Rhodes and Dutch Sentiment.—Recognizing the difficulties of the position, Cecil Rhodes from the outset of his political career showed his desire to conciliate Dutch sentiment by considerate treatment and regard for Dutch prejudices. Rhodes was first returned as member of the House of Assembly for Barkly West in 188O, and in spite of all vicissitudes this constituency remained loyal to him. He supported the bill permitting Dutch to be used in the House of Assembly in 1882, and early in 1884 he first took office, as treasurer-general, under Sir Thomas Scanlen. Rhodes had only held this position for six weeks when Sir Thomas Scanlen resigned, and in August of the same year he was sent by Sir Hercules Robinson to British Bechuanaland as deputy-commissioner in succession to the Rev. John Mackenzie, the London Missionary Society's representative at Kuruman, who in the previous May had proclaimed the queen's authority over the district. Rhodes's efforts to conciliate the Boers failed—hence the necessity for the Warren mission. In 1885 the territories of Cape Colony were farther extended, and Tembuland, Bomvanaland and Galekaland were formally added to the colony. In 1886 Sir Gordon Sprigg succeeded Sir Thomas Upington as prime minister.
South African Customs Union.—The period from 1878 to 1885 in Cape Colony had been one of considerable unrest. In this short time, in addition to the chronic troubles with the Basutos—which led the Cape to hand them over to the imperial authorities—there occurred a series of native disturbances which were followed by the Boer War of 1881, and the Bechuanaland disturbances of 1884. In spite, however, of these drawbacks, the development of the country proceeded. The diamond industry was flourishing. In 1887 a conference was held in London for “promoting a closer union between the various parts of the British empire by means of an imperial tariff of customs.” At this conference it is worthy of note that Mr Hofmeyr propounded a sort of “Zollverein” scheme, in which imperial customs were to be levied independently of the duties payable on all goods entering the empire from abroad. In making the proposition he stated that his objects were “to promote the union of the empire, and at the same time to obtain revenue for the purposes of general defence.” The scheme was not at the time found practicable. But its authorship, as well as the sentiments accompanying it, created a favourable view of Mr Hofmeyr's attitude. In the year 1888, in spite of the failure of statesmen and high commissioners to bring about political confederation, the members of the Cape parliament set about the establishment of a South African Customs Union. A Customs Union Bill was passed, and this in itself constituted a considerable development of the idea of federation. Shortly after the passing of the bill the Orange Free State entered the union. An endeavour was also made then, and for many years afterwards, to get the Transvaal to join. But President Kruger, consistently pursuing his own policy, hoped through the Delagoa Bay railway to make the South African Republic entirely independent of Cape Colony. The endeavour to bring about a customs union which would embrace the Transvaal was also little to the taste of President Kruger's Hollander advisers, interested as they were in the schemes of the Netherlands Railway Company, who owned the railways of the Transvaal.
Diamonds and Railways.—Another event of considerable commercial importance to the Cape Colony, and indeed to South Africa, was the amalgamation of the diamond-mining companies, chiefly brought about by Cecil Rhodes, Alfred Beit and “Barney” Barnato, in 1889. One of the principal and most beneficent results of the discovery and development of the diamond mines was the great impetus which it gave to railway extension. Lines were opened up to Worcester and Beaufort West, to Graham's Town, Graaff Reinet and Queenstown. Kimberley was reached in 1885. In 1890 the line was extended northwards on the western frontier of the Transvaal as far as Vryburg in Bechuanaland. In 1889 the Free State entered into an arrangement with the Cape Colony whereby the main trunk railway was extended to Bloemfontein, the Free State receiving half the profits. Subsequently the Free State bought at cost price the portion of the railway in its own territory. In 1891 the Free State railway was still farther extended to Viljoen's Drift on the Vaal river, and in 1892 it reached Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Rhodes as Prime Minister: Native Policy.—In 1889 Sir Henry Loch was appointed high commissioner and governor of Cape Colony in succession to Sir Hercules Robinson. In 1890 Sir Gordon Sprigg, the premier of the colony, resigned, and a Rhodes government was formed. Prior to the formation of this ministry (see table at end of article), and while Sir Gordon Sprigg was still in office, Mr Hofmeyr approached Rhodes and offered to put him in office as a Bond nominee. This offer was declined. When, however, Rhodes was invited to take office after the downfall of the Sprigg ministry, he asked the Bond leaders to meet him and discuss the situation. His policy of customs and railway unions between the various states, added to the personal esteem in which he was at this time held by many of the Dutchmen, enabled him to undertake and to carry on successfully the business of government.
The colonies of British Bechuanaland and Basutoland were now taken into the customs union existing between the Orange Free State and Cape Colony. Pondoland, another native territory, was added to the colony in 1894, and the year was marked by the Glen Grey Act, a departure in native policy for which Rhodes was chiefly responsible. It dealt with the natives residing in certain native reserves, and in addition to providing for their interests and holdings, and in other ways protecting the privileges accorded to them, the principle of the duty of some degree of labour devolving upon every able-bodied native enjoying these privileges was asserted, and a small labour tax was levied. This is in many respects the most statesmanlike act dealing with natives on the statute-book; and in the session of 1895 Rhodes was able to report to the Cape parliament that the act then applied to 160,000 natives. In 1905 the labour clauses of this act, which had fallen into desuetude, were repealed. The clauses had, however, achieved success, in that they had caused many thousands of natives to fulfil the conditions requisite to claim exemption.
In other respects Rhodes's native policy was marked by combined consideration and firmness. Ever since the granting of self-government the natives had enjoyed the franchise. An act passed in 1892, at the instance of Rhodes, imposed an educational test on applicants for registration, and made other provisions, all tending to restrict the acquisition of the franchise by “tribal” natives, the possible danger arising from a large native vote being already obvious (see section Constitution).
Rhodes opposed the native liquor traffic, and at the risk of offending some of his supporters among the brandy-farmers of the western provinces, he suppressed it entirely on the diamond mines, and restricted it as far as he was able in the native reserves and territories. Nevertheless the continuance of this traffic on colonial farms, as well as to some extent in the native territories and reserves, is a black spot in the annals of the Cape Colony. The Hottentots have been terribly demoralized, and even partially destroyed by it in the western province.
Another and little-known instance of Rhodes's keen insight in dealing with native affairs—an action which had lasting results on the history of the colony—may be given. After the native territories east of the Kei had been added to Cape Colony, a case of claim to inheritance came up for trial, and in accordance with the law of the colony, the court held that the eldest son of a native was his heir. This decision created the strongest resentment among the people of the territory, as it was in distinct
- The act enjoined that “every male native residing in the district, exclusive of natives in possession of lands under ordinary quit-rent titles, or in freehold, who, in the judgment of the resident magistrate, is fit for and capable of labour, shall pay to the public revenue a tax of ten shillings per annum unless he can show to the satisfaction of the magistrate that he has been in service beyond the borders of the district for at least three months out of the previous twelve, when he will be exempt from the tax for that year, or unless he can show that he has been employed for a total period of three years, when he will be exempt altogether.”