27 MAY 1899
I was an uitlander for a couple of years in the South African Republic. I have learned since I returned home that during the couple of years mentioned I was a wofully oppressed person. The British and Irish Press have told me so. Possibly it may have been natural dulness combined with a slavish spirit which prevented me from realising while I drew the breath of life under the conquering Vierkleur that I was an abject serf, trodden in the mire by a brutal and ignorant Boer oligarchy. In fact, so far was I from realising the depth of my degradation that I was used to count myself free and think compassionately of my own people—oppressed uitlanders in their own country—and cherish somewhat friendly feelings towards my Dutch oppressors. It is true I possessed no vote; it is also true that I didn’t want one. It is true that I was taxed. The amount I was compelled to pay to a grasping Government was eighteen shillings per year. In return for this sum the grasping Government gave me the protection of its law-courts, guaranteed me the free exercise of my individual rights, policed the town and the country for me, provided me with well-kept roads, admitted me to share equally with every other man who paid his taxes in the division of any gold-field newly-declared open, watched carefully over my health, and guarded the borders from any Kafir incursions without bothering me to leave my business. Of course I am aware since I took to imbibing draughts of distilled wisdom on the Transvaal from the fresh and watery leading columns of the Irish Times, with occasional sips from the B.S.A. Independent and the old unreliable Freeman, that in being mulcted in the sum of eighteen shillings yearly for such things I was most iniquitously oppressed; but it never struck me in those days. Neither did it strike that large and respectable body of uitlanders, to which I had the honour to belong, the workingmen. It did strike the plutocrat and the loafer. How often have I heard the Johannesburg ‘tough,’ denounce the uncivilised Boer! How often have I cocked my revolver when I met the oppressed ‘tough’ on the dark veldt at nightfall waiting with his sandbag to brain and rob the unarmed wayfarer! How often have I heard the British capitalist who drew his hundreds of thousands yearly from the country denounce the tyrannical oligarchy which compelled him to pay eighteen shillings per annum in taxation! Pretoria has a free library, a free newsroom, and a free museum. But Pretoria is ruled by the ignorant Boer who devotes part of his revenue to giving the brutally ground-down uitlander facilities for instruction and recreation. There is no public library, no public newsroom, no public museum in Johannesburg. The oppressed capitalist, groaning under the burden of eighteen-shillings-per-annum has no money to spare for such tomfoolery. If the Johannesburg uitlander hungers for intellectual food he can go into any of the five hundred English bars and beerhalls of Johannesburg and read Pick-me-Up and the Police Budget. Has he not theatres and a music-hall open seven nights in the week and what more can he want? Sometimes he wants food. Then the British capitalist buttons up his pockets and tells him to go to Hades, and he goes to the Boer Government, which if he be a stout fellow gives him a pickaxe and helps him to keep body and soul from parting. Good, liberty-loving England is about to come to the help of uitlanders. If the Boer Government come to their help first by stringing up the filthiest and most savage beings dwelling on a savage continent—the Rand capitalists—every decent uitlander, wiping away tears of joy and gratitude from his eyes, will shoulder his rifle from Oom Paul and the Vierkleur against the world. None will mourn the capitalist save the loafer, who will lament the glorious days when Jameson crossed the border and every ‘tough’ in Johannesburg steeped his interior in free whiskey and pocketed 30s. a day for swaggering round through the streets with a rifle. Still the ‘toughs’ were men of peace in those days. When the Boer ammunition was running low at Doornkop during the fighting with Jameson, Cronje wired to Pretoria for supplies, which were sent to him by train, guarded by six armed men. The train necessarily passed through Johannesburg from one end to the other, but the ‘toughs’—bless their humane souls! —never interfered. When it had gone safely through they blew up the railway track and drank success to Jameson. And when the Boers had finished dusting the earth with Jameson and cantered round Johannesburg way the ‘toughs’ with an unanimity as admirable as it was spontaneous chucked down their guns.
Of course I know nothing about South Africa save through living in, travelling through, and studying its condition somewhat. I read with becoming reverence the lucid and able writings in the Dublin and London Press. My admiration for the journalists who know all about a country they have never been within seven thousand miles of is immense. I have learned more about the character of the Boer since I took to reading the morning papers than I ever did when I lived with him. When John Bull puts on his boxing gloves, saith the Press of these islands, Jan Boer will get a hammering. I know Jan; I have sat on Majuba Hill beside the Englishman’s grave and meditated; I have peeped round Ingogo and journeyed by Lang’s Nek; and I reckon he won’t.