HL Deb 06 May 1895 vol 33 cc478-82

begged to ask the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for the Colonies a question, of which he had given private notice. It was with reference to the action recently taken by the Government in annexing the territories of the chiefs Sambaan, Umbegesa and Mdhlaleni. He need hardly say he did not intend to argue the question now, but he thought it fair to say that, after reading the statement of the Under Secretary for the Colonies last week in the other House, and assuming the statement to be correct, that there were serious troubles and difficulties arising in those territories; and having also carefully re-read the Papers that had already been presented to Parliament, referring to the territories of those chiefs—he thought that the Government could hardly have acted otherwise than they had done in annexing those territories. But, as the matter had created not only considerable interest here, but very considerable interest in South Africa, as was naturally to be expected; and as the President of the South African Republic had entered a strong protest, if the newspapers were to be believed, against the action of Her Majesty's Government—he thought it would be very desirable, in the interest of all parties, that Papers upon the question should be presented to Parliament as soon as convenient. He did not observe that the Under Secretary of State promised that Papers would be presented, and for that reason he desired to ask the question of the noble Marquess. In making the request for Papers, he suggested that the noble Marquess should begin the new Papers by reprinting the despatch of Sir Charles Mitchell, of September 1889, which covered a very able and exhaustive report by a Mr. Saunders upon these very territories, and the desires of the chiefs, and also upon their relations with Tongaland, the Transvaal, and Zululand. It was desirable it should be at once seen that before Mr. Saunders, who thoroughly understood the case, saw both Umbegesa and Sambaan, they had, under the influence of a very notorious person—a Mr. Ferreira—signed a paper saying they desired to come under the South African Republic; but when Mr. Saunders examined them they said they had signed the paper under the influence of Mr. Ferreira, not knowing the full intention of the paper, and that they desired to come under Her Majesty. Both the despatch and the report had, it was true, been printed in the Paper presented on the affairs of Swaziland and Tongaland in 1890; but he thought it would be useful to reprint them. He had also to ask the noble Marquess, if he could conveniently state now, whether the annexation of the two territories was in full accordance with the views of Sir Henry Loch, and also whether they were to be included in Zululand or dealt with separately.


I am very glad my noble friend's question affords me an opportunity of making a short statement in reference to the matter to which the noble Lord has referred. In the first place, I may say the Government will be very happy to lay Papers on the Table at as early a period as possible, and I hope that may not be long delayed; and I will carefully consider the suggestion of my noble Friend that Sir Charles Mitchell's despatch and Mr. Saunders' report should be laid on the Table. I need not say with how much satisfaction I have learned that, so far as my noble Friend has been able to form a judgment at present, he thinks the step taken by Her Majesty's Government is one which they were obliged under the circumstances to take, and I have also great satisfaction in saying that throughout the steps which we have adopted we have had the full agreement of Sir Henry Loch. As I have mentioned Sir Henry Loch's name, perhaps you will allow me to express here in public the deep sense the Government feel of the great services which, during a long public life, Sir Henry Loch has rendered. These services have been of the very highest value, and I can truly say that nobody can recognise them more entirely and fully than I do on my own behalf and on behalf of my colleagues. My noble Friend knows very well the exact position of these little territories lying to the east of Swaziland to which his question relates. The territories of Umbegesa and Zambaan, and of a widow chief whose name I will not attempt to pronounce, have always been held to be within what is now called the sphere of influence of Her Majesty's Government. Successive Governments have repeatedly said that that was the case. The last occasion on which a public announcement was made was in the House of Commons, in the month of February, by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies. Under the second article of the Convention of London, 1884, the South African Republic bound themselves to do their utmost to prevent encroachments by their citizens upon the native States to the east and west of their territory; and they are also bound, under the fourth article of the Convention of London, not to make any treaties with native States as well as with other States without laying them before Her Majesty's Government for their approval. But in spite of these obligations there has been for a considerable number of years a state of things upon that frontier which is highly undesirable. We are all aware that from time to time in Africa, and not in Africa alone, attempts are made to raid thinly populated and little civilised States by States of greater power and civilisation. That process is called in colonial slang "jumping" these States. It has been the practice in South Africa. It was tried in Bechuanaland and it was checked. It was tried in what is called the little Republic, the small slice taken out of Swaziland at that time, and it was there successful. Attempts have been made now for a considerable time to carry on the same process with respect to the territory of Zambaan and the other territories of which I have been speaking; and now a Mr. Van Oordt, who is, I believe, in some degree the representative of Mr. Ferrara, has even attempted to claim jurisdiction within these States, and I think to levy taxes. Her Majesty's Government, successive Governments, have made strong remonstrances upon this subject to the South African Republic. They were made in the time of our predecessors and they have been made by us. The latest of these remonstrances were made last year by General Cameron, who was administering the Cape Government in August 1894, and by Sir Henry Loch, under the direction of Her Majesty's Government in December 1894. When your Lordships see Sir Henry Loch's letter of December 17 last, you will see that he spoke on that occasion of these attempts in the plainest possible terms, urging the obligations of the South African Republic, and the necessity for putting an end to these illegitimate proceedings. In spite of these remonstrances, however, this state of things still continued, and having made our last remonstrance in December 1894, we learnt in March of the present year that Mr. Van Oordt's attempts to exercise jurisdiction were being continued and that the state of things was in no way improved, but in some respects aggravated. It therefore became our duty to consider what we should do in these circumstances. If a check had been put on the proceedings of Mr. Van Oordt by the Transvaal Government, if they had been able to do so, we might have been contented to leave the status quo alone, at all events for a time. But as the South African Government were not able to control Mr. Van Oordt, we had to consider what was right for us to do; because, whatever may be the right method of dealing with these little States, the method of raiding or "jumping," so as to oust the British Government from their rights in regard to the States, is not a method which any British Government can tolerate. I do not doubt that the Transvaal Government attempted to fulfil their obligations, but they were unable to do so; and then the only course open to us was to establish within these small States a system of firm and efficient administration, sufficient to put a stop to these illegitimate proceedings. That is precisely the step which we have taken. So far from thinking that we have acted too soon, I can quite understand some persons saying that the present and preceding Governments have been too patient. I do not think so. I think that the British Government has been quite right to exercise great patience in regard to this matter. But after all that has passed—the numerous remonstrances that have been made, and the inability of the South African Republic to control these lawless persons—I think the time has come, if the British sphere of influence is not to be rendered altogether nugatory, when we are bound to enforce our rights. That is the whole case. I see it stated in some quarters in South Africa that we have acted in an unfriendly manner to the South African Republic. I do not take that view at all. One of the main objects of the steps Which we have taken is to put an end to a state of things which must very soon have engendered the greatest difficulty and troubles with the South African Republic. Part of this system of raiding, or "jumping," is to obtain administrative concessions. These concessions are obtained by irresponsible persons like Mr. Ferreira and Mr. Van Oordt, and are often passed on to the South African or some other Government, who then claim rights under them. Therefore, if this state of things were to continue, it would be inevitable, particularly in the present state of affairs in South Africa, that before long we should be landed in a still more complicated position, which might have seriously affected our relations with the South African Republic. The desire of Her Majesty's Government is to maintain the most friendly relations with the Government of the South African Republic, and it is greatly to the interest of both countries that those friendly relations should be maintained. There are some, perhaps, who do not take that view, but I am not one of them; and I most earnestly desire the maintenance of those relations. Further, I would point out that the step which we have taken cannot, and, of course, does not affect any existing conventions between us and the South African Republic. They remain just as they were, and are totally independent of any action such as has been adopted by us on the present occasion. Our object has been to secure the rights of the British Government against the unlawful acts of irresponsible persons, and to put an end to a system the continued existence of which would have been seriously detrimental to the cordial relations of the British and South African Governments.