LB 26.10.1902 Pretoria
On Wednesday afternoon [22 October] we had half an hour’s talk with Lord Milner at his office in Johannesburg. We were rather nervous beforehand but he is a man who put one at ease at once. He talked very freely about the repatriation work and the prospects of the country. We were able to lay before him some of the complaints and misunderstandings we had come across and he seemed glad to know of them….
As a result of this interview we got a letter to the manager of the railways asking him to give us a free pass over the Transvaal and O.R.C. railways; the manager said Lord Milner’s wish was law to him and gave us passes at once.
Also we got an introduction to the private secretary of Sir Arthur Lawley deputy-governor of the Transvaal, which led to an interview with Mr Duncan, the treasurer of the Transvaal who is head of the repatriation work in this colony and gave us full information as to how the work is managed. Also we have a letter from Sir Arthur Lawley asking magistrates and camp superintendents to give us full facilities for seeing things.
I am extremely glad to have thus got on the right side of the officials and be able to go about freely. If we can for the time forget politics, as we endeavour to do, I hope we shall be able to keep on good terms with the officials and with the Dutch as well. There is no doubt that the officials are doing their best towards the rebuilding of the country and are doing a very great deal indeed. Nevertheless the work of repatriation is so gigantic that it is not to be wondered at if hitches and breakdowns occur.
The country has been swept bare, hardly a house has its roof left, away from the railways, and most of the stock has been destroyed. Reliable authority [Howard Pim] estimates that the Boers have lost 5/6 of their property or £25 000 000 value.
The railways are unable to bring all the stores that are wanted and are seriously in arrears. The cattle transport is a still more serious question; it is estimated that only 100 000 cattle are left in the O.R.C. and 50 000 in the Transvaal; and these are in such poor condition that a trek to an out-lying district may take a fortnight where it ought to take a week. Ploughing only be done by lending animals round from one farm to another.
All sorts of dangers are ahead – rinderpest, horse sickness and other diseases; failure of the mealie crop from too little rain or impassable roads from too much rain.
Nevertheless the work of repatriation is going forward and over half the people have gone back to their farms. Those that are left in camp still are mostly bywoners … and the widows; these will be the most difficult question and there is a great danger lest a pauper class should be formed – and S. Africa has as yet no poorhouses.
In going out of the camps the people are allowed to take away their tent, bedstead, cooking utensils etc. A memo. is kept of these but we understand they will not be charged for them. They are also given a month’s rations free. A waggon and oxen are lent just to take them home. What else they may need — ploughs, seeds, cattle for their own use, further supplies of food, building materials etc. — these are supplied by the Repatriation Board for the district, a strict account of everything they get being kept. On1y what we should consider the very barest necessities are supplied thus; they will live in the tent while getting the ground ploughed and sown and then set to work to repair the house with sundried bricks (a good material) and corrugated iron. They manage to make a start, where English people wou1d starve helplessly; on the other hand we hear that in Johannesburg the Boer is helpless at finding work compared with the Englishman — they are accustomed to a very different life.
The payment of compensation is a separate matter. For receipts given by the British army, the military are responsible and these are paid in full; we have not heard much about these military receipts, but I don’t think they amount to much.
P.S. I learn that the military have paid out the bulk of their claims amounting to £600 000. Reasonable proof of goods taken is accepted as well as actual receipts.
The apportionment of the £3 000 000 has not yet been made. The local repatriation boards examine and report on the claims for war damages, beyond the military receipts; receipts given by the Boer army are accepted as evidence of losses. When these claims have all been examined, the £3 000 000 will be allotted pro rata and will be paid after deducting the value of all supplies and animals received from the repatriation boards; if the value supplied to a farmer by the repatriation board exceeds his share of the £3 000 000, the balance stands as a loan free of interest for two rears.