Boer War

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South African War

South African War or Boer War, 1899–1902, war of the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State against Great Britain.

Background

Beginning with the acquisition in 1814 of the Cape of Good Hope, Great Britain gradually increased its territorial possessions in S Africa and by the late 19th cent. it held Natal, Basutoland, Rhodesia, Bechuanaland, and other Bantu lands. The Boers (Dutch), already settled in some of these areas, strongly resented British incursions. Resentment was especially marked in the Transvaal (headed by the strongly anti-British Paul Kruger), which had actually been annexed (1877–81) to Great Britain.

Anti-British sentiment was further inflamed after the discovery (1886) of gold in the Witwatersrand brought a great influx of prospectors (mainly British) into the Transvaal. Soon almost all the newly established mines as well as much of the commerce passed into British hands. The Boer government, to protect itself from the growing number of foreigners, denied these Uitlanders [foreigners] citizenship and taxed them heavily, despite British objections. In 1895 the Jameson raid (see Jameson, Sir Leander Starr), which Transvaalers considered an officially sponsored plot to seize their country, aggravated the situation, and in 1896 the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (see Free State) formed a military alliance to protect their independence.

The War

The British, after the appointment (1897) of Sir Alfred Milner as high commissioner for their South African territories, determined upon a showdown in defense of what they considered their commercial rights. Troops were dispatched from Britain, and, after Boer protestations were refused, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State declared war (Oct. 12, 1899). The Boer forces, well equipped by Germany, were larger than those immediately available to the British, and they scored impressive victories in the areas adjacent to the Boer territories. In the Cape Colony, Mafeking (now Mahikeng) and Kimberley were besieged; in Natal, Ladysmith was placed under siege. Reinforcements under the command of Sir Redvers Buller were sent from Britain.

Buller's failure to dislodge the Boers led to his replacement by Gen. Lord Roberts, with Kitchener as his chief of staff. They landed in 1900 with heavy reinforcements and soon won victories; Kimberley and Ladysmith were relieved, and General Cronje was forced to surrender. Roberts advanced into the Orange Free State, captured its capital, Bloemfontein, and occupied the entire territory by May. By the end of June, Mafeking had been relieved, the Transvaal invaded, and Johannesburg and Pretoria captured. The Boer states were formally annexed and Kruger, a fugitive in Europe, appealed in vain for help there.

Roberts, believing the war to be over, left South Africa and delegated the mopping up to Kitchener. The Boers, however, continued an extensive and coordinated guerrilla war. Under their leaders, including Smuts, De Wet, and Botha, they disrupted communications, attacked outposts and, with their intimate knowledge of the countryside, eluded capture. Kitchener decided that final victory lay only in the systematic destruction of these guerrilla units, and adopted a scorched-earth policy. Boer women and children were herded into concentration camps where unhealth conditions killed some 26,000 Boers, most of whom were children, and perhaps 20,000 or more black Africans also died. Thousands of farms were torched, some 40 towns destroyed, and untold livestock killed. Chains of blockhouses were erected that cut off large areas, and dragnets of troops went through the guerrilla country section by section. By 1902 the British force (about 450,000) had reduced to final submission the Boer troops (approximately 54,000). The Treaty of Vereeniging (May 31, 1902) ended hostilities; the military casualties included some 22,000 British troops, mainly from disease, and some 7,000 Boers.

The War's Aftermath

The Boers accepted British sovereignty in exchange for a promise of responsible government in the near future. Great Britain agreed to grant a £3 million indemnity for property destruction and promised not to assess taxes to cover the expenses of the war. Amnesty was granted to all who had not violated the rules of war and repatriation to those who accepted the British king. The war left much bitterness, which continued to affect the political life of South Africa throughout the 20th cent.

Bibliography

See L. Amery, ed., The Times History of the War in South Africa (7 vol., 1900–1909); D. Reitz, Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War (new ed. 1945, repr. 1970); E. Holt, The Boer War (1958); W. B. Pemberton, Battles of the Boer War (1964); T. C. Caldwell, ed., The Anglo-Boer War (1965); G. H. L. Le May, British Supremacy in South Africa (1965); J. M. Selby, The Boer War (1969); P. Warwick, Black People and the South African War, 1899–1902 (1983); M. Bossenbroek, The Boer War (2013, tr. 2018).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Boer War

 

(1899–1902), an imperialist war waged by England against the Boer republics—the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State Republic.

V. I. Lenin considered the Boer War one of the main historical signposts marking the onset of the era of imperialism (see Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 30, p. 164). The Boer War was unleashed by the English government in the interests of the English monopolists, the owners of gold and diamond mines in South Africa. England attempted not only to expropriate the Boer Republics’ richest natural resources—mainly the gold fields—but also to secure British hegemony over the vast territory from Capetown to Cairo. The most decisive representatives of England’s imperialist policy were C. Rhodes and J. Chamberlain. At the same time, plans were being developed in Germany to annex the Boer Republics to Germany’s colonial possessions. The Boer Republics and Transvaal, in particular, became the object of imperialist competition between England and Germany.

The Boers strove to maintain the independence of their republics. At the same time, predatory tendencies toward the African territories bordering on the Boer Republics were growing among Boer ruling circles: demands to seize the Cape Colony, Natal, Bechuanaland, Basutoland, Swaziland, and Southern Rhodesia to create a united Boer South African Republic were being voiced ever more persistently. The refusal of Transvaal’s president P. Kruger to grant voting rights to the British Uitlanders (colonists who had settled in the Boer Republics in the 1880’s and 1890’s) was the pretext for the Boer War. Taking the military initiative into their own hands, the Boers began military actions on Oct. 11, 1899.

The Boer forces were made up from a militia system: male Boers from 16 to 60 years of age were obliged to appear for military service with their own rifles and ammunition. In all, the Boers could mount a force of up to 60,000 men. They were armed with the latest repeating rifles, 40 machine guns, and 80 rapid-fire guns. The Boers were outstanding marksmen, and they skillfully exploited the local areas, with which they were very familiar, supplementing natural cover with field works. They did battle in loose order. The weapons and tactics of the English troops were largely obsolete. They operated in dense parades without maneuvering or camouflage, and they suffered great losses. Thanks to the superiority of their weapons and tactics, the Boers (40,000–45,000) inflicted a number of defeats on the English forces (about 30,000). In October 1899 on the Natal front the Boers seized the cities of Charlestown, New Castle, and Glenko. However, the initial success they had achieved was not followed up, since the Boers, instead of decisively attacking, shifted to seiges of the cities of Lady-smith, Mafeking, and Kimberley. The effort of the English expeditionary force of over 45,000 men under the command of General R. H. Buller in November-December 1899 to move to the counteroffensive and liberate the besieged cities ended in complete failure. By the end of January 1900, the British had concentrated more than 200,000 men under the command of General Roberts. In February they moved to the offensive and lifted the sieges from the cities. Overwhelming numerical superiority permitted the English forces to defeat the Boers. In March 1900, the British occupied Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Republic; in June they occupied Pretoria, the capital of Transvaal. Both republics were annexed to the British Empire. However, about 20,000 Boers commanded by Generals L. Botha, C. de Wet, and J. de la Rey unleashed a stubborn partisan war. The English command brought its army up to 250,000 men. The families of Boers were driven to specially constructed concentration camps on a mass scale. Boer farms and cattle were destroyed.

Having concluded an agreement in 1899 with Germany and the USA on the Samoan Islands and an agreement with the French on a demarcation of territory in Central Africa, England achieved freedom of action in South Africa. This made it more difficult for the other great powers to offer the Boers assistance in their struggle against England. Thus, in February 1900, Germany and France refused to support Russia’s attempt to organize the powers’ intervention in order to end the Boer War. The war was concluded by a peace treaty signed in Pretoria on May 31, 1902. By the treaty, the Boers recognized England’s annexation of the South African and Orange Republics. Wishing to strengthen their rule in South Africa, the English colonialists soon made a deal with the Boers directed against the Africans. In 1910 they arranged for the creation of the Union of South Africa, which included the territory of the former Boer Republics.

In the sphere of military art, the use of smokeless powder, repeating rifles, machine guns, and rapid-fire guns in the Boer War had a great influence on the development of tactics. Dense and effective firing required the abandonment of closed military formations and frontal attacks. The infantry began to attack in extended lines, utilizing different formations for maneuvering and adapting themselves to the terrain with the support of artillery. Success was guaranteed for the side that won superiority in firepower. In defensive battles, the organization of the system of fire control, entrenchment, and camouflage became important. The use of rapid-fire guns sharply increased the demands on the logistical services, which were responsible for military supplies. The importance of morale was sharply demonstrated in the Boer War.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma.”Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. ‘’Imperializm i raskol sotsializma.” Ibid, vol. 30.
Lenin, V. I. “Kitaiskaia voina.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Vinogradskii, A. N. Anglo-burskaia voina v luzhnoi Afrike, issues 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1901–03.
De Wet, C. Vospominaniia burskogo generala. Bor’ba burov s Angliei. St. Petersburg, 1903. (Translated from Dutch.)
Erusalimskii, A. S. Germanskii imperializm: istoriia i sovremennost’. Moscow, 1964.
Nikitina, I. A. “SShA i anglo-burskaia voina.”Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1960, no. 1.
Nikitina, I.A. “Imperialisticheskaiabor’bazaportugal’skiekolonii v luzhnoi Afrike na rubezhe XIX i XX vekov.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1963, no. 3.
Marais, J. S. The Fall of the Krüger’s Republic. Oxford, 1961.

I. A. NIKITINA and S. V. LIPITSKII

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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