HL Deb 24 March 1881 vol 259 cc1789-98

rose to call attention to the state of affairs in Basutoland, which, he remarked, were very clearly set forth in the despatch of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Kimberley), containing the instructions addressed to Sir Hercules Robinson on his departure to assume the offices of Governor of the Cape and High Commissioner in South Africa. The Basutos, it appeared, were taken over at their own request by the Imperial Government in 1871, and placed under the high Commissioner for South Africa. It was understood that their rights in the land should be respected, and it was alleged—though on this point there was a difference of opinion—that they were to be allowed to keep their arms. Referring to the annexation, the noble Earl wrote— Basutoland having been made an integral part of the Cape Colony in 1871, the Colonial Ministers are necessarily responsible for advising the Governor as to all measures concerning its administration; and the Proclamation of the 6th of April last, extending the measure of disarmament to Basutoland, was accordingly issued by Sir Bartle Frere under their advice, and countersigned by the Premier. My prede- cessor, while strongly recommending caution, informed Sir Bartle Frere on the 10th of March last that he did not wish to interfere with the responsibility of his Ministers, who must clearly understand that no Imperial troops could be furnished for the purpose of enforcing their policy, and that the Colony must deal with any difficulties which might arise; and in my despatch of May 13 I wrote as follows:—'As your Ministers, who are primarily responsible for the government of the Colony, came to the conclusion that this was a necessary measure, and the disarmament has now been some time in progress under a Proclamation which was issued on the 6th of April, I do not see that I could now discuss this question with any advantage. I will only repeat what has already been stated by my predecessor, that your Ministers must clearly understand that the Cape Government must deal with any difficulties which may arise in Basutoland in consequence of this measure, and that they must not look for the assistance of Imperial troops for this purpose.' In the abstract it was, no doubt, better that the Basutos should not be armed. That was generally admitted by the speakers in the Cape Parliament, who discussed the subject with great fulness, one speaker alone occupying two and a-half days. The difficulty was as to the time and mode in which the disarmament should be carried out. On this subject the noble Earl wrote— I am quite prepared to admit that in principle there is no good reason why the Basutos should have permanently remained an exception to the general rule, by retaining the dangerous privilege of the indiscriminate possession and use of arms any more than their loyal neighbours in Natal; but I feel bound to add that, in my judgment, neither the time nor the manner of the Basuto disarmament was wisely chosen.… It has, I am aware, been alleged that it was impossible to leave arms in the hands of the Basutos after disarming the Fingoes, a tribe distinguished for its loyalty, which had done valuable service in the late Transkei War. It can, however, now hardly be contended that the disarmament of the Fingoes was not itself ill-judged and premature, inasmuch as it has been found absolutely necessary to re-arm them in all haste in order to enable them to aid the Colonial forces in repelling the attacks of the rebellions Natives. Instead of disarming the Fingoes and Basutos it would have been far better if the plan, which had suggested itself to the Colonial Government as one which might be eventually adopted, had been proceeded with in the first instance—namely, the formation of a Native Fingo and Basuto Yeomanry or Militia. These tribes might thus by degrees have been accustomed to regard the possession and use of arms as a privilege to be enjoyed only by the members of the force raised for the defence of their country, and their loyalty might have been confirmed by their employment, in conjunction with the Colonists, in the maintenance of order when threatened in other frontier districts. In this way, and if generally a more cautious and deliberate policy had been followed, the Cape Government would have allowed itself time to mature the excellent system of border defence sanctioned by the Colonial Parliament, and to complete and improve the efficiency of the armed force which the present outbreak has unfortunately found inadequately prepared to meet the emergency. In that language he entirely concurred, and he almost wished that the noble Earl had come into Office a little earlier, seeing that such sentiments, expressed in time, might have had the effect of averting the war. But the main point of his contention was embodied in the following paragraph of the noble, Earl's despatch:— The circumstances under which the Basutos became subjects of the Crown peculiar, and impose upon Her Majesty' s Government a special responsibility for their welfare. It was originally provided that the Basuto territory should remain distinct from the Cape Colony, and that it should be under the charge of the High Commissioner; and the Act of the Cape Parliament passed in 1871 for the annexation of Basutoland to the Cape Colony contained the reservation that the power of making laws for that territory should be vested in the Governor, and that no Act of the Cape Parliament should have effect in Basutoland unless made applicable to it by express enactment or by the Governor's Proclamation. The introduction of responsible Government in the following year affected the Governor's position in regard to the affairs of Basutoland, as well as to other matters of administration; but the Basutos received no formal notification of any change in their relations with the Governor, whose actual powers in respect of Basutoland remain technically unaltered. The Basutos, in fact, always understood that they were annexed to the British Empire, and were to be governed by the High Commissioner alone; but, as Governor of the Cape Colony as well, the High Commissioner had to be guided by the advice of his responsible Ministers. The noble Earl concluded by asking, Whether the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies considered that the concession of responsible government to a Colony practically involved the transfer from Her Majesty and her responsible Ministers in this country to the Colonial Ministers of the power and responsibility of making war and peace?


I think I shall best clear up this matter by, in the first place, answering explicitly the Question which the noble Earl has put to me. My answer to that is that there is not the least doubt that, speaking in general terms, the concession of responsible Government to a Colony does not transfer from the Queen to that Colony the power of making war and peace; but it depends entirely upon how the Question is to be construed. If it means that the Colonial Ministers have not the power to make war and peace with any nation or tribe beyond their Frontiers, then the answer is, undoubtedly, "No." But when it refers to a population which is within the Frontiers of the Colony, and under the Government for which the Colonial Ministers are responsible, then, undoubtedly, they possess full powers in regard to the government of that nation or tribe; and if it should be unfortunately necessary that they should make war in order to suppress any insurrection against the authority of the Crown which they represent, it lies in their discretion to do so, just as much as it would with Her Majesty's Ministers in this country. Therefore, though I say "No" to the noble Earl's Question, I apprehend that in substance the answer would be "Yes;" because what he intends to imply by the Question is that the Ministers at the Cape do not possess the right to make war on the Basutos. But they do undoubtedly possess that right, because the Basutos are subjects of the Queen, as administered by the responsible Ministers of the Cape Colony. That being the case—and I take it there is no question about the technical right of the Cape Ministers—I come now to the main subject. The Basutos, as the noble Earl has correctly stated, inhabit a country which was incorporated with the Cape Colony in 1871. Since that period the Basutos have formed part of that Colony, and are subject to any laws which may be passed by the Cape Parliament. The Cape Parliament—moved, I am bound to say, very much by the representations made to them before I came into Office, as to the expediency of allowing arms to be generally carried by the Natives in the Colony—passed an Act, which, I believe, they called a "Peace Preservation Act," which enabled the Governor, by Proclamation, to cause the population to be called upon to give up their arms. Under that Act, a Proclamation was issued by Sir Bartle Frere, calling upon the Basutos to deliver up their arms, and there is no doubt that all the steps taken were legal, and in accordance with the powers the Cape Ministers possessed. As to the wisdom of the policy, your Lordships are in possession of a long despatch I addressed to Sir Hercules Robinson, in which I expressed the views of Her Majesty's Government upon the whole subject. I can add nothing to what I said in that despatch. I consider there was no injustice in calling on the Natives to deliver up their arms; but, in my judgment, the policy was not a wise one, as the result has proved. The Cape Colony has been involved in a long, expensive, and difficult war, which is not yet concluded. While I repeat that, on principle, I see no reason why the Basutos should be allowed to carry arms more than other Native tribes, I differ with the Cape Government as to the opportunity and the means by which they carry out the policy. The policy itself is a right one, and to show that that has long been the opinion of successive Governments, it is well known that there are laws on this subject in Natal, which is a Crown Colony, and although the law has there been prudently enforced, so as not to provoke an outbreak, I can refer to the authority of Sir Henry Bulwer, the recent Governor, that to such an extent have arms been removed from the Natives in Natal that that population has become a comparatively unwarlike population. If anything is wanted to show that these laws in Natal are not a dead letter, it may be found in what the Basuto Chiefs themselves said—that they did not want to be annexed to Natal, because they did not want to be placed under the Natal laws as to arms. So much for the general question. I wish I was able to say the war was going to close. It has been a lamentable war, causing great destruction in Basutoland, and imposing a great burden—a great loss in men and money—on the Cape Government. But when we are called upon, as I am constantly to interfere peremptorily in this matter, I must point out that we have not got the power legally to interfere with that which is done by the advice of the Colonial Ministers in regard to the territory within the Colony; and I am bound to state that it is impossible to blow hot and cold, as a great number of people wish to do on this question. We are constantly told, with great truth, that it is very unfair to the British taxpayer, and very unwise that we should take upon ourselves the management of Native wars in South Africa—that the management of those wars ought to be left to the people on the spot—that they should pursue the policy they think necessary, and bear the burdens consequent on that policy. But when they are left to do that, and pursue a policy not perfectly agreeable to the people of this country, another note entirely is sounded and it is said—"Why don't you interfere?" Now, it is impossible to pursue the two policies at once. If you are resolved—and I think it wise so to resolve—that the management of their local affairs, including the management of Natives on their borders, is to be left to the Colonial Government, and that they are to be responsible for the policy they pursue, and that the Colony is to bear all the burden of its evil consequences, then you cannot, at the same time, dictate to the Colonial Government what course they shall pursue. Nothing is more obvious than this—that those responsible for a policy ought to be responsible also for its consequences; and if we are determined to guide the Colonial Government in the management of the affairs of the Colony, and insist on telling them what they shall do, they will have a right to call on us to take whatever measures we think necessary to enforce the policy we advise, and to relieve the Colony from evil consequences that may ensue. At the same time, seeing the relations that exist between the Colonial Government and the Home Government, I hope the former will appreciate the advice we give, especially when it is considered that we have been called on recently to bear heavy expenses for Native wars at the Cape. The Colonial Government have not flinched, at all events, from the policy they have pursued, and for the first time in the history of South Africa has the Colony been found to take on itself the whole expense and danger of a Native war, and this must be carefully remembered in considering what they may do hereafter. In regard to the treatment of the Basutos, when this war is over, I have not concealed from the Colonial Government the general views we take. My noble Friend correctly quoted a passage from my despatch, showing that we have some control in the matter, because, if it is necessary to pass any Act of the Cape Parliament for dealing with the land of the Basutos, we have directed any such Act to be reserved for Her Majesty's pleasure. It is in that way only that we can, if we think proper, interfere with the discretion of the Colonial Government. I should be sorry if anything should arise to render such intervention necessary. It is very undesirable there should be interference with these local Governments. Indeed, it would become impossible to carry on those Governments if they are constantly to be subjected to the opinions of this country. I can assure those who speak so lightly on the subject that there is a strong and natural jealousy in these communities of interference from home, and I think that jealousy is wholesome. We want them to assume responsibility; we do not want them to be governed from Downing Street. We wish, of course, that they should listen to our advice; and, as a matter of fact, we do control them in regard to everything outside their Frontiers. In urging the Cape Government to treat the Basutos with generosity and leniency after the war, I am not prepared to admit that the Basutos were not perfectly aware of the kind of Government under which they live, although no direct announcement was made to them of the change to responsible Government. My noble Friend has referred to two telegrams which have been printed. Some annoyance has been felt in the Cape Colony at the publication here of the second telegram sent by me to Sir Hercules Robinson. The following was the history of those telegrams:—Sir Hercules Robinson sent me the telegram stating that by the advice of the Ministers certain terms were to be proposed to the Basuto Chiefs, and asking whether I approved of them. At it was mentioned that if the Basutos would place themselves in the hands of the Governor he would endeavour to procure them just and generous terms, the telegram gained my approbation. Some weeks after an answer to that telegram was received from the Chiefs, which Sir Hercules Robinson and his Ministers did not regard as satisfactory. Sir Hercules Robinson telegraphed this to me, and said he would shortly telegraph the terms that would to be offered. When, however, I received the telegram, it did not state terms that were about to be offered, but said that eight peremptory conditions had been offered to the Chiefs. It was clear that unless I showed that I was not connected with this second communication to the Chiefs it might be inferred that I approved of it; and I therefore came to the conclusion that it was necessary, in justice to the Government, that it should be known at once that the second telegram was sent on the responsibility of the Cape Ministers alone. These were the reasons why I resorted to publicity, and, in my opinion, they justified the course which I took. The Cape Ministers have, I am told, passed a Minute severely censuring me; but I think they will see that they have done so without sufficient grounds. Upon what may be done after the war in Basutoland, which I earnestly hope will soon come to a close, I desire now not to express any definite opinion. I reserve any statement of what course we will take. At all events, the Cape Colony may be certain our interference will be strictly within the bounds of the law; and I trust that the Cape Ministers themselves, being, as they are, well acquainted with the interests of the Colony, and sensible of the very heavy burdens it has to bear, will follow a wise, just, and fair course at the termination of hostilities.


said, he could quite understand that it was impossible to leave the Basutos in possession of arms; and, therefore, he would not say one word about the policy of the war. But his noble Friend said that when responsible Government was granted to a Colony, the Colony gained the right of directing Native affairs within its boundaries. Well, some years ago he had filled the Office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Canada, which, though at the time in the enjoyment of responsible Government, had not the power of interference in Native affairs. The position of affairs had been changed by the union of the North American Colonies, which now could control Native affairs. But it did not follow that because the Cape Colony had received responsible Government the control of Native affairs was included in that concession, unless some special provisions were included in the Act. The question he wished to raise was whether the Basutos were not in a somewhat exceptional position, and one which was rather like that of the North American Indians before the union of the North American Colonies. His noble Friend, in the despatch so often quoted that evening, stated that the position of the Basutos under our dominion was somewhat peculiar. They were, in fact, in an exceptional position. They were indirectly reserved for the control of the High Commissioner. In that despatch, his noble Friend admitted that the Basutos, when responsible Government was given to the Cape Colony, were not informed that they were to be under the jurisdiction of the Cape Colony, or, at all events, were not formally made aware of the status which they were to occupy, or of any change in their status. Therefore it was that those who sympathized with the Basutos thought that hard measure had been dealt to them in being treated as rebels against the authority of the Cape Colony, when, in fact, they had never been formally placed under the jurisdiction of the Cape Colony. He could not help thinking that the peculiar situation of the Basutos entitled them to receive favourable consideration when the time came for his noble Friend to give the advice which, notwithstanding the independent position of the Cape Colony, he was, as Colonial Secretary, entitled to give, as to how the Basutos were to be treated at the conclusion of the war. In the despatch to which he had referred, his noble Friend stated that the Constitutional settlement of certain territories in South Africa was still in abeyance; that the Transkei territories would require exceptional treatment; the same should be said of the Basutos. He trusted, therefore, that the Basutos would receive favourable consideration at the termination of the war.


agreed that the Basutos called for much sympathy in their present position. If we traced back their earlier history it would be found that when they were independent they were the great opponents of the Boers of the Orange Free State. The Boers always accused the Basutos of stealing their cattle, and the Basutos always accused the Boers of stealing their land. The two peoples were constantly at war, and at the end of each conflict the Basutos generally had to pay a fine in cattle, and to surrender some of their land. At last they sought British protection, imploring that they might be received as subjects of the Crown; and he recollected perfectly well that they preferred to join the Cape Colony rather than Natal, for the precise reason that the laws of the Cape Government allowed the Natives to carry arms. Down to this disarmament, which he thought he might say was the policy of Sir Bartle Frere, there were no more loyal people than the Basutos, and but for their disarmament the Cape Government would have found amongst them their most staunch supporters and most able allies. However, as the Secretary of State for the Colonies had said, they could not carry on two policies at the same time. If they meant to dictate the policy of the Cape Colony, they must be prepared to support their interference with Imperial troops; if, on the other hand, they wanted the Cape to carry on its own Government, they must forbear to interfere. If responsible Government was given to a Colony, it must be given with all its disadvantages as well as its advantages. Still, he hoped that, when the proper time arrived, the Secretary of State for the Colonies would give advice which it was perfectly fit for him to do, so as to obtain for the Basutos fair treatment, and such as would render them contented.


It certainly is my intention and my wish to use whatever influence Her Majesty's Government may possess to obtain fair and reasonable terms for the Basutos.