But Rhodes preferred to maintain his waiting attitude, whilst trying at the same time to accumulate as many proofs as possible that people wanted him to assert himself at last. It was the fact that these proofs were denied to him at the very minute when he imagined he held them already in his hands which led to his suddenly turning once more against the persons he had been almost on the point of propitiating. It led him to begin the movement for the suspension of the Constitution in Cape Colony, out of which he expected so much and which he intended to use as his principal weapon against the enemies whom he suspected. That was the last great political venture in his life; it failed, but merciful Providence allowed him not to see the utter collapse of his latest house of cards.
UNDER MARTIAL LAW
It may be useful, or at any rate of interest, before I lay my pen aside, to refer to several things which, at the time they occurred, caused torrents of ink to flow both in England and in South Africa.
The most important, perhaps, was the application of martial law in Cape Colony. I must repeat that I hold no brief for England. My affection and admiration for her does not go to the extent of remaining absolutely blind to faults she has made in the past, and perhaps is making in the present. I will not deny that martial law, which, unfortunately, is a necessity in wartime, was sometimes applied with severity in South Africa. But the odium rests principally on the loyalists; their spiteful information in many cases induced British officers to treat as rebels people who had never even dreamt of rebellion.
It must not be forgotten that those to whom was entrusted the application of martial law had perforce to rely on local residents, whom they could not possibly suspect of using these officers to satisfy private animosities of further private interests. These British officers had never been used to see suspicion reign as master, or to watch a perfectly conscious twisting of the truth in order to condemn, or even destroy, innocent people. A young and probably inexperienced officer sent into a small place like Aliwal North or Uitenhage, for instance, found himself obliged to rely for information as to the loyalty of the inhabitants on some adventurer who, through capitalist influence, had obtained an executive post of some kind. How can one wonder, therefore, that many regrettable incidents occurred and were immediately made capital of by the Bond party further to embitter the feelings of the Dutch Colonists?