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Facts from the Transvaal (S572: 1899)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor of the Clarion introducing remarks from a man recently returned from the Transvaal (South Africa), and printed on page 380 of the London newspaper's 2 December 1899 issue. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S572.htm

     Sir,--I have received two letters from a reader of the Clarion who has just returned from Johannesburg. He is a miner, and as he hopes to go out again after the war is over, he does not wish his name to be published or anything given that will identify him, as it would probably lead to his being refused employment. I will therefore give only a few extracts from his letters, which state facts within his own knowledge, in case you can find room for them in your next issue. First, as to the grievances of the Outlanders. Beyond the absence of voting power (which, it may be remarked, they never took the first step to obtain, by becoming naturalised), he says: "I know absolutely nothing else, for life and property were as safe in Johannesburg as in London. I have seen miners drunk in the principal streets of Johannesburg--men who would insult the police--and they would rarely take them in charge. The murders of Mrs. Appleby and Edgar were deplorable, but one ought not to hold the Government responsible."

     As to the corruptness of the Transvaal Government, he says: "That many of the officials were bribed is beyond dispute, but they were no worse than thousands in England, who, on the recent evidence of the Lord Chief Justice, also accept bribes. No man can say that the Boers did not give them a fair trial, for generally they erred on the side of mercy. I have noticed cases in their law courts where Englishmen were treated better than in their own country. There was no reason for this deadly war. With the seven years' franchise and a mutual understanding between the workers and the Boers, all things would come right. But the capitalists did not want this. They saw the enormous wealth of the Rand under their control, provided England fought their battles, and no question of right entered into their conduct. . . . We had good pay in the Transvaal, and the Government always acted as a buffer against any injustice on the part of large corporations. When this war is over our grievances will probably commence; we shall have to fight for a bare livelihood, and many miners can see it now."

     As to the accusation of a conspiracy against English rule in South Africa, he says: "Never have I heard any talk in Pretoria of Dutch supremacy; they saw the hopelessness of fighting England, and many burghers of my acquaintance left for the front with a heavy heart. At the last meeting of our Labour party 300 German Socialists said they were going to fight for the Boers, and many Scotsmen that I know have also gone."

     (This does not look as if there was much oppression.)

     I will give only one more extract as to the celebrated petition to the Queen for the redress of the grievances of the workers and other Outlanders.

     "You probably remember the 21,000 names signed to the petition. I was sitting on the porch of my boarding-house when a man came up with the petition. He said it was asking for a revision of the Edgar trial. There was no heading or any information as to the real purport of the petition, and we all signed, and were surprised to find out afterwards how they had fooled us. All these things have contributed to the present condition of affairs, and many, not knowing them, wonder at the sympathy we have with the Boer Government."

     The facts here stated by an observer on the spot, added to the scores of letters from workmen and others giving other details tending to the same purport, taken in connection with the total absence of any evidence of real grievances other than general statements and vague declamation, have convinced me, and will soon, I hope, convince all who take the trouble to investigate the evidence, that the present war is wholly unnecessary and iniquitous, and that the Boers of the Transvaal, whatever their faults of character or conduct, have been treated with the most cruel injustice.

Alfred R. Wallace.

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