Native Life in South Africa

Author: Sol Plaatje

Plot Providentially Thwarted

But the motor-car tragedy in the dark at Langlaagte was the second blow to this criminal plot (continues the paper), and when Beyers, trembling and unnerved, spoke through the telephone at midnight on September 15, telling of the fatal shot, and that his journey had been cut short, those who had waited in the camp and in the town knew that, for the time being at any rate, the little game was up. Kemp, of course, at once tried to withdraw his resignation, but luckily General Smuts gave the snub direct. Already the names of local men to be terrorized, and even shot, were in the mouths of the irreconcilables — skulking cowards for the most part — of whom more must yet be written in the interests of public morality.

That night Potchefstroom might easily have fallen into the hands of the rebel crew, sharing the fate of the Free State towns or worse, and loyalists, both English and Dutch, must thank an ever-watchful Providence for being saved from a position of ignominy and humiliation. ==

If all this be true,* and the Government had been informed of it, one cannot understand why General Beyers, with his fingers steeped in treason, was let loose upon the community to poison the loyalty of the Dutch along the country-side and to complicate the task of the Government. It seems that he should have been detained that evening, and thereby, having been turned from the path of suicide, other lives would also have been saved. When one considers the amount of harm that he was able to do subsequently, it is staggering to think what the task of the loyalists would have been had his plans been reinforced by the success of this night plot. It would have given a link of tremendous power to the rebel movement throughout the country if they had captured the stores, munitions, and a ready army that awaited General Beyers’s arrival at Potchefstroom. The fact that some Burghers were found organizing rebel commandos in the "Free" State and Transvaal even after the capture of General De Wet and the drowning of General Beyers ought to show the prevailing Backveld spirit up to the early months of 1915.

— * The `Herald’s’ story has since been confirmed by the Government Blue Book
on the Rebellion. —

When the rebels were tried in Pretoria and elsewhere in January and February, Burghers crowded the law courts and rose to their feet, as if in token of their fellow-feeling with the prisoners, each time a rebel was placed in the dock. At Pretoria, this vaunting demonstration seems only to have been ended by the announcement of the Magistrate that if they did it again he would have to clear the court. It is not stated, however, whether the prisoners duly acknowledged the sympathy thus shown with a bow from the dock. One member of Parliament (not a rebel) is said to have swaggered into the Bloemfontein court and, after shaking hands with the prisoners, conversed with them in an audible tone.

Nothing better illustrates the unsatisfactory nature of the South African military appointments than the Press report that the English artillerymen who served under Maritz were in constant danger of their lives, and that, realizing this fact, they were compelled sometimes to keep their machine guns trained on their comrades. The poor men must have had an awful time, literally "sleeping with one eye wide open".

When Colonel Maritz at length threw off the mask and openly proclaimed his treachery, he put these artillerymen under arrest and handed them over to the Germans as prisoners of war.

Of course, if the Government of the Union was as well administered as was the Cape Government before it, such things would have been impossible, because only tried men with military experience would have been appointed to the command of the Union Forces — men whose loyalty was beyond reproach — that is to say, if high official appointments went by merit and not by favour. A professional lawyer like General Beyers would have been the last person to get a position which should have been given to a trained soldier, of whom there are many in the country. But as his appointment took place at a time when some English officials were politely removed from high positions to make room for influential Dutchmen, and in certain cases useless posts, such as "Inspector of white labour", and inspector of goodness-knows-what (all of them carrying high emoluments), were created for political favourites, General Beyers’s appointment caused no surprise, as the "pitchfork" had already become part of our Government machinery. But how such a man as Manie Maritz became a Colonel in the Colonial Defence Force is one of those things which, as Lord Dundreary would say, "no fellah can understand".

The man is not only said to have rebelled during the South African war, but he is also said to have escaped to German South Africa to evade the consequence, and that he only returned to British South Africa when the Boers got their constitution. And when British officers like Colonel Mackenzie and Colonel Lukin apparently acquiesce in an appointment that places them on a level with a man like that, the voteless black taxpayer who has no control over these appointments cannot be blamed for feeling perplexed at the turn events are taking.

Here is an expression of this perplexity: The old chief Tshabadira asked the Government Secretary in 1913, at Thaba Nchu, "How many kings have we? Is there an English King and a Dutch King, each trying to rule in his own way? And since we cannot very well follow both, which one are we to obey?" Dutch and English colonists have ruled the Cape for forty years and no such questions were ever asked.

If General De Wet were to be tried by a court of native chiefs, who followed "the wheels of administration" during the past five years, they would in all probability decide that the British Government, to which he pledged his allegiance, and the semi-Republican Government against which he rebelled are two entirely different bodies. They would possibly reason that he pledged his allegiance to a Greater Britain — or to localize it, to a Greater Cape Colony, not to a Greater Transvaal.

The Cape Colony is often reproached because native taxpayers within its boundaries have votes and help their white neighbours to elect members of Parliament. But strange to say, when a revolutionary mob seized the South African railways in 1914, it was the railway men of the much-abused Cape who, in spite of the native vote, dragged the Government out of a serious situation. Similarly when these high officers of the Defence Force in Transvaal and Orange "Free" State rebelled and joined the Germans with their commandos, the Dutchmen of the Cape (presumably because "they vote side by side with the Kafirs") denounced the treachery in unmistakable terms. The South African party at the Cape beat up its followers to the support of the Government, and the voice of the Cape section of the Dutch Reformed Church rang from pulpit and platform in denunciation of disloyalty and treason. But in the Northern Provinces, where white men are pampered and guarded by the Government against the so-called humiliation of allowing native taxpayers to vote, there the rebellion, having been regarded with seeming approval, gained a marvellous impetus.

And the strangest of all these things is how men with bank balances like the Dutchmen of Transvaal and the Orange "Free" State could fail to appreciate the debt they owe to the British Navy, by which the commercial routes from South Africa to the outer world are kept open to them, when practically the whole world is ablaze.

The banner of revolt having been unfurled, the "Free" State towns of Reitz, Heilbron, and Harrismith being in the hands of "Free" State rebels, martial law was proclaimed, and General Botha, as forecasted in the native letter quoted in a previous chapter, assumed command of the Union Forces and squelched the upheaval. Altogether the rebellion cost South Africa some of the finest of its young men. Dutch, English, coloured and native families suffered the loss of their sons in the flower of their youth, including among many others, prominent South Africans, such as Mr. W. Pickering, the general secretary of the Kimberley mines, and Mr. Justice Hopley of Rhodesia, who each lost a son.

One loss which the Natives, judging by articles in their newspapers, will not easily forget is that of Captain William Allan King, the late Sub-Commissioner of Pretoria. He was shot by a rebel, on November 23, near Hamaanskraal, whilst helping a wounded trooper. In his lifetime his duties brought him in touch with employers of labour in the Pretoria Labour District and with Natives from all over South Africa. A non-believer in the South African policy of least resistance, he was without doubt the ablest native administrator in the Transvaal Civil Service, and as such the vacancy caused by his death will be very hard to fill. He was an expert on Native matters, and no commission ever sat without his being summoned to give evidence before it.

The Natives called him "Khoshi-ke-Nna", which means "I am the Chief". A firm but just Englishman, with a striking military gait, he would have been an ideal leader of the native contingents had the offer of native help been accepted by the Union Government.

The casualty list on both sides exceeded one thousand. Over ten thousand rebels were imprisoned, of whom 293 leaders will be tried, the rest being detained up till the end of the trouble.

After various encounters with the Union forces under General Botha, General De Wet suffered a series of heavy defeats. Many of his followers surrendered, and his son was killed on the battlefield. He tried to escape to German South West Africa, but was overtaken and captured in Bechuanaland, with fifty followers, including his secretary, Mr. Oost, formerly editor of a Pretoria weekly paper.

Considering his initial bounce and bluster, General De Wet’s surrender was a particularly tame affair. Said the captive to the captor: "I seem to know you — are you not Jordaan?" "Yes, General," replied the captor. "I saw you at Vereeniging where we made peace." "Very well," rejoined the captive, "I must congratulate you on your achievement. It was very smart. Anyway, I am glad that I am taken by you and not by an Englishman."*

— * Gen. De Wet was tried and sentenced by the Special court
to six years’ imprisonment and a fine of 2,000 Pounds. —

General Kemp succeeded in eluding his pursuers by means of forced marches across the Kalahari desert, and effected a junction with Maritz in German South West Africa; but after only a few weeks’ taste of German rule he returned to the Union and surrendered with his commando and all arms, evidently satisfied with British rule. Some of his men were wearing German uniforms. The prophet Rensburg, carrying a big umbrella, also surrendered with him.

General Beyers was the first to succumb. Cornered by the loyal forces, he was driven up against the Vaal River in flood. With his pursuers on the one side and the raging torrent on the other, he was drowned in an ill-starred attempt to escape across that treacherous river. Parties were sent out to drag the river and search for the body, and a reward of 50 Pounds was offered to the finder. Mrs. Beyers left Pretoria in a special train with a coffin on board, to join the search party. She was accompanied by a few relatives and friends, including one doctor of medicine and one minister of religion. They travelled along the Johannesburg-Kimberley line as far as Maquasi, near the river, where they received tidings of the recovery of General Beyers’s body. It was found by a Dutch farmer, who promptly claimed the 50 Pound reward.

A telegram to Pretoria brought back a reply from General Smuts stating that it was inadvisable to convey the body to the capital at the time, so he was buried by the parson on the veld to the accompaniment of lightning flashes which blind the eye, and salutes of loud peals of African thunder, which shake the earth in a manner that is known only to persons who have spent a summer in the interior of South Africa.

It is said that the late General insured his life so heavily before the outbreak that representatives of the several insurance companies concerned had to meet after his death and consider the matter of their liability.

The remainder of the story of the "Five Shilling Rebellion" is soon told. After the proclamation of martial law the Premier assumed the supreme command of the Union forces and called out all the citizens — the whites to arms and the blacks as drivers and manual labourers at the front. Some Boers who could not give a satisfactory excuse disobeyed the call, and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment with hard labour under the Defence Act. Thus backed by the overwhelming support of the various peoples of the Union of all creeds and colours, the Prime Minister made a clean sweep of the rising, and in less than two months the Rt. Hon. Louis Botha was once again master of the situation from the shores of the Indian Ocean in the east to the Atlantic coast in the west. And when the rebel leaders were cogitating over the situation in durance vile, the Prime Minister was sending a message from German South West Africa, on February 26, asking Parliament to deal leniently with the rebels.

Keise qusa Tipereri,
Kgam’se gaqu ha;
Keise qusa Tipereri
Artie ti gxawo si mu.
Hamnci gqo Pikadili.
Hamnci Gqo Lester Skuer
Keise qusa, qusa Tipereri
Mar, ti xawo nxeba ha.
"Tipperary" in Qoranna.*

— * This language is also spoken by the Namaquas and some of the tribes
in German South West Africa. —


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Chicago: Sol Plaatje, "Plot Providentially Thwarted," Native Life in South Africa, trans. Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946 in Native Life in South Africa (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920), Original Sources, accessed February 6, 2023,

MLA: Plaatje, Sol. "Plot Providentially Thwarted." Native Life in South Africa, translted by Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946, in Native Life in South Africa, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920, Original Sources. 6 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Plaatje, S, 'Plot Providentially Thwarted' in Native Life in South Africa, trans. . cited in 1920, Native Life in South Africa, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 6 February 2023, from