So here’s an old chestnut that keeps coming up on South African history social forums and it’s this:
“The British, using war (The South African war 1899-1902 aka The Boer War), stole two independent Boer Republics – the ZAR and the OFS – from the Boers.”
Then they stole the gold and the diamonds from the Boers – Britain the bully, the Boers the victims. It’s wonderfully simple – see?
Small problem with this statement – its utter bunk, compete rubbish, a historic mistruth and this is where understanding history in South Africa gets wonderfully fascinating.
Not surprising really, many in South Africa are still the product of a ‘Christian Nationalism’ inspired education. It’s not their fault, it’s just that propaganda has been drilled into them, so much so they believe it’s a fact .. and that’s why ‘debunking’ these myths and popping up with ‘inconvenient truths’ is both fun and educational – you learn something new.
So, lets understand why this statement is utter rubbish – complete bunk, and I’m going to start with my statement;
“The British could not steal what was already legally theirs to take!”
WHAT! … you’re smoking your socks right?
Afraid not, .. here’s a truism and it’s a fact – at the start of the South African War (1899-1902) aka The Boer War – the Boer Republics of the ZAR and the OFS were NOT ‘Independent’ Republics at all, in fact they were both British vassal states, each known as a British ‘Suzerainty’ – and by law (the two Republic’s laws themselves and those of Britain), Britain had every right to meddle in the affairs of these two Republics. The hard truth is that these two Republics only existed at the behest of the British and were both accountable to mutually agreed British oversight. If you think I’m talking bunk – google it now, type in (Republic name) and the word ‘Suzerainty’.
What – NOT “independent” Republics at all! What the hell is a Suzerainty anyway, and how did that come about – those devilish British stealing again, well, erm – no, they did not. So, here’s what actually happened (and if you’re a romantic fan of fierce independent, pioneering Boere forging their own independence – now is the time to pour yourself a stiff Klippies and Coke).
The Orange Free State
Let’s start with the Orange Free state. Now, this Republic had never in its entire history seen ‘full independence’ not even from the get go, it was and remained a British vassal state from beginning to end. In fact as a governed territory it was established as British colony first, even the capital city – Bloemfontein, was established by the British. It only became a Boer Republic when the British peaceably handed the territory to the Boers to administrate as a Republic for practical reasons – on the PROVISO that it remained a British Tributary State or British Suzerainty.
Huh .. WTF .. etc. Let me explain. Prior to the ‘Great Trek’ in September 1835, ‘Trek Boers’ from the Cape Colony (nomadic farmers) had already started to venture across the Orange River border. In the territory between Orange and Vaal rivers, these early Trek Boers were then joined by small groups of Voortrekkers in 1835/6 and they had two ways of settling down to farm-land – negotiate it with the local inhabitants (and there were many inhabitants – the idea that the land was ‘empty’ is bunk) or, as was sometimes the case, take the land by gunpoint.
So, very understandably these early trekkers almost immediately came into conflict with the local inhabitants – notably the Basuto and Griquas. This almost immediately came back to the British to resolve, as these people were after all coming from their colony. So, as a first measure to resolve any marauding on behalf of their “subjects” now Trekking outside their border – the British in 1836 issued the ‘Cape of Good Hope Punishment Act’, which ensured that any ‘Trek Boer’ or ‘Voortrekker’ or any other Cape Colony subject now outside the Cape Colony’s border for that matter was liable for all crimes committed south of the 25-degree latitude (which falls just below the old Warmbaths in the old Northern Transvaal).
So, inconvenient truth – number 1, the ‘Trekkers’ (Voortrekker and Trek Boers) were never really ‘independent’ of British law at any time in any event. Bet you didn’t learn that in your school history book.
Conflict however persisted with Trekkers and local black inhabitants in ‘Transorangia’ as the territory was known then, and not just between white and black – the black tribes in the area were also in conflict with one another – and all this conflict was over land/territory. So, the British on the 8th December 1845 appointed Captain William Sutton as “British Resident” among the tribes living beyond the Cape Colony Frontier (black and white) to resolve all the conflicts. He was succeeded in 1846 Captain Henry Douglas Warden who bought the farm ‘Bloemfontein’ from a Griqua farmer and established– you guessed it – the capital.
On the 3rd February 1848, to bring governance to the region, Sir Harry Smith declared the area of ‘Transorangia’ i.e. the area between the Orange and Vaal Rivers a ‘British Sovereignty’ (a colony) calling it the Orange River Sovereignty est. 1848 and went out dividing it up into districts for the Boere and the Griqua and land reservations for the Mantatee tribe, the Coranna (Koranna) tribe, the Bataung Tribe, Barolong Tribe, a tribe referred to as the Bastards tribe and a rather big swathe of territory to the Bassutos tribe. This was all overseen by a British High Court and British Governor based in Bloemfontein. The ‘Free State’ as we know it now was first a British colony and not a Boer Republic- inconvenient truth – number 2.
If you look at the map of the Orange River Sovereignty in 1850, you’ll see how these tribal lands and districts were divided – note, about a third of the landmass of what would become The Orange Free State is tribal territory – so much for the old Broederbond inspired education who said it was ‘empty’ for the Boere taking it, that’s the inconvenient truth – number 3.
Image: Map of the Orange River Sovereignty
However, all was not well as a small grouping of Voortrekkers under the leadership of Andries Pretorius became aggrieved at land concessions made by the British to the Griqua leaders and Basotho leaders. He raised a Commando, declared a Republic around Winburg and a skirmish was fought on Boomplaats farm between a British column raised to deal with the insurrection and Pretorius’ commando on the 29th August 1848. The Boer Commando lost the battle and Pretorius fled across the Vaal river into safety. The “battle” would be celebrated as a significant encounter, proof positive of the bad blood between Brit and Boer by Boer romantics in future years, to the British it was nothing but a small insurrection and an isolated footnote of history.
As to the claim of land north of the Vaal River for the Voortrekkers (what was to become the Transvaal), a convention was held called the Sand River Convention on the 17th January 1852 between Boer and Brit – and the British basically agreed that they had no interest in this territory and the Boere could declare it a completely independent country of their own, on the proviso (written into the agreement) that the Boere were not to practice slavery. Another inconvenient truth to those who say the Voortrekkers voluntarily left the idea of slavery behind them and did not intend to practice it – they did not practice it as they were warned by Britain not to, and then they agreed not to – inconvenient truth number 4.
Later in the year of 1852, with slavery already outlawed by the British in their Orange River Sovereignty. The British found that the remoteness, resources needed and distance of their Orange River Sovereignty difficult to manage and would have to abandon it – which would have happened had it not been for an erstwhile meeting to resolve the matter in Bloemfontein in June 1852 when all enfranchised voters in the territory – mainly the Boere and some Brits – all had a vote and declared in favour of the retention of British rule of the territory (so much for Andries Pretorius and his commando).
However, this did not really deter the British government’s resolve in the UK to finding a solution on the management of their colony in such a remote and difficult place and as a ‘minority’ people there – something had to give. So, they held another convention with the Boers called the Orange River Convention, at the Convention it was mutually agreed that the Boers take over the Colony, declare the Orange Free State as a Republic and be recognised as a self-governing state – But, and this is a BIG but – only on the PROVISO that it became a British Suzerainty – a tributary state with British oversight.
The Republic of the Orange Free State was declared (without a shot been fired mind) on the 23 February 1854, however it remained a British Suzerainty from that day forward, up to and including the South African War (1899-1902) a tad less than half a decade later – and never in that time was it ‘fully’ independent, inconvenient truth – number 5.
As to the ‘stealing of diamonds’ – the Diamond Rush in Kimberley took place in 1871 – the ‘rush’ proper – 23 years AFTER the British had already declared the region under their control and then under their Suzerainty, Kimberley did not even exist as town when the British first took control of the territory – not a single diamond had yet to be found. In any event – in 1871 a diamond rush happened and EVERYONE – the Cape Colony, the ZAR, Griqualand and the OFS all claimed the diamond fields as theirs – the matter was put to arbitration and the Griquas won it (not the Boere and not the Brits), the Griquas in turn declared their territory a British Protectorate (fearing Boer aggression) and they later resolved that their territory be absorbed into the Cape Colony – and, no – the British did not ‘invade’ an ‘independent’ Boer republic to steal diamonds, inconvenient truth – number 6.
The Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR)
Now, let’s turn to the Transvaal, as here the British conceded, the Voortrekkers could form a full, self-governing and whole-fully independent Republic – a Republic proper – free of British meddling. Preceding the Sand River convention – all the voortekker groupings who had settled the area of the Transvaal had established no fewer than 6 separate ‘Republics’ – so at the Sand River convention the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic) or ZAR came into existence – officially on 17 January 1852 as an agreement to merge all these small republican declarations and make a proper state of them.
If you’re the Boer romantic still holding onto the idea that the Boers were an independent nation with a long history of self-governance – now is the time to refill that branders and coke.
Because, and this is the BIG kicker, the ZAR as a fully independent Republic didn’t last very long, a mere 25 years only. What the heck – the Boers only really enjoyed 25 years of full freedom in one Boer Republic only – that’s it? What the flip, what happened?
The British up to their devilish ways again? Well, here’s a great Afrikaans term “Ja/Nee” – yes and no, but to be fair to the British, this one is a Boer ‘own goal’.
The ZAR had a rocky start from the get go – the Voortrekkers were in conflict with just about every tribe initially occupying large parts of the ZAR territory (again, the territory was not ‘empty’ as the Broederbond would have you believe) – conflicts with indigenous tribes starting with all their small isolated republics and building up to their big singular republic.
The ZAR, far from being a pastoral little settlement just wanting to ‘farm’ in peace was a highly aggressive and expansionist state – a ‘coloniser’ in effect, to exist in a hostile environment they also had to either negotiate land or shoot their way in, and they did both – on conflict there is a reason Botswana exists as a state today (the Tswana asking Britain for ‘Protection’ against Boer expansion and aggression). Also, the ZAR was much bigger than you might imagine, its borders extended well into ‘Zululand’ as we know it now (massive swaths of ‘Kwa-Zulu Natal’ were part of the ZAR)– and herein lay a major problem for the ZAR .. the Zulu.
Map of the ZAR in 1899 after the Republic annexed Swaziland – note the borders, especially in ‘Natal’ – achingly close to St Lucia and access to the ocean.
Aggressive expansion by the ZAR had also stirred up the Pedi, led by Sekhukune I and resulted in a war in 1876 which is recorded as a Boer defeat. Bolstered and confident, the very powerful Zulu kingdom was now also making some very threatening claims on ZAR territory. Added to this, the ZAR government was also struggling financially (remember that gold had not yet been discovered in any significant way), and it is recorded that the ZAR government faced bankruptcy – so they could not afford any more wars or defensive actions – literally. Feeling their small and vulnerable communities were about to be wiped out by the Zulu and unable to raise enough taxes – the ZAR government did the unthinkable and elected to dissolve their Republic – voluntarily and then they turned to the British for protection against the aggrieved and increasingly violent African tribes – yup, the British.
The various indigenous tribes inside and bordering the ZAR felt they had a case too, and they too called on the British to help them from what they saw as ZAR aggression, land grabbing and subjection. They too also invited the British to protect them.
All good then, invited by EVERYONE the British peaceably moved into the ZAR on the 12th April 1877 to settle the conflicts and with no resistance from the Boers whatsoever, not a shot being fired, took down the ZAR ‘Vier-Kleur’ and hoisted the Union Flag (Jack) over Pretoria and erected a British government there. In doing so the ex-Boer Republic also handed over their finances, tax from now out, of both Africans and Boers alike would now be collected by the British. With that the British now declared the Transvaal officially a British Colony – The British Colony of the Transvaal, established 1877.
So, here’s another staggering inconvenient truth – number 7, the ZAR became ‘British’ as early as 1877 – having existed for only 25 years. The British didn’t ‘steal’ it, nor did they ‘invade’ it – no they marched peacefully into the ZAR at the invitation of the Boers and strange as it may seem – they were welcomed as saviours by some Boers – fact.
Now, some modern day Boer Romantics point to being ‘duped’ by deceitful and greedy British officials or state that President Thomas Burgers was nothing but a madman, senile or drunk – when he agreed to the British taking over his Republic – but that’s all debatable, I like to look at the facts and what people at the time said – Burgers in fact blamed the ZAR ‘Raad’- Kruger and his cabal – and it really cuts to the point and the issues of the day – he said;
“I would rather be a policeman under a strong government (the British) than a President of such a State (the ZAR). It is you—you members of the Raad and the Boers—who have ruined the country, who have sold your independence for a drink. You have ill-treated the natives, you have shot them down, you have sold them into slavery, and now you have to pay the penalty.”
Incidentally (not to get too wide into this subject now as nobody comes out smelling of roses) – but the “slavery” bit Burgers refers to is the inboekselings system widely used by the Boers in the ZAR at the time – an old VOC/Dutch system of ‘indentured slavery’ – primarily of Black women and children captured and indentured to their Boer masters till 25 years of age, it also formed a lucrative trade for struggling farmers on the frontiers of the ZAR known as ‘Black Gold’ hence Burgers’ term “sold them” (and if you think I’m speaking rubbish – look it up).
Now, was everyone happy? Well, no, as you can imagine there was a bun fight amongst the Boers – some not happy with becoming British and others quite happy to crack on with the British – after all the Zulu threat had now abated – in fact the British had gone one step further and literally crushed the Zulu threat in the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War (ironically the Zulu thought the British column moving up was intended to deal with issues in their Transvaal colony, and were pretty surprised when they came under attack).
With the British crushing the Zulu threat, some Boers were pretty happy and felt they could now get on and farm safely. However, on the other hand, with Zulu threat now gone completely, it did not take long before the British policies, taxes and concessions for Black African land rights and their policies of taxation of Boer land to become an issue to some other sectors of the resident Boer population.
It all came to a head with the Boers when the British confiscated one Boer’s wagon in lieu of his backdated tax, which he refused to pay. This brought the British into direct conflict with a Boer Commando drafted to help the farmer .. the incident exploded, 10,000 Boers led by Paul Kruger demanding the return of their old Republic and removal of the British – then they attacked the British Garrisons around Pretoria, starting on the 20 December 1880 at Bronkhorstspruit (there were no British garrisons at Johannesburg – it didn’t exist).
This then kicked off the ‘Transvaal War’ in November 1880 (to Afrikaner historians it’s the 1st Anglo-Boer War and to the rest its simply known as ‘The Transvaal War’ – I’ll call it Boer War 1).
The long and short of the Transvaal War – it ended rather disingenuously. The British sighted a poor battlefield on top of Majuba mountain on which to hold their ‘waterloo’ and got their arses kicked (there is literally no other way to put it) on the 27 February 1881 and routed from the ZAR.
Image: Painting of Lance Corporal Joseph John Farmer, awarded the Victoria Cross for running the first aid station on the top of Majuba Hill during the battle. Farmer raised a white cloth over the wounded to indicate their presence to the Boers. His arm was shot through. He raised another cloth with his other arm which was also hit.
The Boers walked away victorious having seen the back of the ‘Rooinekke’ (red-necks) – done and dusted with British rule – back to an Independent Republic and Koeksusters and coffee (at least that’s how it was pitched). But, the truth of the matter, it was far from ‘done and dusted’ – and an ‘independent’ Republic did not materialise, as much as some would like to believe that it did.
The British, deeply aggrieved, decided against sending in a massive expeditionary force and flattening the insurrection in their colony, they sued for peace instead – they understood (as they had in the Orange River Sovereignty) that this was a difficult region, tough customers and they were at the end of the day the minority in it. So, they agreed to give the administration of it back to the Boers, to re-declare their Republic – and here’s the kicker bit – on the PROVISO that it be a British (and here’s the word again) – ‘Suzerainty’. In other words, a British tributary state or British vassal state, with no real ‘recognition’ internationally and one in which they were legally free to ‘meddle’ in at any point in time.
The Boers, over a barrel really, and happy to get back a semblance of a Republic – agreed. Two Conventions – the Pretoria convention, held on 3 August 1881 established the ZAR as a British Suzerainty and at a later convention, the London Convention, signed on 27 February 1884, in which some concessions were given to Kruger and his party as to borders, the word Suzerainty was also dropped from the pre-amble, but the the SAR still had to get permission from the British government for any treaty entered into with any other country other than the Orange Free State – Britain reserved the right to oversight and could still ‘meddle’ in the States affairs – a British “client” state if you will – in either event, the ZAR remained a state with mutually agreed British oversight – all the way from 1881 to ‘Boer War 2′ (1899 to 1902) and beyond. It was theirs to legally intervene, a truly ‘free’ and ‘fully independent’ Republic it was not, inconvenient truth – number 8.
As to gold, the Johannesburg gold rush took place in earnest on the reef from July 1886 – 9 years AFTER the British had established interests and control of the ZAR in 1877, in fact when the ZAR became a British colony for the first time, Johannesburg had not even been established – it didn’t exist. So, no – the British did not ‘invade’ the ZAR to steal the gold, their interests were there long before significant deposits of gold were found on the Witwatersrand – inconvenient truth – number 9.
Understanding the true causes of the South African War 1899-1902
There’s usually lively debate on Boer war forums as to the casus belli (the case for war) of the ‘South African War’ (1899-1902) – incorrectly called ‘The Boer War’.- but for clarity I’ll call it Boer War 2. They look to the greed of British Imperialism or the fact that the Boers declared war on the British in the official declaration – not the other way round .. but that would be to COMPLETELY ignore the three casus belli that Paul Kruger upfront put on the table as Boer ZAR demands at Bloemfontein when ‘negotiations’ kicked off with Alfred Milner in 1899 .. the ZAR’s status as to British oversights specified by the London Convention (which Kruger wanted removed completely) and the qualification time for ZAR citizenship of the miners on the reef (a human rights issue – nothing to do with gold per se) – which Kruger wanted extended. Then there was also the issue of a seaport, and Kruger wanted the British to concede parts of ‘Zululand’ to allow an ‘Independent’ ZAR to expand its borders and secure a vital seaport (key to maintaining future ‘independence’).
Images – President Paul Kruger (left) and Alfred Milner (right) – colourised by Jennifer Bosch.
The British would agree to none of the above, Milner was dogmatic and unmoving – their sticking point, the Franchise – they wanted 5 years qualification – and things simply went south from there – war was on the cards – again! So, let’s understand the ‘belligerence’ of the British – what’s driving it – and it boils down to this niggly issue of both the ZAR and the OFS being British client states. If you understand that, the minds of Rhodes, Milner, Kruger and even Smuts become increasingly clear – so to the casus belli, and here’s how:
Jan Smuts would very famously state that the Jameson Raid 1895 was the ‘real’ start of the Boer War in 1899 (not the Boer invasions of the British colonies), the British had betrayed the Boers and an uneasy peace existed after it – this was the Boer interpretation of events and even Smuts was sticking to it.
The British on the other hand, viewed the start of the Boer War in 1899 somewhat differently, they viewed the Battle of Majuba back in 1881 as the ‘real’ start of the Boer War in 1899, the ‘peace’ struck with the ZAR was a ‘dishonourable’ one – the Boers had betrayed the British and retribution was coming – this was the British interpretation of events, and commentators at the time like Winston Churchill were sticking to it.
In truth, Boer War 2 is to Boer War 1, what World War 2 is to World War 1 – a progressive extension of the preceding issues which remained unresolved (and, as inconvenient as this is – these issues were not about stealing gold or diamonds). It would be interesting to see this debate in 1941 when Churchill and Smuts became friends, but I’m sure neither changed their minds – and as to the British position and what started the war, one can clearly see it in their wartime rally call in 1899 – which was “Avenge Majuba” not “let’s go get their gold”- inconvenient truth – number 11.
Image – Postcard of the time calling for the avenge of Majuba during Boer War 2 (1899-1902) note the phrase “wiping something off the slate” – old score.
So back to Cecil Rhodes and his pals, in their minds their actions in implementing the Jameson Raid in 1895 were perfectly justified – sorting out a British Suzerainty’s governance of British citizens on the reef – so confident was Rhodes in his right to meddle in the ZAR that neither he or Joseph Chamberlain even bothered to get official British government backing in Westminster for the raid (in fact in their minds it was not a raid at all – but a ‘rescue mission’).
That the raid failed so dismally was an embarrassment to the Rhodes, so much so it forced his resignation. But it did not stop Britain from sending their next ‘man’ in to replace Rhodes and ‘sort out’ their troublesome vassal state which was the ZAR – and that was Alfred Milner. Milner, very aware of the legal status of both the OFS and the ZAR as British Suzerainty States was a blunt, unabashed British Imperialist. Kruger, a Boer Imperialist (there is no hiding that fact either) was never going to get Britain to renege on its rights to the ZAR (or the OFS for that matter).
In Milner’s mind the OFS and ZAR as British vassal states had no sway whatsoever, nor did they have the right to claim independence – in his rather dogmatic and arrogant Victorian mind they were merely being ‘troublesome’ children of the bigger British family. Milner made it clear that he wanted ‘independent’ and ‘good civil governance’ of a single unitary state stretching from from the Cape to the Zambezi – all good – but here’s the kicker – ONLY under the ‘British Flag’ – he held that singular view (read agenda) from the day he landed in South Africa in 1897 to the day he left in 1905, and he made it clear it was not for changing – Kruger stood no chance in his demands to drop the ZAR’s Suzerainty status completely or for that matter his demand to gain more territory from the British for a fully ‘independent’ ZAR with a seaport.
Milner was confident enough, the British had to intervene directly with Paul Kruger on his dealings with both Jameson raiders and the round-up and prosecution of the ‘trouble-makers’ in Johannesburg (as Kruger referred them) – to this end the Jameson raiders would not be tried in South Africa but in England. Due to on-going disagreements like the ‘Drifts Crisis’ on ports of entry into the ZAR in 1895 – which kicked off the Jameson Raid, Joseph Chamberlain eventually had to remind President Kruger directly that the ZAR was still a British Suzerainty State in 1897 (incidentally the same year Milner arrived in the Cape Colony).
Image: The officers of the Jameson Raid heading to England for trail in 1896, Starr Jameson is standing in the centre – he got 15 months in prison without hard labour for contravening the Foreign Enlistment Act – of which he served 4 months only in Holloway Gaol for first-class misdemeanants.
This ‘independent’ and ‘self-governing’ unitary state from the Cape to the Zambezi – part of the British family of Nations – was so important to the British to resolve its ‘Southern Africa’ problems that it is the foundation of the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902 to end the 1899-1902 Boer War – the guarantee of future ‘independence’ and ‘self-governance’ for the Boers, but as a more robust and formal ‘Union’ of states under the British flag rather than going back to a combination of two British colonies and two British Suzerainty states – which was the case at the start of the war. Here’s the kicker – and the inconvenient truth – number 10, ALL the Boer Generals signed up for it – not just Smuts and Botha.
It was the ONLY way forward for peace and regional development. Fully ‘Independent’ Boer Republics were an impossibility, a pipe dream – they had never really materialised in the past and were not going to materialise in the future. The ‘Keep South Africa White” Republic pipe-dream of Dr. H.F. Verwoerd and his cabal in 1960 was an abhorrent and short lived testament to Boer independence with disastrous consequences for just about everyone – and Boer Generals like Smuts and Botha recognised the danger of hanging onto this idea from the get-go.
Huh – smoking socks again – of course the Boers could have their Republics back comes the chorus from the Boer romantics even to this day – fully independent and feasible, they would last a thousand years, the Boers just wanted to farm and be left alone, see? Well, no – a future ‘independent’ ZAR was a complete pipe-dream, even in 1899 – even if the war did NOT take place the ZAR – ‘independent’ or otherwise – would not have lasted, nor was it all about farming, it would have possibly have made it till about 1910 MAX and no further, and here’s why.
So, we to come to the BIG sticking point between Boer and Brit – the issue of ‘Franchise’ – the vote. An issue of legality and morality for British Imperialists, an issue of power for the Boer Imperialists. The ‘official’ and most significant casus belli of the Boer War in 1899 (not ‘Ouma’s se stories about stealing gold). The long and short here – the British – Rhodes, Milner etc. felt legally obligated, politically empowered and morally compelled to ‘meddle’ in their Suzerainty and sort this issue out.
As to ‘peaceful’ pastoral farming – Paul Kruger in his memoirs who rue the discovery of Gold as the downfall of the Boers, but in reality, the discovery of gold would aid the ZAR substantially. For starters, the ‘poor’ pastoral backwater was no more – the bankruptcy prior to 1877 would be well and truly resolved by 1886 – a mere 9 years later. The ZAR was rich, tax on gold had filled the state coffers to bursting – it enabled them to finance and build security forces with state-of-the-art German (and British) weaponry. The ‘poor white’ problem of failed farmers living as bywooners had been resolved as they became urbanised and prosperous along with struggling famers who opted to become miners, manufactures, entrepreneurs etc. and a more prosperous and burgeoning urban Afrikaner middle class took shape in the ZAR. The strengthened and emboldened ‘Commandos’ were able to annex more territory – mainly Swaziland and bits of Natal and marginalise the ‘native’ threat completely. The state started to take emboldened steps on imports, ports of entry and monopolising the supply of things like dynamite. Its role on the international stage changed with its influence on the gold standard and currencies. The ZAR was ‘on the up’ and expanding, it had become a ‘Playa’ and Kruger wanted it recognised as such.
Big problem though – the majority of the miners and entrepreneurs entering the ZAR were of British extraction. They had now built a complete city for themselves in the middle of the ZAR – bigger than the Capital, Pretoria, heavily invested in manufacturing facilities, mining, housing, infrastructure and railways stretching right across the ZAR from east to west – a tented group of migrant pan miners to be over-looked they were not – they were not going anywhere, their lives and livelihood was now firmly in the ZAR and they wanted a say. The attitude of the ZAR was to treat them as ‘uitlanders’ and suppress their political aspirations as long as possible – secondary citizens with a separate ‘raad’ whilst the Boers remained in full control. This kicked off ‘revolts’, violent protests, flag burning incidents and the violent suppression of miners including maiming and murder by the notorious and hated ZAR police known as the ZARP.
These ‘uitlanders’ were also highly political and had started to unionise and form political interest groups – and fast becoming a pain in the arse for both the British establishment and the Boers. By the 28 March 1899, a petition to Queen Victoria contained 21,684 ‘uitlander’s’ signatures demanding Britain intervene in the ZAR as Kruger’s governance had become “well-nigh intolerable.”
Image: Political Cartoon of the time – note the caption.
Now think about that – 21,500 people not happy with Kruger, not just ‘uitlanders’ to be ignored – to a man, these people qualified a future voting bloc in the ZAR, and those sorts of numbers are only the ‘very angry’ ones prepared to make a mark. Really think about it, that’s twice the number of Boers they managed to muster for Boer War 1. If given a full franchise Kruger’s controlling party would be out of power – and Kruger knew it. The Miners would rule the ZAR, demographically, economically, and politically the landscape of the ZAR had changed – forever. So, what did he do, he forestalled the inevitable change, clung onto power and tied to kick the franchise question into the long grass – giving his regime 14 more years (before they could qualify to vote).
The British, and the miners would have none of it, they wanted political rights as an unflinching human right. So, they set the qualification period at 5 years. This would mean that by 1904 – in all likelihood the ZAR with Kruger and his party at the helm would cease to exist. Kruger was however pragmatic enough to know that his position was unsustainable and was prepared to, and did substantially compromise on this point, dropping the qualification to 7 years and even prepared to meet the British demand of 5 to avoid war. This would mean – that by 1907 he would be out of power, the ZAR as he knew it would be no more – sheer ‘democracy’ would have seen to that.
So why Boer War 2 – democracy would have won a painless victory? Why the massive death and destruction brought onto the Boers by the British. Now that’s a good question – why? In a modern context it’s kind of like asking why it was necessary to nuke Japan in 1945, the war was won, Japan was already on its knees – why bring in the wrath of annihilation?
It boils down to the Imperial mind – Boer and Brit.
To Milner the risk of a prolonged conflict in the ZAR would have just gone on too long with too much drawn out anguish, he feared Boer Imperialists and the possibility of Boer Afrikaners to reconcile with the Cape Afrikaners and take over the whole shooting match for themselves – merely extending the issues of the day – franchise, native rights, territorial conflicts etc. into eternity, so he wanted the whole region in unity under British oversight sooner rather than later. The result is destruction on an epic scale, sheer carnage. Hence the reason Jan Smuts wrote to him on his departure from South Africa in 1905 and said he was hated, and unless he took a reconciliatory approach in future he was not welcome back.
Now, at this point there is bound to be someone whose going to venture out and say “Kak! Man!” the Boers were not ‘Imperialists’ and ‘aggressive’ territory hunters – that’s the British! The Boers just want to Boer and be left alone. Manne – it’s time for that branders re-fill I’m afraid – if you want to understand Boer Imperialism and British Imperialism – know this, both sides were into territorial expansion and control, both sides wanted control of the whole of Southern Africa – the point of departure, the British wanted it under their influence, and the Boers wanted it under theirs. To see just how ‘Big thinking’ Boer Imperialists and British Imperialists were, one only has to look at what they decide to do after Boer War 2 aided with a little ‘helpmekaar’.
All the protagonists put aside their vast differences aside and got together to nut out a solution in 1908 and 1909, known as ‘The Closer Union Convention’ it was the CODESA of its day, a ‘whose who’ of modern Southern African history .., the old ‘Boer’ Generals – de la Rey, Hertzog, Smuts, Botha, de Wet and Burger even sucked it up long enough to sit opposite the likes of Starr Jameson and be nice. Have a look at this photo of it, it’s a stella cast of Imperialists – the heads and ministers of every British colony and ex-Republic in Southern Africa.
Front row (left to right): Hon. J.W. Saner, (Commissioner for Public Works); Hon. J.X. Merriman, (Prime Minister, Cape Colony): Hon. M.T. Steyn (Vice-President of Convention); Hon. A. Fischer, (Prime Minister, Orange River Colony), Lord J.H. de Villiers (President of the Convention), Right Hon. General Louis Botha, (Prime Minister, Transvaal); Right Hon. F.R. Moor, (Prime Minister, Natal), Sir W.H. Milton (Administrator of Southern Rhodesia), Sir J.P. Fitzpatrick.
Second row: Hon. E.H. Walton; Hon. Colonel E.M. Greene (Minister of Railways and Harbours); Mr H.C. van de Heerden; Dr J.H.M. Beck, Mr G.H. Maasdorp, Mr H.L. Lindsay; Hon. F.S. Malan (Secretary for Agriculture); General S.W. Burger; Hon. Dr T.W. Smartt; Hon. General C.R. de Wet (Minister of Agriculture); Right Hon Dr L.S. Jameson; Hon. H.C. Hall (Treasurer); Hon. General J.B.M. Hertzog (Attorney General); Mr C.F. Kilpin (Clerk of House of Assembly and Chief Secretary of Convention).
Third row: General J. H. de la Rey; Mr W.R. Morcom; Hon A. Brown; Mr T. Hyslop; Mr J.W. Jagger; Hon. C.J. Smythe; Sir G.H. Farrar; Hon. General J.C. Smuts (Colonial Secretary); Mr A.M.N. de Villiers (Clerk to House of Assembly, ORC and Secretary of Convention).
Fourth row: Mr G.T. Plowman (Secretary to the Prime Minister of Natal and Secretary to Convention); Mr W.E. Bok (Private Secretary to Prime Minister of Transvaal); Mr G.F. Hofmeyr (Clerk of House of Assembly Transvaal and Secretary to Convention); Colonel W.E.M. Stanford; Hon. C.P.J Coghlan.
And what do they come up with? The South African Union as was foretold in the Peace of Vereeniging – yes, but oh so much bigger, not just a couple of isolated Republics acting as British vassal states combined with a couple of British colonies – oh no, this is BIG thinking – they agree to a ‘Greater South Africa’ – an here’s a map of it – its in three phases – Phase 1 the initial South African ‘Union’, would incorporate Lesotho and Swaziland.
Phase 2 – this would be followed by the incorporation of Bechuanaland (Botswana), German South West Africa (Namibia), the southern half of Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique – Delagoa bay) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
And then Phase 3,’Greater South Africa’ does not stop at Phase 2, the next phase would see half of modern Angola, the rest of modern Mozambique (the north part of Portuguese East Africa), the whole of modern Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) and the whole of modern Malawi joining the South African ‘union’. Here’s a map of it (note Jan Smuts’ notations of ‘A’ – phase 2 and ‘B’ – phase 3).
Image: Phase settings for ‘Greater South Africa’
This sort of expansionist Imperial thinking took the idea of the ‘white race’ as the great driver of conquest and civilisation in Southern Africa (Boer and Brit, either together or separate)- starting from South Africa’s borders, then over the Zambezi River and literally all the way to the equator. This thinking also did not just materialise in 1908, oh-no … it started well before that in 1895, BEFORE Boer War 2, when Jan Smuts as the State Attorney to the ZAR started to articulate the thinking of a ‘Greater South Africa’ under ‘Boer influence’ and he was not alone, the likes of Louis Botha and many others agreed with him, not only in the ZAR, but even people like Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr in the Cape, even Kruger was an expansionist had no problem annexing territory for Boer control either – Swaziland and bits of Zululand are just two cases in point. Cecil Rhodes thought the same way, only his idea specified ‘British influence’ – hence the clash of under ‘whose influence’ – its an ideological clash – and its not the .. we just want to be left alone to Boer .. thinking at all!
Just to think, had the issue not been pushed to war, there would not have been the deep mistrust and hatred between Boer and Brit, the Boer Imperialists like Smuts and Botha in conjunction with ‘British’ like Merriman, FitzPatrick and Jameson would have established the grand ideas of ‘union’ and ‘Greater South Africa’ – no problem.
The reason ‘Greater South Africa’ did not materialise – the African tribal leaders and Kings in places like Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Lesotho were a bit jittery over the old Boer Republic’s race laws, they saw the British qualified franchise laws as hopeful but feared the Boere, so they chose a wait and see approach – see how the union’s segregation laws in the old Boer Republics and simmering Afrikaner nationalism and discontent panned out – and we all know how that panned out.
More money than you can shake a stick at!
As to the question of gold and Johannesburg – a government’s income from minerals comes in the form of tax. The plain truth is that the Boers extracted high taxation on gold for ZAR coffers until 1900, thereafter the tax went to an interim Transvaal government pending union and self governance and by 1910 – a mere decade later the money went to an independent South African Union government’s tax coffer – run by the Boers. It is impossible for Britain to even have made money from South African gold to pay for its war in South Africa and the agreed reparations to the Boers guaranteed in the Vereeniging Peace treaty after the war – the war cost Britain £210 million (a staggering £25 billion in today’s money – R 547 billion in South African Rands – that’s more money than it will take to fix our current ‘Energy Crisis’). Britain’s sojourn in South Africa in 1899 was a significant financial loss to them (and political – the ‘Khaki elections’ after the war saw the back of the Tory warmongers and regime change) – proof positive, it was not about ‘stealing gold’.
As to Johannesburg, it would remain a destabiliser – to the ZAR, then the British, then the Union of South Africa – and it’s still a destabiliser in the modern South African Democratic Republic. A true den of thieves and an economic powerhouse controlling the outcome of the entire region – from beyond Zimbabwe all the way to Cape Town, it has never changed, it’s an unflinching reality and we have to accommodate and recognise it, now and then. The idea that it could exist in the middle of some sort of pastoral Boer Republic with Boers in charge of it is just sheer deniability and wishful – pure romanticism.
In reality, in 1899 – the seat of power in the ZAR had shifted, true power – economic power – no longer sat in the ‘Boer’ Republic’s Raad in Pretoria, it sat in The Rand Club in Johannesburg – and everyone knew it, Johannesburg would dictate the future of the region, not Pretoria, or even Cape Town, not even London – and here’s the inevitable truth, it still dictates the future of the region – it’s still the power-hub – the heart of South Africa (nearly 60% of South Africa’s population now live in the Megalopolis it has created).
I mention the Rand Club in Johannesburg, as this really was the real seat of power for the ZAR, the Jameson Raid was conceived and planned in its billiards room as a privateering mission and not in the corridors of Westminster with the endorsement of the British Parliament as some Boer romantics wishfully believe.
At the beginning the statement was made that Britain could not steal what was already theirs – I hope this has shown that true ‘fully’ independent Boer states never really existed with any degree of longevity or sustainability. Britain, from the get-go as an International Superpower, was always going to dictate the outcome – it had an entire planet to run – a vast network of countries the world over in what it regarded as the “British’ sphere, the largest ’empire’ ever built – the Romans didn’t even come close. Just one of the two Boer Republics existed without British oversight for a mere 25 years only and by the start of Boer War 2 they were both British Suzerainty States in any event. Britain peacefully ‘gave’ its colony of the Orange Sovereignty – est. 1848 to the Boers to manage, the Boers peacefully dissolved and gave their Republic of South Africa (ZAR) to the British to manage as their colony in 1887, long before diamonds and gold respectively became an issue in these regions. That’s the uneasy and inconvenient truth of the matter.
I also hope I’ve shown that Imperialism and colonisation – whether practiced by Boer or Brit is a bloody and violent matter and idea of free and independent Boer republics was a pipe dream – then and now. That things eventually went pear shaped between Boer and Brit and there were lots of shots fired at one another in anger is also a truism – and not just Boer and Brit, but the violence extended to everyone else in-between. I also hope I’ve highlighted the idea of ‘Boer’ victimhood as a population group seeking nothing more than a pastoral farming existence in a peaceful setting is a complete fallacy.
I’m sure someone will point out that this is ‘too simplistic’ and the issue is far more nuanced, the history far more complex and this is way too much ‘factor analysis’ – but these are the truths, they are facts – you can debate and argue them – sure – there are many other compelling facts and historical figures and you can point to them too, however, at best this missive is designed to present different perspectives to get you thinking, engage some brain cells and question political narrative on history and a piss-poor nationalistic education (the Nats then and the ANC now).
In the end, and this is a truism – it all could have been avoided had it not been for the personalities at play and their Imperial aspirations (both Boer and Brit) – the Boer War was a failure of the human condition – enfranchisement, political and economic emancipation and human rights would have marched on regardless. Looking at the complete destruction, death and tragedy that was Boer War 2 with the hindsight of some really inconvenient history – all I can say is I’ll now join those Boer romantics and pour myself a very strong Klippies and Coke.
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens
A well-rounded account Peter. The “history” was much modified to suit a cause post-1948 and we all know where that led. Then, post-1994, it occurred all over again but this time the history was simply obliterated. To suit another cause, of course.
You should read Nigel Biggar’s “Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning”, just published in England after its original publisher got severe frost-bite between the brain cells over a likely furore from the woke brigade. Thankfully, not all our publishers are so lily-livered.
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A very well written and informative history of what really happened to our country in the not so distant past.I remember we were taught most of this at school but as time marched on and memories fade other populist views and beliefs emerge…….which makes me wonder about the Bible,especially the New Testament…….but that’s another matter entirely.
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Excellent commentary Peter. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I would throw something else in, the Zulu’s were also of an expansionist nature, until the British broke their power in 1879.
For me the simple solution of ‘one man one vote’ does not work in a society where minorities are oppressed and the debacle the ANC are fronting still has a long way to go. And so, SA continues down the slippery slope of a banana republic.
Yet, who knows what the black tribes thinking would be today if the emigre’s to Africa from Europe approached the association in a friendly and fair manner, after all, both parties would have had a lot to offer.
Alas, the temper of the tribes in Southern Africa today is very much a result of the mishandling of this by Boer and Brit.
SA will see a lot more pain before we see some light JMHO.
You make a very valid point Norman, the preserve of Imperialism is not a ‘white’ thing -‘black’ peoples can be Imperialists too – and no doubt the Zulu were Imperialists seeking territorial expansion – by violent means in need.
Excellent writing as always Peter, thank you. For completeness it might be worthe mentioning the battle of Muizenberg and the battle of Blaauwberg to cement the British presence in the Cape in the early 1800s https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_the_Cape_Colony
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Following on from this, jas anyone read The Great Trek Uncut by Robin Binckes ? I would welcome any input from this group before devoting a bit of my life to reading it 🙂 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15903662-the-great-trek-uncut
Haven’t read this either Stef. But I’ll write on this sometime, I had a university assignment once which looked at the Great Trek – the consensus was a ‘Trek’ took place, but it was not ‘Great’. Statistically only 10% of the Cape Colony ‘trekked’ (a mass exodus it was not) and, as the ‘trek’ only took place from the Colony’s outposts, a great many of ‘trekkers’ were originally Trek Boers (nomadic farmers), used to living in wagons and trekking anyway. The 1938 ‘Sentential Trek’ is widely regarded as a complete misrepresentation on nationalistic ideology and very little to do with reality – here’s a question, its widely accepted in many academic circles that the trekkers took their ‘labourers’ with them and the ratio was 1:1 – Trekker to Servant – so where is the ‘black’ history of the Great Trek, where were all these peoples when the Laagers come under attack? Loads of inconvenient truths here.
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For more busting of National Party myths, read “Kruger’s War’ by, well, me.
Funnily I’ve never read any of your books. Judging by the ‘entertaining fan mail’ I’m getting maybe its time, send me a purchase link for Kruger’s War – email@example.com
Have just received your book, I’ll give it a review.