25 NOVEMBER 1899
‘If war comes at any time and we catch Ben Viljoen,’ said an Englishman to me in Johannesburg eighteen months ago, ‘he won’t live long.’ Mark what has occurred.
General Viljoen was at Elanslaagte. The first British cables announced that he had been taken prisoner. I trembled for him when I read the news. Later messages announced that he had been severely wounded. Then paragraphs began to appear in the British Press about ‘The Mystery of Viljoen’s Fate.’ Now, I observe some of the Jingo organs declare the ‘mystery’ has been cleared—that Viljoen was killed at Elandslaagte.
There is one thing of which I am certain—that Viljoen was not killed in the Battle of Elands’ Valley. I daresay he has been killed since by some patriotic British surgeon or some humane British officer and gentleman. I said some weeks ago that the English dare not execute General Viljoen wounded much as they hated him; but a prisoner can be easily and privately despatched in any British camp in times of war. Do not feel scandalised, O goody-goody people, at this charge against the valiant, humane, and chivalrous Britisher. I read three or four weeks ago in some of the Irish papers a speech made by a nice old English gentleman, now living in Ireland on his Government pension. The good old man was shocked that Irishmen should sympathise with ‘the cruel and treacherous Boers.’ I wonder does he ever dream o’ nights of the hour in Natal when he shot through the back of the head a young lad of 19 ‘for the honour of the British army,’ and returned him, with a wink to the War Office, as ‘killed in action’? Have my goody critics ever heard the story of how Mashingombi died in ’97—how when the Pioneers of Civilisation had failed to dynamite him, with his warrior-guard and his womenkind, in his cave, and had failed to smoke him out, they offered him and them life and liberty and invited the brave kafir to come out and discuss the terms? He came out, and they riddled him with bullets. Have these good people ever heard of that gallant British officer, Captain Searle—now ‘doing time’ for robbing the widow and orphan—who had Luka Jantje’s body dug up from its grave and the head cut off to be carried home as a trophy by him? The English are a nation of savages masquerading in the garb of civilisation.
Ben Viljoen was hated by them for several reasons. He was an Afrikander patriot, a democrat of the democrats, and a staunch friend of Ireland and the Irish. When famine was raging in the West of Ireland a couple of years since he was the first Boer to send in a subscription to the Johannesburg and Pretoria Irishmen who were collecting money for their starving countrymen at home. When out ’98 movement was starting in the Transvaal and the Rhodesian and Anglo-Jew journals yelped and snarled at us, Viljoen placed his two newspapers at our disposal to hit back at the traducers of our country. The day the Irishmen of Johannesburg marched through the city singing ‘Who Fears to Speak of ’98?’ Viljoen came up from Krugersdorp to be with them. ’Twas a great day. The Britishers watched the Irish Republican flag go by in sullen silence, but Boer and Hollander, Frenchman and German, Scandinavian and American saluted it as it passed. Old Burgomaster De Villiers came down to meet us that evening and we joined with the Free Farmers in singing the Volkslied and they sang with us ‘God Save Ireland.’
But of Viljoen. I remember when we gave him a copy of the Jubilee Coercion Act to read how astonished he was. ‘What a race these English are!’ said he. ‘Allemachtig! if we passed such a law as that here they might well cry out about oppression!’ The story of England’s treatment of her Irish political prisoners always made him sad to think that Jameson and his cutthroats had not been shot by the Boers, as they should have been.He dreamed of a South Africa in which England’s pirate flag would have no place—a great and free Republic stretching from the Zambesi to the Cape. He was an enemy to the nation which has never shown mercy to a fallen foe, and I have little doubt it has knifed him.
The Boers must believe so, but they will move cautiously. When they have in their possession evidence to prove that Viljoen, a prisoner of war, has been assassinated, the British officers in Pretoria may shrive their souls.