The Anglo-Boer War respectively the South African War - an overview

Term Paper, 2006

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3



I. Introduction

II. Overview of the time before the South African War
2.1 Outbreak of the conflict - First Boer War
2.2 Causes of the South African War

III. The 2nd phase - the Second Boer War
3.1 Guerilla war
3.2 Final days of the war

IV. Features of the South African War
4.1 Concentration Camps
4.2 POWs sent overseas
4.3 Participation of foreigners

V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

The Boer1 Wars at the dawn of the century highly influenced not only South African history, especially in terms of the development of the apartheid system, but it additionally changed the possibilities of warfare. These conflicts between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal (South African Republic) took place from 1880 to 1881 and 1899 to 1902. Even though formally there have been two wars in a short period of time, one usually focuses on the Second Boer War, also known as the South African War2, Anglo-Boereoorlog (Anglo-Boer War), Tweede Vryheidsoorlog (Second Freedom War)3 or “Tea-Time War”4. This paper will mainly concentrate on the South African War, even though background information will be provided.

Historians ought not to ask “What if…?”, since they have to focus on facts. But ignoring this guideline for a moment, fascinating questions arise: “What if the large deposits of gold and diamonds in the Transvaal were not found in the 1870s and 1880s? Would the British have fought for the rights of the uitlanders5 nevertheless?” These are two of the questions which will be dealt with (in 2.1) when reasoning the origins / causes of the war.

Following, the paper will bring together the facts and some unusual features of the South African War. Its center of attention will be the Guerilla War starting of in September 1900 and lasting till the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902, the end of the War.

II. Overview of the time before the South African War

Since the ceding of the Dutch overseas territories at the cap of Africa to the British Empire in 1806, latent tensions between the Boers and the British living in the Cape Colony arose.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: th_Africa

Map showing provinces (By color, pale pink for Northern Cape, turquoise for North West, purple for Gauteng, green for Limpopo, brown for Mpumalanga, pink for KwaZulu-Natal, yellow for Eastern Cape, pale green for Free State, and pale yellow for Western Cape) and districts (numbers) of South Africa The independent Boers had to accept a new power, especially one that was not comparable with their own mentality. Therefore they felt restricted, especially after the British abolished slavery in 1808 and restrained the physical abuse towards Khoisan6 -workers in 1809 and 1812. In addition several revolts with various black peoples took place, and the Boers thought the British to be too lenient with the “enemies”. In order to regain their independence thousands of Boers left the cap towards the Hinterland7 during the Great Treck of 1836 till 1842. North of the Orange River the Orange Free State8 with its capital Bloemfontein and north of the Vaal River the Transvaal Republic9 respectively the South African Republic with its capital Pretoria was founded.

The British were primarily concerned with the strategic Cape Colony and were content to accept two neighboring states, until in 1869 large gold deposits were found in Kimberley, which led to a huge gold rush. Thousands of people all over the world, but naturally many British people from the Cape Colonies and Natal left for the Hinterlands10, seeking for wealth and fortune, and invading Boer territory. Non-Boers were referred to as uitlanders, which indicates the controversial attitude towards them. Soon, the uitlanders outnumbered the Boers at the Rand (Johannesburg), but stayed a minority in the Transvaal as a whole. The Boer, led by their anti-British minded president Paulus Kruger (1883-1904), felt (again) threatened by the British and refused the equality under public law, like the right to vote, higher taxation for uitlanders and so forth. This attitude gave the British government the possibility to lobby for the uitlanders, especially the British prospectors and business men, and prepare the restriction of the independent Boer states.11

2.1 Outbreak of the conflict - First Boer War

From December 16th 1880 to March 23rd 1881 the First Boer War, also known as the Transvaal War, was fought between the British Empire and the Boers, even though it was more of an uprising than a war.

Before the first outbreak of the Anglo-Boer conflict, one has to acknowledge that there have been constant latent conflicts12 between the two parties ever since the supremacy of the British in the Cape Colony and the Great Trek. During the 1870s the British took control over most of the South African colonies. Sir Theophilus Shepstone annexed the South African Republic13 on behalf of the British Empire in 1877, during the probably greatest diamond rush known to mankind. The Boers protested and formally declared their independence from Great Britain in December 1880. On December 16th 1880 the first shots were fired by Transvaal Boers at Potchefstoom, followed by the action at Bronkhorstspruit two day later, where the Boers ambushed and destroyed an army convoy. Another two days later, Boer troops besieged various British army garrisons all over the Transvaal. This siege lasted until January 6th 1881 and led to the Battle of Laing’s Nek on January 28th 1881. Cause of this battle was the attempt of freeing the besieged garrisons under Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley. But the attempt was repulsed by the Boers under the command of P.J. Joubert. Various battles - like the Battle of Schinshoogte14 and Majuba Hill15 - followed, which were all dominated by the Boers. The Boers had a home field advantage16 due to the fact that they acclimatized already with the climate and the landscape and adjusted their warfare to it.

The humiliated British army was unwilling to continue the war and therefore a truce was signed on March 6th by British Prime Minister William Gladstone. The final peace treaty was signed on March 23rd 1881, leaving the Boers with a de facto self-government under the de jure supremacy of Great Britain.17

2.2 Causes of the South African War

Was the cause of the South African War British self-defense to capitalist-driven expansion? Or was it an interaction between capitalist forces and local actors at the periphery?

The lobbying for the uitlanders covered the British intentions of seeking control of the treasures of the soil and fulfilling the Cape-Cairo-plan of the supremacy over Africa from the Cape to Cairo. Therefore, several key British colonial leaders, like Cape Colony governor Sir Alfred Milner, Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain and mining syndicate owners18 Alfred Beit, Barney Barnato and Lionel Phillips favored annexation of the Boer republics.

One of the imperialistic hardliners was Cecil Rhodes, a British politician who received much of his enormous wealth through the diamond industry. Rhodes was a Congressman of the Cape colony since 1881, and was responsible for annexing Betshuana country19 in 1885 and the territory which he named after himself - Rhodesia20 - in 1889. He became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1890 and continued his imperialistic politics.

This is particularly shown through his role as a wirepuller and sponsor of the Jameson Raid21 in 1895, a coup d’état in which an armed incursion was to back an uprising of the uitlanders. But the Boers achieved to break down all opposition. - Since Germany fraternized with the Boers, Wilhelm II. sent a telegram congratulating their victory. This telegram is known as the “Kruger dispatch” and led to an anti-German mood in England. - The Jameson Raid ignited the willingness of the Boer republics for war and led to an alliance between the Orange Free State and the South African State in 1897. This alliance again resembled a bold provocation for the British.22

A final effort at reconciliation between Cape Colony governor Sir Alfred Milner and Transvaal President Paul Kruger was made by Martinus Steyn, president of the Orange Free State on May 30th 1899. He invited both parties to Bloemfontein to negotiate alternatives, but the conference was closed down quickly. In September 1899 Colonial Secretary Chamberlain sent an ultimatum demanding full equality for British citizens resident in Transvaal, which was answered by an ultimatum issued by Kruger, who demanded the withdrawal of all the British troops from the border of Transvaal, otherwise the Transvaal, allied with the Orange Free State, would be at war with them.23

III. The 2nd phase - the Second Boer War

The South African War was formally declared on October 11th 1899. The Boers immediately began invading the Cape and the Natal Colony between October 1899 and January 1900 and achieved various military successes against General Redvers Buller24.


1 Dutch for citizens. Boers were white settlers, usually of Dutch origin, formerly living in the cape territory but went eastwards

2 The change of terminology occurred due to the fact that not only white, British or South African people fought in it, but also foreigners and non-white people

3 Among the Afrikaaners

4 Among the British

5 Afrikaaner (whites with Dutch origin) term for whites foreigners, mainly British, but also German, Irish, French and Lithuanian Jews

6 Bantu-people

7 Northern territory of SA

8 1842

9 1853

10 Mainly Johannesburg and Kimberly

11 Hagemann, p. 30-44

12 See 2.1

13 Also known as Transvaal Republic

14 8.2.1881

15 27.3.1881

16 See IV

17 Hagemann, p. 44-58

18 Known as “gold bugs“

19 Today: Botswana

20 Today: Zambia and Zimbabwe

21 Under Leander Star Jameson

22 Reader’s Digest, p. 238-245

23 Reader’s Digest,p. 238-253

24 Nicknamed: Revers Buller, due to several British fallbacks under his command

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The Anglo-Boer War respectively the South African War - an overview
University of Osnabrück
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Anglo-Boer, South, African
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Claudia Oldiges (Author), 2006, The Anglo-Boer War respectively the South African War - an overview, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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