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THE TRANSVAAL BLUE-BOOKS.
C-9345, issued June 14.
THE OUTLANDERS' PETITION.
The humble petition of British subjects resident on the Witwaters
rand, South African Republic, to her Most Gracious Majesty
Queen Victoria. Showeth that:
1. For a number of years, prior to 1896, considerable discontent existed among the Outlander population of the South African Republic, caused by the manner in which the Government of the country was being conducted. The great majority of the Outlander population consists of British subjects.
2. It was, and is, notorious that the Outlanders have no share in the government of the country, although they constitute an absolute majority of the inhabitants of this State, possess a very large proportion of the land, and represent the intellect, wealth and energy of the State.
3. The feelings of intense irritation which have been aroused by this state of things have been aggravated by the manner in which remonstrances have been met. Hopes have been held out and promises have been made by the Government of this State from time to time, but no practical amelioration of the conditions of life has resulted.
4. Petitions, signed by large numbers of your Majesty's subjects, have been repeatedly addressed to the Government of this State, but have failed of their effect, and have been even scornfully rejected.
5. At the end of 1895 the discontent culminated in an armed insurrection against the Government of this State, which, however, failed of its object.
6. On that occasion the people of Johannesburg placed themselves unreservedly in the hands of your Majesty's High Commissioner, in the fullest confidence that he would see justice done to them.
7. On that occasion also President Kruger published a proclamation, in which he again held out hopes of substantial reforms.
8. Instead, however, of the admitted grievances being redressed, the spirit of the legislation adopted by the Volksraad during the past few years has been of a most unfriendly character, and has made the position of the Outlanders more irksome than before.
9. In proof of the above statement your Majesty's petitioners would humbly refer to such measures as the following :
The Immigration of Aliens Act (Law 30 of 1896);
Of these the first was withdrawn at the instance of your Majesty's Government as being an infringement of the London Convention of 1884.
By the second the President is invested with the powers of suppressing wholly, or for a stated time, any publication which in his individual opinion is opposed to good manners or subversive of order. This despotic power he has not hesitated to exercise towards newspapers which support British interests; while newspapers which support the Government have been allowed to publish inflammatory and libellous articles, and to advocate atrocious crimes without interference.
The Aliens Expulsion Act draws a distinction between the burghers of the State and Outlanders which, your Majesty's petitioners humbly submit, is in conflict with the Convention of 1884. Thus, whilst burghers of the State are protected from expulsion, British subjects can be put over the border at the will of the President without the right of appealing to the High Court, which is, nevertheless, open to the offending burgher. This law was repealed only to be re-enacted in all its essential provisions during the last session of the Volksraad.
10. The promise made by the President with regard to conferring municipal government upon Johannesburg was to outward appearance kept; but it is an ineffective measure, conferring small benefit upon the community, and investing the inhabitants with but little additional power of legislating for their own municipal affairs. Of the two members to be elected for each ward, one at least must be a burgher. Besides this, the Burgomaster is appointed by the Government-not elected by the people. The Burgomaster has a casting vote, and, considering himself a representative of the Government and not of the people, has not hesitated to oppose his will to the unanimous vote of the councillors. The Government also possess the right to veto any resolution of the council. As the burghers resident in Johannesburg were estimated at the last census as 1,039 in number, as against 23,503 Outlanders, and as they belong to the poorest and most ignorant class, it is manifest that these burghers have an undue share in the representation of the town, and are invested with a power which neutralises the efforts of the larger and more intelligent portion of the community. Every burgher resident is qualified to vote, irrespective of being a ratepayer or property owner within the municipal area.
11. Notwithstanding the evident desire of the Government to legislate solely in the interests of the burghers, and impose undue burdens on the Outlanders, there was still a hope that the declaration of the President on December 30, 1896, had some meaning, and that the Government would duly consider grievances properly brought before its notice. Accordingly, in the early part of 1897, steps were taken to bring to the notice of the Government the alarming depression in the mining industry, and the reasons which, in the opinions of men well qualified to judge, had led up to it.
12. The Government at last appointed a Commission, consisting of its own officials, which was empowered to inquire into the industrial conditions of the mining population, and to suggest such a scheme for the removal of existing grievances as might seem advisable and necessary.
13. On August 5 the Commission issued their report, in which the reasons for the then state of depression were fully set forth, and many reforms were recommended as necessary for the well-being of the community. Among them it will be sufficient to mention the appointment of an industrial board, having its seat in Johannesburg, for the special supervision of the liquor law, and the pass law, and to combat the illicit dealing in gold and amalgam.
14. The Government refused to accede to the report of the Commission, which was a standing indictment against its administration in the past, but referred the question to the Volksraad, which in turn referred it to a select committee of its own members. The result created consternation in Johannesburg; for, whilst abating in some trifling respects burdens which bore heavily on the mining industry, the committee of the Raad, ignoring the main recommendations of the Commission, actually advised an increased taxation of the country, and that in a way which bore most heavily on the Outlander. The suggestions of the committee were at once adopted, and the tariff increased accordingly.
15. At the beginning of 1897 the Government went a step farther in their aggressive policy towards the Outlander, and attacked the independence of the High Court; which, until then, your Majesty's subjects had regarded as the sole remaining safeguard of their civil rights. Early in that year Act No. 1 was rushed through the Volksraad with indecent haste. This high-handed act was not allowed to pass without criticism; but the Government, deaf to all remonstrance, threatened reprisals on those professional men who raised their voices in protest; and, finally on February 16, 1898, dismissed the Chief Justice, Mr. J. G. Kotze, for maintaining his opinions. His place was filled shortly afterwards by Mr. Gregorowski, the judge who had been especially brought from the Orange Free State to preside over the trial of the Reform prisoners in 1896, and who, after the passing of the Act above referred to, had expressed an opinion that no man of self-respect would sit on the bench whilst that law remained on the Statute-book of the Republic. All the judges at the time this law was passed condemned it in a formal protest, publicly read by the Chief Justice in the High Court, as a gross interference with the independence of that tribunal. That protest has never been modified or retracted, and of the five judges who signed the declaration three still sit on the bench.
16. The hostile attitude of the Government towards your Majesty's subjects has been accentuated by the building of forts not only around Pretoria, but also overlooking Johannesburg. The existence of these forts is a source of constant menace and irritation to British subjects, and does much to keep alive that race-feeling which the Government of this State professes to deprecate. This feeling of hostility has infected the general body of burghers. Most noticeable is the antagonistic demeanour of the police and of the officials under whom they immediately act.
17. The constitution and personnel of the police force is one of the standing menaces to the peace of Johannesburg. It has already been the subject of remonstrance to the Government of this Republic, but hitherto without avail. An efficient police force cannot be drawn from a people such as the burghers of this State; nevertheless, the Government refuses to open its ranks to any other class of the community. As a consequence the safety of the lives and property of the inhabitants is confided in a large measure to the care of men fresh from the country districts, who are unaccustomed to town life and ignorant of the ways and requirements of the people. When it is considered that this police force is armed with revolvers in addition to the ordinary police truncheons, it is not surprising that, instead of a defence, they are absolutely a danger to the community at large.
17a. Trial by jury exists in name, but the jurors are selected exclusively from among the burghers. Consequently, in any case where there is the least possibility of race or class interests being involved, there is the gravest reason to expect a miscarriage of justice.
18. Encouraged and abetted by the example of their superior officers, the police have become lately more aggressive than ever in their attitude towards British subjects. As, however, remonstrances and appeals to the Government were useless, the indignities to which your Majesty's subjects were daily exposed from this source had to be endured as best they might. Public indignation was at length fully roused by the death at the hands of a police constable of a British subject named Tom Jackson Edgar.
19. The circumstances of this affair were bad enough in themselves, but were accentuated by the action of the Public Prosecutor, who, although the accused was charged with murder, on his own initiative reduced the charge to that of culpable homicide only, and released the prisoner on the recognisances of his comrades in the police force, the bail being fixed originally at 2001., or less than the amount which is commonly demanded for offences under the liquor law, or for charges of common assault.
20. This conduct of a high State official caused the most intense feeling to prevail in Johannesburg. It was then thought that the time had arrived to take some steps whereby British subjects might for the future be protected from the indignities of which they had so long complained. It was, therefore, decided to make an appeal direct to your Most Gracious Majesty, setting forth the grievances under which your Majesty's subjects labour. A petition was accordingly prepared and presented to your Majesty's Vice-Consul on December 24, 1898, by some 4,000 or 5,000 British subjects. The behaviour of those present was orderly and quiet, and everything was done to prevent any infringement of the Public Meetings Law.
21. Owing to a technical informality your Majesty's representative declined to transmit the petition to your Majesty.
22. Immediately it become known that the petition would not go forward to your Majesty, the Government ordered the arrest of Messrs. Clement Davies Webb and Thomas Robery Dodd, respectively the vicepresident and secretary of the Transvaal Province of the South African League, under whose auspices the petition had been presented, on a charge of contravening the Public Meetings Act by convening a meeting in the open air. They were admitted to bail of 1,0001. each, five times the amount required from the man charged with culpable homicide.
23. Thereupon your Majesty's subjects, considering the arrest of these two gentlemen a gross violation of the rights of British subjects, and an attempt to strain unduly against them a law which had already been represented to the Government as pressing most heavily upon the Outlander population, decided to call a public meeting in an enclosed place, as permitted by the law, for the purpose of ventilating their grievances and endorsing a fresh petition to your Majesty.
24. Prior to holding the meeting, the South African League ascertained from the Government, through the State Attorney, that, as in their opinion the meeting was perfectly legal in its objects, the Government had no intention of prohibiting it.
25. The meeting took place on January 14, 1899, at the Amphitheatre, a large iron building capable of holding from 3,000 to 4,000 people. Prior to the advertised hour of opening an overwhelmingly large body of Boers, many of whom were police in plain clothes and other employees of the Government, forced an entrance by a side door, and practically took complete possession of the building. They were all more or less armed, some with sticks, some with police batons, some with iron bars and some with revolvers.
26. The mere appearance of the speakers was the signal for disorder to commence; the Boers would not allow the meeting to proceed, but at once commenced to wreck the place, break up the chairs, and utilise the broken portions of them as weapons of offence against any single unarmed Englishman they could find.
27. There were present several Government officials, justices of the peace, and lieutenants of police in uniform, and the commandant of police, but they were appealed to in vain, and the work of destruction proceeded, apparently with their concurrence. Several Englishmen were severely injured by the attacks of the rioters, but in no case was an arrest effected, although offenders were pointed out and their arrest demanded ; nor, indeed, was any attempt made by the police to quell the riot. Up to the present time no steps have been taken by the Government towards prosecuting the ringleaders of the disturbance, nor has a single arrest been made, notwithstanding the fact that the police officials who were present at the meeting admitted that some of the rioters were well known to them.
28. Those of your Majesty's subjects who were present at the meeting were unarmed and defenceless, and seeing that the rioters had the support of the police and of some of the higher officials of the State, they refrained from any attempt at retaliation, preferring to rely upon more constitutional methods, and to lay a full statement of their grievances before your Most Gracious Majesty.