South African War

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Louis Botha (1862—1919) prime minister of the Union of South Africa and army officer


Paul Kruger (1825—1904) president of the Transvaal

Lord Kitchener (1850—1916) army officer

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Also known as the Boer War, it was a colonial war in which the British tried to extend their rule from the Cape Colony and Natal to include the independent Afrikaner republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (OFS). It was caused less by strategic interests than by the discovery of vast gold mines, especially in the Transvaal, which had transformed the republic from a poor agricultural state into a major potential regional power overnight. As British intentions to annex the two republics became increasingly evident, the Afrikaners decided in favour of a pre‐emptive strike in the hope of overwhelming the British garrisons in Natal and rousing the Afrikaners of the Cape into rebellion. After a series of heavy defeats, the British appointed Lord Roberts (b. 1832, d. 1914) as Commander‐in‐Chief, with Lord Kitchener as his Chief of Staff. They inflicted a humiliating defeat on their opponents at Paardeburg on 27 February 1900, and proceeded to march towards Pretoria. They formally annexed the OFS in May and the Transvaal in September 1900.

In response, guerrilla warfare began under the military leadership of Louis Botha and Christiaan de Wet (b. 1854, d. 1922), when Afrikaner commandos undertook raids against British garrisons and towns not only in the Transvaal and the OFS, but also through the Cape. The British responded by burning Afrikaner farms and destroying their cattle to deny them the means to continue the raids. After Kitchener had replaced Roberts as Commander‐in‐Chief in November 1900, a comprehensive network of blockhouses was created to restrict the Afrikaner commandos' freedom of movement. In addition, concentration camps were erected to intern civilians believed to support, or be connected with, the enemy.

In 1902, Botha decided to sue for peace while the Afrikaner forces still possessed the strength to bargain an advantageous peace, so that on 31 May 1902 the Treaty of Vereeniging was concluded. It proved a Pyrrhic victory for the British, however. The war had exposed the weakness of the British army, which had needed a total of half a million soldiers to win over two small, ill‐equipped armies. Furthermore, even after annexation British control over the reluctant OFS and the Transvaal, which had no liking for the British Empire whatsoever, remained extremely weak. Finally, the memory of the war ensured the continued bitterness of many Afrikaners against the Empire, and the relationship with Britain remained the most divisive issue in White South African politics until 1961.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — History of the Americas.

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