Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

and indeed many of them are the veriest idlers that ever deluded themselves into the belief that they were men of business, by having an office and several private brandiesand-sodas in it every morning. Some of them, however, have land; or rather, which is just the same thing in their estimation, they have “land-certificates” and transfers in considerable numbers; but the farms concerned are either in possession of the natives, located in the fly and fever countries, unsurveyed, claimed three deep, or non-existent except on paper. Other fellows of this class, and decent men too in their own way, have land which they are colourably entitled to represent as their own, but for which they have never paid a shilling, and the possession of which by them is neither beneficial to the country nor to the farms in question. These men, of course, invariably speak of themselves as “capitalists.” I shall briefly describe their line of proceeding. Say it is reported that land is likely to rise in value, an annexation is taking place, or troops are going to some town where their advent had never been even dreamed of before ; or a man has found a little bit of gold, and is beginning to kick up a stir about what, with sublime hopefulness, he at once calls a new gold-field. The speculator, borrowing a trap and begging a bottle of brandy, rushes off to the scene. It is of no consequence to him whether the gold has been found, the troops are really in motion, or even that the annexation idea may not have been already abandoned. He may make something, but he cannot lose, as he does not intend to invest any of his own capital, unless his brass may be called such in the speculations, which, in the most cheery and jaunty manner, he alludes to as “the swindle” and “my little game.” Arrived on the scene, he gets from perhaps a dozen or more farmers, the refusal of their properties at what no doubt is then a fair, or perhaps even more than fair, value for the land. This refusal may hold good, according to the tale he has worked up for the occasion, for three, six, or even twelve months. With the papers in his pocket he now returns to his office or his hotel lodgings, as the case may be, and gets inserted into the Government paper for the

PROFESSIONAL “MINE-SALTERS.” 115

time being, an account of the high value of properties in “the rising district” he has just left. He speaks of them changing hands at enhanced rates, as if his refusals were purchases. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the operator fails to sell, even within the specified time. In one case, perhaps, he catches a flat, to whom he transfers one of his refusal farms at an advance of a couple of hundred pounds over the price he himself had promised to give for it. These operators contrive, in fact, without any investment of money, to obtain a temporary right of disposal over property, by which they are sometimes enabled to cheat both buyer and seller during a fictitious rise occasioned by their own puffing and false statements. Now to these—the busy bees of speculation—add a few shopkeepers, legitimate holders of lands taken on mortgage, or in payment for goods, and the large class of semi-respectable persons to be found in all new countries waiting, like Micawber, for something to turn up; mix with these, miners in search of work, and liquor-dealers anxious for fresh openings for trade, with an enthusiastic discoverer, or perhaps a professional mine-salter, and you have the exact class that is continually blowing the trumpet of the Transvaal mineral resources." I have mentioned “professional mine - salters.” This phrase I had better perhaps explain. There are in the Transvaal, as well as in all new countries, unscrupulous persons who make their living by discovering minerals, and by prospecting generally. Some of them have been known as water-finders. These go about from farm to farm in dry and arid districts, pointing out, of course for payment, where springs must be dug for and wells sunk; but they invariably contrive that the work indicated will be extensive enough to enable them to leave the district before their pretensions can be fully unveiled by results. One of these men, a sailor, many years ago, travelled through Wictoria West, and a portion of the Karooveld, with a quadrant and several other important-looking instruments, by means of which he professed to discover hidden fountains and

* “The English trade and speculate, but do not care to cultivate the soil.”—FROUDE.

streams that, if dug down to and exposed to the light, would flow for ever. Having once slept in the same room with a well-sinker, or by some similar easy-gained experience, he calculated on guessing, with at least occasional correctness, where water might possibly be found. A confederate went before him who effected a double purpose. He glorified and puffed the merits of the advancing charlatan, and at the same time picked up from each farmer an accurate knowledge of all the moist and spongy places, where peculiarities of vegetation indicated the existence of springs on each “plaats” (farm). This information he of course communicated to the water-finder, whose seemingly accurate knowledge procured him at once the respect and confidence of the Boer. After a considerable amount of taking levels, squinting through glasses, and instrumental demonstrations of various kinds, the farmer was duly informed, for a consideration—sometimes not an inconsiderable one—when and where he must dig for the great necessary of life. The poor victim went to work, and the swindler passed on his way rejoicing. Other fellows, well-sinkers, have been known to contract to find water at a given depth. This they invariably contrive to do—sometimes, however, having to carry the water themselves to the well at night, when the time comes at which they have promised to show results; and as their bargains invariably are, that they should receive an instalment when water first comes into the well, with a final instalment when a given depth is reached, they always contrive to obtain one payment, if not both, even when there is no chance whatever of their honestly earning either. Spurious gold-hunters and reef-discoverers are another class of swindlers common in Africa. Some are bad enough to discover gold when there is no gold whatever; others merely add a little foreign gold to the “prospect” at likely enough places; but there are others—well-known men— who go systematically to work, and deliberately “salt” (conceal gold-dust in) some spot showing auriferous indications. This plan is usually adopted for the purpose of selling a reef, or perhaps a farm, or, as has lately happened,

ARTISTIC ROGUERY. 117

even for the grander villany of drawing attention and a rush to a district, and getting it thoroughly “prospected"—a course by which, even if gold is not found in payable quantities, a considerable amount is at least brought into and spent in the country, to the general advancement of everybody concerned. It has been said—and well said—that it is not the gold found in a digging that enriches the country, but the expenditure consequent on the search for and finding of that gold. South African, and especially Transvaal speculators, leave out of their calculations altogether the finding, and look to enrich themselves and develop trade by the expenditure involved in the searching for minerals, whether the search be successful or not. These men rely on “spurts” and “rushes,” with the accidents of mining and prospecting enterprise, to cause a speculative if not a real increase in the value of property. Therefore it is that there is so much talk about the mineral resources, not only of the Transvaal, but of other poor African districts. I am afraid to say what percentage of the English-speaking population of the Transvaal wink at, if they do not wholly approve of or encourage, this vicious system of false prospecting. I may say, however, that they are not a small minority. When you meet a man in the Transvaal with a store, or even a couple of stores (African for “shop”), studs, wristbands, and a clean shirt, adorned with, perhaps, diamond links,—and who drives in a trap from Government House to the Club twice or thrice daily,–you are naturally led to believe that he has a stake in the country. A few such men —and but a very few—have anything of the sort. The shopkeepers, as a rule, do not even own the counters across which they sell their goods. They are merely the bondsmen, and generally a little less than the servants, of houses in the seaports or elsewhere, by which they are what is called “supported,” and to whom, often, the up-country branches are always over head and ears in debt. Some of these men are deserters, refugees, and perhaps still worse; but because their hands are not marked with labour, because “they toil not, neither do they spin, or gather into barns,”—they think themselves superior to the farmers, who, take them as a class, are the only independent body of men, as they undoubtedly are the only producers, in the Transvaal. Of course there are real merchants and respectable shopkeepers; their names, however, are not legion, and their political influence is utterly swamped by the clamorous outcries of the knavish and greedy crew of moneyless adventurers around them." These knavish and needy persons have got up three cries of late years: one is, “Our mineral wealth;” the second is, “Our undeveloped resources;” the third is, and was, and ever will be — at least until such time as a Government obtains that will devote its talents only to the encouragement of artistic swindling — “Misrule !” “Misrule !” These are the people that hounded down the Republic, and whose outcries and letters to newspapers of late years, from every town and village and mine, have been the subversion of what the farmers considered to be their just rights of self-government. They have cried out, “Cowardice and failurel" “Slavery and cruelty 1" where there were none of these things; and they were, in August 1878, as discontented with the rule of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, and as great a cause of trouble in the land, as they had been in the days of Mr Burgers and his Wolksraad of farmers. I shall deal now, not with their political mischief-making, but with the resources of the country in which they live, and to which their clamour has drawn so much attention. In this view of the Transvaal I shall omit any mention of supposed sources of wealth outside of the line of white occupation. Agriculture naturally claims first mention. The whole country consists of an unascertained number of (say 25,000) farms, of which one-third, at the very least computation, are bushveld, and another third rocky and unimprovable uplands. Of the remaining third—from want of water, and pending the construction of dams, which will cost on an average £30 sterling to every acre of irrigable soil—but

* “The Transvaal Republic, the Alsatia of Africa, where every runaway from justice, every broken-down speculator, every reckless adventurer, finds an asylum.”—FROUDE.

« AnteriorContinuar »