The South African War, 1899-1902 had its origins in the rivalry between Dutch Afrikaner (Boer) and British settlers in southern Africa which led by the middle of the 19th century to the emergence of four separate colonial territories - Cape Colony and Natal, under British rule, and Orange Free State and the South African Republic (later Transvaal), under Afrikaner control. Despite British refusal to officially recognise the Boer states, and the Boers' unwillingness to join a wider, Cape-governed Federation of South Africa, the four states managed an uneasy co-existence, though it was this basic difference of outlook and politics which was the eventual cause of the war.
From the outset, the co-existence of the two sides was often threatened. A British annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 led to their decisive defeat at the hands of Boer forces at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881. There were minor conflicts in the 1880s and 1890s over neighbouring Bechuanaland, and influence over the Ndebele to the north. Gold was discovered in both the Boer republics, increasing their attraction to the British; and it was the perceived mistreatment of British residents in the Transvaal (many of them goldminers) which led to the ill-fated Jameson Raid in 1897. It was an increasing nationalism on both sides, though, which helped spark a declaration of war on 11th October 1899.
It was the Boers who launched the initial offensives - against Mafeking, Kimberley, Natal and Eastern Cape, using Bloemfontein as a focal point, but, after lengthy sieges of Ladysmith, Mafeking, etc., they eventually surrendered their advantage. The British relieved the besieged towns, then took Bloemfontein on 13th March 1900, and Pretoria in June. At this point, the British themselves allowed the Boers to regroup and change tactics, mounting an effective guerilla war. This the British countered by the use of a scorched earth policy, the initiation of a concentration camp system, etc.. Eventually, the Boers were forced to concede defeat and on 31st May 1902 a peace treaty was signed at Vereeniging, removing the independence of the Boer territories.
Photographs of blockhouses, at Fourteen Streams near Kimberley, in the Stromberg Mountains, Cape Colony, and at the Vaal River, c1901.
Purchased from Select Books, South Africa on 13th October 1999Access Conditions
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South African War, 1899-1902 | Pictorial works