Boer War Begins
The 11th of October 1899 AD
What we refer to as The Boer War was actually the second Boer War , but given the first was a short-lived clash it tends to be relegated to history’s margins. Though fought more than a century ago it has some striking similarities with more contemporary conflicts: in the early stages Britain expected a quick victory, and provided inadequate troop numbers; the major cause of the war was given as the mistreatment of certain sections of the population of Transvaal, but resources – in this case the newly discovered gold fields – were the true reason for the bloodshed; and civilians suffered terribly, with the shameful invention and use of concentration camps by the British.
Since British seizure of the Cape in 1806 relations with the Boers, of Dutch and French origin, had been fraught. A brief war was fought by the two sides in 1880-1881. A modus vivendi had been reached whereby the Boers had independence in The Orange Free State and the Transvaal, though with Britain supposedly determining foreign policy. The balance was upset with the discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1886. Petty squabbles about the treatment of new arrivals in the gold fields were escalated into major political questions of legal rights. Overlying the situation was the British desire to control the gold and regain full control of South Africa.
Matters nearly came to a head in 1895 with the so-called Jameson Raid into the Transvaal, though whether it was encouraged by the colonial authorities is arguable. It failed utterly to spark a rising in Johannesburg.
As the end of the century neared the opposing governments swapped ultimatums: in September 1899 Britain made various demands with the menace of invasion behind them; on October 10 the Boers replied with their own, requiring troop withdrawal from their territory within 48 hours – but they attacked anyway the following day, initially trouncing the poorly prepared British forces in raids on Natal and the Cape.
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