THE INFLUENCE OF SIR ALFRED MILNER
The occult power exercised by the League on the inner politics of South Africa could not fail to impress Sir Alfred Milner most unpleasantly. Frank himself, it must have often been absolutely repulsive to him to have to do with people whom he feared to trust and who believed that they could bring into political life the laxities of the mining camp. Though not aware of it, even before he landed in Cape Town the Progressives had made up their minds to represent him as determined to sweep the Dutch off the face of the earth.
Believing Sir Alfred to be the confederate of Rhodes, the Boers, too, would have nothing to do with him. Whilst the Bloemfontein Conference was going on President Kruger, as well as the leaders of the Afrikander Bond, were overwhelmed with covert warnings to distrust the High Commissioner. Whence they emanated is not a matter of much doubt. Sir Alfred was accused of wanting to lay a trap for the Boer plenipotentiaries, who were told to beware of him as an accomplice of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, whose very name produced at Pretoria the same effect as a red rag upon a bull. Under these circumstances the Conference was bound to fail, and the High Commissioner returned to Cape Town, very decidedly a sadder and most certainly a wiser man.
Now that years have passed since the Boer War it is possible to secure a better perspective, in the light of which one can question whether it would have been possible to avoid the conflict by an arrangement of some kind with the Boer Republics, Personally, I believe that an understanding was not out of the question if the strong financial interests had not opposed its accomplishment; but at the same time a patched up affair would not have been a happy event for either South Africa or for England. It would have left matters in almost the same condition as they had been before, and the millionaires, who were the real masters on the Rand, would have found a dozen pretexts to provoke a new quarrel with the Transvaal Government. Had the Boer Executive attempted to do away with the power of the concerns which ruled the gold mines and diamond fields, it would have courted a resistance with which it would have been next to impossible to deal. The war would still have taken place, but it might have occurred at a far less favourable moment. No arrangement with President Kruger, even one most propitious to British interests, could have done away with the corruption and the bribery which, from the first moment of the discovery of the gold fields, invaded that portion of South Africa, and this corruption would always have stood in the way of the establishment of the South African Union.