Ernest Belfort Bax

South Africa Again

(27 June 1896)

South Africa Again, Justice, 27th June 1896, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The heroic, the valiant Mr. Cecil Rhodes, that typical hero of the man, who “has built up the British Empire,” finding the unaccompanied journey to Buluwayo might, as certain newspaper correspondents hinted, involve too great an exposure of his valuable person – and without him who should sustain the British name in South Africa? – found it prudent to exhaust the resources of Mashonaland in respect of fighting men to furnish an escort for his march. The result is that the Mashonaland population, who, we were credibly informed, were basking in the sunshine of Chartered-Company rule, only too delighted to be freed from the grinding tyranny of the wicked Matabele, have seized the opportunity of making common cause with their oppressors (?) against the beneficent white swashbuckler. This may be an ill-judged proceeding, and shows that “niggers” evidently do not always know what’s good for them. But anyway it rather spoils the legend of the hated and oppressing Matabele from whom the poor Mashonas were sighing for “protection” – at least for those of us who are not personally interested in Chartered Company shares. The Mashonas, the moment Mr. Cecil Rhodes’s valuable person (in its capacity of the embodiment of true British pluck in South Africa) required the presence of the warriors who had hitherto been watching over them, were suddenly seized with the unaccountable desire to shake off the beneficent rule in favour of the cruel oppressor !

The origin of the British possessions in this part of South Africa dates from 1888, when Cecil Rhodes, Rudd, and Co., obtained their first concession to “dig gold” in Mashonaland. On the strength of this “deal,” which they extorted from Lobengula by a neat little piece of trickery, these three “British gentlemen” proceeded to found settlements, and to buy up a German adventurer who had meanwhile obtained certain surface concessions in the same territory. This may have been all fair business, but meanwhile poor Lobengula, who was “ill at these numbers,” had recourse to the Queen, as he was “much troubled by white men who came into his country to dig gold.” Now follows perhaps the foulest piece of low diplomatic card-sharping in the annals of modern history. The reply sent (through Lord Knutsford) states “that the wisest and safest course for him (Lobengula) to adopt, and that which will give least trouble to him and his tribe” would be to “give his confidence and support to the Company and its representatives in Matabeleland, who will consult Lobengula’s wishes, &c.” It goes on to add, “The Queen has caused inquiry to be made respecting these persons” – to whit, Rudd, Rhodes, Jameson, and Co. – “and is satisfied that they are men who will fulfil their undertakings and who may be trusted to carry out the working for gold in the chief’s country without molesting his people, or in any way interfering with his kraals, gardens, or cattle.”

Another dispatch, after reiterating the advice “to entrust to that body of white men of whom Mr. Jameson is now the chief representative in Mashonaland, the duty of deciding disputes and keeping the peace among white persons in this country” adds the words, “Of course this must be as Lobengula likes, as he is king of the country, and no one can exercise jurisdiction in it without his permission.” What followed on this diplomatic drugging is well-known – the burglarious inroad of 1893 with its cowardly murder of natives, including unarmed envoys, at the behest of the courageous “Dr. Jim” of weeping and expostulating notoriety (it should be mentioned that only seven Englishmen lost their lives to three thousand of the Matabele slain, before the destruction of Wilson’s party). The next “deal” was the theft by the Chartered Company of the people’s cattle, their only means of subsistence, under the pretence that the Company had stepped into Lobengula’s place. This robbery of the cattle, by which the native means of livelihood was taken away, was the real cause of the present rising. What is going on now we all know. The letter published in the Chronicle a few days ago from one of those engaged – gloating over the bestial murder of poor defenceless blacks – ought, one would think, to have some effect in that unreliable quantity, the public conscience, if it exists at all.

As for these African native races, they have such a fetish-worship for the white man, whom they rarely molest save under the pressure of the most galling provocation, that they rarely use an advantage even when it lies to their hand. They dread killing white men. Hence the unaccountable inactivity of the native impis a few weeks ago, when Buluwayo with all its white scum of “nigger” slaughterers might have been wiped off the face of the globe by a single descent in force.

I am aware that certain otherwise decent persons are inclined to make excises for the ruffians who thieve and murder in the territories of savage and barbaric races on the ground of the inevitable tendency of civilisation to spread, or youthful love of adventure, or the necessity of the young man of the surplus population, unable to make a living at home, to find a remunerative outlet for his energies, and so forth. And, singularly enough, these are often the same persons who can denounce with unction the moral depravity of your terrorist Anarchist, or your common criminal, your Stellmacher or Ravachol, or your Milsom or Fowler, for him they can find no sort of palliative, whatever his upbringing or temptations. Their excuses or justifications are reserved for the coldblooded fortune-hunter, who confines his depredations to weaker races. Yet if we are to allow plunder or diebspolitik at all it is difficult to see on what ethical ground the distinction is drawn.

Those who do not sympathise with this view of the matter will doubtless welcome the SDF resolution at the Congress on Colonial policy. A well-informed person (not a Socialist) assures me that half a dozen energetic men, experienced in military training, could effect wonders in a very short time in the way of organising a powerful defence, with such excellent raw fighting material as some of these warlike South African races.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 26.5.2004