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South Africa

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."

Data as of May 1996

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