These tortuous roads, which were so beloved by Rhodes, were absolutely abhorrent to the High Commissioner. When Rhodes started the agitation for the suspension of the Constitution, which occupied his thoughts during the last months of his life—an agitation which he had inaugurated out of spite against Mr. Sauer and Mr. Hofmeyr, who had refused to dance to Rhodes’ tune—Sir Alfred Milner had at once seen through the underlying motives of the moment, and what he discerned had not increased his admiration for Rhodes. Sir Alfred had not opposed the plans, but he had never been sanguine as to their chance of success, and they were not in accordance with his own convictions. Had he thought they had the least chance of being adopted, most certainly he would have opposed them with just as much energy as Sir Gordon Sprigg had done. He saw quite well that it would not have been opportune or politic to put himself into open opposition to Rhodes. Sir Alfred therefore did not contradict the rumours which attributed to him the desire to reduce the Cape to the condition of a Crown Colony, but bent his energy to the far more serious task of negotiating a permanent peace with the leading men in the Transvaal, a peace for which he did not want the protection of Rhodes, and to which an association with Rhodes might have proved inimical to the end in view—the ideal of a South African Federation which Rhodes had been the first to visualise, but which Providence did not permit him to see accomplished.
THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS
It is impossible to speak or write about the South African War without mentioning the Concentration Camps. A great deal of fuss was made about them, not only abroad, where all the enemies of England took a particular and most vicious pleasure in magnifying the so-called cruelties which were supposed to take place, but also in the English Press, where long and heartrending accounts appeared concerning the iniquities and injustices practised by the military authorities on the unfortunate Boer families assembled in the Camps.
In recurring to this long-forgotten theme, I must first of all say that I do not hold a brief for the English Government or for the administration which had charge of British interests in South Africa. But pure and simple justice compels me to protest, first against the use which was made for party purposes of certain regrettable incidents, and, more strongly still, against the totally malicious and ruthless way in which the incidents were interpreted.
It is necessary before passing a judgment on the Concentration Camps to explain how it came about that these were organised. At the time of which I am writing people imagined that by Lord Kitchener’s orders Boer women, children and old people were forcibly taken away from their homes and confined, without any reason for such an arbitrary proceeding, in unhealthy places where they were subjected to an existence of privation as well as of humiliation and suffering. Nothing of the kind had taken place.