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25th March 2005The Transvaal Boers of 1879
By Paul Cubbin
I find the C19th Boers an interesting people. They left their European homes, for one reason or another, in order to start a new life in southern Africa and when they got there, these disparate peoples (Dutch, German, Danish, French...etc..) quickly formed a strong and easily recognised culture. Perhaps politically naive and fiercely independant they appear to have regarded Africa's interior as a never-ending free-for-all and plunged headlong into it, trying to keep one step ahead of imperialism. Apparently needing disproportionately huge tracts of land to support each family, they quickly lost friends as they gained territory and understandably came into conflict with just about everyone. Largely ignoring the AZW (except for Piet Uys and his men) they preferred to sit back and watch the British remove their main enemy then swooped in to claim a lot of the weakened territory in the aftermath.
Of course, later events would bring them into direct conflict with the Crown and my questions are this. Do the site members think the early Boers were just organised land pirates? - or did they have a genuine claim on the areas they took? Did they really have a grievance when the Transvaal was annexed? - or was it their own constitutional mistakes that led their people to collapse and forced Britain to act as nursemaid?
31st March 2005Derrick
Granted off-topic but before it disappears below the radar, I'd like to add that, XXth Cent. politics aside, I find that the Afrikaaners have many admirable qualities, those who are familiar with the likes of Gens. Christiaan de Wet, Louis Botha and Jan Smuts would no doubt concur.
2nd April 2005Derek C
The Boers plunged "headlong" into the interior,"The Great Trek", mainly because of the British taxes that were imposed on them. The lived as "Vryer Burgers" or free citizens prior to Britain annexing the Cape from the Dutch. Every time they moved futher inland to escape the taxes, Britain extented the lines of lattitude to catch them. Slavery was also an issue, sadly. Finally the Boers settled in the TVL & OVS and life was good until gold & diamonds were discovered. Britain wanted these too, annexed the Transvaal as well.

I suppose the Boers are interesting people, if one looks at them as families trying to survive annexation & taxation, and being forced to collect rebates for slaves, in England, in person.
2nd April 2005Paul Cubbin
Life isn't fair, is it?
Derrick - yes, I admire many of the 'traditional' traits of the boer - steadfastness, tradition, courage - but also abhor some of the less admirable traits - intolerance, arrogance, xenophobia. Unfortunately they do bear up to an unflattering comparison with Nazi Germany!

Derek - they sound very much like gypsies, don't they? Vaivety seems to have blinded them to many of the realities of colonial politics and statesmanship.
2nd April 2005Derrick
I'm afraid those characteristics can also be seen in the UK today and as we wouldn't dream of generalising that description across Britain, I think, to coin your phrase, that is unfair and unkind of you to paint all Boers with the same brush and lump them together with the Nazis.
2nd April 2005Derrick
The conduct shown by the Boers in the 1902 Treaty of Vereenigiing and again in 1910, negotiating the creation of a new South Africa after their shocking treatment by Kitchener & Co., represented the very highest levels of statesmanship and efforts at reconciliation. It was the bitterness left after Kitchener that created the opening for fascist right wing politicians to gain control, and the rest is history as they say. And let it not be forgotten that the Boers inherited apartheid from their colonial victors.
2nd April 2005Peter Ewart

I was going to keep right out of this one, but with all due respect, Derrick, the Boers inherited no such thing. The Boer bitterness after the result of Kitchener's policies was entirely understandable but it should be remembered that the Boers fully understood that in order to defeat an enemy - especially an enemy which blurred the distinction between civilan and combatant - it was advantageous to restrict or even destroy the means by which that enemy opposed one's own forces. In other words, the Boers had used the same methods against their neighbours for generations - with no compunction whatsoever. The difference being that there was no deliberate intention of the British to be barbarous, but with the Boer and their "traditional enemy" there most certainly was, and they didn't find it at all difficult.

Had the settlement towards the Boers in 1902 been less magnanimous than it was, and had the constitution of 1910 not been such a disaster for the black (as a result of a lack of British firmness towards the Boer) then history would have been very, very different in 20th century S Africa.

Paul's analogy with Nazi Germany is not at all unfair. There are more than sufficient documented cases (years and years of them) of Boer treatment of the indigenous population in SE Africa all through the 19th century - long, long before Vereeniging - to make the Nazis seem like liberals.

1902 and 1910 were disasters. I do not absolve Rhodes and his gang one bit, but to equate British imperial policy even remotely with the Boer mindset and the subsequent brainwashing of each new generation is laughable. The Boer never accepted that the days of slavery were over, nor that the blacks need be treated as anything other than animals.

2nd April 2005Derrick
And did we do better by the Tasmanian Aborigines?
3rd April 2005Paul Cubbin
Derrick - don't forget that South Africa, despite having progressed to being a successful and proud (and rightly so) nation by 1939 was rather embarrassed to find a significant proportion of its population supporting the Nazis. Certainly there was a largely Boer led pro-Nazi faction that opposed fighting Hitler, that had to be put down before South Africa could enter the war as an essential member of the Commonwealth. It is a problem that is regrettably still rearing its ugly head in Southern Africa today. There were similar problems in WW1, but perhaps this was more understandable given the links that the Boer people had with Germany and the relative youth of its nation.
Like I said, the Boer people were a new conglomerate of what were, essentially, fortune hunters and pioneers. They are a distinct race who are just now beginning to feel comfortable about themselves and the people they share the rest of the continent with. In the nineteenth century they faced very similar problems, and criticism, to early American pioneers and cattlemen. They wanted a lot of land that was someone else's. When that someone else (the Zulus - who had in turn nicked it from previous inhabitants) fought back they sought the protection of the crown they had struggled so hard to escape from. Then seemed shocked when it was time to pay their bills; there's no such thing as a free lunch. A little more foresight, patience and respect for their neighbours and a little less greed and rhetoric might have saved them a lot of trouble in the long run. One difference between Britain and the Boers was that Britain already had 200 years of pretty successful expansionism experience behind them and (although obviously still learning) had learnt some lessons on how to treat indigenous people if you want something in return.
3rd April 2005Michael Boyle
I was going to avoid this one as well but...

With Peter, I also believe Paul's allusion to the German history of 70 years ago is not overly off the mark. The German doctrine of liebensraum social control,segregation and labour do seem analagous to the Boer need for more space, cheap labour and justification, but I wouldn't characterize the similarities much beyond that (and would point out that they were not foreign concepts throughout history).

Unfortunately I feel a better comparison could be made to the U.S. and it's relationship to native population.Substituting 'American' for 'Boer' and 'America' for 'Africa' in the first part of Paul's topic paragraph seems to ring true. The U.S. became such ostensibly due to British taxation and prohibition of settling beyond the Allegehny mountains. The subsequent U.S. treatment of the Native Americans and African slaves was certainly more egregious than anything the Boers (or Afrikaans) attempted. (The number of surviving Native Americans in the U.S. as compared to surviving Native Africans in S.A. would seem to bear this out.)As well, segration and apartheid are only different in the size of the "homelands".

It is my understanding that the term 'apartheid' was first coined by Jan Smuts in 1917 and was not actually made law as such (as opposed to being institutionalized) until 1948 (very close to the time U.S. southern state laws were formally enacted.)

Although at the time (being a class-based society) the British were not known for their actual egalitarian attitudes they did abolish slavery early on and tried to espouse the doctrine to the best of their abilities. Although social impediments may have occurred during the time of the AZW it seems economic impediments were avoided and the native lot then was better than it would become.Although the British did of course, after the AZW, enact laws that made it difficult for the Zulu especially to continue their traditional lifestyles, I don't believe they did it with the same malice shown the Irish earlier [this is not a guantlet, we're far enough off topic as it is!]. Had S.A. remained a British colony I feel sure that apartheid would never have happened (it certainly didn't in other Crown colonies).

I personally have great respect for the Boer work ethic,sense of independence and ability to fight for what they believed against tremendous odds. I cannot however extend that respect to their seeming need to establish racial superiority.

Peter, again with all due respect, your comment about making the Nazis seem like liberals does seem a bit much given the concentration camps and wholesale death and enslavement.

Thankfully I re-checked this topic before posting. Paul, there was also a rather large contingent in both Britain and the U.S. prior to the start of WW II that was vehemently pro-Nazi. That however didn't preclude the honourable subsequent service of both countries (and South Africa) from joining the cause! The present problem you allude to is by no means limited to S.A. (Even if the 'skin-head' has evolved into a fashion statement as well!)

God, don't let us forget why we and our fore fathers (and progeny) fought.



3rd April 2005Neil Raaff
Hi all,

I think that there are very, very few nations or people that would come out lily white on the issue of subjugation of native races or ethnic groups. Everyone seems to have had a finger in the pie at one time or it slavery, imperialism or ethnic cleansing.

Peter, on the point of concentration camps it may be worth mentioning that the Afrikaner hatred/dislike of the English was in no small measure reinforced by the concentration camps of the 1899-1902 Boer War. Extermination camps they may not have been but the effect was much the same...


3rd April 2005Neil Raaff
Hi all,

I think that there are very, very few nations or people that would come out lily white on the issue of subjugation of native races or ethnic groups. Everyone seems to have had a finger in the pie at one time or it slavery, imperialism or ethnic cleansing.

Peter, on the point of concentration camps it may be worth mentioning that the Afrikaner hatred/dislike of the English was in no small measure reinforced by the concentration camps of the 1899-1902 Boer War. Extermination camps they may not have been but the effect was much the same...


3rd April 2005Paul Cubbin
Michael - sure, every country has its political extreme right wing. The difference in South Africa was the extent of support for the Nazi party and Hitler's Germany which threatened to overflow into civil war. Had Smuts not taken control of the country when he did it is doubtful whether Africa's history would have remained the same. No other commonwealth nation hesitated to oppose Nazism in war. Also, the adoption of apartheid in South Africa was deliberately delayed until after WW2 as the opposition to it threatened to disrupt the government's plans to fight the war.

Neil - concentration camps were, unfortunately, invented by the British in the Boer War. Not exactly our finest hour. I think the difference is that they had no idea what the effects would be and were as horrified as the rest of the world. Having said that, they were fighting a war they did not understand against an opponent who employed guerilla and even terrorist tactics against them. The 'civilians' interred were suspected of aiding enemy forces and were treated in a way that seemed suitable and humane at the time. The spread of disease was partly due to the lack of meticulous hygiene practised by the boer families, something that can probably be displayed by farming communities the world over. Its not important to be spotless on the open plain, in a crowded environment it takes on a more important role. Again, these are lessons that those present had yet to learn.
3rd April 2005Neil Raaff

I fully understand the reasons why the scorched earth policy was adopted. Faced with an elusive enemy the only option was to target their 'supply line'.

No doubt poor personal hygiene played a part . However, I believe that the sanitary and medical provisions within the camps were minimal. Furthermore, the camps were poorly sited, the tented accomodation mostly inadequate and to food and water rations were meagre to say the least. This combination of factors made disease and death unavoidable.

Whether this was part of the 'plan' I couldn't possibly say but common sense would suggest that this was only possible outcome accomodating people in such a way.

I believe there were also camps that housed the black labourers taken from the farms. The deaths in these camps were also quite high.

But then again the French and Americans managed to kill about a million German soldiers by sticking them into camps after World War 2 and essentially starving them to death.

As tragic as all these events are they are an unfortunate consequence of war.


3rd April 2005Derrick
For background, visit:
4th April 2005Derrick
Read the above, form an opinion if you want to ask who could be compared to the Nazi's, and judge for youself if this whole shabby business would ever have happenned if George Harrison had not discovered gold on the Witwatersrand.
4th April 2005Peter Ewart

After posting my contribtion of 2nd April I checked a few published sources but haven't had a chance to get back until now.

I must be fair to Derrick now with regard to his remark about the South African constitution inheriting apartheid from the British. Re-reading a number of accounts, I had overlooked the fact that a number of measures - pass laws, restricted access in many places for blacks, employment laws and (obviously) the restricted franchise - were already in place in some parts of what became the Union by the turn of the century in areas previously controlled by the British. So I can now see what Derrick meant.

These were made worse in a much more serious way in the 1920s and 1930s (the so-called "Colour Bar") as well as, of course, after 1948. However, I don't change my view that the direction taken by the Union Gov't with regard to issues of race led to a disaster which could have been avoided - and that it was not a direction the British wanted to take. It has to be admitted, though, that the British position, in the end, did very little for the black population in the 1910 negotations. The Transvaal and OFS, however, never made even the pretence that they had any intention of granting any rights whatsoever to the blacks.

My agreement with the Nazi comparison was not, however, about the well known pro-German or pro-Nazi sympathies within the Union, but referred to the 19th century, during which rural Boers (a sweeping statement this, I know, but so many instances back it up) not only murdered blacks in cold blood in their neighbourhoods in very large numbers with impunity, but actually did so for fun. I'm referring to peacetime, not during wars or campaigns. Hunting expeditions arranged simply to kill blacks (men, women and children being allowed no mercy) with horrific methods, often with the intention of securing labour (slaves) but also purely to hunt down and kill black families, and to enjoy doing it. These occurrence continued well into the second half of the 19th century.

Few of us would doubt that land, power and eventually the gold and diamonds were what caused Boer and Briton to clash and that, as far as the "scorched earth" policy of Kitchener was concerned, many Boer families died and this is understandably remembered to this day, as I mentioned. (Although it was a British woman who blew the whistle on it all).

Where the two protagonists differ, however, is that even the worst efforts of the British toward the native population (and I acknowledge that the 1880s and 1890s in Natal & Zululand were a tragic mess caused by the Natal Gov't if not the British Gov't) pale in comparison with the naked inhumanity of the 19th century Boer with regard to the black population.

Happily, by all accounts, this is changing (speaking very generally) and changing fast, although it looks as if a rump will clearly always remain.

4th April 2005Derrick
Peter. Thank you for your acknowledgement. And Emily Hobhouse is revered to this day by the Boers.

It breaks my heart to read of the brutal extermination of the Khoi and San peoples but it seems that such cruelty was representative of the European mindset; if you research my earlier ref. to the Tasmanian aborigines and other references to treatment of indigenous populations through out the world it seems to be a regular characteristic of early settlers. And sticking a few wounded Zulus at Rorkes Drift wasn't seen as anything amiss.