South African War


South African War

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War fought between Great Britain and the two Boer (see Afrikaner) republics
the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State
from 1899 to 1902.

It was precipitated by the refusal of the Boer leader Paul Kruger to grant political rights to Uitlanders ("foreigners," mostly English) in the interior mining districts and by the aggressiveness of the British high commissioner, Alfred Milner. Initially the Boers defeated the British in major engagements and besieged the key towns of Ladysmith, Mafikeng, and Kimberley; but British reinforcements under H.H. Kitchener and F.S. Roberts relieved the besieged towns, dispersed the Boer armies, and occupied Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, and Pretoria (1900). When Boer commando attacks continued, Kitchener implemented a scorched-earth policy: Boer farms were destroyed and Boer civilians were herded into concentration camps. More than 20,000 men, women, and children (including black Africans) died as a result, causing international outrage. The Boers finally accepted defeat at the Peace of Vereeniging.

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▪ British-South African history
also called  Boer War , or  Anglo-Boer War 

      (Oct. 11, 1899–May 31, 1902), war fought between Great Britain and the two Boer (Afrikaner) republics—the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. Although it was the largest and most costly war in which the British engaged between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, it was fought between wholly unequal protagonists. The total British military strength in South Africa reached nearly 500,000 men, whereas the Boers (Boer) could muster no more than about 88,000. But the British were fighting in a hostile country over difficult terrain, with long lines of communications, while the Boers, mainly on the defensive, were able to use modern rifle fire to good effect, at a time when attacking forces had no means of overcoming it.

      The war began on Oct. 11, 1899, following a Boer ultimatum directed against the reinforcement of the British garrison in South Africa. The crisis was caused by the refusal of the South African Republic, under President Paul Kruger (Kruger, Paul), to grant political rights to the Uitlander (foreigners; i.e., non-Dutch and primarily English) population of the mining areas of the Witwatersrand, and the aggressive attitudes of Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner, the British high commissioner, and of Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, in response to this obduracy. An underlying cause of the war was the presence in the Transvaal of the largest gold-mining complex in the world, beyond direct British control, at a time when the world's monetary systems, preeminently the British, were increasingly dependent upon gold.

      The course of the war can be divided into three periods. During the first phase, the British in South Africa were unprepared and militarily weak. Boer armies attacked on two fronts, into Natal from the Transvaal and into the northern Cape from the Orange Free State; the northern districts of the Cape Colony rebelled against the British and joined the Boer forces. In the course of Black Week (December 10–15) the Boers defeated the British in a number of major engagements and besieged the key towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley; but large numbers of British reinforcements were being landed, and slowly the fortunes of war turned. Before the siege of Ladysmith could be relieved, however, the British suffered another reverse at Spion Kop (January 1900).

      In the second phase, the British, under Lord Kitchener and Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, relieved the besieged towns, beat the Boer armies in the field, and rapidly advanced up the lines of rail transportation. Bloemfontein was occupied by the British in February 1900, and Johannesburg and Pretoria in May and June. Kruger left the Transvaal for Europe. But the war, which until then had been largely confined to military operations, was by no means at an end, and at the end of 1900 it entered upon its most destructive phase. For 15 months Boer commandos, under the brilliant leadership of generals such as Christiaan Rudolf de Wet (Wet, Christiaan Rudolf de) and Jacobus Hercules De la Rey (De la Rey, Jacobus Hercules), harried the British army bases and communications; large rural areas of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (which the British annexed as the Orange River Colony) remained out of British control.

      Kitchener responded with barbed wire and blockhouses along the railways, but when these failed he retaliated with a scorched-earth policy. The farms of Boers and Africans alike were destroyed and the Boer inhabitants of the countryside were rounded up and held in segregated concentration camps. The plight of the Boer women and children in these camps became an international outrage—more than 20,000 died in the carelessly run, unhygienic camps. The commandos continued their attacks, many of them deep into the Cape Colony, General Jan Smuts leading his forces to within 50 miles (80 km) of Cape Town. But Kitchener's drastic and brutal methods slowly paid off. The Boers had unsuccessfully sued for peace in March 1901; finally, they accepted the loss of their independence by the Peace of Vereeniging (see Vereeniging, Peace of) in May 1902.

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Universalium. 2010.

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