1895 was a year of great unrest in the Transvaal. It is one of the tragedies of South Africa that the legitimate grievances of the Uitlanders, and the Boers' fears of being overwhelmed, could not be resolved. Uitlander meant "Briton" to the Boers although many of the "outsiders" came from the goldfields of Australia and the United States, from Germany, France, Poland and Italy.
The Uitlanders had poured into the Transvaal (the South African Republic) to join the rush for wealth that followed the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand. However, the majority were South Africans from Natal, the Eastern Province and the Northern Cape Colony. They were also treated as 'foreigners'. The 'burgher' or citizen rights of the Republic, mainly the right to vote, were withheld from Uitlanders in the belief that given time they would outvote the Boers and take over the Republic, probably as a preliminary to overt British control if not to complete annexation. The Boers, to escape from British rule, had established the Republic for themselves at the end of their long Great Trek north from the Cape Colony.
The Executive Council of the Volksraad was aware of Leander Starr Jameson's activities and the reformers' preparations for a 'showdown' with the Transvaal Government; and in consequence the Raad give undertakings to reduce the customs duties and railway rates on goods imported through the Cape route. The Raad also promised subsidies for English schools identical to those granted to Dutch schools. An extraordinary session of the Volksraad was scheduled for January, 1896 to consider enfranchising the Uitlander; but these rights were promised too late. The flames of discontent fanned by the mining-house Press flared up and on December 29, 1895 the ill-starred Jameson Raid was launched from the Bechuanaland Protectorate adjoining the Transvaal.
The Raid was intended to coincide with an Uitlander uprising in Johannesburg which never eventuated, but tension in the town and the threat of war prompted many Johannesburgers to send their wives and children to Natal. The exodus was accelerated when the Raid began and thousands of panic-stricken people, men, women and
children fled to Vereeniging and across the Vaal River to the safety of the Free State.
On the south bank of the Vaal "from Viljoensdrift Station to the river the country was dotted with shelters of every description. Vehicles of every kind, horses, mules and donkeys formed a huge camp", according to Leslie. Two days later, Jameson and his men were taken prisoner on January 2, 1896, and those who had fled crossed back into the Transvaal heading for a now calm Johannesburg. However, having left the Republic the refugees were again treated as immigrants on their return across the river, and the Transvaal Government profited greatly from the exodus when it reaped the normal customs duty on the ad valorum value of jewellery and valuables the refugees had taken with them ... as well as the duty of £1 on each returning vehicle.
The raid, intended to topple the Boer Government, was a fiasco and its most important consequence was the enormous strengthening of the Kruger Government. Gone was the possibility of closer co-operation with the Cape Government on customs and railway problems, and gone for the time being was the ideal of the Cape premier, Cecil Rhodes, who wanted to unite South Africa under British rule.
For some while Marks had considered the establishment of a company to develop Vereeniging and its adjoining areas. He had foreseen that one day the town would become a major industrial centre and for this purpose he registered the Vereeniging Estates Limited in May, 1897. Marks' partner, Isaac Lewis, was then living in England and a London committee was formed with Lewis as its co-chairman. The newly established Vereeniging Estates Limited was endowed with the 126,621 acres of land that the mining company owned; 49,000 acres of which were in the Transvaal and 77,621 in the Free State.
At this time, a great deal of attention was focused on the Vaal River as a source of water for the Witwatersrand. The inadequacies of the underground sources of water from which the Johannesburg Water Works Company relied were more than apparent during the long dry spells, and, literally, it became a matter of life and death for the goldfields to have alternative water supplies.