The Anglo Boer War
Worth a Visit: Mcgregor Museum in Kimberley and the Magersfontein Museum and monuments.
There is also The Paardeberg Battlefield Museum at Paardeberg.
Driving on the N12 out of Kimberley, towards Cape Town, you will find signpost to many of the battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War. The most significant monuments can be found at Magersfontein.
The Anglo-Boer War in the Northern Cape
The major battles of the Western Campaign all took place within 120km of Kimberley, in northern part of the Cape Colony (today’s Northern Cape). Hours after they had declared war, the Boers moved into Natal and the Cape Colony on three fronts. Within three days they had beseiged the town of Kimberley. The town’s military authorities under the command of Lt. Colonel Kekewich proclaimed martial law and set about preparing for the Boer attack. This didn’t happen for other than shelling the town, the Boers were content to starve the town into submission.
The details of the seige, including the victories and setbacks suffered by the relief column under Lieutenant-General Methuen, can be relived at the Magersfontein and Mcgregor Museums. Included among them are the battles of Orange River Station, Modder River, Magersfontein, Belmont, Graspan and the eventual relief by General French and his calvary.
An Overview of the War
A war of defining proportions in the establishment of South Africa as a unified nation, this war was fought from October 1899 to May 1902, predominately between the Afrikaans speaking Boer population (descendants of Dutch settlers) and the British Empire. However, these troops were bolstered by many of the indigenous populace, with over 100 000 Black and Coloured people fighting with the British and 10 000 joining with the Boer forces.
After the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 and the failed Jameson Raid of 1895, which aimed to take Johannesburg from the Boers and put it once again under British control, many Cape Afrikaners felt alienated from the British.
This drew them, together with the Transvaal Boers (led by President Paul Kruger) and the Orange Free State (led by President Martinus Steyn), against British rule. Consequently, the two republics signed a military pact in 1879 and set about importing the finest modern artillery available from Europe.
In the next couple of years, tensions between the British and the Boers continued to escalate, until a point at which, in September 1899, the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Chamberlain and President Kruger simultaneously sent each other ultimatums. Chamberlain demanded full equality for British citizens in Transvaal, while Kruger demanded the withdrawal of all British troops from the Transvaal border – or else the Transvaal and the Orange Free State would declare war.
Surprising much of Britian, the Boers held true to their ultimatum and declared war on 11 October 1899. Spearheaded by a Boer offensive into the
British-held Cape Colony (the north of which forms part of today’s Northern Cape) and Natal areas, the first of this three phase war was dominated by
Boer success. It’s quite likely that the Boers anticipated a quick victory as in the First Boer War (December 1880 to March 1881).
The non-uniformed civilian Boer militia, armed with their new European weapons, besieged the town of Ladysmith in Natal and also the towns of Kimberley and Mafeking within the Cape Colony. Suffering some setbacks at Talana and Elandslaagte, the Boers once again triumphed at Magersfontein, Stormberg and Colenso between 10 and 15 December 1899. This became known as ‘Black Week’ amongst the British.
The second phase of the war took place between 28 February and 18 May 1900 and the now heavily reinforced (by troops from Britain, Canada and Australia) British army proceeded to liberate the besieged towns of Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking respectively.
Then under the overall command of Lord Roberts, Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, was occupied on 13 March 1900 and on 28 May the province was annexed and renamed the Orange River Colony. Pretoria was taken on the 5 June, following the entry of British troops into Johannesburg and then the Transvaal annexed on 1 September 1900. At this point it appeared to many that the war was over and Lord Roberts returned to England to praise and admiration.
However, the Boers had far from given up and galvanised by the generals: de la Rey, de Wet, Smuts and Botha, they launched into a protracted phase of guerilla warfare in smaller mobile units.
Beginning in March 1900, this final phase of the war dragged on for over two years. Boer fighters managed to damage infrastructure and disrupt British supply channels and were extremely effective in evading capture. In response to the initial Boer success in this phase, the British embarked on a scorched earth policy: whereby they destroyed Boer farms, which combined with the internment of Boer woman and children in concentration camps, eventually forced the Boers into surrendering. The signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging on 31 May 1902 officially brought an end to the war.
With the Boers promised an eventual limited self-government and given £3,000,000 for reconstruction the treaty proceeded to dissolve the South African Republic and the Orange Free State as independent Boer republics and they became part of the British Empire. Less than a decade later, this amalgamation lead to the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.