introduced a further hurdle by limiting the vote to uitlanders over the age of forty. To compensate for these restrictions, uitlanders were given the right to take up Transvaal citizenship after only two years’ residence for a reduced fee of £5 and to vote in elections for a second volksraad. The second volksraad, however, had limited functions; it was also subject to veto by the first volksraad where the old burghers remained in control.

Kruger explained his views in simple terms to a Johannesburg audience in 1892:

Imagine that a man has given his blood and his being for a farm, and says to someone else - you can come and live on my farm as a squatter [bijwoner] and make a profit from it. But if this bijwoner now starts to declare that he has the same rights to the farm as the owner, then, if this matter were brought before a court, the verdict could never be given in favour of the bijwoner . . . Now this farm is all that we have left of what our forefathers inherited. The stranger comes here to make his profit, and would it be right to hand over to him the voortrekkers’ rights of ownership?

He then added:

When in the course of time they [the strangers] have shown themselves to be true burghers, then their franchise can be enlarged . . . The old burghers must first know whether the newcomer was to be trusted.

Kruger’s two-class system of ‘old burghers’ and ‘new burghers’ - of first and second-class citizenship - won little support among uitlanders. They were taxed but still left without adequate representation.

Kruger also faced a growing band of Boer critics, disaffected with his style of leadership. Now in his sixties, he became increasingly dictatorial, resentful of opposition, prone to monumental rages and obstructive of change, still believing himself to be divinely inspired. His speeches were more than ever like sermons, long, rambling and repetitive, with endless references to God and the Bible. His eyesight and hearing were both impaired. He caused outrage by interfering in the judicial process. When his friend Nellmapius was charged with embezzlement, found guilty by a jury and sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment with hard labour, Kruger arranged for the executive council to grant him a pardon. When the chief justice, John Kotzé, a Cape-educated lawyer, pointed out that the executive council had acted illegally, Kruger retorted that Nellmapius would be pardoned whatever the decision of the courts. Nellmapius’ conviction was subsequently quashed.

There was also mounting criticism of Kruger’s concession policy and the corruption it spawned. Introduced in the 1880s as a way of promoting industrial development in a near-bankrupt state, it had become a central part of Kruger’s method of government. He awarded monopoly concessions to favoured individuals and companies to establish not only factories but a whole range of public utilities: a state bank; water, gas and electricity supplies; municipal services in Pretoria, Johannesburg and other towns; tramways; road repairs; and markets. The benefits, Kruger argued, included a substantial income for the state as well as the provision of local goods and services to the public. His critics pointed to the high prices that resulted from monopoly control and from the tariff barriers needed to protect monopolies. The system, moreover, was used by many concession-hunters not to build factories or provide services but for speculative purposes: once in possession of a concession, they hoped to sell it for profit.

With so many concessions available, the concession business was soon mired in corruption. Some episodes became notorious. In 1889, the executive council granted a concession to supply Johannesburg with water to Frikke Eloff, the president’s private secretary and son-in-law, without consulting the Volksraad. According to an opposition newspaper, Land en Volk, Eloff was able to make £20,000 out of the deal ‘without so much as digging a spadeful of earth’. In 1892, a young French speculator, Baron Eugène Oppenheim, gained a concession to build a railway spur to the Selati goldfields; according to his own account, he spent some £30,000 on ‘travelling expenses’ and payments ‘to different members of the Executive Council and Volksraad and their relatives and friends as the price for granting the concession’. Kruger’s response, when presented with the evidence, was that he saw no harm in anyone receiving a present as long as it did not amount to bribery.

The most controversial concession concerned dynamite. In 1887, in a deal in which Kruger participated, the German concession-hunter Edouard Lippert, formerly of Kimberley, gained the exclusive right to manufacture dynamite, gunpowder, explosives and ammunition for a term of sixteen years. A factory to manufacture dynamite was to be erected within a year. Lippert was permitted to import all raw materials and machinery free of duty, but not dynamite itself. Once the factory output was able to meet local demands, no further imports of dynamite would be allowed. This deal was approved by the Volksraad in 1888.

Lippert sold the concession to a French consortium based in Paris which appointed a Dutch businessman, Lambertus Vorstman, as managing director of its Transvaal subsidiary - Zuid Afrikaansche Maatschappij voor Ontplofbare Stoffen Beperkt (The South African Explosives Company) - and Lippert as its chief salesman at a commission of 12.5 per cent. A rival Anglo-German consortium, the Nobel Trust, was meanwhile allowed to continue importing dynamite for a period of two years until the local product was available. The French factory began production in January 1889 and in due course the government cancelled all import permits for dynamite.

It soon became evident, however, that the French consortium was importing not raw materials for manufacturing dynamite but dynamite itself - all duty-free. Kruger rushed to the defence of the French consortium. But the British government now entered the fray complaining that while French dynamite was being imported duty-free into the Transvaal, English-manufactured dynamite was excluded, in contravention of trade agreements.

A government commission concluded in 1892 that Lippert and the French consortium had indeed been importing dynamite and avoiding payment of customs duties, in clear breach of their concession. In the Volksraad, there was uproar. ‘Rarely has such a scene taken place in a free Republic as occurred during the eleven o’clock adjournment of the Volksraad last Saturday morning,’ reported Land en Volk:

On the motion of Jan Meyer a Committee of the Volksraad was then set up. The whole Volksraad then decided to go and test the material to see if it was explosive. Between 10.30 and 11 the President got hold of Jan Meyer, and quite audible to the Press Gallery - indeed in the street - shouted at him that it was grossly unfair to make such a test. He and everyone else knew well enough that it was explosive. The only question was, was it dynamite? Jan Meyer was weak enough to give way, and the tests thus took place only in the presence of the State Mining Engineer, the Minister of Mines, the Manager of the Dynamite Factory and the scientific experts. The stuff that Mr Lippert alleged was not dynamite exploded with terrific force, throwing great masses of rock into the air.

In the acrimonious debate in the Volksraad that followed, when members insisted that the concession be cancelled, Kruger pleaded for a compromise. To cancel the contract, he declared, would be an act against the government not against the company. ‘It would destroy the credit of the State completely and bring rejoicing to our enemies.’ He suggested that the government should take over the factory then hand back management to Lippert.

Under the headline ‘Gigantic Fraud’, Land en Volk fumed in July 1892:

We cannot credit the President’s behaviour. We understand his reluctance to expose the rottenness of his concession-politics, but to suggest to the Volksraad that the State buy the factory and appoint a fraudulent company as officials is too much! We expect but little of the Volksraad; but will the People allow this? . . . Lippert is having coffee with the President every morning.

In August 1892, the government decided to cancel the dynamite concession and to allow English, French and German firms to import dynamite. The eventual outcome in 1893 was that the government itself took over the dynamite monopoly and then signed a contract with the old South African Explosives Company to act as agents for the manufacture and sale of dynamite for a period of fifteen years. Shares in the company were awarded to both the French consortium and the Nobel consortium - and to Lippert. Lippert was also allowed a royalty of 8 shillings per case of dynamite. The effect was to place ownership of the dynamite industry in foreign hands; nearly all profits went overseas; the government received only 5 shillings per case as its share of the profit compared to the 40 shillings per case profit made by foreign investors - a rate of about 100 per cent. A Volksraad commission subsequently concluded that as a result of this arrangement the cost of dynamite was at least 40 shillings per case higher than it need have been.

So noticeable was the miasma of corruption in Pretoria that critics began to refer to the existence of a ‘third volksraad’, the collection of businessmen, politicians and officials willing to trade favours for payment. The opposition newspaper, Land en Volk, frequently cited examples of bribery and corruption. In 1891, it accused Kruger of trying to divert the railway line from Pretoria to Delagoa Bay over the farms of his relatives and friends, namely Eloff and Nellmapius. ‘The friends of the President are becoming rich while the burghers sweat.’ Even the pro-government Pretoria Press admitted that there was ‘wide-spread corruption in the civil service’ and bemoaned the way in which senior officials cared more for their own enrichment than for the interests of the state while petty officials routinely expected bribes for small favours. In 1892, it was discovered that government officials, with the connivance of the executive council, had been buying up scores of valuable stands in Johannesburg without advertising them for sale, putting them up for auction and then selling them, often the next day, at huge profit; the minister of mines and his son were among the beneficiaries. Kruger endeavoured to defend these transactions: ‘The government had felt it better to save the costs of advertising in all the local newspapers, which came to more than the stands brought in, by selling the stands by public auction without advertisement.’

Adding to the problem of corruption was the government’s lax financial management. Though government revenues rose from an average of £188,000 between 1883 and 1890 to £4.2 million in 1895, no adequate controls were put in place. Kruger was accustomed to signing order-forms from the treasury without proper checks. No inspectorate was established until 1896. When a Volksraad committee investigated treasury disbursement in 1898, it discovered that in the previous sixteen years sums ‘advanced’ to officials without a proper account being kept amounted to almost £2.4 million.

Another bone of contention was Kruger’s policy of relying on Hollanders he recruited from Europe to fill key positions in the civil service and the railways management. The prominent role played by Kruger’s state secretary, Dr Willem Leyds, aroused particular dislike. ‘It is doubtful whether either he or his wife made a single Boer or Afrikaner friend,’ wrote the historian Johannes Marais.

The groundswell of criticism of Kruger’s government led eventually to the emergence of an opposition movement led by General Piet Joubert, the commandant-general. Standing against Kruger in the 1893 presidential election, Joubert quickly gathered the support of a group of Boer politicians demanding reform - ‘Progressives’, as they were known. The election was fought with unprecedented hostility. Rival newspapers hurled furious insults at the candidates and at each other. Kruger was accused of corruption, nepotism and mismanagement and criticised for his bad temper, his autocratic ways and his love of Hollanders. Joubert was portrayed as a weak and vacillating lackey of the uitlanders.

Kruger won the election, but only by a narrow margin; he gained 7,854 votes to Joubert’s 7,009. Much of the electorate judged that his old-fashioned style of leadership was ill-suited to tackling the pressing issues that the Transvaal faced, in particular the growing impact of the uitlander population.

Addressing a large crowd in Church Square from the balcony of the new Government Building to mark the inauguration of his third term as president in May 1893, Kruger assured newly naturalised citizens that they were entitled to all the privileges granted by law. But he also felt the need to warn them that ‘Nobody can serve two masters.’

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