The following is a speech Olive Schreiner which was read at a meeting of South African Women at Somerset East on October 12, 1900. At the time she was ill and could not do so herself.
I deeply regret that I am unable to be with you personally today.
I trust that strongly-worded motions, demanding fromEnglandan amnesty for all political prisoners inSouth Africa, and condemning the annexation of the Republics will be passed by you.
Twelve months ago today, the war began. Great and overwhelming have been die losses ofSouth Africaduring this time. Thousands of our bravest South Africans have died upon our battlefields; farmhouses have been destroyed, and women with young children turned homeless into our veld; thousands of men bound to us by the ties of kinship and friendship have been exiled to distant islands, many of them there to die, far from home and kindred; on every hand those we have known and honoured languish in prison as political prisoners.
Great and overwhelming have been our losses during this year. Yet, great as they have been the loss ofEnglandhas been greater.
Englandhas lost among the officers and men, who, far from their native land, have fallen in this, to them, foreign country, many of her noblest and bravest sons.
I myself have lost personally, in one of the English officers who died in the Free State, one of the oldest and most valued of my friends; a man whose humanity, and whose generosity of feeling towards a brave foe, were worthy of the best traditions of the England of the past.
England has lost heavily in her best; while her worst, the men of greed, ambition, and cunning who shaped this war, are with her still to do her further injury. Great and irreparable has been her loss in this matter.
But in another direction, she has had yet greater loss than this. She has lost forever the faith and the affection of the bulk of people in the Colony. Fourteen months ago, in spite of much that had taken place in the past, we, the bulk of the people in this Colony, believed in England, and in the power of the more righteous element in her people ultimately to overpower and control the baser and more servile. Fourteen months ago I sat in a little up-country Boer farmhouse; and when we spoke of the possibility of war, men and women alike said, “There can be no war, our Queen would never allow it. She has always loved us and been good towards us, she would never allow them to kill our kindred in the Republics. Rhodes and Chamberlain and Milner may wish for it, but Lord Salisbury has said they do not want the land or the gold of theTransvaal.Englandwould never do us this great wrong.”
Fourteen months ago, as you all know, there was hardly a farmhouse in the length and breadth of the Cape-Colony where the picture of the Queen was not to be found hanging on the walls. There were sad old memories of Slachtersnek, and the first attack on the independence of the Transvaal Republic, but Gladstone’s wisdom in restoring it had healed the wound; and there was a strong feeling through the length and breadth of our land that the speculator-monopolists and not the Queen and the English people were responsible for the Jameson raid.
The faith of our people inEnglands’ ultimate rectitude and desire to act with honour was, in spite of many mistakes, unshaken. “Rhodes and the speculators may desire to take their gold and land from our brothers in theTransvaal,” said an old Boer to me, “but our Queen will not let them. I have known her for more than 50 years.”
Fourteen months ago if any man had stated to me that it was possible for those things to take place which have taken place in the Colony under Martial Law, and in the neighbouring Republics, during the last year, without arousing a passionate and determined protest from the bulk of the English people, I should have laughed him to scorn. That the bulk of the people of England could sit silent and unmoved while private houses were burned down and women and young children turned homeless into the wilds in order that through wounding the affections and sympathies of the men their arms might be paralysed for further warfare – while quiet private citizens were forced into trains that their presence there might guard the lives of English soldiers at the risk of their own – while the honourable uniform of the British officer was pawned to civilians, that masquerading in that guise they might avenge themselves upon their political enemies – had one told me that these things could be, and the bulk of the English nation sit by silent and unmoved I would have regarded him as one who dreams in a fever.
That there might be war, that battlefields might run red, that fortified places might be bombarred, these things I recognise as possible, but, that the mightiest Empire that the world has seen, would expend its gold in purchasing informers; that in England itself the right to free speech would be so dead that howling mobs of thousands would attack single individuals merely endeavouring to express their thought with regard to a public matter, and life itself be endangered; that in South Africa the man or woman who exercised that primary right of the Englishman, the right to free speech, would do so with the vision of a manaole at his or her elbow, and that the very prayers of the people would be listened for by the spies of the Government – this I had not dreamed possible.
Now the bond of affection and confidence that boundEnglandtoSouth Africahas snapped.
For myself, I have lovedEngland. Ten years of my youth were passed there; many of the men and women most bound to me by the ties of affection and sympathy are still on English soil. During those ten years I, in common with thousands of other young men and women believed that theEnglandwe loved and laboured for was a power which made for justice and peace. That she who had wept over Poland, who had sent aid to Greece, who had backed Italy in her struggle against Austria; whose writers had chanted the praises of Marathon and Thermopylae, of Wilhelm Tell and Arnold von Winkelried; whose people had expressed shame and abhorrence at the crime and blunder of George the Third and his servile Ministers when they sought to crush by force the instinct for independence and self-government in the men and women of the American Colonies; and whose people have loudly professed to glory in their blood relationship with Washington, Adams, and Franklin, the men who led the American nation in their resistance to England, that she who had done these things could ever in her old age fall into the hands of unscrupulous men, and under their guidance attempt to set her knee of the necks of two small, brave peoples, striving to force life from them, while with eager hands she grasped their gold and lands, this was a thing I, at least, had never believed possible.
Now, Englandis dead to me.
I shall always think with love and honour of the great Englishmen of the past, who have made the name of England honoured by the Liberals of all the world; from Pym and Hampden, Milton and Sir Harry Vane, to Shelly and Gladstone, I shall always feel it an honour (as I suppose every freedom loving Englishmen does) to remember that the same blood which run in the veins of Washington and Adams and Jefferson I have the right to call mine; I shall always regard with undying affection that heroic band of men and women who today in England are fighting, at infinite cost to themselves, for the honour of England and for Justice.
But for me, theEnglandof my love is dead.
I know not how it is with you; but for me – though I should live to be a very old woman, never again while I live shall I hear the name ofEnglandspoken or see it written but I shall hear a whisper – THE OPPRESSOR!
“Life’s night begins; let her never come back to us;
“There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain;
“Forced praise on our part, the glimmer of twiligh’;
“Never glad, confident morning again.”
If a little child lay in its bed, and woke up suddenly, and saw bending over it the mother it had loved and trusted, with a knife in her hand, with which she stabbed to death the little stepbrother lying beside her, do you think, however long it lived, it could look at that hand again without seeing the knife and the blood?
The Englandof our love is dead.
But Englandhas yet lost more than the trust and confidence of the majority of CapeColonists. The day is coming when she will realise that great and irreparable as has been her loss in the death of her own bravest sons, her loss by the death of the Republicans has been yet heavier. Not a bullet has taken the life in an open breach in the defences of the Empire.
You have all read in your spelling books as little children the story of the lion, who having one day a mouse in his power, spared its life; and who on another occasion, when caught in the hunter’s snare, was saved by the mouse, who gnawed the cords for him.
But there is also a South African version of this story: There was a lioness once into whose claws fell a red African Meerkat. And the Meerkat prayed her saying: “Let me Go.” But the Lioness refused. And she tore it, and mauled it, and the meerkat crept away to its hole in the red earth. And one day the lioness walked into a stone trap, such as we build in this country, and the door closed on it. And the lioness called: “Little stepson meerkat, come out of your hole and scratch a place that I may get my paw under the door and lift it!” But the meerkat answered, deep from its hole: “Oh, good stepmother lioness, the marks of your claws are on my side, your tooth is in my brain; I cannot come”. And so the hunters came and found the lioness; and the story ends.
The day is coming when England will know what was the price of the life of every South African she has taken.
Time was when, had a foreign foe landed on the shores of Africa, the white men and women would have risen as one soul and body from theLimpopoto the southern coast and hurled the intruder back into the sea. How impregnable wasSouth Africa, is shown by the fact that a moiety of our people in the two Republics alone have been able for one full year to hold at bay the gigantic and well-equipped army of the mightiest Empire on earth.
Had England maintained a close, friendly, and generous alliance with the two Republics, in her hour of need she would but have had to raise her hand, and the finest fighting race of the modern world would have stood beside her.
The time is coming whenEnglandwill realise that in losing for ever the friendship and alliance of those free Republicans she has lost what all the gold of theTransvaalcan never repay to her.
With her own guns she has herself blown away one of the bulwarks of her Empire. There is not a beardless Boer boy, or an old man of 70 who has stained with his blood the kopjes or dongas of his native land, butEnglandwould have found it cheap to buy his life at the cost of a million of pounds.
When that day comes, and will come, when foreign troops – Russian, French, or German – are upon the soil of England, when Englishmen gather to defend Richmond Hill and Hampstead Heath, as we have gathered to defend the hills and passes of our native land – when the tramp of foreign soldiers is heard in the streets of London, and the ground is wet at the Marble Arch and the Hyde Park Corner with the blood of Englishmen, when the cup she now presses to our lips is pressed to hers; and England stands where we stand today; then let her remember – South Africa.
ButEnglandhas lost more than the lives of her own brave soldiers, more than the confidence and affection of theCapeColonists, more than the alliance and friendship of the heroic Republics.
England has lost her honour.
Today England stands naked before the nations, the mantle of assumed virtue which she had carefully wrapped about her torn open. She, who cried aloud to the nations: “I am not as thou art, my aims are not as thine”, stands today exposed; Russia, Austria,France, Germany have not sinned. They never crossed 6,000 miles of sea to find a small, brave people bound to them by the ties of a common religion and common Aryan descent; and the cry: “We seek not gold! We seek not land!” set a knee upon their throats and clutch with greedy fingers at the land and gold. Today, in her unlovely and unlovable old age, all the nolber (nobler) and more generous instincts of her youth extinguished, she stands naked and shrivelled before the nations, with her name branded upon her forehead – a hyprocrite among the peoples.
The hour of Englands repentance and remorse will come. But it will be that form of remorse, the most awful which can visit the soul of the individual or the nation – the remorse which comes too late.
My friends the life of the individual is short; but the life of a nation is long.
The men who have produced the war, and into whose hands England has fallen in these sad times, will pass away.
Rhodes, Chamberlain and Milner may attain the gold, or the power, or the titles, or the glory to which they have aspired; then they will pass away. But the young South African people, now coming to its birth in these days of stress and anguish; and which today lies prostrate with the blood upon its forehead for baptismal water, weighing down its eyelids – the young South African people will live and grow. It will wax with the centuries, and to it belongs the future.
It is said that the British Generals have been ordered to scatter the heap of stones gathered by the hands of the Transvaal fathers at Paardekraal on that day, when each man swore as he placed the stone down to maintain the Independence of his land, or die; It is said, I know not with that truth, that they have been ordered to break down the monument built over it; It is said that the flags of the Republics are to be furled, and that a flag, once our pride, now a Commercial Asset and our shame, is to take their place.
But that ink has not yet been invented with which by a dash of his pen a politican, financier, or even general, can strike out the independence of a brave people.
The men that have died inSouth Africafighting for the land in which they were born have no need of any masoned monument to keep their names in remembrance. While Paardeberg and Amajuba, and the thousand hills and kopjes inSouth Africaon which South African men and boys have died for their land, stand, their memorials will remain.
”For our mountains will be their monuments;
“Though ye give the winds their dust!”
But they have another and more enduring record that any of rock or earth can ever be: On the hearts of the people ofSouth Africatheir names are engraved: To be re-engraved on the hearts of each rising generation.
There are many stones yet left in SouthAfrica. And the day will come when, though it be by the hands of those who are today but little children, the stones will be re-gathered and piled high in the clear light and air ofAfrica.
I know not how it is with any of you, but for myself personally, as long as I live whenever I look into the recesses of my own heart I shall always see there, waving free, the gallant flags of those two little Republics said to have been furled for ever, enshrined there in my sympathics and affections.
And if there be in South Africe another two hundred thousand hearts, in which those flags are enshrined, then I know the day will come when hands will rise, which will in actually unfurl, and they will float free acrossSouth Africa.
We may not live to see it; many of us may go down amid tears and blood and sorrow to our graves, but the future is with the Republicans.
To you, the women of South Africa gathered here today, I would say one word before we part: You and such as you are mothers of the South African nation of the future, and the shaping of that future lies in your hands. WhatSouth Africahas ultimately to fear is not the sword, or the cannon, or the rifle bullet, or the match which sets alight the roof over the heads of women and children. These things but harden and anneal a brave people. That which South Africahas to fear is the unscrupulous men.
While we, the people ofSouth Africa, hold by the old, simple, brave ideals and manners of life of the first founders of the South African race, the future ofSouth Africais assured. It is for you, the women ofSouth Africa, to transmit these ideals to your children. Freedom first, and wealth, ease, luxury last, if it all.
It has been said inSouth Africathat “every man has his price”. But he lied who said this. It is for you, the women ofSouth Africa, to show that the heart ofSouth Africais unpurchasable by any gold from bloodstained hands. The heart of the womanhood of a nation is the treasure house where its freedom is stored. A fearless, indomitable, unpurchasable womanhood, a fearless, indomitable unpurchasable race.
Finally there is but one word more I would say: Bathed in blood and swathed in sorrow asSouth Africais today, the time is yet coming when this land will be the home of a strong and independent nation. It will take its place besideFrance, andRussia, andGermany, and theUnited States of America, among the nations of the future. I have a great ambition for that nation of ours.
I do not covet for it wealth, nor that it should stand first among the world’s peoples in size or density of population. I have a loftier ambition for it than this. In one matter I would have it excel all peoples, and be excelled by none.
When that day comes, when we, a free and united people, dominate in these southern seas and on this southern Continent, and other and weaker nations and races are thrown into our hands, I would have it that we, who in the youth of our people have drunk to its dregs the cup of sorrow and groaned beneath the oppressor’s heel, remembering what we have endured, should deal mercifully with all weaker and smaller peoples.
It is righteousness that exalteth a nation.