John Mackenzie to Frederick Chesson, 27 August 1884, C141/197

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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 / C141-197


Government House
Cape Town
August 27 1884

My dear Mr Chesson,

I sent home some documents last week which will explain the corner into which I have been driven personally, and the corner into which my opponents would like to drive the Imperial Govt in South Africa.

Unable to reply to what was brought forward against them in the columns of the English press President Kruger waits till he reaches the Transvaal and he has ascended the Presidential Chair and from that high and official position declares Her Majesty’s Representative and High Commissioner in this country to be ‘a liar’.

You are aware that however cordial members of H.M.Govt were to me personally, the Commissionership itself was ‘tentative’ and my tenure of it such as could be dropped at any time. There is therefore nothing standing in the way of dropping me at once in deference to the unreasoning demand of the Transvaal and its sympathizers here.

Speaking confidentially I found many of the elements of a quarrel here as between the governor and his present ministers ‘strained relations’ is I believe the proper word. I have been doing my best in a small way to get the ministers to cooperate at once. Of course I am pocketing all personal slight and insult which they have gratuitously thrown on my personally, and seek only the public well-being.

I am not sure but that there may be some result – after all – which would be queer – the discarded commissioner – helping with the very men who have tripped him up. In fact there is real work to be done in Cape Town from my point of view. I feel I could do something towards it; but I see no way at present upon to me.

Mission work is as dear to me as ever it was. But one gets interested in a subject like that which has recently occupied my attention; and if I went up to Kuruman or other mission station I should be as it were dead to the South African political world.

If some of the South African papers are not ‘in hand’ in Bechuanaland their conduct lately has been very like it. One editor told me that Donovan had offered him two farms ‘for his services.’ But it is not every recipient of such a gift who would be so communicative.

Public opinion could be reached and led here, no doubt; and it seems the thing to attempt, if one is not fighting the rougher battle in Bechuanaland. But how to get at this, from what position, in what capacity, are questions to which as yet I found no reply.

There is no doubt that my presence here has prevented a very great mess in Bechuanaland, I mean a greater disgrace than now clings to us.

‘From all we hear Niekirk has the majority. Rhodes will visit Niekirk and get him to cooperate.’ When Bower was afterwards appointed at Rhodes’ request it was the first intention that he shd go straight to Niekirk and with Niekirk attend an armed meeting called by Niekirk within the Protectorate. I spoke and then wrote against this course. I said Niekirk has not the majority; and if he had we are clearly bound to support those who have been true to us, the Cape Colonists the Free State people and the English who are in Stellaland. Rhodes should leave Niekirk alone and go at once to Rooigrond and see whether his bodily presence can do anything there. Representations or negotiations have been already tried and have failed. Bower should advertize his own meeting now by telegram and express: to take place before Niekirk’s avowed meeting. The people will be naturally disconcerted at my removal and the change of men. Such a meeting will go towards giving confidence. Bower refused to call the meeting but His Exy agreed to instruct him to go Vryburg first and consult with those men there. A telegram has just come in from him dated from Vryburg in which he declares that the supporters of Mackenzie are more numerous than he expected to find them! What Mr Bower’s expectations were and on what based I don’t know. He then goes on to say that their numbers will increase his difficulty! You can have no idea of how law we have got in this affair. ‘Mackenzie, we must just join the strongest side up there, if it is Niekirk we must join him; we are not going to fight, and so have no choice. But please to notice this, Niekirk is not really for us. He has been twice tried and has failed. He is for the Transvaal. He was in a minority. He himself has no right to open his mouth, having no longer any land in Stellaland. You throw away the trustworthy people, go over to the other side and hope they will do you work on you. They will give you nothing. This talk had its effect, and Bower was instructed that the people who had come cheerfully under Imperial Government must not be molested by the other (Transvaal) side. Bower says he asked those people at Vryburg if they would not come under Niekirk, the discredited openly faithless man that he is. They said no, to a man. Wld they fight rather? Yes they would fight. This Bower says is his great difficulty.

Bower has disbanded a detachment of police the sons and younger brothers of Boers in Stellaland young fellows who had taken the oath, and who were beginning to be enthusiastic as to our service, Before coming away I addressed them and said it would be a good thing if in the intervals of drill and patrol duty, they learned to read better and to write. Their drill sergeant promised to teach them, in fact he said he had begun to do so. These young fellows have been disbanded ‘of no use without guns and horses.’ Of course these latter could not be procured in a day but these had been no unnecessary delay. This has gone to my heart badly, especially as His Exy has sanctioned their disbandment. I believe on the score of expense. One or two were under 17, but they were all smart and it was said could all ride and shoot. While those who oppose us are well armed and appointed we disband our men. I had 30 of Lowe’s police at Vryburg and their presence gave great satisfaction to the inhabitants. They have been removed to the neighbourhood of Taung, in fact those who have been faithful to us are to day completely at the mercy of Mr Niekirk, except in so far as they can defend themselves.

You will understand why I tell you these things. Sir Hercules is as friendly and kind as ever and declares he is more disappointed at what has happened than I am. But he has great difficulties with his present ministers. They are under Dutch influence; but the Dutch wire-pullers are outside the governor’s influence. It is a mimicry of Responsible Government, and our present distressess would not have occurred under Scanlen’s premiership. You have no idea how much the word of England is distrusted here. I could not have believed it. Sprigg is especially bitter. We are in anxiety here at present to know what comes out of the efforts of my successors Rhodes and Bower.

Sir Hercules kindly asked me to come to Govt House as by that means he has more time at odd minutes to go over matters. I have often wished I could have written oftener to you; but the thing will come out pretty clearly when the Bluebooks are printed.

I could not have expected the brutal treatment which I have received personally at the hands of my fellow countrymen. The Dutch know why they oppose me; why Englishmen do so except to ‘conciliate’ the Dutch is a mystery.

I shall be glad to hear from you, and the Post Office people here are sure to know where I am.

You will understand that this letter is strictly confidential.
Kindest regards,
Ever yours sincerely
John Mackenzie