chapter  IV
46 Pages

The Jingo Crowd

T H E South African War is today remembered largely because it was instrumental in adding a new word to the English Language; a word that was a product of the 'New Imperialism' and which, appropriately enough, was to be little used after 1914. That word was 'mafficking'. The situation from which it grew was remarkable to an age that was unaccustomed to such spontaneous victory celebrations. On the night of 18 May 1900, news travelled like wildfire. At 9.20 p.m. the Lord Mayor of London announced from the Mansion House that the besieged garrison of Mafeking had been relieved. In retrospect it is incredible that the imagination of the country should have been caught by this dusty little town on the South African veldt. But thanks to the dubious military ability and tactics of its commander and the fulsome praise of a press desperately anxious to secure incontrovertible evidence of British pluck and valour, everyone's eyes had been centred on Mafeking. It did not seem to matter that Baden-Powell-who after the war was kicked upstairs-had come perilously near to disobeying orders in allowing himself to be entrapped; nor did it detract from the glamour of the occasion that valuable troops had to be diverted to rescue him. Seldom has one man ever built such a successful career on incompetence. Indeed, the events of Mafeking Night are less difficult to understand than the reason why Mafeking itself was thought to be so important.