British Imperialism and the Afrikaners

British Imperialism and the Afrikaners

British pressures on the Dutch-speaking population of the South African Republic became intense in the aftermath of industrialization. In seizing the diamond fields in 1870, the British had swept aside many Boer land claims. In 1877, fearing a collapse of the South African Republic in the face of defeat by a Pedi army, the British had formally annexed the Boer state, as the Transvaal. They then set about destroying the Pedi to obtain laborers for the Kimberley mines, and they completed the task in 1879. In 1880, however, the Transvaalers rose, and at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881, they defeated a British army. The British then withdrew, leaving the Boers victorious in what they would later call their First War of Independence.

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand greatly increased Boer-British tensions. Here was vast mineral wealth beyond British control. Moreover, the president of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger, attempted to lessen his state's long-term dependence on Cape merchants by developing a rail link to Portuguese East Africa. Such a link threatened British commercial interests and revived old fears of the Boers' gaining direct access to the sea and thus to other European powers. At the same time, the mine owners were, without exception, English speakers who exhibited no loyalty to the South African Republic and who did not seek to reinvest their gold profits in the local community. Indeed, they complained bitterly about all attempts to tax the gold industry.

These economic tensions lay at the base of a political issue: the right of English speakers to have the vote. With the rise of the gold industry and the growth of Johannesburg, the South African Republic had been inundated by so many English-speaking immigrants (called uitlanders by the Boers), most of them skilled mine workers, that by the 1890s they constituted a majority of the white male population. The state's constitution limited the vote to males who had lived in the South African Republic for at least seven years, and Kruger feared that expanding the franchise would only enable mine owners to manipulate their workers and to thereby win political power. British mine owners and officials constantly decried Kruger's refusal to extend the franchise. In December 1895, Cecil Rhodes took matters a step further by sending 500 armed men, employees of his British South Africa Company, into the South African Republic under the leadership of Dr. Leander Starr Jameson. Rhodes hoped that the uitlanders would rise and join the invaders to help overthrow Kruger's government. The invasion, however, was a fiasco: Boer commandos disarmed Jameson and his men with little resistance, and the uitlanders took no action. Rhodes resigned the premiership of the Cape Colony in disgrace. The British government denied having advance knowledge of the invasion and claimed that it had no expansionist plans of its own.

Distrusting the mine owners and the British government, Kruger sought to build his country's strength. He engaged in diplomatic relations with Germany, imported arms from Europe, and continued to deny the vote to uitlanders . He also cemented relations with the Orange Free State and sought support from Dutch speakers in the Cape. In these endeavors, he was assisted by a growing sense of Afrikaner identity that had developed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This nationalistic identity had emerged clearly in the early 1880s, after the victory of Majuba Hill, when S.J. du Toit, a Dutch Reformed minister in the Cape, had published a newspaper, Die Afrikaanse Patriot (The Afrikaner Patriot), and a book, Die Geskiedenis van ons Land in die Taal van ons Volk (The History of our Land in the Language of our People), which argued that Afrikaners were a distinct people with their own fatherland in South Africa and that they were fulfilling a special mission determined expressly by God. Du Toit had gone on to found a political party in the Cape, the Afrikanerbond, to represent the interests of Dutch speakers. The Jameson Raid and anti-Boer sentiments expressed by gold magnates and British officials further cemented an Afrikaner sense of distinctiveness, which in the 1890s reached across political boundaries to include Dutch speakers in the Cape and the citizens of the Orange Free State as well as the Transvaalers.

Rhodes, together with his fellow gold mining magnates and the British government (in the persons of Joseph Chamberlain, secretary of state for the colonies, and Alfred Milner, high commissioner in South Africa), continued to denounce Kruger and his government. Rhodes and his peers called attention to what they considered rampant official corruption while also complaining that taxes were too high and that black labor was too expensive (because of perceived favoritism by the government regarding the labor needs of Afrikaner farmers). Chamberlain had concluded by the second half of the 1890s that the British needed to take direct action to contain Afrikaner power, and he had at first used diplomatic channels to pressure Kruger, although with little success. Milner pointed out what he considered the appalling condition of British subjects in the South African Republic, where, without the vote, they were, he argued, "kept permanently in the position of helots." In 1899 Milner advised Chamberlain that he considered the case for British intervention "overwhelming." Ignoring attempts by Kruger to reach a compromise, Chamberlain in September 1899 issued an ultimatum requiring that Kruger enfranchise British residents of the South African Republic. At the same time, Chamberlain sent troop reinforcements from Britain to the Cape. Kruger, certain that the British were bent on war, took the initiative and, allied with the Orange Free State, declared war on the British in October 1899.

The South African War

The South African War (1899-1902), fought by the British to establish their hegemony in South Africa and by the Afrikaners to defend their autonomy, lasted three years and caused enormous suffering. Ninety thousand Afrikaners fought against a British army that eventually approached 500,000 men, most from Britain but including large numbers of volunteers also from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Approximately 30,000 Africans were also employed as soldiers by the British, while thousands more labored as transport workers. Kruger's forces, taking advantage of initial superiority in numbers (before the British regulars arrived) and of surprise, won a number of victories at the beginning of the war. In 1900, however, British forces overwhelmed the Boers, took Bloemfontein (capital of the Orange Free State), Johannesburg, and Pretoria (capital of the South African Republic), and forced Kruger into exile. Resistance continued, however, in the countryside, where the Boers fought a ferocious guerrilla war. The British ultimately succeeded in breaking this resistance, but only by adopting a scorched-earth policy. In 1901 and 1902, the British torched more than 30,000 farms in the South African Republic and the Orange Free State and placed all the Afrikaner women and children in concentration camps, where, because of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, more than 25,000 perished.

Peace was finally concluded at the town of Vereeniging on May 21, 1902. Milner, who drew up the terms, intended that Afrikaner power should be broken forever. He required that the Boers hand over all their arms and agree to the incorporation of their territories into the British empire as the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. However, he made one significant concession to Boer sentiments by agreeing that the franchise would not be extended to Africans throughout South Africa (they had no vote in the Boer republics) until the local white population could decide that issue themselves. Since Milner himself believed that "political equality" of blacks and whites was "impossible" and that South Africa was really a white man's country in which the role of blacks should essentially be limited to that of "well-treated" labor, the concession was not a large one for him to make.

Milner's Peace

Milner sought to consolidate the military victory by adopting three policies. He planned to encourage large numbers to emigrate from Britain so that English speakers would attain a numerical majority among South Africa's white population. He wanted to institute policies of denationalization and of anglicization so that Afrikaners would lose their sense of a separate identity and would assimilate into British culture. To ensure the successful implementation of both policies, he intended to rule South Africa directly without local representation.

Milner also believed that the successful development of a loyal colonial society rested above all on ensuring the profitability of the gold industry even if that meant great strains for the African population. To that end, he sought to address the postwar labor needs of the gold mines by strictly enforcing pass laws in the cities and by collecting taxes from Africans in the countryside.

Relations between Africans and Europeans were increasingly strained as Milner's policies were implemented. Pressures in Natal were particularly severe. Most of Zululand had been annexed to Natal in 1897, a decade after approximately one-third of Zululand had been incorporated into the South African Republic. These strains erupted into violence in 1905, when a Zulu chief, Bambatha, invoking the memory of King Shaka, led an armed uprising. British firepower was too great, however, and in 1906 Bambatha and several thousand of his followers were killed in central Natal. His was the last armed struggle against colonial rule.

Despite opposition from local whites, who feared the addition of yet another racial group to their community, Milner also supported the gold magnates' plans to import large numbers of indentured Chinese laborers to work in the mines. The first men arrived in 1904, and by 1906 there were 50,000 Chinese at work, comprising one-third of the gold mines' labor force.

Milner's belief expressed before the war that blacks and whites could never be recognized as equal in South Africa received official sanction in 1905 with the final report of the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC). The British had gone to war in 1899 stating their abhorrence of the racially discriminatory policies adopted in the Afrikaner republics and because of such sentiments had received the active support of thousands of Africans. Between 1903 and 1905, the SANAC commissioners looked into the question of developing a common "native policy" for all of South Africa. Despite the testimony of numerous members of the educated African elite decrying discriminatory policies, the commissioners concluded that there should be no political equality between blacks and whites, that separate voters' rolls should be established, and that territorial separation was advisable for the races.

Yet none of Milner's policies met with real success. The gold industry, burdened with the costs of rebuilding after the devastation of the war, produced only limited profits, and South Africa continued to be economically depressed for much of the first decade of the twentieth century. Few immigrants were attracted by such poor prospects, and fewer than 1,200 British settler families came, less than one-eighth of the number Milner had hoped for. His denationalization policy was a complete failure. Indeed, Afrikaners, already imbued with a sense of collective suffering by their nineteenth-century experiences at the hands of British imperialists, were even more united after the South African War (which they termed the Second War of Independence). They celebrated their language, Afrikaans, and demonstrated its beauty in an outpouring of poetry. They set up their own schools, insisting that their children should be taught in Afrikaans and not be limited to the English-only instruction of government schools. In addition, they established new political parties to push for self-government: Oranje Unie (Orange Union) formed by Abraham Fischer and General James "Barry" Munnik (J.B.M.) Hertzog in the Orange River Colony and Het Volk (The People) founded by General Louis Botha and Jan C. Smuts in the Transvaal. The greatest blow to Milner's plans, however, came in 1905 with the victory of the Liberal Party in the British general election and the formation of a government led by men who had opposed the scorched-earth policy in the South African War as no more than "methods of barbarism."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_of_South_Africa
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boer_wars


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