John Mackenzie to Frederick Chesson, 22 October 1884, C141/204

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Mackenzie, John






Cape Town


Cape Colony

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Bodleian Libraries

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C141-204


Ellangowan House
Rondebosch, Cape Town
22nd Oct 1884

My dear Mr Chesson,

We have been greatly excited in Cape Town this week. The Pall Mall (telegraphed by Reuter) informed us of Warren’s appointment. This raised us on a wave of joyful thankfulness. Even the Dutch were please; the news was definite; the policy was clear; uncertainty was removed. Only the ‘Zuid Afrikaan’ … it was bad news for South Africa for Warren was the uncle of Bethell! But then the indefatigable Reuter next day sent us all into the deep trough of the sea from the elevation to which its previous news had carried us. The Daily News announced that Govt had not yet decided as to who was to be Commissioner but that negotiations of a satisfactory character were proceeding with the Transvaal, from which it was hoped the Transvaal would itself do what was necessary on its Western Border. No man not on the spot can estimate the effect of this sort of thing out here. Really and truly it is supplying so much proof positive that England is becoming incapable, willingly incapable – if that is not a contradiction – of exercising beneficial influence in South Africa. Dear old country! So capable and so able, and yet all that those who speak for you now adays can manage, is to produce some promise from the Transvaal government! Who believes the Transvaal will fulfil that promise? No one, either on your side of the water or on this, either in London, in Cape Town, or in Pretoria! It is a sham.

I have privately seen the prospectus – in fact more than one prospectus – of projected Societies or Leagues or Associations – by which it is hoped to do good here. I have ventured to add to the number by sketching out what I thought would be a sound basis, and would ensure a Dutch membership. That which has the highest patronage at present is a purely English affair, very largely Imperial and appealing to a set of motives and feelings which will not stir the Dutch community. Whether they can broaden their basis and merge the Imperial into smaller compass and raise the Colonial work into the first place remains to be seen. If they don’t they fail inevitably. Some of the leading people here profess to have a poor idea of the Dutch as such. I am certain they are wrong, and every day increases the conviction. Education will do all that is required; a political association, to do good work here would, need loyally patiently and trustfully to turn its attention to education of the people on certain important points. Impatience, distrust, unfurling the Union Jack etc etc go too much together in certain people’s minds and cannot lead to any lasting success’s.

Sir Hercules hinted some time ago that I was thought of by some as paid secretary of such a society. I at once pointed out what I believed was its essential weakness – it looked over the ocean for nearly everything – might collect the English but would fail to influence the body of the Dutch – making at the same time certain suggestions.

He answered these but if you are to be paid secretary the responsibility of the policy will rest on those who pay you. Quite clear, but all the more reason why I should do what I can to get the thing on the right lines while I am on an equality with its founders and not in their pay. So I suppose they will look for another secretary. At the same time I have given the governor in writing what I would support in the way of reaching the Dutch community which is our only hope in such efforts. I certainly would not think of joining and pushing a mere … ‘English’ society, which would be doomed to littleness from its birth.

Express broad trust in the Dutch people. Tell them the past history of the country. Shower it upon them in amusing, taking pamphlets etc. Teach them the duties and responsibilities connected with free or responsible government. Bring before them the varied methods, the mechanical appliances, the go ahead ways of Australian and American farmers, teach them that the spread of Europeans must be a matter of legislation and control and not of chance, and then … from Colonial matters as such, declare for the value, the necessity, for a European connexion and express the outspoken opinion that England by right, and by beneficial action in the past, is that Power. Speak also if you like at the end, not in the beginning as some would of the federation of colonies to one another and to England, and by some such way you could go good. You could inform and educate your people here.

I have a clear enough idea how the thing could be done and how the ‘Bond’ could be robbed of many of its supporters, in the course of time. But I shall have nothing to do with a particular thing that tacitly gives the Dutch people the go-by from the outset.

Excuse a hasty note,
I am ever yours sincerely,
John Mackenzie