A tight corner, a New Zealanderpainting, circa 1900
The South African War (or Second Anglo-Boer War) was the first overseas conflict to involve New Zealand troops. Fought between the British Empire and the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) and its Orange Free State ally, it was the culmination of longstanding tensions in southern Africa.
Eager to display New Zealand's commitment to the British Empire, Premier Richard Seddon offered to send troops two weeks before conflict broke out. Hundreds of men applied to serve, and by the time war began in October 1899, the First Contingent was already preparing to depart for South Africa. Within a few months they would be fighting the Boers.
By the time peace was concluded two and a half years later, ten contingents of volunteers totalling over 6500 men (plus 8000 horses) had sailed for Africa, along with doctors, nurses, veterinary surgeons and a small number of school teachers. Seventy-one New Zealanders were killed in action or died of wounds, with another 159 dying in accidents or as result of disease.
They (the Dutch/German settlers who migrated north-west to avoid British rule) established two independent republics - the Transvaal and the Orange Free State - as recognised by Great Britain at the Sand River (1852) and Bloemfontein (1854) Conventions.
The republicans acquired the name 'Boers', the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmers. Like the African societies within their borders, the stock farming Boers enjoyed a pre-capitalist, near-subsistence economy. Only gradually effective state administrations emerged.
As part of a surge of neo-imperialism …the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, proposed a confederation of South African states in 1875, along the lines of the Canadian federation of 1867. In a rather unstable political and economically fragmented region this would create a settled environment for greater economic integration and progress under British supremacy, particularly after the discovery of diamonds in 1867 near the … Orange and Vaal Rivers.
Subsistence- a level of food production only allowing for survival
Imperialism = the policy of extending a country’s territory or influence.
Republicanism= people who support the replacement of monarchy with an elected President.
Source C The Causes of the War from a South African perspective. A number of interrelated factors led to the Second Anglo-Boer War. These include the conflicting political ideologies of imperialism and republicanism, the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand, tension between political leaders, theJameson Raid and the Uitlander franchise.
Conflicting political ideology
After the First Anglo-Boer War, the British government did not give up its ambition for unifying South Africa under Imperial British rule. The two Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic or Transvaal still maintained their desire for independence. The Boer republics were a stumbling block for the British Empire.
The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand
Gold had been mined since the early 1870s but was discovered on the Witwatersrand, in the Transvaal, in 1886. Thousands of white and black South Africans were employed on the mines by 1890. South Africa became the single biggest gold producer in the world and this meant great growth for the independent Boer governments. The Transvaal now also became more prominent in international finance because the importance of gold as an international monetary system. Britain was the centre of industry and trade in the world at the time and needed a steady supply of gold to maintain this position.
Whereas the British viewed the Boers as a backward and stubborn people, the Boers strongly believed that their way of life, with its own dialect and staunch religious faith, had been ordained by God. Calvinist Protestantism played an integral part of Boer identity and the Bible was the central book in every household. Their dislike ofuitlanders(outlanders), as they called foreigners, was driven by the concern that their culture and religion would be undermined by outside influence.
Lord Herbert Kitchener, who succeeded Roberts in November 1900, adopted a three-fold strategy to end the war. Firstly, he continued Roberts’ 'scorched earth' policy, in which the republics were deliberately and systematically devastated to deprive the guerrillas (soldiers) of food and shelter.
Some towns and thousands of farmsteads were burnt or ravaged. This onslaught on Boer survival was backed up by the destruction of food supplies. Herds of livestock were wiped out and crops were burnt.
Secondly, Roberts’ 'concentration camp' system was expanded, wherein civilians were confined in camps, especially women and children whose houses had been burned. In Kitchener’s view this meant that burghers (men) on commando would no longer be able to obtain food from women on the farms, and would, moreover, surrender in order to reunite their families.
In South Africa, the bad administration of the camps led to poor quality of food, unhygienic conditions and inadequate medical arrangements. Consequently civilians suffered terribly. Eventually 28,000 Boer women and children and at least 20,000 black people died in the camps.
A turning point in the death rate in the Boer camps came about by November 1901, after the Fawcett Ladies Commission had made some recommendations for improvement. However, this was only after Emily Hobhouse from the Liberal opposition in Britain had revealed the terrible conditions in the camps to a sceptical British public and an embarrassed government, and High Commissioner Lord Alfred Milner had taken over the administration of the camps from the army.
The concentration camp system caused the widest opprobrium of the second Boer War. In the first half of the 20th century Afrikaner leaders effectively used the suffering and deaths in the Boer camps to promote Afrikaner nationalism.
cartoon from volkstat.org a radical Afrikaner group campaigning for a separate white only Afrikaner republic.
Source G. A South African memorial website comments on the camps.
Approximately 26,370 women and children died in the concentration camps in the two republics (Republic of the Orange Free State and the Republic of Transvaal). The exact number of deaths is unknown. 81% of these deaths were children. An entire generation of Afrikaners was erased. Approximately 1,500 Boer men (mostly elderly) also died in the concentration camps.
British forces moved civilians into concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War to prevent them from aiding Boer guerillas. Photo: Courtesy of Boerwar.info
Source H. A historian comments on the camps and their lasting impact.
“…yet the war continued for two more cruel years. Boer guerrillas raided across the plateau. The British commander, Kitchener, responded by crisscrossing the countryside with barbed wire and by moving Boer woman and children into concentration camps so that they could not shelter their menfolk.
The concentration camps were a disaster, their poor sanitation causing the deaths from disease of 28,000 Boer woman and children and many thousands of blacks. Finally, and bitterly, in 1902, the Boers surrendered. Their two republics, with the gold-fields, became part of the British Empire.
The war was over but at a cost greater than even the thousands of dead and wounded. Most Boers believed that they were the victims of a monstrous British injustice. As far as Henning Klopper, a survivor of the concentration camps and a future Afrikaner leader, was concerned, “…Kitchener (was) out to break the backbone of the Afrikaner and their backbone consisted of their womenfolk.”
For many Afrikaner leaders of the early twentieth century their great ambition was to right these wrongs by making sure that South Africa was an Afrikaner country, not a British one.
Roberts, Martin, South Africa 1948-2000: the Rise and Fall of Apartheid, Pearson Education Ltd, Essex, 2001 p.17
Source I. Another historian comments on the camp conditions.
Enteric fever- typhoid, a dangerous bacterial infection causing high fever and often diarrhoea.