AN ESTIMATE OF SIR ALFRED MILNER
The conditions under which Sir Alfred Milner found himself compelled to shape his policy of conciliation were beset with obstacles and difficulties. An understanding of these is indispensable to the one who would read aright the history of that period of Imperial evolution.
The question of the refugees who overwhelmed Cape Colony with their lamentations, after they had been obliged to leave the Transvaal at the beginning of the hostilities—the claims of the Rand multi-millionaires—the indignation of the Dutch Colonists confined in concentration camps by order of the military authorities—the Jingoes who thought it would be only right to shoot down every Dutch sympathiser in the country: these were among the things agitating the South African public mind, and setting up conflicting claims impossible of adjustment without bitter censure on one hand or the other. The wonder is that, amid all these antagonistic elements, Sir Alfred Milner contrived to fulfil the larger part of the tasks which he had sketched out for himself before he left England.
The programme which Sir Alfred planned to carry out proved, in the long run, to have been thoroughly sound in conception and practice, because it contained in embryo all the conditions under which South Africa became united. It is remarkable, indeed, that such a very short time after a war which seemed altogether to have compromised any hope of coalescing, the Union of South Africa should have become an accomplished fact.
Yet, strange as it may appear, it is certain that up to his retirement from office Sir Alfred Milner was very little known in South Africa. He had been so well compelled by force of circumstances to lead an isolated life that very few had opportunity to study his character or gain insight into his personality. In Cape Town he was judged by his policy. People forgot that all the time he was at Government House, Cape Town, he was a man as well as a politician: a man whose efforts and work in behalf of his country deserved some kind of consideration even from his enemies. It is useless to discuss whether Sir Alfred did or did not make mistakes before the beginning of the war. Why waste words over events which cannot be helped, and about which there will always be two opinions? Personally, I think that his errors were essentially of the kind which could not have been avoided, and that none of them ever compromised ultimately the great work which he was to bring to a triumphant close.