BY SIMON S. SUNDARAJ-KEUN
South Africa a land of natural and cultural beauty that is unique to the continent as a whole. Beauty can be deceiving as South Africa was once a place of misery and death. The Boer Wars were fought between the British, Afrikaners (Boers/Afrikaans), and Zulus for domination of South Africa. Ideology of freedom, imperialism, and expansionism was marred in blood in the name of the British Empire, Free United Afrikaner State, and a Zulu Homeland.
The main theme of the Second Boer War was Afrikaners struggle for freedom from British aggression. It placed the Afrikaner society and nation under psychological, economical, diplomatic, intellectual, political, and social stress. Military evolution in the Second Boer War took a turn from conventional to asymmetrical warfare. To understand the Second Boer War one has to look at the reasons behind the First Boer War that eventually led to another war. The influences of culture on the Boer Wars would have significant repercussion on South Africa national identity.
There were a number of books written on the Second Boer War but each of one tailored on a specific issue within the conflict but fewer on the First Boer War. The issue was to find legitimate sources which were kept in the National Archive in London. Other primary sources like journals, diaries, documents and newspapers were published and used by numerous authors. Basically the Second Boer War overshadowed the First Boer War and the immediate period between the two. The prelude to any major conflict is to understand the motivation for war.
Before one could indulge into the First Boer War one have to understand the motivation for the British to invade South Africa. The Anglo-Boer War: Why was it Fought? Who Was Responsible? edited by Theodore C. Caldwell contains multiple essays written by different authors. Theodore C. Caldwell main theme is to investigate the political, economical, and military reasoning behind the British invasion of South Africa. The book analyzes the potential South Africa would bring to the British Empire and solidify Britain’s possessions around the globe.
Caldwell’s book also analyzes the great African game played by England, France, and Germany to control the continent. The British fear was the lost of South Africa as potential colony would severely deteriorate Britain holding in Asia. Caldwell’s The Anglo-Boer War: Why was it Fought? Who Was Responsible? investigated the economical potential of South African minerals and resources would bring to the British Empire. The book has an excellent background story to elaborate on the key events that let to the outbreak of the Boer Wars. Most importantly the book explored the reasons behind British motivation after its defeat at the hands of the Afrikaners after the First Boer War. In turn the Afrikaans were determined to fight against the British in the Second Boer War due to Afrikaners victory in the First Boer War.
The First Boer War book written by Joseph Lehmann was an extensive historical account prior to, during, and after the war. Joseph Lehman thesis was to examine British aggression and the Afrikaners’ subsequent struggle for independence that changed the entire course of South African history. These two factors contributed directly to the outbreak of the Second Boer War and events that followed. Lehman’s study was to analyze the length, scope, and numbers of men involved in the first war which was generally ignored as a minor conflict.
Lehman’s book analyzes the economical value of South Africa as a land filled with untapped resources which led to the British occupation Afrikaans’ lands. The author elaborated on the Afrikaners journey from oppressive Europe to Africa in search of freedom. The First Boer War also discussed the Great Trek taken by the Boers into Zululand in order to escape British oppression. In turned the culture differences between the British and Boers began to take shape into a struggle of national identity.
The book comprehensively examines the British underestimation of the Afrikaner’s military potency. It also offered one of the best detailed descriptions on the Battle of Majuba Hill which sealed Afrikaners victory in the first war. Britain was conventionally superior but the Boers on the other hand very ingenious in battle tactics. Society was also Britain’s enemy because the lack of culture similarities led to distrust of the general populace on the British forces. Lehman analysis of the British failure was its lack of mobility, knowledge of the South Africa’s territory, lack of native population support, Zulus attack, overstretched garrisons, and arrogant leadership.
This book did a superb job in analyzing the First Boer War due to the fact that there were few books written on the war. Lehman’s bibliography with primary sources which contain memoirs, documents, journals, and diaries were very useful in accurately portraying the first war. The importance of this research was to point the main contributing factor to the Second Boer War was the First Boer War. The First Boer War contained the peace between the Boers and British but also set the stage for the Second Boer War. The analysis of the problems that arose after the First Boer War would eventually bring Britain and South Africa to war.
Ethnic identity was a contributing factor that ignited the Second Boer War. The term Afrikaner was a generative category given to identify groups of immigrants from Europe as a singular ethnicity. Afrikaners were primary Dutch and Northern German origin but also included Nordic, Irish, Flemish, Franken, and French immigrants who migrated prior to the Boer Wars. The Afrikaners language know as Afrikaans where primary a mixture of Dutch-German with some Nordic, Celt, Flemish, French and other European words. The Africans primary the Zulu was fighting both the British and Afrikaners for a territory of their own. The British was seen as outsiders and oppressors by both the Zulus and Afrikaans. The British under the notion of Anglo interest came to aid its settlers who were seen prosecuted by the Afrikaans.
The intermediate period between the two Boer Wars was a curial time in South African society which was filled with ethnic violence among British settlers, Boer farmers, and Zulu tribes. The used journals and diaries written by common individuals like Freda and Dr. Kay in Music of the Guns by John Henry May. The two journals in May’s book were of two different individuals from an opposite spectrum of a white society. Freda was a fourteen year old farm girl of Russian decent and Dr. Kay was a British physician living in a British settlement within Boer territory. The other book known as Sol Plaatje’s Mafeking Diary: a Black Man’s View of a White Man’s War edited by John Comaroff was about a black man’s third person perspective on the Second Boer War.
Music of the Guns by Henry John May was to analyzed the Second Boer War through the eyes of two different European individuals, gender, social and economical standing within South African society. The journals were written during the Second Boer War but the writers tend to reminisce on the problems prior to the second war. Freda first hand account on about her family’s survival on the outskirts of a city. Freda’s family was farmers and most general historian would categorize them as Boer sympathizers which were not true. The author wanted to show the reader in Freda words the emotions that plague her during the war. Dr. Kay’s journal in Music of the Guns was about his experience during the war. Dr. Kay mentioned extensively about the living conditions of a Boer’s siege and the emotions that was running high during and after the siege.
May’s book was an excellent work on commoners trying to survive the war. It showed the impact of war had on society from two different cultures and social background of a similar ethnicity. Music of the Guns also demonstrated the cruelty of the British in achieving total victory by the used of concentration camps to break the fighting spirit of the Boers. May did an excellent job in compiling the two journals together in order to paint an unbiased picture of a wartime society. May’s book may have done justice to one color of society but John Comaroff’s book will do justice to another color of society.
Sol Plaatje’s Mafeking Diary: a Black Man’s View of a White Man’s War was a diary written by Sol Plaatje a black man working as a map maker during the Second Boer War. The editor John Comaroff wanted to set history right by using Plaatje diary in retelling the story of the Siege of Mafeking through the eyes of a black man. The Black community in South Africa suffered an equal or worst fate than their Afrikaners counterpart during the two Boer Wars. Plaatje’s diary elaborated on life after the First Boer War in a British administrated territory which was claim with the signing of the peace treaty. The book analyzes that Blacks in South Africa wanted to be free along with their Boers counterpart but were stuck between two worlds that had no interest in Black freedom.
Sol Plaatje’s diary illustrated the community of Mafeking was a mix community of Blacks, Colored, and Boers but were under British administration. The Brits successful defended the siege by galvanizing the population to its side during the siege. It also discuss the British tactics in holding out against the Boers with limited resources and ammo until reinforce arrived. Plaatje’s diary explains a community united under the threat of destruction. The book did an excellent job in portraying a united community that existed during the Second Boer War and emphasizes that war was not black or white as seen by many. Sol Plaatje’s Mafeking Diary: a Black Man’s View of a White Man’s War demonstrated that the British had learned the lessons from the First Boer War and was ready to put an end to the second war.
South African politics were very chaotic due to the division of its lands between British occupied territories, the different Afrikaner fractions, and Zululand in between or around both warring forces. The Afrikaans President was Paul Kruger and he ruled South Africa for a couple of decades. To understand Afrikaners’ politics one should know Paul Kruger’s life because he shaped South Africa’s national identity. The Memoirs of Paul Kruger written by Paul Kruger himself was published in 1902 at the end of the war. The book was about his dedication in achieving a Free Afrikaner State. He portrayed himself as a common leader who was given the difficult task in defending a nation from an Empire.
The book analyzes Kruger’s political difficulty in forming an alliance between the various Afrikaners in order to from a united front. Kruger mentioned the political infighting for power sometimes delayed the Boer’s ineffectiveness to resist the British invasion. The Memoirs of Paul Kruger also extensively discussed the diplomatic challenges in obtaining weapons and support for the Boer’s military. Like Winston Churchill memoirs there were some biases within Kruger memoir because its human nature to talk about one’s greatness rather than one’s arrogance.
However Kruger’s book was excellent in portraying himself as a leader during both Boer Wars. The Memoirs of Paul Kruger also consist speeches made during Kruger’s presidency which reflected the psychological mindset of Afrikaans during wartime. The benefit of Paul Kruger memoirs was to give the inside scoop of Afrikaans’ politics, diplomacy, and military preparedness against a British onslaught. Kruger’s book was a great primary source but it should not be taken in entirety because there was no mention about any opposition to Kruger’s administration.
The Growth of Boer Opposition to Kruger 1890-1895 by C. T. Gordon who analyzes Kruger’s rival Commandant-General P. J. Joubert and the opposition party know as Progressive. C. T. Gordon’s main theme of this book’s investigation was an attempt to trace the emergence of an active opposition among the burghers of the South African Republic towards Kruger’s administration. Gordon analyzed the policies that drew criticism from the general population and the main grounds for the growth of opposition to the regime were.
Gordon analyzed the self-style Progressive party that emerged under the nominal leadership of P. J. Joubert. The book also examines the close election results of 1893 which resulted in Kruger’s victory but many opposition supporters believed that P. J. Joubert was the true victor. It also emphasized on the issues and debates that propelled the Progressive party into South African politics. The author did an excellent job in portraying the ideas, action, and political planning done by the Progressive party to challenge Kruger’s regime. The author mentioned that it all changed with the arrival of British forces which unified the South African political fragmentation. The Growth of Boer Opposition to Kruger 1890-1895 analyzed the possibility of South African politics to be left alone if the British did not invade. This book by Gordon paints a different picture on the political instability in South Africa prior to the Second Boer War. The fact remains that the British invaded Afrikaners’ land and this action resulted into a total war between the opposing forces.
In the Second Boer War the Boers were at a disadvantage in numbers and weapons because the British forces with lessons learn from the First Boer War were ready. The British decided to enforce prison camps for Prisoners of War (POW) and to avoid Boers to regroup once defeated. Letters from a Boer parsonage: Letters of Margret Marquard during the Boer War edited by Leo Marquard that elaborates the harsh life of a POW camp by examining Margret Marquard letters during the war. Margret Marquard letters were instrumental in analyzing the social dilemmas faced during war. Leo Marquard examine the emotional roller-coaster ride of Margret Marquard with her correspondences with her husband during combat and then eventual imprisonment.
The book also touches on battle tactics in which Margret’s husband wrote in his letters and later as a POW on the inefficiency of a British POW camp to accommodate prisoners. Letters from a Boer parsonage: Letters of Margret Marquard during the Boer War also elaborates on letters between Margret and her relatives during the conflict. Margret Marquard expressed in her letters on the impact of the Second Boer War on the lives of Boers similar to her class status. It paints the image of war from a social and psychological perspective. The letters by Margret Marquard elaborated the harsh reality and trauma of war could do love to ones behind the front-lines.
Furthermore the harsh reality of war may impact on the lives on people trap in conflict zones or behind a front-line but none who be heavily affected by than those that fought in it. The British in the Second Boer War were conventionally superior and wipe out all that the Boers could muster on the battlefield. It was the one thing the British did not have and it was the support of the population. The Afrikaners changed tactics by dispersing into the bush and declared guerrilla warfare. Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War by Colonel Deneys Reitz and edited by Francis William Reitz. Francis William Reitz main theme was to examine the life of a guerrilla fighter through the eyes of his father, Colonel Reitz.
The book does not discuses extensively on the British and Boers tactics during the first half of Second Boer War. Francis William Reitz’s also wrote on life in South Africa and his relationship with his father prior to the Second Boer War at the beginning of the book. The journal also elaborated on the social background of soldiers similar to Colonel Reitz that fought during the war. Colonel Reitz’s journal elaborated on an individual prerogative when the Boers decided to conduct commando operations against the British. The emphasis on life and survival was an important theme of the book when Boer commandos engaged the British forces in combat.
Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War portrayed an accurate account in Colonel Deneys Reitz words on the atrocities committed by both the British and Boers during the war. The books also mentioned about British adaptability to counter Boers’ commando operations and the depletion of supplies that would eventually forced Afrikaans ultimate surrender. This book edited Francis William Rietz was great in understanding the psychological, social, and emotional struggle faced by the Boer commandos during the war.
British successes against the Boer commandos were its ability to cut the Boers support foundation. Introduction of concentration camps within Boer population centers was the key of British victory. The concentration camps in South Africa shaped the war but it reshaped the psyche of South Africa as a nation. The Anglo-Boer Wars by Michael Barthorp main theme was to examine the adaptability of British military tactics in South Africa. Michael Barthrop investigates British failure in the First Boer War and elaborates on the Britain’s ability to learn and overcome in the Second Boer War. The book investigated that failure in the First Boer War was the failure to pacify the civilian population who were aiding the Afrikaners military.
Barthorp’s book analyzes a wide range of tactical change within the British military before the start and during the Second Boer War. The book also mentioned to the development of concentration camps solely for the Afrikaners women and children. It was to break the will of the Boer Commandos and keep the populace from offering aid to the enemy. The effectiveness of the camps played a role in contributing to the surrender of the Boers but it caused the deaths of thousands of civilian. The advancement in tactics that the British brought was a horse riflemen from Australia to counter Boer raids and the installment of fortified gun boxes to entrap enemy forces. The Anglo-Boer Wars contains numerous resources materials that painted a deeper picture on the British methodical strategy in winning the Second Boer War.
There was international involvement in the Second Boer War. The British Empire poured troops from all over the Commonwealth to fight against the Boers but also the Zulus. The Boer War: Direction, Experience, and Image edited by John Gooch written by multiple authors that investigates the war from different perspectives. The essays in the book analyze the war from the political, war journalists, foreign nationals, and even photographers perspectives. The book’s theme was to examine the implication of the Second Boer from a Commonwealth perspective but excluding the English and Boers viewpoints. The book investigates the Irish support for the Boers and the implication of the Irish action. It also mentioned about the Zulus which was very helpful in painting the third player in the Boer War. The social and political implication of the Second Boer had on Commonwealth nations were explored extensively.
The book also analyzes the implication of Australian and Scottish troops involving in the Second Boer War. Those two nation’s military had a different way of engaging the Boers which were very successful. The Boer War: Direction, Experience, and Image was a great book because it expands the Second Boer War as an international conflict that involved many nations within the Commonwealth. It could be considered as a joined Commonwealth military operation in suppressing the Boers resistance.
Basically, Gooch’s book contains a lot of primary and secondary sources from various authors which will be useful in further researching the different nations involve in the conflict. This book also explained the Boers defeat briefly. Why the Boers Lost the War written by Leopold Scholtz explained the defeat in detail that the Boers were outnumbered in manpower and resources. The main theme of this was to investigate comprehensively on the reasons behind the defeat of the Boers in the Second Boer War. Scholtz book was heavy influence by Richard Overy’s Why the Allies Won.
The book analyzes the Boers failure to conceptualize the problems in taking on an Empire. Scholtz basically claimed that the Boers were doom from the start of the Second Boer War. The author begins the book by stating the strategic importance of the Boers Republic to the British Empire. British tactics in the first part of the war was horrible and gave the Boers victory after victory. The book analyzes British resolve by employing new tactics by using flanking maneuvers and pacifying enemy population centers.
Scholtz emphasizes on the logistical ability of the British to used trains and built railway tracks to speed up its forces mobility. The British also dominated the ocean around Africa’s Southern peninsula. The author also elaborates on the tactical changed from conventional to asymmetrical by the Boers during the war which were effective briefly. The reason was the British adopted the box system and through thousands of Boers family into concentration camps. Scholtz’s argues that the British had abundant supply of fresh troops pouring from the Commonwealth and the Boers lost their support base.
Why the Boers Lost the War is an excellent book on the reasons behind the Boers surrender and the importance of using an overwhelming force in quelling a rebellious populace. The research will not base solely on the military aspect of the Second Boer War but a combination of events occurring in South Africa during the war. It is important to note that the numerous authors discuss in this essay had their own unique and insightful notion about the Boer War. As a whole the focus of this research will be using those great ideas to draw a hypothesis on the reasons behind the Second Boer War.
The Second Boer War: Afrikaners Strive for Freedom is an intriguing topic because there are not many books out in the market that concisely analyzes the issue from its infancy till its aftermath. This research will cover the historical background that motivated the British to invade South Africa twice and to examine the impact of war on society. In order to completely a successful research one must look at the political, social, economical, intellectual, and diplomacy prior, during, and after the Second Boer War. The importance of military development from a conventional to unconventional force during this war would change the norm of future military engagement.
Finally, it takes one to press hard questions to get the right answers. South Africa national identity was significantly influenced by the Boer Wars with a firm emphasis on the Second Boer War. The sun may never set on the British Empire but South Africa Republic will never stop bleeding.
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