VINE VOICEon 5 March 2008
I have read several books (though certainly not enough) about South Africa: 'The Great Boer War,' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; 'The Corner House,' by A.P. Cartwright; 'The Randlords,' by Geoffrey Wheatcroft; 'White Tribe Dreaming,' by Marq de Villiers; 'The Boer War,' by Thomas Pakenham; and 'The Covenant,' by James A. Michener, but until I got into my latest purchase, 'Diamonds, Gold and War,' by Martin Meredith, I was not entirely sure why I had become more than sympathetic to the old Boers and to Afrikanerdom.
Mr Meredith has given me all of the necessary reasons and, as a life-time admirer of the British Empire and its works, I was made more firmly angry and ashamed at what some of those ostensibly promoting the Empire had done to those to whom the British people should have been attached and who should not have been antagonised and attacked.
Cecil Rhodes's dream of colonising from The Cape to Cairo had great merit, especially if one recalls to what depths much of Africa has descended since Rhodes's day, but it was clearly a gross mistake and an unforgivable deed to betray his Cape Boer friend, Jan Hofmeyr, and his potential friends, President Paul Kruger of The Transvaal and President Marthinus Steyn of The Orange Free State. Rhodes comes out of the book badly, as do his co-conspirator, Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, and, worst of all, the British High Commissioner and Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Alfred Milner.
And, of course, there were the thousands of British soldiers lost (my wife's late grandfather, a wonderful man, volunteered for the Imperial Yeomanry, went enthusiastically to South Africa, but, thankfully, survived this shameful Imperial episode), and the thousands of Boer 'soldiers,' their wives and their children who suffered either in the war (to be more precise, the Second Boer War) or in British concentration camps. It was a disgrace and several passages in Mr Meredith's book moves one almost to tears. The description of the elderly President Kruger's leaving of Pretoria for eventual exile on the 29th of May, 1900, leaving his beloved but infirm wife, Gezina, is one such and merits partial quotation:
'After conducting family prayers in the sitting room, Kruger took his wife's hand and led her into the bedroom. Nobody spoke or moved. Outside the carriage horses snorted. Then the old couple reappeared. Kruger pressed her against him, then released her, looking at her intently, silently. Then he turned and walked out to the carriage. They were never to meet again.'
I am old enough to have known a number of honourable men who went off to fight 'Old Kroojer': they were misguided, misled and mistaken. That Jan Christian Smuts later became one of the Empire's best friends is a fine reflection of Boer qualities, but the bitterness bequeathed by such as Milner did no good to Britain nor to the longer-term benefit of South Africa or its inhabitants, black or white.
I can only touch on some aspects of a brilliant and well-written history: to get the drift in its entirety, you have to get the book which, with 569 pages, is wonderful value!
For a great rendering of the old Boer song, 'Sarie Marais,' sung in Afrikaans, go to -