The South African War
Part 2: The War Years
Review of the Causes of the War
• The treatment of the Uitlanders in the
• To secure the Cape. British naval base
at Simonstown and route to the east.
• To consolidate British Imperialist
control of the whole southern African
• To control the wealth of
Witwatersrand’s Gold deposits.
The South African War
• 11 October 1899 – 31 May 1902
• A British victory (Treaty of Vereeniging)
South African Republic /
Orange Free State
British Empire:
Cape Colony, Natal, Rhodesia,
Australia, India, New Zealand
Foreign Volunteers:
Dutch, German, Scandinavian,
Russian, French, American,
Irish, Polish, Portuguese,
Flemish, Italian and Australian
Phase 1: Conventional Warfare
British Troops:
• When war broke out: 20,000 British troops were
stationed in Cape and Natal.
By end of 1900 250,000 more soldiers sent to SA
By end of war 400,000 British soldiers used
Boer Troops
• When war broke out: 1000 state artillery and
1 400 state police in Republics. Only 75
government guns! + 55 000 armed civilians
Civilian vs Professional
Phase 1: Conventional warfare
• Boers struck first in 1899 and besieged Mafeking
(217 days), Kimberley (124 days) and Ladysmith
(118 days) – a tactical mistake?
• Initial Boer victories at Colenso, Magersfontein
and Spion Kop (British called it ‘Black Week’)
• Early in 1900 British troops relieved the 3
beseiged towns.
• 4 April 1900 British raised Union Jack in
Bloemfontein, June 1900 Pretoria captured.
• The British thought the war was over but…….
Phase 2: Guerrilla Warfare (1900-02)
Boers governed from the Veld
Phase 2: Guerrilla Warfare (1900-02)
Boer Guerilla Tactics:
- Blew up and destroyed railway lines and captured
stores (food, ammunition)
- Cut telegraph wires (slowing down communication
- Surprise attacks: ‘Hit-and-run’
- NB: Boers were excellent horsemen, superior
knowledge of the countryside, scouting skills
- At least 10,000 Black agterryers (afterriders)
accompanied Boer commados as auxilliaries.
- Leaders associated with this phases: Christiaan de Wet,
Koos de la Rey, Louis Botha, Jan Smuts
Phase 2: Guerrilla Warfare
1900-1902 - British Responses
• Scorched Earth Policy:
Aim: cut off supplies of food and intelligence to
Boers on Commando.
- Boer farms blown up (approx 30,000 burned
- Livestock slaughtered, crops burned.
- More than 40 small rural towns destroyed.
(NB: Consider the human as well a military and
economic impact of this policy)
Implementing Scorched Earth Policy
This picture by Richard Caton Woodville shows a Boer woman standing up
to the brutality of British soldiers who were busy destroying her home.
Implementing Scorched Earth Policy
Note the woman sitting on a small pile of belongings watching
as her home was burned to the ground by British soldiers.
Phase 2: Guerrilla Warfare
1900-1902 - British Responses
• Concentration Camps
Aim: To hold Boers hostage; to prevent women
supplying food and intelligence to commandos; a
practical solution to homelessness.
- Boer women, children and elderly (and black
farm labourers) interned in camps.
- At least 27,927 Boer civilians died in camps (81%
were children) – this was more than 10% of the
total Afrikaner population of two republics.
- At least 15,000 Black people died in camps (no
accurate records have survived).
Housed in overcrowded ‘Bell Tents’ (10-18 people per tent)
Consider the impact of wind, rain, dew, heat, cold in this context.
An example of the death rates at one
camp: Bethulie Camp in the OFS
Why were the death rates so high?
• Tents were overcrowded so any infectious
disease spread quickly.
• Inadequate food supply: little meat, no
fruit, vegetables or fresh milk.
• Cold and damp or hot and dusty
• Lack of adequate sanitation facilities and
water in many camps
• No soap for most of war
• There was a chronic shortage of medical
supplies and medical staff.
Waiting for Food Rations
Kitchener ordered that
rations be given as
1st class – families of
neutrals, surrendered or
2nd class – families of men
on commando.
Waiting for Water
A child suffering extreme malnutrition
at Bloemfontein Concentration Camp
Emily Hobhouse
• Visited concentration camps
Jan-April 1901
• Disclosed the terrible living
conditions. Her report
caused questions to be
asked in British parliament.
• 1901 War Office sent
committee of ladies sent to
SA under Millicent Fawcett
→ reforms in admin of camps,
eg: soap, fruit and vegetables
→ The death rate dropped.
Phase 2: Guerrilla Warfare
1900-1902 - British Responses
• Blockhouses and Barbed Wire
Aim: to divide the whole country into fenced
sections which would slow the movement of the
Boers and make them easier to capture.
• Prisoners of War
- 25, 000 Boer soldiers were transported over
seas (eg: to St Helena)
Aim: reduce morale
The War Ends
• Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902
• Boers are forced to accept British rule under
following conditions:
– Protection of Dutch language (Afrikaners)
– Property rights
– Promise of eventual self-government
– Agreement that no rights would be given to blacks
until an organized government was set up
Military casualties
22,000 British soldiers died (35% in action 65% of disease)
(80% of men presenting for service in the Boer War were
found by the Army Medical Corps to be physically unfit to
4,000 Boer soldiers died
Unknown how many black soldiers and agterryers died
Civilian casualties:
• 27,927 Boer civilians died in concentration camps
• At least 15,00 Black people died in camps.
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