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Boer War

There were two Boer wars, one in 1880-81 and the second from October 11, 1899-1902 both between the British and the settlers of Dutch origin (called Boere, Afrikaners or Voortrekkers) in South Africa that put an end to the two independent republics that they had founded.

Table of contents
1 First Boer War
2 Second Boer War
3 More Detail on the Second Boer War
4 References
5 External links

First Boer War

The first clash was precipitated by Sir Theophilus Shepstone who tried to annex the Transvaal (the South African Republic) for the British in 1877 after the Zulu War. The Boers protested and in 1880 revolted. The Boers dressed in earthtone khaki clothes, whereas the British uniforms were bright red, a stark contrast to the African landscape, which enabled the Boers to easily snipe British troops from a distance. After a British force under George Pomeroy-Collery was heavily defeated at the Battle of Majuba Hill in February 1881 the British government of Gladstone gave the Boers self-government in the Transvaal under a theoretical British oversight.

Second Boer War

But there was continued pressure on the Boers, as following the discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1885 at Witwatersrand Reef there was a rush of non-Boer settlers, uitlanders. The new settlers were poorly regarded by the Boers and in return there was pressure to remove their government. In 1896 Cecil Rhodes sponsored the ineffective coup d'etat of the Jameson Raid and the failure to gain improved rights for Britons was used as an excuse to justify a major military build up in the Cape. There was another reason for the British intention to take control of the Boer Republics: there was at the time an attempt made by the Transvaal Republic to link up with German South West Africa, a possibility which the British, with an eye to the coming clash with the Empire of the Germans, determined to thwart.

The Boers, under Paul Kruger, struck first. The Boers attacked into Cape Colony and Natal between October 1899 and January 1900. The Boers were able to successfully besiege the British garrisons in the towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking (defended by troops headed by Robert Baden-Powell) and Kimberley and inflicted three separate defeats on the British in one week, December 10 to 15, 1899. It was not until reinforcements arrived on February 14, 1900 that British troops commanded by Lord Roberts could launch counter-offences to relieve the garrisons (the relief of Mafeking on May 18, 1900 provoked riotous celebrations in England) and enabled the British to take Bloemfontein on March 13 and the Boer capital, Pretoria, on June 5. Boer units fought for two more years as guerrillas, the British, now under the command of Lord Kitchener, responded by constructing blockhouses, destroying farms and confiscating food to prevent them from falling into Boer hands and placing Boer civilians in concentration camps.

The last of the Boers surrendered in May 1902 and the war ended with the Treaty of Vereeniging in the same month. 22,000 British troops had died and over 25,000 Boer civilians. The treaty ended the existence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State as Boer republics and placed them within the British Empire. But the Boers were given 3m in compensation and were promised self-government in time (the Union of South Africa was established in 1910).

The Boers referred to the two wars as the Freedom Wars.

See also History of South Africa

More Detail on the Second Boer War

Colonial forces continued to spread their sphere of influence throughout South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. Whether British or Afrikaner, people searched for new opportunities in the Cape Colony, Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. Similar to Europe centuries before, tensions flared as people from different ethnic groups competed for the same land and resources. The British had their goal of world domination with the view that the only right way was the British way, while many of the Afrikaners simply wanted to live in peace. As is often the case in these situations, the sides involved turned to war. The Boer War was a battle between the armies of the British Empire and the Afrikaners of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, but it encompassed civilians on both sides in sieges of British border towns and British concentration camps. The temptation of riches has led to many conflicts in the world, and this remained true in the south of Africa. For all the grand ideas of British idealism and moral principle, the Boer War can trace its beginnings to man’s desire to enrich himself. In 1887, prospectors discovered gold in the Witwatersrand, a ridge running 60 miles from east to west 30 miles south of Pretoria. This find represented the largest gold field in the world, a fact that remains true to this day. For all the potential benefit of such a find, Transvaal President Paul Kruger showed amazing foresight when he uttered the statement, “Instead of rejoicing you would do better to weep, for this gold will cause our country to be soaked in blood.” With the discovery of gold in Transvaal, thousands of British settlers streamed over the border from the Cape Colony, hoping to become rich. The city of Johannesburg sprung up nearly overnight as the “uitlanders,” as they were called, settled near the mines. However, the influx of British into Transvaal caused the Afrikaners to become nervous and resent their presence in their country. Therefore, they denied the British voting rights and taxed them heavily. The restrictions placed on British citizens increased the likelihood of war, but a large factor that cannot be overlooked is the appetite of several key British for war. They acted in ways designed to inflame tensions and cause fighting to begin. Cape Colony governor Alfred Milner was one of such men. He believed that the British were natural rulers and that British rule was best while simultaneously believing that it was somehow morally wrong for Englishmen to be ruled by others. It can easily be seen how Milner had no desire for a peaceful solution to the problems in South Africa. Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain also had designs on war, though not nearly as adamantly as Milner. He, however, was the one who drafted the ultimatum demanding full equality in Transvaal for British living there. Nonetheless, the final blow in the cause of war came from President Kruger. He issued an ultimatum of his own prior to receiving that of Chamberlain. In it, he demanded the removal of all British troops from the border of Transvaal within 48 hours with the only alternative being formal war. War was officially declared on October 12, 1899, and was followed by some early Afrikaner military successes. They invaded Natal and the Cape Colony, laying siege to the cities of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. This affected both civilians and soldiers as they struggled for survival while surrounded by Boer forces for months at a time. The middle of December proved difficult for the British army. In a period known as Black Week, the British suffered a series of devastating losses at Magersfontein, Stormberg, and Colenso. At Magersfontein, Boer commander, Koos de la Rey, devised a plan to dig trenches in an unconventional place to both fool the British and give his riflemen a greater firing range. His plan worked to perfection, decisively defeating the British. This defeat not only resulted in the loss of nearly 1,000 British soldiers, but also drove their forces far enough back to prohibit them from relieving Kimberly and Mafeking. Similar defeats at Stormberg and Colenso concluded Black Week. However bad the damage of Black Week, British successes soon followed. They began by finally relieving the sieges on Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly and attacking the capitals of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The British were able to force the surrender of General Piet Cronje and 4,000 of his troops, further weakening the Boer fighting force. From this victory, the British entered and captured Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State. The capital of Transvaal was not far behind. Kruger abandoned Pretoria in June of 1900, fleeing from the city. Many British believed the war to be all but over after the capture of the two capital cities. However, the Boers met at a new capital city, Kroonstad, and planned for the future. They agreed to embark on a form of guerrilla warfare to hit the supply and communication lines of the British army. Thus, the final stage of the war began. The Boer guerrillas began to attack the railroads and telegraph wires of the British army. Their new tactics changed the strategy of the war and made the traditionally large groups of British soldiers both unnecessary and ineffective. The new commander of the Royal Army, Horatio Kitchener, devised a new set of tactics to deal with the guerrillas. He built a set of blockhouses, small stone buildings surrounded with barbed wire. His thinking was that he could use a vast system of these blockhouses in order to corral the guerrillas into a small area where they could be defeated. As time passed, Kitchener’s plan was effectively limiting the movements of the guerrillas, but the war had not yet come to an end. To accomplish his goal, he implemented a second part of his plan. He destroyed farms that supplied the Boer soldiers and placed women and children in concentration camps. These new tactics soon broke the spirit and the supply lines of the Boer fighters, eventually forcing their surrender in the Treaty of Vereeniging in May of 1902. In the treaty, Britain agreed to pay 3 million in order to help rebuild the two Afrikaner colonies. Also, Transvaal and the Orange Free State lost their independence to Britain. The war did not only involve soldiers and diplomats, however. The civilians in both the British colonies and Afrikaner states experienced great hardships. Siege life took its toll on both the defending soldiers and the civilians in the cities of Mafeking, Ladysmith, and Kimberly. As is typical of sieges, the food supply began to grow scarce after a few weeks. In Mafeking, Sol Plaatje wrote, “I saw horseflesh for the first time being treated as a human foodstuff.” The cities under siege also dealt with constant artillery bombardment, making the streets a dangerous place. Near the end of the siege of Kimberly, it was expected that the Boers would intensify their bombardment, so a notice went up encouraging people to go down into the mines for protection. The town panicked, and people flowed into the mineshafts constantly for a 12 hour period. The fact that the bombardment never came does not diminish the specter of fear hanging over the civilians. Worse even then the sieges were the concentration camps that were a part of Kitchener’s harsh tactics for ending the war. They began when the British realized that women and children both could not care for themselves and also got in the way of the fighting. Also, the camps were a place of safety for Boers not interested in fighting in the war. However, by the time Kitchener assumed command, he changed the nature of the camps to hold any person living in the area occupied by the guerrillas. His plan was to destroy all support for the remaining Boer fighters. The tragedy of the concentration camps can be described in the toll it took on the people held within them. More children died in the concentration camps than the combined loss of all soldiers in the war. Up to 28,000 women and children died in 1901. By December 1901 many of the camps internees had been allowed to leave, and many of the men joined two new Regiments fighting alongside the British, the Transvaal National Scouts and the Orange River Volunteers, in order to bring the war to an end. It is not difficult to see how this led to the Boer surrender at Vereeniging. President Kruger’s statement at the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand proved correct. His country was indeed soaked with blood, both that of soldiers and children. The riches of gold sent men scrambling for it, and their presence in a foreign land led to war. The Boer war changed the political landscape of South Africa forever. The British gained control of the largest gold mines in the world, and a sense of resentment grew in the hearts and minds of the Afrikaners. People on both sides wept the loss of sons, daughters, husbands, and wives, as no one was immune to the atrocities of war. The apostle Paul said that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and this saying can be applied to the Boer war. Though the parties involved did not fight directly over the gold mines, the scramble for riches precipitated the causes of war.


External links