The Causes of the Boer War, 1877-1899
The Anglo Boer war is a topic that has been of particular interest to historians, both locally and internationally. As a war that the British had intended to be swift and concise it dragged on giving the British “no end of a lesson” (Pakenham, 1993:9) and would prove to be their most costly colonial enterprise in the history of British imperialism whose costs were only to be eclipsed by the great war of 1914. Of no less importance or significance is the Boer War’s role in shaping and creating the South Africa of the future, moving in to the 20th and 21st centuries. The space it occupied in world events at the time as well as the factors involved within South Africa at the time make for fascinating research, the roots of which delve deep in to the pits of the Gold mines of the Witwatersrand and which branches span oceans, touching the highest aspirations of colonial officials of the period.
How was the war started and where do its origins lie? These are some of the questions I will attempt to answer in this essay. The nature of the political and economic as well as social landscape of South Africa at the time is such that one cannot answer these questions without first delving in to the different factors involved and understanding the context South Africa, and more specifically the Transvaal found herself in at the time.
Needless to say, due to the interest in the topic as well as the different factors at play speculation by historians is wide and varying and in attempting to answer these questions I will cover a number of theories put forward by prominent historians as to the origins of the war that was to affect the whole of South Africa.
A brief Historical context: South Africa Before 1881
As stated by Thomas Pakenham in The Boer War “the crisis in the Transvaal at the end of the nineteenth century was the culmination of two and a half centuries of Afrikaner expansion and conflict with Africans and British” (pg 11). In 1835 and 1837 roughly 5000 Cape Afrikaners set off on the Great Trek inward, over the Orange and Vaal rivers deep in to the interior of South Africa. They did this to escape British authority and their recently passed law abolishing slavery throughout her empire. Here begins the Afrikaner stand against British authority in what they considered their “mother land”. They marched northward away from liberal laws of political rights for Africans and coloureds, away from imperial interference and toward a future for their race where an independence for the “Volk” awaited (Pakenham, 1993:11).
The Afrikaners set up their own Boer states that were recognised by the British under the Sand River Convention in 1852 and the Bloemfontein Convention in 1854; these were called the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (Nasson, 1999:19). Prior to this, almost ten years earlier, the British annexed Natal, creating her second colony in Southern Africa, and in keeping with her expansionist policies and the hope for a Union of South Africa she annexed the Transvaal in 1877. It is not coincidence that these annexations of the Transvaal came so long after that of Natal and so close on the back of the rising Kimberly diamond mines. Witnessing Kimberly’s transformation, soon after the discovery of diamonds, Britain soon realised the potential in South Africa for large scale capital and investment. There were also rumours of gold deposits on the Transvaal. In light of these events the issue of extending their imperial control reared its head once again, hence the annexation of the Transvaal (Nasson, 1999; 19, Pakenham, 1993:12).
The issues arising from the British annexation of the Transvaal culminated in 1881. The Boers under Paul Kruger rose in revolt against the British and dealt them a humiliating defeat at the battle of Majuba winning back their Independence. Formalized by the international treaty by the Convention of Pretoria...
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