Harold Stephens to Frederick Chesson, 22 May 1882, C148/69

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Stephens, Harold








Cape Colony

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C148-69


I trust you will endeavour to make public the facts regarding this war and urge upon the public that it can easily be stopped.

S. Africa
May 22/82

Dear Sir,

I am glad to find that you received my former letter safely. I am sorry to say however that the miserable war of which I informed you is still going on against the natives. In passing from the Transvaal to this place I was within 30 miles of the scene of the fighting and a day or two before, another battle had been fought. At a place called Christiana we were informed that the Boers and Kaffirs under them had surrounded Mankoroane, one of the loyal chiefs and intended making a grand onslaught upon his town with the intention of killing every human being and taking all the cattle and goods belonging to the tribe. Of the loyal chief Montsioa I have not learnt much news during the last few days, but when I heard last the prevalent opinion was that he must shortly give in unless he obtained assistance.

These chiefs are suffering for having refused during the war to give up British subjects who fled to them for protection from the Boers, and now in the hour of their need the British government quietly looks on while they are being sacrificed. These chiefs would be able to protect themselves from the Boers, for they are good shots and braver men, but they are hemmed in an all sides. The British authorities, in the vain hope of stopping the war, will not allow them to obtain ammunition while the Boer government though pretending to prevent ammunition from reaching the men on their side, are in reality helping them all they can!!

The Boers whenever they get the worst of it run over into the Transvaal where Montsioa or Mankoroane cannot follow them.

Piet Jourbert the commt-general of the Transvaal Republic and one of the Triumvirate in a public speech to the Boers at Bloemhof told them that he could not go with them to fight as he was obliged to ‘wink at it’ but he wished them every success, and said they might depend upon it they would be assisted by the government in a quiet way or words to that effect.

This I have been assured by several people who were present and heard him, and what he said is further borne out by the acts of the government of the Transvaal. After Joubert returned to Pretoria the war against the loyal chiefs went on with increased vigour. Volunteers and a load of ammunition left Pretoria, besides assistance from many other quarters, and this all took place not only with the knowledge but with the approval of the Transvaal government.

The general belief is that the British Resident Mr Hudson is not trying to put this war down, but is only endeavouring to hoodwink the British government while he plays into the hands of the Boers. It is believed that he says to the Boers in effect, that they can do what they like so long as they don’t let it be known.

Several respectable persons have called on Mr Hudson from time to time to inform him of what is going on and they have all remarked that he received them with evident displeasure and does his best to avoid hearing anything. The kaffir chiefs who have made complaints to him are put off with an excuse and when he does act it is always to side against them.

When the country was given back the kaffir chiefs were summoned to Pretoria and in the presence of the Triumvirate, British Resident, and nearly the whole of the people of Pretoria were told by the Royal Commission that their interests would be protected, and that if they had any complaints at any time they would find a friend in the British Resident. They are beginning to see that this was only one of those promises which will never be fulfilled. Kalafin a chief just inside the Transvaal border has been lately despoiled of 10,000 head of cattle. His offense was what he had built a wall round his town. The fact is that he had built some defensive works, in consequence of the threat which was made by Matahabi and the Boers with him that as soon as they had finished up Montsioa (who by the way was a friend of Kalafin’s) they would come and eat him up. Piet Joubert thereupon ordered him Kalafin to take down these defensive works and go to Pretoria, but of which orders Kalafin obeyed. At Pretoria he explained for what purpose he had built these walls or defenses, and notwithstanding what he obeyed the government in everything, they fined him a large number of cattle. Kalafin returned home and paid the fine but this was not enough, as the Boer government had determined to ruin him. They called upon him to pay them 10,000 head of cattle as they said the former fine was not enough. Kalafin begged them to show some mercy as he and his people had not got this number of cattle and would be ruined if the government inforced the fine. This was what the Boers wanted, orders were given and a Boer commando was sent in to take everything belonging to his people.

Kalafin and his men made no resistance, for resistance would have been useless. The women however rushed out with their children in their arms and begged the Boers to spare them a few milk cows or their children would starve but the Boers only jeered at them and left them without a living thing.

These facts and a great deal more were told me by eyewitnesses, but when it was told to Mr Hudson he took no action in the matter. When after hearing of any particular atrocity I have said to my informant ‘any not tell the British resident’ their reply is ‘that it’s no use as he won’t do anything.’ It’s no use my troubling you with all the wicked doings of the Boers towards the natives but I wish to point out that as yet no stop has been put in the war the Boers are waging against Montsioa and Mankoroane, in spite of all that has been said about it. The consequence is that adventurers from all parts are flocking to the Transvaal for the sake of what they can get by robbing these chiefs. It is said that the Boers won’t allow the kaffirs opposed to Mankoroane and Montsioa to make peace because then they would have no excuse for fighting themselves, and they stopped a messenger of peace and swore to shoot D Massomo the chief opposed to Mankoroane if he did not carry on the war. No one knows the villany being practised except those who are eyewitnesses. So soon as the Boers take Mankoroane’s stronghold their avowed intention is to kill all the natives men, women and children and take their land. If the English government do not step in at once and insist on this robber army being disbanded this will assuredly take place. Mankoroane is being his best to hold out but he cannot do it much longer as his ammunition and supplies are failing while the other side receive whatever they want from the Transvaal.

If the English Government would send up some influential person to the spot, they would be in a position to report truly and if vigorous measures were adopted the affair could be put down with very little trouble, as long as the English government however are contented with the British Resident’s reports from Pretoria, so long will the present state of things continue.

To show you the character of the dealings of the Boers with the natives I may tell you that before the annexation of the Transvaal by the English government, the Boers in fifteen years had had no less than twenty two commandoes out against the natives, and all these wars were of an offensive character and conducted with great cruelty. It seems to be believed by the English government that by not allowing the natives to get arms and ammunition they will be able to put down the war, but this is a fallacy for if the natives had the means of defending themselves the Boers would think twice before attacking them, whereas their present and defenseless condition is only a temptation to make war.

I send you by this post a Diamond Field paper which will give you a little information on the subject.

I wrote a letter to the Standard newspaper somewhere about the beginning of this month (May) drawing attention to this matter, but I have no means of knowing whether they inserted my letter. Might I ask you to send me a copy of the paper should my letter appear. The letter would be signed ‘Transvaal’ and I was in hopes that it would stir up public opinion in England and thus force the government to do something promptly.

I am dear sir
Yours faithfully
H Stephens