The Boer War

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

Afrikanerdom originated with the migration of seventeenth century Dutch Calvinists to the Cape of Good Hope at roughly the same time English Calvinists migrated to America. The Afrikaners chose an out-of-the-way part of the earth in which to build their version of Jerusalem; consequently, it took centuries for the world to catch up with them, if indeed such a thing ever has occurred. At the tip of Africa these Afrikaners hewed out a puritanical society which has shown a tough resiliency to the few outside interferences that have come its way. Britain annexed the Cape of Good Hope to her empire at the close of the Napoleonic wars, since the Cape was important in terms of controlling world shipping lanes, but in the course of the nineteenth century she failed to achieve mastery of the Afrikaners themselves. In the twentieth century she lost what authority she ever exercised over them as well as strategic control of the Cape.

By the end of the nineteenth century the British had granted self-government to the Afrikaners of Cape Colony and Natal, while two independent Afrikaner or Boer (the Dutch word for “farmer”) republics, the South African Republic (the Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, had emerged in the interior. These two independent states were an irritant for a variety of reasons. President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal presided over and spoke for a beleaguered Boer society, which had been literally invaded by Uitlanders (non-Dutch persons) following the development of the largest gold mining complex in the world in the Witwatersrand. Kruger and the Boers refused political rights to these Uitlanders, rightly fearing that they would be swamped if the franchise were extended to all these immigrants. Consequently, the Uitlanders had no voice in such things as the rates charged by the Netherlands South African Railway Company, which possessed the only rail link to the outside. They also blamed the Boer government for what they held to be outrageously high wage rates paid black African labor in the mines.

The British and world monetary systems of the late nineteenth century were dependent upon gold, and “gold bugs” such as Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Beit had enormous influence with the British government. These South African mining millionaires backed the extension of the franchise to the Uitlanders and formed an alliance with the British High Commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner, to demand the franchise from the Boers. Milner assumed a very aggressive attitude and demanded voting rights for all Uitlanders having five years’ residence in the Boer republics. The Secretary for the Colonies, Joseph Chamberlain, backed Milner’s demands with an equally aggressive stance.

Kruger eventually offered the franchise after seven years’ residence, but this was insufficient given Milner’s and Chamberlain’s belligerence. Tensions accelerated, and the Boers gave an ultimatum to the British warning against the reinforcement of the latter’s South African garrison. Thus the Boer War, the longest, costliest, bloodiest, and most humiliating war that Britain fought between the Napoleonic wars and World War I, broke out. Eventually half a million British soldiers were tied down...

(The entire section is 1310 words.)