As the new overlord of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, Lord Milner set out to impose on them his own postwar strategy. Moving his headquarters from Cape Town, he chose Johannesburg rather than Pretoria as a base. ‘The more I see of Pretoria,’ he said, ‘the more I am impressed by its unfitness to be the capital of anything.’ It was, he said, ‘the most enervating place I know’. Chamberlain ruled that Pretoria had to remain the capital. He also had misgivings about allowing Milner to take up residence in Johannesburg because of the predominant influence there of the gold-mining industry. ‘My objection is that it necessarily lacks that diversity which in other great cities renders public opinion healthy and impartial. ’ But Milner got his own way and established himself in a red-tiled villa on the northern outskirts called Sunnyside built for one of the Randlords. To help him run his new fiefdom, he recruited a group of young Oxford graduates who became known, derisively at first, as ‘Milner’s Kindergarten’. Among them was John Buchan who later used his South African experiences as material for his novels, notably Prester John. Buchan served as an assistant private secretary, first dealing with concentration camps for women and children; then the repatriation of Boer prisoners; then land resettlement and agricultural schemes. ‘I had to be in some degree a jack-of-all-trades - transport rider, seedsman, stockman, horsecoper, merchant, lawyer, not to speak of diplomatist,’ he wrote.
Milner arrived in Johannesburg with decided views about what he intended to accomplish, and dictatorial powers to implement them. Above all, he was determined to convert the Transvaal into a ‘thoroughly British’ domain where ‘British interests, British ideas, British education’ would prevail.
He envisaged two principal methods of achieving this goal. The first was large-scale immigration of people of British descent. ‘I attach the greatest importance of all to the increase in the British population,’ he told the Colonial Office. ‘If, ten years hence, there are three men of British race to two of Dutch, the country will be safe and prosperous. If there are three of Dutch to two of British, we shall have perpetual difficulty . . . We not only want a majority of British, we want a fair margin because of the large proportion of cranks that we British generate and who take particular pleasure in going against their own people.’
Milner foresaw little difficulty in ensuring British dominance in towns. The bulk of immigrants would be urban industrial workers, drawn to the Transvaal by the ‘vast and immediate expansion of mining and other industrial enterprises’ following the end of the war. But he expressed concern about the future of rural areas.
The majority of the agricultural population will always be Dutch. That does not matter provided that, in most districts, there are a sufficient number of British to hold their own. A mere sprinkling is no use. They only get absorbed and become more Dutch than their neighbours. The only way to achieve this is by large purchases of land on the part of Government with a view to reselling to suitable settlers. Men willing to risk some capital of their own should be preferred, and they should be planted on large or middle-sized farms . . . Our great hope is in getting . . . thousands of settlers of a superior class . . . They will get on all right with the Dutch if they are not too greatly outnumbered . . . A healthy social and political white population would be the following: assuming that 60 per cent of the white population will be industrial and commercial and 40 per cent agricultural, I should like to see 45 out of the 60 British and 15 Dutch, and 15 out of the 40 British and 25 Dutch. The former proportion will accomplish itself . . . but to make even as much as 2/5ths of the agricultural population British will take some working. It is only to be done by bringing British settlers through Government Agency in considerable numbers.
After five years of peace and beneficent British rule, Milner expected the British population of the Transvaal to rise from 100,000 to 250,000, while the Afrikaner population would increase marginally from 140,000 to 150,000. Only when a loyal majority was ensured could the Transvaal be safely entrusted with a measure of self-government.
The other principal method that Milner intended to use in his campaign to ‘anglicize’ the Transvaal was a new education system. ‘Next to the composition of the population, the thing which matters most is its education.’ The key was to make English the chief medium of instruction in state schools. English, Milner told the Colonial Office, should be the language of all higher education. ‘Dutch should only be used to teach English and English to teach everything else.’ He placed particular emphasis on the need to recruit effective teachers. ‘Language is important, but the tone and spirit of teaching conveyed in it is even more important. Not half enough attention has been paid to school reading books. To get these right would be the greatest political achievement conceivable. I attach especial importance to school history books.’
To put these ideas into practice, Milner employed as director of education an ardent imperialist, Edmund Sargant. Teachers were carefully selected for their loyalty to the cause. At interviews conducted by the Board of Education, prospective candidates were asked: ‘Are you in sympathy with the intention of the Government to make the Orange River and Transvaal Colonies permanently part of the British dominions?’; and ‘Will you use your best endeavours . . . to reconcile all the Boer men, women and children . . . to their new position as citizens of the British Empire?’ A large part of the curriculum was devoted to imperial history.
English was duly established as the medium of instruction. The only concession was a provision that allowed parents to request that their children be given fifteen minutes of religious instruction in Dutch each day, and a further three hours per week for the study of the Dutch Bible until the children were confirmed, and thereafter three hours weekly for the study of Dutch literature.
Alongside his initiatives on immigration and education, Milner pursued two other objectives. He planned to install a modern professional bureaucracy and to promote economic development. Modernisation and economic prosperity, Milner believed, would not only stimulate large-scale British immigration; they would destroy the basis of Afrikaner nationalism. Once the Transvaal had acquired a sufficiently British character, it would be allowed to take the lead in establishing a British federal dominion in southern Africa. Although the Orange River Colony was bound to remain an Afrikaner-dominated state, it would have no option but to become part of the federal dominion. ‘A thoroughly British Transvaal,’ Milner maintained, ‘will draw all South Africa after it.’ The ultimate aim was to turn southern Africa into ‘one Dominion’, under one flag with a common government dealing with customs, railways, defence and native policy - ‘a self-governing white Community, supported by well-treated and justly governed black labour from Cape Town to Zambesi’.
Milner threw himself into his great scheme with formidable energy. A massive effort was soon under way to transport Boers back to the land. By the end of the war the bulk of the Boer population had been removed from their homes: 117,000 men, women and children were living in concentration camps; 31,000 burghers were prisoners-of-war, most of them held in camps overseas, as far afield as Ceylon and Bermuda. Returning farmers were provided with seeds, livestock, implements and building materials. A department of agriculture was established for the first time with sections dedicated to veterinary science, soil chemistry, forestry, horticulture and locust control. Schemes were launched to promote improved arable farming and pastoral agriculture. Everything from the police to the courts to local government was organised anew; more railways were constructed; an elaborate system of government schools was created. Development, said Milner, was ‘our trump card’. ‘Every new railway, every new school, every new settlement is a nail in the coffin of Boer nationalism.’
As for the political future, he was determined that political power should be withheld from the white population until British ascendancy was assured. He set up two ‘legislative councils’ - one for the Transvaal and one for the Orange River Colony. But they were composed of officials and selected nominees. Among the nominees he appointed to the Transvaal legislative council were two mining magnates, Sir Percy FitzPatrick, the first post-war president of the Chamber of Mines, and Sir George Farrar, the second post-war president; both had been involved in Rhodes’ plot to overthrow Kruger, but were newly knighted.
But Milner’s grand design soon encountered difficulties. His hopes for economic expansion depended heavily on the fortunes of the gold-mining industry. He looked to the mines to create an ‘overspill’ - a surplus of revenue that would ‘lift’ the Transvaal economy; and he cultivated close ties with the Chamber of Mines, giving it ‘semi-official status’. But mining expansion in the aftermath of the war proved to be far slower than expected. A principal cause was the shortage of unskilled African labour. Whereas in 1899 the mines had employed 96,000 African workers, in 1903 they managed to recruit only 63,000. A Transvaal labour commission estimated in 1903 that the mines were short of 130,000 men. The main reason for the shortfall was a decision by the Chamber of Mines to reduce wages from their 1899 level of 50 shillings a month to 35 shillings a month. Mining companies insisted that they had to cut labour costs in order to make deep-level mining profitable.
Keen to help solve the problem, Milner struck a hurried deal with the Portuguese administration in Mozambique to supply labour in exchange for a guarantee that half of the Transvaal’s import and export traffic would be channelled through the port of Lourenço Marques. But recruitment from Mozambique remained no more than a trickle.
Milner then suggested to Chamberlain the possibility of importing indentured labour from Asia on short-term contracts. Indentured labourers from India had been employed in the Natal sugar plantations since the 1870s. Many had stayed on at the end of their contracts, adding to the mix of South Africa’s racial problems. Among whites there was strong local prejudice against imported Asian labour. Chamberlain was well aware of the issue. In a diary entry in January 1903, he recorded: ‘Lord Milner would be inclined to favour an experiment in the importation of Chinese labour . . . I consider that such an action would be extremely unpopular and would raise a storm at home [in England].’
But both Milner and the Chamber of Mines continued to press the case for the use of Chinese labour. After Chamberlain resigned in September 1903, Milner found his successor as colonial secretary, Alfred Lyttelton, far more amenable to the idea. In 1904 the British government duly approved the Transvaal Labour Importation Ordinance. To appease white miners, the ordinance included a clause debarring imported labour from more than fifty specified skilled jobs, thus enshrining in statute an industrial colour bar that had been enforced previously almost entirely by custom. It was later applied against African workers. The first contingent of Chinese workers arrived on the Rand in June 1904 on three-year contracts; over the course of the next four years, more than 60,000 followed, forming nearly one third of the total mine labour force. The value of gold output rose sharply, from £12.6 million in 1903 to £27.4 million in 1907.
Though the introduction of Chinese labour helped ease the Rand’s labour shortage, it also fuelled local resentment against Milner’s regime. Returning uitlanders found little to their liking about his autocratic rule. Within weeks of the peace settlement they began agitating for representative government. Critics attacked the administration as expensive and over-regulating and accused officials imported from England of being aloof, inexperienced and ignorant of South African conditions. They also disliked the way in which Milner allied himself so closely to the interests of mining companies.
Milner was well aware of his unpopularity. ‘It is inevitable,’ he wrote, ‘that a Crown Government should be unpopular in a community like this, and that its accumulated unpopularity must ultimately lead to a change. The whole question is, at what pace the unpopularity accumulates?’ His hope was that he would be allowed a period of three or four years before the advent of self-government in which to entrench ‘an administration so competent and so imposing’ that self-government, when it came, would be unable to destroy it.
But uitlander demands for representation gathered momentum. In November 1904 two political organisations were launched to campaign for political rights. The Transvaal Progressive Association, led by FitzPatrick, Farrar and other directors of gold-mining companies and financial houses, argued for a limited form of self-government that allowed British officials to retain considerable executive power until such time as the British were assured of a majority in a future Transvaal legislature; its members were motivated principally by fear of Afrikaner nationalism. The Transvaal Responsible Government Association, led by prosperous professional men, were critical of many of Milner’s policies, including his decision to introduce Chinese labour, and wanted immediate self-government.
Not only did Milner face uitlander opposition but Boer resistance was beginning to stir.
In the bitter aftermath of the war, Boer society seemed destined for decline and oblivion. The war had wrought destruction in many places of a kind that could never be repaired. Numerous Boers had been uprooted from the land altogether. Some ten thousand stayed on for months in concentration camps because they had nowhere else to go. The plight of the Boers was made even worse in 1903 by a record drought; that same year marked the beginning of an agricultural depression lasting six years. A growing number drifted to the towns hoping to find work, but the towns offered no refuge. They were the citadels of British commerce and culture where Boers from the platteland , possessing no skills or education, found themselves scorned and despised for their poverty, their country ways and their language.
Even worse, the war had left a legacy of deep divisions within Boer communities. Bittereinders who had fought to the end despised hensoppers for surrendering and, even more so, joiners who had collaborated with British forces. ‘The feelings of hate . . . are deep as the ocean and wide as God’s earth,’ wrote Eugène Marais, editor of the Dutch newspaper Land en Volk, in October 1902. ‘We hate these people from the depth of our hearts because they besmirched our honourable name. It is not possible to forgive and even less to forget.’ A leading collaborator, Piet de Wet, complained in January 1903: ‘We are branded, distrusted and hated.’
But Milner’s policy of anglicisation, intended to absorb Boers into the British empire, provoked a mobilisation against it. Rather than submit to Milner’s new school system and to his insistence on the use of the English language, Afrikaner leaders in the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony founded their own private schools for what was called Christian-National Education which used Dutch as well as English as the medium of instruction, adhered strictly to Calvinist tradition and promoted a sense of Afrikaner national consciousness among students. At the forefront of the schools campaign were the Dutch Reformed Churches, the most powerful Afrikaner institutions to survive the war intact, determined to preserve Afrikaner culture and religion as much for their own interests as for wider nationalist motives.
Afrikaner writers joined the language campaign, debating the rival merits of Dutch and Afrikaans. Afrikaans still had no standard written form and virtually no literature. In some quarters, it was regarded as a ‘kitchen language’. At Stellenbosch in the Cape Colony, the main centre for higher education for Afrikaners, the language used by students in debates, journalism and private letters was generally English. But now the need for their own language and their own literature was seen to be of paramount importance for Afrikaner survival.
A second Afrikaans language movement was soon under way. Organisations were founded in the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony and the Cape Colony to promote the writing of Afrikaans, to convince Afrikaners that it should be used as their written as well as their spoken language, and to campaign for official recognition of it. Writers such as Eugène Marais, Louis Leipoldt and Jan Celliers began to publish poetry of a quality that showed that Afrikaans had a high literary potential. Much of their poetry dwelt on the heroic sacrifices made in die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog - the Second War of Freedom - and the suffering that Afrikaners had endured at the hands of the British Empire. ‘It is clear to every Afrikaner,’ wrote Jan Celliers, ‘that only our own literature, steeped in the Afrikaner spirit and intelligible to Afrikaners, through and through in language and content, that only such a language is really calculated to hit the mark here. Who wants to help us build up such a literature for our people? We have a people to serve, we have a nation to educate; we cannot wait.’ A predikant of the Dutch Reformed Church at Graaff-Reinet, Dr Daniel Malan, later to become a prominent nationalist leader, added his voice to the campaign. ‘Give the young Afrikaner a written language which comes easily and naturally to him, and in that way you will have set up a bulwark against the anglicization of our people . . . Raise the Afrikaans language to a written language, let it become the vehicle for our culture, our history, our national ideals, and you will also raise the people who speak it.’
Leading Boer generals, notably Louis Botha and Jan Smuts in the Transvaal and Barry Hertzog in the Orange River Colony, emerged as vociferous critics of Milner’s regime. Appalled by Milner’s intention to import Chinese labour, they organised a series of protest meetings and sent a telegram to Lyttelton, the colonial secretary, denouncing the plan as ‘a public calamity of the first magnitude’. When Lyttelton refused to accept their claim to speak ‘on behalf of the great majority of the Boer population’, Botha and his colleagues resolved to found a political movement to demonstrate the strength of their support. Above all, they were determined to overcome the fierce divisions that had beset Afrikanerdom.
In January 1905, Botha announced the launch of Het Volk - The People - with a ‘head committee’ which included four Boer generals. Het Volk demanded full self-government for both the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony; an end to restrictions on the public use of the Dutch language; and termination of the Chinese labour system. It also wanted increased relief for thousands of Afrikaners ruined by the war. Het Volk rapidly won the support of the vast majority of Transvaal Afrikaners. In the Orange River Colony, a similar political organisation, Orangia Unie, was launched in July 1905 by Barry Hertzog and Abraham Fischer. Far from obliterating the notion of Afrikanerdom, Milner’s measures succeeded only in reviving it. ‘Milner has made us a nation,’ said one prominent Afrikaner in 1906.
Milner’s ambition to reshape southern Africa according to his grand design affected not only the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony but the Cape Colony. The war had divided the British and Afrikaners in the Cape into two hostile camps. Milner was especially distrustful of the Afrikaner Bond, regarding it as a ‘rebel party’ disloyal to the British cause. Several Bond members of parliament had joined rebel forces in the Cape; others had been outspoken in condemning British war measures such as farm-burning. Parliament had been suspended in 1900 but was due to reassemble once the peace settlement was in place. Milner feared that in the post-war era the Afrikaner Bond might gain control, leaving loyalist parties such as the Progressives in opposition. He considered that in any case the Cape’s political system needed to be reorganised to make it easier for the Colony to join a British-run federation, linking it with the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony and Natal. He therefore attempted what was in effect a coup against the Cape constitution.
Acting behind the scenes, he arranged for a petition to be drawn up and signed by Progressive members of parliament asking the British government to suspend the Cape constitution. He was aware that Chamberlain was opposed to any notion of suspension but intended to force his hand. Explaining his plan to the Cape governor, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, Milner said he was ‘absolutely convinced . . . of the necessity of intervention from home to put Cape Colony straight and prevent it being a drag on all South African progress’. The initiative, he said, would have to come from loyal colonists, ‘supported, if need be, by a popular agitation’. In May 1902, shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging, a petition signed by forty-two members of parliament was duly presented to Hely-Hutchinson, who, in turn, presented it to Milner.
Milner’s official reply was that, as high commissioner, he was unable to comment on the petition. But he enclosed an unofficial letter to the petitioners, written in his private capacity, authorising that it should be published in Cape newspapers.
Speaking unofficially as to old friends, I may say that I am entirely sympathetic with the desire to preserve the Colony from the disastrous consequences which are likely to result from the resumption of parliamentary and party strife before the bitter passions excited by the war have had even a little time to settle . . . It may well be that an interregnum of non-party government in the Cape may not prevent but promote a return to the normal working of the Constitutional system. I think that such a system is much more likely to make for real freedom, for industrial and commercial development, and for the appeasement of race hatred than an immediate return to the old condition of things.
But Milner’s plan miscarried. His support for suspending the constitution caused a rumpus in the Cape. In London, Chamberlain was furious at not being consulted in advance, telling Milner he was ‘dismayed’, ‘seriously embarrassed’ and ‘deeply hurt’. Milner tried to justify himself in forthright terms:
I think it unfortunate that public opinion in England is capable of regarding it as tolerable that within six months of the end of a struggle for British supremacy in South Africa, the men who have fought for that supremacy at the Cape should be allowed to fall under the control of bitter and treacherous enemies . . . It seemed not only permissible but my plain duty to tell them that, unless they could themselves and through the regular channels, bring their fears and their necessities before the British Government and people, judgement might go against them by default.
Deeply disappointed by the failure of his coup attempt, Milner took some comfort from the results of the Cape elections in February 1904. Helped by the disenfranchisement of 10,000 Cape voters, as punishment for their involvement in rebellion, the Progressives triumphed over the South African Party, an alliance of the Afrikaner Bond and other groups.
The Progressives’ election victory also marked a remarkable recovery in the fortunes of Rhodes’ old friend Dr Jameson. In the last few years of Rhodes’ life, Jameson had striven to escape the notoriety into which he had fallen. Appointed by Rhodes as a director of De Beers, he stood for parliament as a Progressive in a Kimberley constituency in 1900 and was returned unopposed. Making his first appearance in parliament in July, he was met, according to the Cape Times, with ‘a dead silence’. His biographer, Ian Colvin, a journalist, recorded how the occasion turned into a personal attack: ‘Through a dreadful session, while Jameson sat without answering or appearing to notice, a little forlorn-looking, hunched-up figure on one of the back benches, the [Afrikaner] Bond threw poisoned darts of speech and laughter at him from the other side of the House. His talent for getting into uncomfortable places had never been better shown.’
Nevertheless, Jameson persevered. Upon the death of Rhodes, he sought to take up Rhodes’ mantle, considering it his ‘duty’ to finish Rhodes’ interrupted work, and moved into Groote Schuur. In 1903, he emerged as leader of the Progressives and a year later found himself prime minister.
It was Jameson whom Rudyard Kipling had in mind when composing his celebrated poem ‘If ’:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings . . .
Lord Milner left South Africa in 1905 with little to show for his attempts to anglicise the Afrikaner population other than a few thousand British immigrants who had been established on the land and a depth of hostility among Afrikaners greater than anything that had existed before the war. A census in 1904 showed the total white population in the Transvaal to number 300,000; Johannesburg’s population had risen from 76,500 before the war to only 83,000; the Witwatersrand’s population now numbered 117,000; but the rural population gave Afrikaners an overall majority. In his final speech in Pretoria, Milner complained about the obstruction he faced from opponents, not from Afrikaners, but from British citizens. ‘Serious injury’ had been done to the ‘best interests’ of the Transvaal, he said, through ‘perpetual fault-finding, this steady drip, drip of deprecation, only diversified by occasional outbursts of hysterical abuse’.
Milner’s efforts were soon undone. In Britain, as the tide of jingoism receded, the Anglo-Boer war came to be seen more as a costly and inglorious episode rather than an imperial triumph. In parliament, the Liberal opposition criticised the use of low-paid Chinese labour in the gold mines, claiming it was tantamount to ‘Chinese slavery’. What made matters worse was the discovery that Milner had authorised the flogging of Chinese labourers - without reference to magistrates - in cases of violence and unruliness. ‘At the time,’ Milner told his successor, Lord Selborne, ‘it seemed to me so harmless that I really gave very little thought to the matter.’
In January 1906, a Liberal government under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman came to office, inclined to grant the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony self-government. General Smuts hastened to London to meet the new prime minister. ‘I put a simple case before him that night in 10 Downing Street,’ wrote Smuts. ‘It was in substance: Do you want friends or enemies?’
Five years after Britain had conquered the Boer republics, at a massive cost in lives, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony were handed back to Afrikaner leaders. In February 1907, Het Volk won a clear majority over FitzPatrick’s Progressives and formed a government under Louis Botha as prime minister. In November 1907, Orangia Unie won all but eight seats in the legislative council and Abraham Fischer became prime minister.
To Smuts, it was ‘a miracle of trust and magnanimity’. To Milner, it was ‘a great betrayal’.