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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Boer War

The name by which the South African War is known in Britain; boer is the Dutch for farmer, and the war was essentially the struggle of the Dutch farmers, the oldest European settlers in *South Africa, to avoid being dominated by the British settlers and the imperial parliament in London. It was to some extent personalized in a struggle between two men.

Cecil *Rhodes was prime minister of the British Cape Colony in the southwest; he was also head of the British South Africa Company, busy developing what became Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to the northeast. Between Cape Colony and Zimbabwe is the Transvaal, then an independent Boer republic with Paul Kruger as its president. To Rhodes the future lay in a unified British South Africa, easing the path of expansion northeast. To Kruger such plans represented a British encirclement and a threat to Boer (or Afrikaner) independence. Any hope of compromise between the two was ended by the fiasco of the *Jameson Raid.

A political point at issue between the British government and Kruger was the lack of rights of British settlers in the Tranvsvaal; known as the uitlanders, many of them were recent arrivals searching for gold. Over this, and the question of British authority, both sides took intransigent positions. The attempted negotiations, conducted on Britain's side by Alfred *Milner, descended as if inexorably through threats and ultimatums to war. The only other Boer republic, the Orange Free State, sided with the Transvaal.

The outbreak of war in October 1899 was followed by immediate sieges of the British garrisons at *Mafeking and Kimberley, soon to be followed by Ladysmith. The broader military campaign also went badly, including three major defeats in the so-called Black Week of December 1899. But eventually sufficient forces were brought out from Britain. The Transvaal was invaded in May 1900 and was officially annexed in September. There followed a prolonged phase of guerrilla warfare. The country was finally subdued from corrugated-iron blockhouses built along the railway lines as temporary forts for British troops, with orders to destroy the produce and economy of the surrounding districts. A treaty was signed in May 1902 at Vereeniging, a place of which the name happened to mean 'union'. By its terms the two Boer provinces recognized Edward VII as their sovereign.

The campaign of the Boers gave the world the concept of *commandos. Meanwhile the British had adopted the recent Spanish invention of concentration camps – *Kitchener's solution for the families displaced by his scorched earth policy. By the end of the war Britain had lost 22,000 men and the Boers 6000; but in addition to these casualties some 4000 women and 16,000 children had died of disease in the camps.

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