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CHAPTER VI.

STEPS TOWARDS UNIFORMITY (Continued).

The Customs Union between the Orange Free State and the Cape Colony was largely the result of the movement in South Africa for federation or union of some sort, political as well as commercial. At a dinner at Bloemfontein, after the Customs Union Conference, Sir Gordon Sprigg, the premier of the Cape, declared, that the foundation-stone of South African brotherhood had been laid and the first political step taken towards South African unity. (1). But this was only the first step. A Conference was again convened by the President of the Orange Free State to consider the bringing about of a general South African Customs Union. It assembled at Bloemfontein on September 7, 1896. The Transvaal and Natal again remained outside. Thereafter the delegates of the Cape Colony and the Orange Free State agreed to a protocol to the Convention of 1889. An almost entirely new tariff of duties was substituted in place of the tariff of 1889. (2).

However, ever since the Customs Union of 1889 attempts continued to be made to get the South African Republic into the Customs Union. On July 6, 1890, two months before Rhodes became premier of the Cape Colony, he said in a speech at Kimberley inter alia: “I feel sure that if the Transvaal joins with us and the other states in the Customs Union, the sister Colony of Natal will also join, and that will be one great step towards a Union of South Africa. When I speak of a South African Union, I mean that we may attain to perfect free trade as to our own commodities, perfect and complete internal railway communication, and a general customs union, stretching from Delagoa Bay to Walfish Bay; and if our statesmen should attain that, I say they will have done a good work." (3). With this purpose in mind commercial union was a foregone conclusion, but, unfortunately, statesmanship did not do the work, but force.

With the railway from Cape Town to Johannesburg com

1. Dilke: Problems of Greater Britain, p. 288.
2. See 0. Y. B. on the Customs Union.
3. See Mitchell: Life of C. J. Rhodes, Volume I, p. 294.

pleted, and with the Delagoa Bay-Pretoria line becoming a fact, Natal could no longer hold her own in competing for the Johannesburg trade, because she had to carry her goods partly by rail and for 130 miles by ox-waggon. With this disadvantage, and with the Cape and Orange Free State boundaries closed to her trade by customs duties, her trade dropped in three years from 4,417,085 pounds to 2,236,738 pounds (sterling). (1). Consequently after the adoption of responsible government in 1893, Natal in her determination to keep a third of the Transvaal trade at the least, signed a convention with the Transvaal, in March, 1894, for the construction of a line to Johannesburg. On October 15, 1895, the line was completed from Charlestown, near the Transvaal-Natal border, to Johannesburg. This strengthened Natal's position for once again.

Natal was in a fairly precarious position after the coming into operation of the Customs Union, because the Orange Free State and the Cape Colony established customs houses on the Natal border to collect duties on goods sent from or through Natal, as was stated above. Natal, according to Sir John Robinson, at once replied by making such rebates of duty on its side as might be necessary in order to retain trade; but in spite of the fact that Sir John Robinson gives figures to show how heavily Natal lost due to this ring of customs houses on her borders, it seems as if he takes this ring of customs houses too seriously, and Dilke believes that "there has always been free trade in practice although not in the eye of the law, upon the land frontiers of South Africa,” due, for example, to the extensiveness of the boundaries and other factors. (2). Sir John Robinson states that Natal had always supported a policy of free trade and low duties, but when, after the Convention was signed and Natal had to lower her duties in order to keep her share of trade with the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, he finds that Natal had somewhat over-stepped her limits and plaintively asserts that “Natal could not dispense with customs altogether and could not bear in direct imposts the whole burden of maintaining the local administration and of providing for the costly railway extensions and harbour works. It was impracticable... to make Durban a free port. This is the real truth. The two colonies were waging a tariff-war. For fairly selfish purposes Natal did not join the Customs Union, although it was believed in Natal even before 1886, that an increase in the trade of both

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1. Sir John Robinson: A Life Time in South Africa, Chapter 8. 2. Dilke: Problems of Greater Britain, p. 294.

colonies would take place to the benefit of both, were some system of reciprocity established between them. (1).

However, when the Natal Parliament expired in 1897, the “Country Party" came into power. This party stood for protection to local industries. Thus in the Customs Union Conference, which met at Cape Town, in April, 1898, Natal was represented, while the Transvaal was absent again. The tariff was revised, and the general ad valorem rate was reduced from 9 per cent. to 74 per cent., while the collection charges were reduced to 15 per cent. of the total revenue collected on goods passing to the inland states. On May 6, 11 and 12, 1898, the Customs Union Convention was signed between the Cape, the Orange Free State and Natal. (2). Rhodesia also then entered into a Customs agreement with the Cap and as the protocols allowing Basutoland and the other native territories into the Customs Union were not invalidated by this Convention, there now existed a sort of general South African Customs Union with the exception of the South African Republic. (3). But why did not the Transvaal enter in 1898?

Was Kruger really suspicious of the whole affair — especially after Dr. Jameson's raid into the Transvaal, and Kruger saw what might be behind Rhodes' commercial union, or were there other reasons for his reluctance? The Transvaal was suffering much injustice at the hands of the maritime colonies. There

were:

1. The heavy rates before her line was finished to Delagoa Bay - on which the Cape and Natal railway systems “fattened

like a pair of strange calves sucking a cow in full milk.”

2. The Transvaal was at first deprived of all customs duties levied by the Cape and Natal on her goods coming through Cape ports and through Durban. When this system was abolished the Transvaal had to pay 3 per cent. transit duty on goods passing through the maritime states en route to the Transvaal. This was levied, as Worsfold says, “like so much ransom money after the manner of brigands. Then above this the Transvaal had its own customs duties.

After the Transvaal had its own much-desired railway line to Delagoa Bay completed, 1895, and had entered an agreement on very favourable terms with Portugal, (see appendix III), it no longer stood in need of her greedy neighbours. But

1. Official Handbook of Natal for 1886, p. 69.
2. State Papers, Volume 90, pp. 1,054 — 1,068.

3. See Cana: South Africa from the Great Trek to the Union, p. 169.

it was not to have peace at all. The Cape had hitherto had a practical monopoly of the Johannesburg traffic, but this was no longer the case when the Delagoa Bay railway and the Natal line were finished to the Rand.

“In order to facilitate friendly competition and to secure an adequate proportion of the profits on the railway traffic to the largest city in the Republic, the South African Republican Government proposed that the profits on the joint goods and passenger traffic should be divided in equal shares between the three states (Cape, Natal and Transvaal) whose railway lines ran to Pretoria.

Cecil Rhodes, who was then for the second time premier of the Cape Colony, thought differently. They asked for 50 per cent. for the Cape, leaving the remaining 50 per cent. to be divided between the Transvaal and Natal. The South African Republican Government would not hear of the proposal and a tariff-war ensued.

The Cape Government lowered their tariff as far as Vereeniging, the frontier station between the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. [The Orange Free State railways were at that time still under the control of the Cape Government]. The South African Railway, on the other hand, raised its tariff on its portion of the line, running from Vereeniging to Johannesburg, in order to neutralize the reduction in prices on the other portion. The Cape Government... in order to avoid sending their goods over the expensive stretch of line, had them unloaded at Viljoensdrift, in order to convey them thence to Johannesburg in ox-waggons. Now the customs laws of the Republic contained a clause by virtue of which the President was enabled to proclaim certain places on the frontiers as 'import ports'; while no goods could be imported except at places thus proclaimed. When, therefore, the Cape Government caused their goods to be carried by ox-waggons, the government of the Republic determined to close the existing ‘import ports,' really fords or "drifts,' to goods from over the seas. The Government proclamation was directed only against goods from over the seas, so as not to injure the home trade of the Orange Free State and the Cape Colony.

“Rhodes now asserted that the London Convention had been violated. This Convention contained a clause according to which no article coming from any portion of the British Empire could be excluded, unless the importation of that same article from any other country was also forbidden. The Republic, therefore, had violated the Convention inasmuch as she had favoured Cape Colony, a British possession, above the countries over the seas. She must now either withdraw her

decision or else resort to the odious measure of forbidding the entire importation. Rhodes addressed this complaint to the British Government. A general election had recently taken place in England, and the same government was in power, that held office at the time of the late [Boer] war. Mr. Chamberlain was a member of this government, and was, of course, at once prepared to send the Republic an ultimatum The Republic received the ultimatum and was, of course, obliged to give way and to undertake not to close the drifts again.” (1).

The attitude of the Transvaal Government was not at fault. The Government had entered into railway connections with Natal and the Cape Colony. These lines, of course, competed with the Delagoa Bay line — the success of which the Government had guaranteed. Moreover, the trade of the Republic was equally divided between the three lines. If the Cape now got half instead of a third of the trade, while Natal had been granted a third already, that would have left the Delagoa Bay line only one-sixth. “The railway war was commenced by the Cape. The Transvaal Government had further a perfect right under the London Convention of fixing ‘ports of entry' at its will. It was only in giving preference to the Cape products that the government was violating the clauses of the Convention. (2). It was quite natural for President Kruger to have acted as he did. He was sympathising with his kinsfolk acros the border. Rhodes, as premier of the Cape, was doing his duty to see that no favours should be extended to his colony which were not at the same time extended to the Empire outside of the Colony.

Even though the Transvaal had these several things which estranged her from the Cape Colony, whose policy was directed by very aggressive interests, there remained the fact that the Transvaal could not at this time have entered into a Customs Union under which she would only have had 85 per cent. of all the duties collected at the ports on her imports. For instance, in 1898 the cost of collecting the import duties of the Transvaal amounted to 48,000 pounds sterling -- not including the Netherlands Railway charges for the collection of the customs at Komatipoort. Fifteen per cent. of the Transvaal import duties would have come to near 150,000 pounds sterling. (3). Thus the Transvaal could not have gained much

1. Memoirs of Paul Kruger as told by Himself, pp. 225 — 228. 2. Carl Jeppe: The Kaleidoscopic Transvaal, pp. 181 – 184.

3. See Worsfold: Reconstruction of the New Colonies under , Lord Milner, Volume ii, pp. 139 — 146.

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