African War ("Anglo-Boer War")
|During the extraordinary,
violent, Great Trek the Afrikaners
ventured away from British control, defeated black rivals and created republics
beyond the Vaal river.
These republics were consolidated into the Orange Free State
(1854) and the South African Republic (1860). The British made a half-hearted
attempt to assert British sovereignty, but after bruising military defeats,
relinquished political claims in 1854. The land seemed to be of no great value,
and the cost of claiming it outweighed the need to assert sovereignty.
Discovery of diamonds on the farm 'de Beers' brought the question of the border
between the Cape colony and the Orange Free State into dispute. Britain
successfully asserted that the border lay one mile to the east of the mines,
and that the diamonds lay in British territory.
The discovery of rich mineral deposits focused the minds of
imperialists. In 1875 Lord Carnarvon, Colonial Secretary, argued that South
Africa should be a confederation - a model that was applied successfully to the
divided Anglo-French communities of Canada.
In pursuit of this policy Britain annexed the Transkei and
defeated and subjugated the Zulu. Britain also tried to annex the Transvaal in
1877, but further conflict with the South African Republic ensued and once
again Britain backed down after defeats.
The discovery of gold on a farm on a ridge called the 'Witswatersrand', deep
inside the South African Republic brought a strategic importance to the area
that Britain could not ignore. British companies sunk deep mines into the reef,
and soon tens of thousands of British and other miners poured into the area,
creating the largest town in Southern Africa within three years. It became
known as 'Johannesburg' and by 1898 produced a quarter of the world's gold
Jingoistic imperialists, like Lord Alfred Milner the British high commissioner
in South Africa and mine owners like Cecil Rhodes agitated for British
intervention. Their chief grievance was the lack of political rights afforded
to miners and companies working on the Reef.
At heart, however, they were determined to enforce
confederation and secure control of mining north of the Transvaal.
Chamberlain's government in England was equally keen to ensure that the
strategic prize of the world's largest producer of gold should support the Bank
of England and not that of Germany or another power.
| The inevitable outbreak of war
finally came in October 1899, and it proved more costly in blood and money than
was dreamed possible.
The Boers put up fierce resistance. They became a formidable
foe as their fierce nationalism, sense of justice and strong Calvinist faith
combined with their skills in horsemanship, guerrilla tactics, use of the rocky
landscape, the rapid-fire Mauser rifle and smokeless gunpowder.
Britain had to pour in more troops. By March 1900 there were
200,000 troops in South Africa and by the end of the war in 1902 more than
450,000 had arrived. Refugees also swelled the population of the city. In the
early months of the war over 25,000 people arrived in Cape Town from the north,
many in cattle trucks fleeing from Johannesburg and the outbreak of war,
including groups of Indians, Eastern Europeans and Jews.
In 1901 Boer raids ventured across the Orange River into the
Cederberg mountain range, just north of Cape Town. This advance forced Governor
Sir Alfred Milner to declare martial law and concentrate defences around Cape
Town. Within one week, over 3,000 men volunteered to join the colonial defence
Towards the end of the war, over ten thousand troops were
stationed in Cape Town. Many areas became 'canvas towns', such as Greenpoint
Common. There was excitement and pride in the fact that Cape Town was 'host to
the Empire'. The city became deeply committed to the war, celebrating British
success with street parties, open-air services and the burning of pro-Boer
newspapers in bonfires on Kloof Nek. Those seen as Boer sympathisers were booed
War provided an opportunity for women to establish women's
working parties and philanthropic organisations such as 'The Good Hope
Society', which provided comfort for the sick and wounded.
|The nature of the Boer defeat in
the South African War undermined the mood among English speakers for Imperial
rule. It was a pyrrhic victory for the British, won by the use of overwhelming
force, the burning of farms and the imprisonment of half the entire Boer
population. The plight of women and children in concentration camps had led to
many deaths through disease. The suffering and brave resistance of the Boers
won them sympathy and the methods used to win undermined Britain's moral right
English speaking South Africans and a new Liberal government in Britain appear
to have felt a sense of shame about the South African war and a spirit of
magnanimity prevailed. The pride of English chauvinism petered out, and a sense
of nationalism took hold that held out a spirit of reconciliation.
Boer self-rule was quickly restored in the Transvaal and a
national dialogue set in process to find a way to confederate the country to
the satisfaction of the Boers.
The National Convention of 1908/09 recommended a Union of South Africa,
comprising the two republics and two colonies. The country would enjoy
self-rule but be part of the British empire, to be governed from Pretoria, but
with the legislature sitting in the parliament buildings in Cape Town. The
economy would be integrated, offering security and benefits to the British
For the British this solution offered a respectable peace and
freedom for business across the region. For the Afrikaners it offered power -
they were well aware that they enjoyed demographic superiority among whites
across the country, and they were sure to argue for the exclusion of blacks,
who might have tipped the electoral balance.
The agreement maintained the non-racial 'qualified franchise' in the Cape, but
in the Boer republics blacks would continue to be excluded from the vote. The
mission-educated black middle class published newspapers and organised
delegations to go to London to protest about their exclusion, but the
government saw their concerns as of secondary importance to the need to
reconcile the British and Afrikaner communities in a new confederated South
Africa. Thus Blacks paid the political price for uniting the white communities,
and it was a decision that would overshadow the twentieth century.
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