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course, Rhodes argued, would enevitably drive the Republics to exploit Delagoa Bay to the detriment of Cape ports. Such, in fact, was the natural result, and by the time the Cape realized the fatuity of its conduct and agreed to substitute a mere transit duty to cover the cost of collection, it was too late: trade had been diverted, never to return, and whereas the Cape ports once enjoyed nearly 70 per cent. of the traffic, the bulk of it now passed to other ports. Selfishness, whether national or individual, does not pay."
On July 17 the Governor was requested by the Ministry to communicate with the Governments of the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Natal, asking for their co-operation in a conference. The Free State, of course, favoured this; Natal's position was doubtful, while the Transvaal was antagonistic. The Transvaal Government was not only insulted because of the scant attention paid to its former overtures, but it had now begun to cast its eyes towards Delagoa Bay, which was much nearer to Pretoria than any Cape or Natal ports. (1).
At the urgent representation of Mr. Hofmeyr, the Cape cabinet decided to send delegation to Pretoria for the purpose of interviewing the Transvaal Government. Thus in March, 1887, Messrs D. C. de Waal and Schermbrucker went to Pretoria to press the question of a Customs Union, as well as other affairs, upon President Kruger. The Cape and the Orange Free State were both in favour of the Customs Union, but President Kruger did not see his way clear to enter the Customs Union which was proposed, and the conference, which met at Cape Town in December, 1887, to consider the desirability of a general South African Customs Union, had to meet without representatives from the South African Republic. The negotiations which were begun, ended in 1889, in a Customs Union between the Cape Colony and the Orange Free State.
The Cape had cleared the way for this Customs Union by Act of Parliament in 1888. This Act provided for the entry by the Cape Colony into a South African Customs Union, and made provision for free importation into the Colony of products of South Africa, and for the equitable distribution of customs duties collected on goods for the Republics. Thus by Article 5 of this Act it was provided that, “whenever any goods imported or warehoused on importation into this Colony shall be removed overland to any Colony, State or territory outside the Customs Union, it shall be lawful for the Governor to grant a rebate of the customs duties payable on the said goods; provided, however, that no such rebate shall be
1. The line between Pretoria and Delagoa Bay was started in 1887.
granted until after notice thereof shall have been given in the Gazette.” (1)
Various reasons are usually given as to why the South African Republic did not enter the Customs Union. Unfortunately some of these are usually coloured with some bias one side or the other. Let us look at these one by one:
The “Times History of the War in South Africa" explains it by the fact that Kruger was afraid of becoming involved in closer union with the British. But it was not a closer union with British: it was a union between South Africans.
b. The Transvaal saw, perhaps, that it needed the Cape less than formerly. It was able, due to the influx of miners and other interested people, to sell its tobacco within its borders, so that this question was no longer causing any anxiety to the Transvaal.
The Transvaal Government felt insulted as was seen above, and was now beginning to have its hopes for an independent harbour realized. The very friendly relations which existed between the Transvaal and Portugal, favoured this policy of the Transvaal.
d. A fourth reason is found in the explanation supposed to have been given by the President himself. “I would not listen to the proposal of a general Customs Union; not because I was opposed to the scheme, but because my first condition was always a demand for a port: port first, Customs Union after.”' (2). Why this condition should have been emphasized by the President does not seem to be quite clear. It was done, perhaps, because such a condition would have given him a good deal of bargaining power. (3).
Another difficulty — if it can be called a difficulty at all — in the way of the Transvaal entering a Customs Union, was the existence of most-favoured-nation treaties between the
1. Act No. 39 of 1888: Cape Statutes, Volume 3, p. 2,633.
In a private letter to the writer the Honourable F. W. Reitz, of the South African Senate and former President of the Orange Free State Republic, makes it clear that the Transvaal refused to join the Customs Union in 1889 because its own line to Delagoa Bay was not completed. (The Bloemfontein Conference met as a result of the desire of the Cape to extend its railway line to Johannesburg through the Free State).
3. J. H. Hofmeyr, p. 330.
Transvaal and Belgium and the Transvaal and England. England had, however, conceded to the agreements between the Republic and Portugal and the Orange Free State (1), and it would undoubtedly not have obstructed a movement for closer union between the States and Colonies of South Africa. But Belgium stood in the way. There was no reservation clause in the treaty with Belgium, and some sort of arrangement had to be come to with her first. Another difficulty here was the railway question. Kruger thus responded to the invitation of the High Commissioner in Cape Town for the Transvaal to attend the conference which was to be held there, that he would try to eliminate the difficulty with Belgium, but added in his telegram: “Yet I hope that the Cape Colony will understand, that, when we grant free trade to the Colony, it will not be more than fair as regards the Delagoa Bay line, which is of the highest importancec to the State, that the Colony will postpone the further construction of railways towards the South African Republic.” The Cape would not hear of this, and the result was that the South African Republic was not represented at the conference.
The treaty with Belgium was signed for a period of 10 years. As stated above it contained no reservation clause as regards the extension of privileges by the South African Republic to the other South African colonies and states. When this treaty was drawing to a close, the South African Republic approached the Cape Colony with the idea of reciprocal free trade, as we saw above, but the proposal fell through, and the treaty with Belgium was left unaltered. When the Cape later proposed the same thing to the Transvaal, the latter corresponded with Belgium in order to get this difficulty removed. (2). On April 21, 1888, the treaty with Belgium was modified, and Article 3 of the new agreement reads:
“Aussi le République Sud-Africaine se réserve le droit d' accorder à l'un ou plusieurs des États ou Colonies limitrophes des concessions et des privilèges exceptionnels que la Belgique ne pourra reclamer en vertu de son droit ou traitement applicable à tout pays étranger en general ou au pays le plus favorisé.” (3).
This seems to indicate that President Kruger was not solidly against a Customs Union if he was against it. It would also have meant a great deal to the Transvaal because of the fact noted above, namely, that the Transvaal did not get its
1. See Appendix iii.
share of the customs duties levied on goods passing through Cape and Natal ports and destined for the Republics, whereas under the Customs Union which was ultimately arrived at between the Cape and the Orange Free State, the latter got 75 per cent. of the customs collected on goods destined for the Free State. This retention by the Cape of 25 per cent. of the customs duties was, however, an unreasonable price for remuneration for the cost of collection. This was unreasonable especially when we remember that later only 5 per cent. was retained for the same purpose on goods passing through Cape ports to Southern Rhodesia.
So when the first customs conference met at Cape. Town the Transvaal was unrepresented. There were delegates from Natal, the Cape and the Orange Free State. (1). Sir Gordon Sprigg was elected President, and the following excerpt from an address delivered by him is noteworthy: (2) “To establish a Customs Union between the maritime Colonies of the Cape and Natal, and the inland States of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, it will be indispensable first to provide, that the duties paid by the merchants throughout the Union upon articles imported into the Union from outside shall be uniform. The duties so levied by the maritime Colonies upon articles consumed by the inhabitants of the inland States might then be paid over to the Governments of these States, less a reasonable deduction towards meeting certain heavy charges, incurred by the maritime States in the shape of harbour works, railways, postal and cable subsidies, and also the cost of collection. Such deduction may for convenience be called the transit charge. The way would then be open for an endeavour to establish free trade throughout the Union, in respect of the products of the Colonies and States comprising the Union.
Suppose, for example, the Cape and Natal established a uniform tariff of 12 per cent. against the outside world, and agreed to retain a uniform transit charge of 3 per cent. on imported articles passing through each Colony, there would remain 9 per cent., which might be handed over to the Governments of the inland States, provided that an equivalent rate
1. Names of delegates for Natal: Sir John Akerman, the Hon. Seymour Haden, Mr. (later Sir) John Robinson; Free State: Mr. (later Sir) John Fraser, Messrs. A Fischer and P. A. Meijburgh: Cape Colony: Sir J. G. Sprigg, Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr and Mr. (later Sir) F. Blaine.
2. J. H. Hofmeyr, pp. 333 - - 334.
be levied by the inland States on artieles imported by them into them by any other route."
Mr. Hofmeyr proposed a general tariff rate of 12 per cent. ad valorem. This frightened the Natal delegates, but they accepted it anyway — perhaps, with the knowledge, that it would not be accepted in Natal. As regards the share of the customs duties belonging to the Free State, it was resolved that it was entitled to a share of the customs duties collected in Cape and Natal ports on goods passing to the Republic. The Free State was to get 75 per cent. of the duties collected, while 25 per cent. was retained for cost of collection. Sir John Robinson gives a somewhat disingenuous explanation of the situation. He says: “It [the Free State] stood to gain enormously under any circumstances even although its representatives affected to exercise a lofty magnanimity in waiving any claim for the repayment of the amounts paid in the past. They chose to ignore the vast expenditures incurred by both the Colonies, the Cape and Natal on account of harbour improvement and railway extension.” (1).
However, it seems, that after the customs revenues of the inland communities had been appropriated for about half-acentury by these two maritime colonies, the former had really contributed enough to these “vast expenditures," as to have granted to them what was justly theirs. No wonder Mr. Stafford Ransome compared these inland communities to prisoners of the fleet, while their gaolers, the maritime colonies, could fix the price at which food could be delivered to them. (2). It is, however, well to remember in this connection, that the morality of politics is behind that of the community, while inter-state morality is far behind these two.
According to Sir John Robinson the Orange Free State was treated magnanimously when it was granted a rebate of three-fourths of all the duties collected on sea-borne goods coming through the Cape ports and destined for Free State consumption — that only one fourth of the duties so collected was kept for port charges and the cost of collection. But it must be remembered that only 14 years after this convention the maritime colonies had to be contented with 5 per cent. of the customs duties levied at their ports on the goods passing to the inland colonies — and it is even held that this is too much. (3). Moreover it was generally held at the time that
1. Sir John Robinson: A Life Time in South Africa, Chapter 8.
2. Stafford Ransame: The Engineer in South Africa, (1903), Introduction.
3. Cf. Worsfold: Reconstruction of the New Colonies under Lord Milner, p. 242.