What! Smoking your socks again Mr Dickens! Well, here’s some really inconvenient hidden history, the ZAR Republic (Transvaal) planned to invade Southern Rhodesia, amassed thousands of their troops on the Limpopo River border in 1891, and when they sent in an advance party, the incursion into British territory was challenged by Starr Jameson and The British South African Police and the Boer leaders arrested – and all this took place BEFORE the Jameson Raid (1895 -1896) and BEFORE the South African War (1899-1902) a.k.a. The Boer War.
But, But, But … it was Jameson and the British who invaded the Transvaal Republic, not the other way round! The British are guilty of expansionism, imperialism, land grabbing and stealing minerals .. not the Boers! Afraid not – the Boers are as guilty of expansionism using military means in Southern Africa as the British, and this episode is one in many.
But .. Rhodesia, the Boere wanted nothing to do with Rhodesia, this was not in my school history book! Well, if you a student of Rhodesian history this incident was emblazoned into the birth of Rhodesia, if you were taught a South African Christian Nationalist history, chances are you’ve never heard of it, and for good reason – it simply does not fit with Afrikaner Nationalist rhetoric surrounding the origins of Boer War 2 (1899-1902) and its just strait-forward inconvenient.
Now, I’ll make a statement, the planned Boer invasion of Rhodesia was so important to the history of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek or Transvaal Republic (ZAR), it nearly cost Oom Paul Kruger his third Presidency. It’s so important that in his memoir Paul Kruger cites this specific incident as one of the key reasons hampering his second Presidency, his relationship with Britain and his aspirations to hold into Swaziland, he uses it to initially outline Rhodes’ duplicicity in the entire South African region and paint him as a scoundrel – in fact Kruger outlines this entire incident as the epicentre for Rhodes’ desire for Transvaal gold – albeit unsubstantiated and a little fantastic. This incident is that important to Kruger and the ZAR – so why do we know nothing about it?
So here’s a little inconvenient history:
1887 – Boer and British Imperial claims to modern day Zimbabwe
So, what’s the beef over Rhodesia? Well, it starts in 1887, Paul Kruger attests that although relations with the Matabele (controlling what is modern Zimbabwe) and the Boers had initially been strained, Boers hunting in their region gradually improved relations and the leader of the Matabele, Chief Lobengula, sent an envoy to Pretoria to request the ZAR take over his Chiefdom (comprising Mashonaland and Matabeleland) as a ZAR Protectorate. The ZAR in return responded by sending their envoy, Piet Grobler with a draft treaty of ZAR annexation to see Chief Lobengula in Bulawayo (Kruger himself drafted the treaty). The treaty was read to Chief Lobengula who requested time to consult the terms of the treaty with his indunas. Then, in mysterious circumstances, Grobler was murdered before the treaty could be signed.
Chief Lobengula seems to be a rather duplicitous man, because the other side of the story is somewhat different. Around the same time, a British team in 1888 consisting of Francis Thompson, Charles Rudd and Rochfort Maguire approach Chief Lobengula for mining rights in his Chiefdom. Chief Lobengula is wary of them but goes along because he trusts Dr Starr Jameson (who as a medical Doctor also treated him for gout). He concludes a treaty with the British which gives their company – the British South Africa Company (BSAC) the sole mining and settlement rights in Matabeleland and Mashonaland in return for weapons and money, the treaty also specifically prohibits the Boers (ZAR) and the Portuguese from settling in his territory or gaining any concessions of any kind.
Paul Kruger would claim the loss of his Matabeleland and Mashonaland Protectorates along with ZAR mining and hunting rights there, squarely solely on the shoulders Cecil John Rhodes, who he accused of being “one of the most unscrupulous characters that have ever existed”. Kruger then goes on to conclude, without an ounce of any evidence, that Rhodes and his cronies arranged the murder of his ZAR envoy to the Matabele – Piet Grobler.
In his claim to Rhodesia, President Kruger would also completely ignore the 1884 London Convention which specified that the ZAR was not permitted to expand its borders in exchange for more concession’s on the ZAR’s British Suzerainty status, the Suzerainty issue (the ZAR was a British Vassal state and not fully independent) is a primary source of discontent between Boer and Brit, British commentators at the time make note that although the London Convention did not mention Suzerainty in its pre-amble it by no means meant that the 1881 Pretoria Convention which specified Suzerainty fell away (had that been the case it would have been stated in the new agreement) and Kruger had been both deceitful and duplicitous in informing the ZAR Raad that it had. In any event, the ZAR had repeatedly breached both the Pretoria and London conventions and this was causing significant tension (The Times History of the South African War 1899-1902). For more on this see, Stealing Republics, gold, diamonds and other myths!
Not only does the ZAR have ‘buyers regret’ of its British Suzerainty, even our man Chief Lobengula has ‘buyers regret’ feeling he’s been duped when he says “Did you ever see a chameleon catch a fly? The chameleon gets behind the fly and remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then the other. At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue, and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon, and I am that fly.”
So, we are off to a very contentious start between the Matabele, Brit and Boer over what was to become Rhodesia – nobody happy, and no, Kruger and his Boer supporters are not just content with only farming in the confines of the Transvaal with no plans of northward expansion, the truth is they never have been. Kruger himself makes it clear when he says Rhodes used his concession “to obtain a firm footing in Matabeleland, with the intention of preventing the extension of the South African Republic in this direction.”
To secure the area as ‘British’, Cecil John Rhodes then presented this concession to British Government and obtained a Royal Charter for The British South Africa Company (BSAC) over Matabeleland and its subject state Mashonaland. The area was designated as ‘Zambesia’ and he also determined mining rights extending from the Limpopo River to Lake Tanganyika (For clarity, as ‘Zambesia’ is a relatively unknown entity as it’s so short lived, ‘Zambesia’ would officially become ‘Rhodesia’ in 1895 named after … you guessed it … Rhodes, and it was eventually spit it into ‘Northern Rhodesia’ – now Zambia and ‘Southern Rhodesia’ – now Zimbabwe in 1898).
Wary of ZAR expansionism to the north of their border, the British try and clear up the matter in 1890 when a conference takes place between the Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner for Southern Africa – Sir Henry Loch, and President Kruger to decide on several disputed questions, especially those relating to the Boer encroachments upon the independence of the Kingdom of Swaziland. A convention was ratified in August 1890 by which, the ZAR takes over the administration of Swaziland on the condition that the ZAR makes no further concessions or treaties with indigenous chiefs to the north or north-west (i.e., anywhere in Matabeleland and Mashonaland).
The Invasion Plan
On the back of the Convention with Sir Henry Lock and President Kruger, Paul Kruger had difficulty selling it to the ZAR Volks Raad, the Raad expressed its dissatisfaction with the terms of the convention, and no sooner was it ratified than an attempt was made to violate it.
Despite agreements, the ZAR never takes it eyes off Matabeleland and Mashonaland, they believe they have first rights to the territory and have been thwarted by the British plotting against them, so they plan to take the region by force. The planned invasion becomes known as the Banyailand Trek, the plotters are General Piet Joubert – The Commandant General of the Transvaal, Barend Vorster, and Louis Adendorff.
Their plan calls for some 2,000 armed Boers (some sources also point to 2,000 odd Black helpers in addition) to cross the Limpopo at the Middle Drift and then trek northwards into British ‘Zambesia’, overcome relatively small British South Africa Company ‘Police’ forces present and British ‘Pioneer Settler columns’ and occupy the region for the Boers before the British can really take hold of it. The main Boer component of the trek would be drawn from the ZAR’s Zoutpansberg region.
After annexation the trekkers were to form themselves into an independent Republic and would hold a conference with delegates from Portuguese East Africa for the partition with them of the whole of Mashonaland. The prospectus went on to state that Doctors of Medicine, Ministers of Religion, Journalists and all other professions were to be represented in the expedition. After crossing the Limpopo River the trekkers would proclaim the “Republic of the North”; a provisional Government would be organised, and a constitution drawn up on the principles of the old Transvaal Grondwet of 1858.
Kruger however was a little nervous given the convention held with Sir Henry Lock and the hold he desired over Swaziland, so he needed more solid concessions to warrant an invasion, a stronger casus belli, so he opted to delay the Banyailand trek. Essentially kicked into the long grass, and it was a mistake by Kruger to do it, as if they had invaded in 1890 they stood a chance as British occupation was thin on the ground and various ‘treatise’ and rights to the area under contention, when the invasion was revisited again a year later in 1891 they had lost their initiative – Rhodes had tightened down the mining ‘concessions’, the Royal Charter and all the various treatise needed with the local inhabitants. By the 13th September 1890 the Rhodesian Pioneer Column had reached Fort Salisbury and the occupation of Mashonaland by the BSAC was now a fait accompli.
The Adendorff Concessions
So, the ZAR needed more concrete reasons for invading to counteract all the treatise and concessions been written up by Rhodes. They would find these in Louis Adendorff (which is why this planned invasion, the Banyailand Trek is sometimes also known as the Adendorff Trek).
In March 1891 Louis Adendorff and Klein Barend Vorster rather dubiously claimed they had a Banyailand concession given by Chief Chibi to a party of 4 Transvaalers, led by Adendorff, for an area of 200 miles by 100 miles. They in turn offered the concessions to Rhodes to purchase. Rhodes concluded the concessions illegal, the plot as nothing more than blackmail and refused. Adendorff would then use this as a casus belli for an armed invasion.
So, the Zoutpansberg Boers, now led by Kommandant Ignatius Ferreira and encouraged by General Piet Joubert – the Kommandant General of the ZAR, decided to push on ahead with their plans. This reinvigorated push to invade almost immediately became known to the British Foreign Office and they took to military countermeasures to repel the Boer invasion and diplomacy.
So, how does the plan fare?
Initially not well, the British had already got wind of the plan in early 1890. Captain Frederick Selous (for whom the famous Rhodesian Special Forces Regiment the ‘Selous Scouts’ is named) is in the employ of the British South Africa Company and pioneering Zambesia. He is in the Zoutpansberg area of the Northern Transvaal in February 1890 and comes to hear of the Boer’s plan. Selous immediately informs his good friend … none other than Cecil John Rhodes, of the details – the ZAR had planned for the invasion to take place during the approaching winter months and form themselves into an independent ‘Northern’ Boer Republic in cahoots with the Portuguese. The British react in two ways to the news – militarily and diplomatically.
On the military front, General Sir Frederick Carrington was placed in command of the area from Mafeking down the Limpopo River to the Indian Ocean with Capt. Sir John Willoughby in command of the Limpopo drifts, the British South Africa (Company) Police (BSAP) would be deployed to do this. The Bechuanaland Border Police (BBP) were used for guarding the drifts from the Transvaal to Khama’s country (present-day Botswana). Furthermore, Lt Col. Pennefather was dispatched to Fort Tuli in early May 1891 to make defensive preparations.
On the diplomatic front, in May 1891 the British then sent Captain Sir John Christopher Willoughby and Rhodes’ right hand man, none other than Dr Starr Jameson, to meet with Paul Kruger and to dissuade the ZAR from entering their territory or face war, not just with the British South Africa Company’s private police detachments, but against the might of a British Imperial Force if need be (the British army proper). Kruger is initially adamant and takes a very belligerent position, he responds to Willoughby with a he’ll do his best to discourage the Banyailand Trek, but in the event he’s not able to “what must be, must be” and when threatened with the might of the British Imperial Army he responded with bravado “I have dealt with the British Army before” (Referring to the stunning British defeat at Majuba in 1881 at the hands of the Boer forces).
He is however a little shaken by Willoughby and Britain’s threat, he is aware of his agreement over the ZAR annexation of Swaziland and any venture north would put that agreement into jeopardy too.
Kommandant Ignatius Ferreira
Let’s turn to Commandant Ignatius Ferreira for a minute as he is a most interesting character. Some sources point to this being Ignatius Philip Ferreira and one is never exactly sure on which side his loyalties lay – Republican or Colonial. He was born in the Cape Colony in Grahamstown as a British citizen, becomes a diamond prospector in Kimberley. His military career starts with the Cape Colony as part of the Cape Mounted Police. He makes his way into the ZAR as a gold and diamond prospector, becomes a Field Cornet in a ZAR Kommando under Schalk Burger and takes part in various ‘Bantu’ wars fighting for the ZAR. He then establishes Ferreira’s Horse (a Cavalry unit) whilst Britain takes control of the ZAR from 1877-1881 and fights alongside the British in their various ‘Bantu’ wars.
All in all, he a bit of a combination between raconteur, military officer, entrepreneur, miner, policeman and mercenary. He is also the chap who really established Johannesburg in 1886. The town literally sprung up around his camp, known as Ferreira’s Camp – and it now considered the original Johannesburg settlement. Ferreira also becomes a gold mining magnate in his own right. The ZAR had also been re-established under Boer authority by this stage (from 1881) and Ignatius Ferreira now finds himself in Republican Forces again as a Colonel (Kommandant) about to invade what was to become Rhodesia and wage war against the British in 1891. Such is the rich tapestry of individuals and the history of the ZAR.
Assembly at the ‘start line’
With the invasion plan encouraged by General Piet Joubert going ahead, Louis Adendorff appealed for “five thousand armed Afrikaners, including the best fighting men South Africa could produce, the Zoutpansberg Boers”, to assemble at the Limpopo River’s main drift by 1st June 1891.
In response to Adendorff’s call, approximately a thousand Boers, with 400 wagons, under the military leadership of Commandant Ignatius Ferreira, mostly stemming from the Waterberg and the Zoutpansberg areas, began to assemble on the Limpopo River start line near ‘Rhodes’ Drift. This posed a significant threat; these numbers could easily overwhelm the small British Company Police detachments opposing them.
The British High Commissioner proclaimed that any attempt to enter the territories under Her Majesty’s protection would be met by force and the British South Africa Company immediately looked to its defences. Trenches and bunkers were dug to command the various drifts across the Limpopo and small detachments of the Bechuanaland Border Police and the British South Africa Company’s Police manned them.
Further in-land, at the Naka Pass, north of the Lundi river, The British South Africa Police D Troop and F Troop (Artillery) build Maxim gun defences dominating the Pioneer Column Road through the Naka Pass, the only real access for a trekking column to get to Bulawayo.
Paul Kruger, now highly pressurised to stop the Louis Adendorff’s trek and Kmdt Ferreira lest the ZAR face full blown war with Britain and realising the ZAR had no real appetite to become embroiled in a Central African adventure with Britain, acted decisively. Kruger issued a proclamation denouncing the Adendorff trek on behalf of the ZAR government and threatened confiscation of the lands of any Boer who took part in the trek.
Kruger’s announcement discouraged some from taking part and the numbers at the Limpopo River start line started to dwindle somewhat – however it did not stop a number of Boers digging in their heels, including their leader – Kmdt Ferreira, and continuing in their invasion plan and tooling up for it. They strongly retorted to President Kruger ‘s proclamation with a declaration of rights, in which they declared that the occupation of the lands to the north of the Transvaal by a “foreign” government was monstrous and unconstitutional. To quote their own words, “the right to decide the policy and fate of the South African Continent belongs exclusively to the South African (ZAR) nation, and any assumption of that right is illegal, unconstitutional, and an insult to the natural freedom of the South African (ZAR) nation.”
Incursion and Arrest
Dr Starr Jameson arrived at Fort Tuli, the BSAP base in Southern Matabeleland on the border of Bechuanaland and the ZAR on 3rd June. On 20th June he left the Fort to make a tour of the Limpopo drifts and billeted near the Main drift. Suddenly things started to heat up, when on 24th June a party of 112 armed and mounted Boers appeared at the Main Drift on the ZAR side of the Limpopo – and 5 fully armed Boers including Kommandant Ferreira, crossed at the drift into the British territory on the other side.
Whether this party of 5 was a leadership detachment scouting the drift and British defences ahead of their invasion force or whether they were simply on a parley mission with the British remains unclear to history – there are two sides to this story, what is clear and known to history is that it constituted an armed incursion, and they were all arrested by a rather surprised BSAP trooper and taken into custody by the only officer at the drift, Surgeon-Lieutenant E. Goody.
By all accounts of the arrest, Kmdt Ferreira submitted quietly, but one of his companions, a robust Boer with a red tie did not submit quietly, but eventually calmed down. Dr Starr Jameson was then called in.
Captain A.G. Leonard commanding E Troop of the BSAP who were given the task of defending the major drifts, then recalls the rest of the incident in his account “Jameson then taking an interpreter and (Kmdt) Ferreira with him, went over to the Boer outspan. On arrival there, he informed them that they would not be allowed to cross the river and advised them to appoint a deputation, to whom he would be only too happy to grant an interview and having again warned them not to make any hostile attempt to invade our territory, he returned to the camp.”
“The next morning the Boers sent Messrs Senekal, David Malan and Pete Marais to represent them, who intimated to Jameson that it was their intention to occupy Banyailand by virtue of a concession which they had in their possession and on the strength of which they refused point-blank to sign any document or comply with any rules or regulations of the Chartered Company.”
Despite this bravado and postering, the Boers realised they did not really have any backing from their government and realising the British were deadly serious, decided to negotiate peacefully. Jameson welcomed any Boers entering the territory if they obeyed the Company’s laws and would offer them the same opportunities for land and business as the British Pioneer column settlers.
The trekkers then dispersed, although some with an eye to business began selling meal, tobacco and horses to the troopers. Others applied for permission to hunt and said they would sign any documents required by the Company, others even asked if they could join the British South African Police. If anyone is wondering where all the Afrikaners who peacefully settled in Rhodesia and became Rhodesian citizens came from – a lot of it points to this episode.
The Jameson Raid
Now consider just how diplomatically that incident was settled by Dr Jameson, and then consider – that just 6 years later in 1896, the tables had turned, as Ferreira had lead a private armed expedition without the ZAR government’s official backing into Rhodesia with the idea of disposing its British government in 1891 – Starr Jameson was leading a private armed expedition without the British government’s official backing into the ZAR with the idea of disposing its Boer government.
The outcome is that the Boers would not be so diplomatically inclined in their dealings with Starr Jameson, whom many wanted to see executed after his arrest. The Boers would also turn to the Jameson Raid as their leading casus belli for the South African War 1899-1902 – whereas their territorial ambitions in places like Rhodesia in 1891 and their aggressive policies in the region before the Jameson Raid are flat ignored.
The British historians account of the Boer War fundamentally differs from the Boer historians account – and it differs on primarily on the subjects of Imperialism and victimhood. The old Afrikaner Nationalists and their sponsored historians painted the Boers as peaceful, just wanting to farm in their place in the sun – and the British with Imperial ambition and greedy warmongers bent on destroying the Boer culture. However, anyone whose actually read a proper history book, will know that this rhetoric is nothing more than just that – the Boers were as Imperially minded as the British and as aggressive and deadly in the way they went about expanding their states in a very warmongering way.
To see this in action, consider Leo Amery in The Times History of the South African War 1899-1902 written at the time would conclude this period of the ZAR’s history, i..e. the Banyai Trek (or Adendorff Trek) from the British perspective and if you are cognisant of the ZAR as an expansionist and Imperialist nation in its own right, his conclusion rings rather prophetically true, Amery said:
“Kruger was now ” shut up in a kraal,” to use his own phrase, and his only hope of carrying out his (expansionist) policy lay in increasing his military resources, in strengthening himself by foreign alliances, and in recovering the influence he had lost in the Free State and Cape Colony, till he should be strong enough to reconquer by force from Great Britain the territories of which he considered himself unjustly robbed.”
Consider the position Kruger was in by 1896 – his entire border was hemmed in by the British, with absolutely no means of expansion and the ZAR’s British Suzerainty agreements prevented them from any international ambitions. The territories Amery specifically referred to are Bechuanaland and specifically Kruger’s ‘lost’ United States of Stellaland i.e. Kimberley (1882-1885), his ‘lost’ protectorates of Matabeleland and Mashonaland (i.e. Southern Rhodesia) in 1890, the ‘maintenance’ of the ZAR protectorate status of Swaziland and the old Klien Vrystaat Republic (1876-1891) ensuring it was not ‘lost’ to the British, his ‘lost’ Natalia Republic (1839-1843) and The Republic of Klip River i.e. Ladysmith (1847-1848), the ‘lost’ New Republic (1884-1888) and parts of Zululand he laid claim to – opening a frontier to a seaport for the ZAR (his outlined target – St Lucia and Kosi Bay).
These are all Kruger’s ambitions going into The South African War (1899-1902), and once armed to the hilt (the ZAR goes on a massive arms buying spree with taxes obtained from Gold Mining) he follows these claims almost exactly in the Boer Republic’s invasion plans. Where they invade British territory in October 1899 is not a function of overcoming British military positions, where they invade is by design, they initially invade exactly those regions that they feel are ‘theirs’ in the first place, the regions in which they believe they have rights, concessions and treatise which pre-date the British – the invasions need to be justified and hold up to international scrutiny and make no bones – Kruger is well aware of that. It’s also reflected in the way the invasions are conducted, the invading forces very interested in immediately declaring their territorial gains (for which they had been ‘robbed’), bit by bit, as part of the ZAR Republic.
The ZAR would also not forget to attack Rhodesia during Boer War 2, on the 2nd November 1899 when 2000 Boers under the joint command of Commandants Van Rensberg and Grobbelaar did enter Rhodesia over Rhodes Drift and captured a small convoy of wagons at Bryce’s Store. A simultaneous attack on the squadron of the Rhodesian regiment under the command of Colonel Jack Spreckley holding Rhodes’ Drift was less successful. The Rhodesians held off the Boer invaders until nightfall before withdrawing in good order to Fort Tuli, unsure how to progress and a little shaken by the Rhodesian battle order the Boers entrenched their forces at Bryce’s Store and played no further action in invading Rhodesia.
Oct 1899 – Dec 1899 Boer invasions
The idea that some pre-and post Apartheid Afrikaner historians and commentators have that Kruger was merely conducting a ‘pre-emptive’ strike into British territory to counteract a mystical British invasion in Oct 1899 is not only laughable its completely unsupported by a stack of historical fact that show otherwise – it’ also wholly flies against both Kruger’s character and his actual polices.
This is not “Boer Bashing” in any way shape or form, I personally admire many things about the Boer nation, I buy into their desire for national pride, their fierce bravery, desire for independence and ambitions to gain wealth and upliftment – all whilst operating in a very hostile environment. The clash of Boer and Brit is an ideological clash on whose influence and laws the entire Southern African region is run (not just a couple of small Boer Republics), and I’ve shown this time again in previous articles. See From Union to Banana Republic! for the latest one.
What I don’t buy into is all this ‘victimhood’, ‘bullying’ and ‘mineral theft’ baloney touted out by the National Party and their cabal in response to losing the Boer War, it’s marred and peppered with political Republicanism and Afrikaner Nationalism and its historically very untrue and utterly unsupported by fact. I hope to show just one more example of the nature of the Boer Republic’s and Kruger’s policies here with the planned invasion of Rhodesia and the types of tensions that existed between Boer and Brit, it’s one of many areas of aggressive expansionist Imperialism – both Boer and Brit, causing friction. We honestly need to engage some brain matter and dispense with the old Nationalist rhetoric on the Boer War.
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens
References include: The Times History of the South African War 1899-1902 – by Leo Amery, the British correspondent for the Times covering the war. Paul Kruger’s memoir “my third Presidency”. The Adendorff Trek by E. E. Burke.
Colourised photographs courtesy and many thanks to Jennifer Bosch (Jenny B Colourised Photos).