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Causes and Effects of the Second Boer War

Info: 3923 words (16 pages) Essay
Published: 10th Aug 2018 in History

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“Account for the outbreak of the South African War”

Table of Contents (Jump to)

Part I: Outline;

Part II: Background to the War;

Part III: The Jameson Raid;

Part IV: Aftermath of the Raid;

Part V: Course and Effects of the War



Part I: Outline

This paper is a descriptive narration of the Second Boer War, also called the South African War. Since the crux of the thesis question is the actual outbreak of the war, this paper lays emphasis to its background, which dates to the time of rivalry between the Afrikaners and the British in South Africa. In this part, a reference to the First Boer War becomes unavoidable, because understanding the second war without relation to the first war is without foundation, since the two constitute a continuum of events. However, the description of the first war is very brief. In devoting greater space to the second war, it explains this from its starting point, the policy of heavy taxation on the high number of uitlanders by the beleaguered Boers. It then makes a detailed exposition of the episode that actually precipitated the war, the Jameson Raid, with an illustration of the event, the people involved in it, and the importance of this event. It then proceeds to illustrate the significant statistics of the war, its results and its legacy.

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Part II: Background to the War 

A proper understanding of the Boer War necessitates a look into the backdrop of the history of colonisation of the continent by European countries and their stiff competition with each other for control. Following British attempts to dominate the Afrikaners or the Boers, consisting mostly of the Dutch in the early part of the 19th century, the Afrikaners fled eastwards in large numbers in search of empty lands, in an exodus called the ‘Great Trek’, (Walker, 1934, p. 59) where they came into confrontation with Zulu tribal warlords, subdued them and created the independent territories of Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State. The chance discovery of diamonds in Kimberley accentuated Afrikaner-British hostility. It was in this scenario that the British tried to defeat the Afrikaners for control of these mines. In January 1879, the Zulus, numbering 22,000 routed the British comprehensively. Although they were able to re-establish their hold in just six months, a regrouped resistance under the premier, Paul Kruger in late 1880-early 1881 captured Majuba, a British stronghold, signalling British defeat in what is referred to as the First Boer War. (Chamberlain, 1996, pp. 267-282)

The roots of the Second Boer War were also economic in nature, and reached their full potential for conflict under some individuals committed single-mindedly and almost fanatically to the growth of the British Empire. As Britain was licking its wounds, the discovery of another precious metal, this time gold, in Witwatersrand ignited its appetite for conquest. The most important figure around whom the second war revolved was Cecil Rhodes. This quintessential imperialist and diehard believer in Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, who made his fortune at the Kimberley mines and had become a millionaire at 24, scaled the political ladder of South Africa with luck, enterprise and guile. He also fitted the bill in the context of the dynamics of the empire at the time. When the empire felt it was losing out rapidly to America and Germany in terms of industrial growth and the navy, its pride, it tacitly encouraged such self-financed, maverick entrepreneurs in opportunities such as those present in Kimberley. (Denis Judd, 1996, pp. 117-119) Cecil Rhodes, referred to sometimes as the ‘Colossus of Africa’, could take credit for giving the British Empire two new eponymous colonies, having a country named after him, and rising to become one of the world’s richest man of his time. (Daily Mail, 14th Sept. 1996, p. 32) Rhodes was one of the several people from many nations who had come to exploit these mines and build a fortune; these outsiders, or uitlanders, as they were called, soon started outnumbering the Boers, by a ratio of anywhere between 4:1 and 10:1. The Boers, apprehensive about losing their clout, denied them franchise, which the uitlanders saw as a rejection of a right; Kruger’s rationale for denying them the franchise was that if they were given it, they might demand the Republic, too. The more glaring reasons were economic and social, for most of the money that was being made from the mines was reaching foreign hands. (Marais, 1961, pp. 1 and 2) So, the government of Kruger passed laws discriminating against the uitlanders, most of whom were British. These laws required lengthy periods of residence to qualify for the franchise, levy of excessive taxes, and exclusion from the lucrative liquor trade, in which the Boers held monopoly. (Olson & Shadle, 1996, p. 46) The social factor was no less important –the gold that was struck in the Rand was in the most backward area of the Republic. The Boers who had been living here were poor, and were graziers for several generations. This stood in stark contrast to the highly urbanised and educated average uitlander gold prospector, irrespective of which country he came from, thus aggravating the difficulty in assimilation with the uitlanders. (Marais, 1961, pp. 1 and 2)

Part III: The Jameson Raid

Deciding to launch a direct, frontal attack on the Boers right into the heartland of Transvaal to teach them a lesson for their acts was Leander Starr Jameson. A doctor by profession, he had earned Rhodes’ trust and had risen to the position of Resident Commissioner immediately after the absorption of the important British territory, Bechuanaland, into Cape Town. (Sillery, 1952, pp. 77, 78) Owing accountability to Rhodes and not to the Crown, Jameson carried out what was to become one of the most important milestones in the colony. (1963, p. 108) The enterprise had the blessing of Rhodes, who was now the Prime Minister of Cape. With the huge resources and money he had at his disposal, he sponsored a major part of the raid. His motive for backing the raid was to remove the homespun and uneducated Boers once and for all from the mining business and the political establishment of Transvaal, and to unite all the uitlanders under the British banner. (Olson & Shadle, 1996, p. 46) He helped Jameson purchase guns; these were transported legally till as far as Kimberley, till where he held command. Beyond this point, they were transported under camouflage using the De Beers Company which he owned, as conduit. (Rotberg & Shore, 1988, p. 265) The plan was to attack the government from Pitsani, a coveted and extremely crucial area on the border with Transvaal. Rhodes took a little time to fix the date for the raid; during this time, Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary, was aware that the raid was being planned, and that a force had been stationed already on the border, but was not sure when it would materialise. (Lockhart & Woodhouse, 1963, p. 314) The High Commissioner for South Africa, Sir Henry Loch, too, calculated that a British occupation of the Transvaal was the surest way of reasserting its supremacy. The suspicion in London at this time was that the Kruger administration was in close contact with the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, and that their alliance would wreck Britain’s interests. They also feared German designs on another important post, Delagoa Bay. In a situation like this, Chamberlain had expressed with apprehension the feeling that “[t]he German inclination to take the Transvaal under (Boer) protection is a very serious thing. To have them meddling at Pretoria and Johannesburg would be fatal to our position and our influence in South Africa…” (Robinson, Gallagher & Denny, 1961, p. 419)

It was speculated that the raid would happen anytime in the middle of December. The date placed Chamberlain in a piquant situation, since his mind was preoccupied with the spat England was having with the US over the Venezuelan border. If the raid got postponed, his attention towards an equally pressing matter would have been diverted, and his position endangered. Accordingly, he wanted the raid to either happen right then, or be postponed for a year or two. On the other hand, Rhodes kept vacillating because he wanted the raid to take place on December 27, when a national conference of Kruger’s party, the National Union was to take place, which would divert the Boers’ attention. Jameson, however, was restless; he was already up in Pitsani with members of the Mashonaland Mounted Police, and with 300 other police in Bechuanaland. His logic was that if the raid got postponed beyond the first week of January, the Boers would get scent of it. Sensing that the disagreement over the issue of the date would be fatal to the execution of his plan, he took the plunge himself, and started the attack on December 29, taking the Boers by surprise, but also causing utter shock and disbelief in Rhodes and Chamberlain. (Lockhart & Woodhouse, 1963, pp. 315-324)

Part IV: Aftermath of the Raid

Far from having the desired result, the plan that Rhodes, Chamberlain and others had devised went awry. Rather than intimidate the Boers, it jolted them into action. First, the army led by Kruger humiliated the doctor and took him captive. (Cecil, 1989, p. 285) By 1899, the Boers’ retaliation, led again by Kruger, had turned into a full-fledged war against the British, an outcome that came to be known as the Second Boer War. Britain fought this war, the culmination of the frantic efforts of three competing European powers, Britain, France and Germany in the great game for the control of Africa, known by the popular appellation, ‘Scramble for Africa’ because what was at stake was not only wealth, but the very prestige of the British Empire. (Pakenham, 1993, p. 105) Starting with an army of 12,000 compared with the nearly 60,000 on the Boer side, the British sustained heavy losses initially, when the Boers invaded the British strongholds of Natal, Rhodesia and Cape Colony, in addition to laying siege on Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley. It was when Lord Frederick Roberts replaced Sir Redvers Bullers as Commander-in-Chief that fortunes gradually began to change. (Olson & Shadle, 1996, p. 46) When the Boers seemed unrelenting, within the first six months, Britain’s ablest commanders, Paul Roberts and Kitchener, led a great battle, in which they defeated Kruger. The Boers were compelled to surrender Pretoria, as also retire from Natal and Cape Colony. Although Kruger fled into exile, the Boers continued to resist through guerrilla warfare and frustrate the British. It was not until 1902 that they could finally put an end to the war. (Townsend & Peake, 1941, p. 86) The outbreak of the war led to Rhodes’ resignation as Cape’s premier. (Williams, 1921, p. 270)

Part V: Course and Effects of the War

The longest war Britain ever fought in the span of a century between the fall of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and World War I, the Second Boer War was exorbitant for the nation, costing it well over £ 200 million in taxpayers’ money. The war, during whose course Britain deployed close to half a million men, consumed 22,000 of them, and about a third of this casualty figure on the Boer side. It had a combination of regular and guerrilla warfare. Initially, both sides fought regular field battles; it took the British side almost a year to capture the two capitals, Bloemfontein of Orange Free State and Pretoria of Transvaal. This was the time needed to quell the regular army, but once the two republics resorted to guerrilla tactics to neutralise the loss of their capitals, fortunes reversed. So consummate was the skill of guerrilla tactics on the Boer side that Britain had to take on more than 30,000 of such expert guerrilla fighters in two countries, about the size of Western Europe. (Pakenham, 1993, p. 107) The British sought to bring the Afrikaners down to their knees by following a highly controversial policy of imprisoning the wives and children of these guerrilla fighters in concentration camps. This policy was carried out to offset the guerrilla tactic of living off the lands and returning to the farmsteads whenever they ran out of supplies of food and water. (Grundlingh, 1999, p. 21) Unable to survive in the hostile and unhygienic conditions in these camps, close to 28,000 died, in addition to 14,000 slaves. (Pakenham, 1993, p. 107) The enormity of this toll can perhaps be understood if one were to take into account the total population of Afrikaners in the region at that time –it was roughly 10 times the number that lost their lives. In other words, in less than just three years, the population was reduced by a tenth. Some analysts see this is a real forerunner for the concentration camps the Nazis put in place some decades later. Only the size and number of the concentration varied; they were both based on the same ultra-nationalistic, jingoistic designs. (Grundlingh, 1999, p. 21) The political map of Southern Africa was redrawn, by which two districts were annexed from the Transvaal and attached to Natal, in addition to a substantial portion of a third. (Marais, 1961, p. 3)

One of the bitter legacies of this war was that rancour was so deeply entrenched in the minds of the Afrikaners towards the British that they would not even have any interaction with each other for nearly the next four decades. (Grundlingh, 1999, p. 21)

The war showed up the true nature of British involvement in the country –a greed for gems disguised in the insignificant, near non-issue of citizenship rights for the uitlanders. It also showed the extent to which the British government had fallen prey to the business interests of the mining industry that a handful of Englishmen and Jewish businessmen had come to capture. (Hale, 1940, p. 193)

By the terms of the treaty that ended the war, the Vereeniging Treaty, the British agreed to favourable terms, respecting the wishes of the Boers. Among these were liberty to continue with the Dutch language, self-government later to Transvaal and Orange Free State, and no special taxes for meeting war costs. Despite the enormity of the costs, the war and the following treaty paved the way for the union of South Africa. (Townsend & Peake, 1941, p. 86) Britain agreed to pay up £ three million as compensation for the loss of lives, and a loan of £ 35 million towards reconstruction costs. The victory turned out to be a pyrrhic one, as it led to a complete loss of face politically, since self-government was restored in the two republics, and they would be incorporated into a South African Dominion with total freedom, the same as that enjoyed by nations such as Australia and Canada. (Pakenham, 1993, p. 107)


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