The Cape to Cairo Railway was one of those vast schemes that can be ascribed to the same quality in his character as that which made him so essentially an Empire Maker. It was a project of world-wide importance, and destined to set the seal to the paramount influence of Great Britain over the whole of Africa. It was a work which, without Rhodes, would never have been accomplished. He was right to feel proud of having conceived it; and England, too, ought to be proud of having counted among her sons a man capable of starting such a vast enterprise and of going on with it despite the violent opposition and the many misgivings with which it was received by the general public.
RHODES AND THE AFRIKANDER BOND
To return to the subject of the negotiations which undoubtedly took place between Rhodes and the leaders of the Afrikander Bond during the war, I must say that, so far as I know, they can rank among the most disinterested actions of his life. For once there was no personal interest or possible material gain connected with his desire to bring the Dutch elements in South Africa to look upon the situation from the purely patriotic point of view, as he did himself.
It would have been most certainly to the advantage of everybody if, instead of persisting in a resistance which was bound to collapse, no matter how successful it might appear to have been at its start, the Boers, together with the Dutch Afrikanders, had sent the olive branch to Cape Town. There would then have been some hope of compromise or of coming to terms with England before being crushed by her armies. It would have been favourable to English interests also had the great bitterness, which rendered the war such a long and such a rabid one, not had time to spread all over the country. Rhodes’ intervention, which Sir Alfred Milner could not have refused had he offered it, backed by the Boers on one side and by the English Progressive party in the Colony on the other, might have brought about great results and saved many lives.
No blame, therefore, ought to attach to Cecil Rhodes for wishing to present the Boer side of the case. It would, indeed, have been wiser on the part of Mr. Hofmeyr and other Bond leaders to have forgotten the past and given a friendly hand to the one man capable of unravelling the tangled skein of affairs.
At that period, whilst the siege of Kimberley was in progress, it is certain that serious consideration was given to this question of common action on the part of Rhodes and of the two men who practically held the destinies of the Transvaal in their hands—de Wet and General Botha, with Mr. Hofmeyr as representative of the Afrikander Bond at their back. Why it failed would for ever remain a mystery if one did not remember that everywhere in South Africa lurked hidden motives of self-interest which interfered with the best intentions. The fruits of the seed of distrust sown by the Raid were not easy to eradicate.