With all the rage about decolonising and stripping all signs of our European past, I am not sure we should speak about colonial history in 2017? Let’s do it anyway, for despite our hindsight smugness there are inspirational tales worth remembering.
One of these is of Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917). A successful British medical doctor, Jameson had Paul Kruger and Matebele chief, Lobengula as patients. Sadly he is best remembered for an abortive raid he led against Kruger’s wealthy Boer Republic, in an attempt to bring the Witwatersrand Goldfields under British control.
The raid took place from December 29th 1895 to January 2nd 1896, one hundred and twenty one years ago. The strategy was to use the unhappiness of expat foreign nationals on the goldfields, rudely called “Uitlanders” by the boers, to back Jameson’s Rhodesian police raiders.
Jameson set out from Pitsani in Botswana and marched through the night, but by the time he reached Zeerust, Kruger already knew of the raid. The riders managed to get past Randfontein when they were confronted by over 400 boers and were forced to surrender 30 kilometers from Johannesburg.
The failure of the plan meant Joseph Chamberlain and Cecil Rhodes couldn’t admit to colluding, so Jameson was scapegoated as a renegade and shipped to England for trial. His reputation in tatters, this honorary Matebele induna, and Administrator of Mashonaland was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment by a British High Court. His life seemed over.
Noted for his “Jameson charm”, the disaster did not get him down and after serving just three months he was pardoned on grounds of ill health and returned to Africa. Jameson went on to lead the Progressive Party in the Cape Colony and on winning the election, became Prime Minister of the Cape from 1904 to 1908.
This depth of character led the famous British writer Rudyard Kipling, a frequent visitor to the Cape, to pen a poem for his son John based on Jameson’s example. You know the poem well. It is titled “If”.
Here are some excerpts. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated, don’t give way to hating… If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:… If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son.”