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Boer War: 1899-1902

Outright warfare between British and Afrikaners derives from the various tensions which have characterized the 1890s, in particular British expansionism and an understandable Afrikaner fear of being surrounded, squeezed, absorbed. After the Jameson Raid the Boers have increasingly good reason to distrust British intentions.

Kruger, convinced that war is inevitable, takes energetic steps in preparation. In 1897 he concludes an alliance with the other Boer republic, the Orange Free State. And he begins a programme of rearmament to improve his republic's military capability.
 









On the British side new factors make war increasingly likely. In 1895 Joseph Chamberlain, a man with a strong imperialist vision, becomes the British secretary of state for the colonies. In 1897 he appoints as his south African high commissioner Alfred Milner, an equally keen imperialist. Milner is soon urging on the colonial secretary a vigorously assertive policy. In practice this means taking a strong line with Paul Kruger, elected in 1898 to a fourth term as president of the Transvaal.

The most inflammatory issue between the two sides is once again the uitlanders, who pay heavy taxes in the Boer republic but enjoy no political rights. They are, writes Milner in a telegram to Chamberlain in May 1899, 'in the position of helots'.
 







At a conference in Bloemfontein in June 1899 Milner demands that the Transvaal grants voting rights to the uitlanders. Kruger refuses. In the next few months there are half-hearted attempts at compromise, but in October the Boer republics issue an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of British troops from their borders.

The result is war, which at first goes entirely in favour of the Boers (their forces at this stage outnumber the British troops in south Africa). Boer armies move rapidly east and west, besieging important British bases just beyond the borders of the Transvaal - Ladysmith in Natal, and Mafeking in Bechuanaland. A siege of Kimberley soon follows.
 







A British army corps, landing at the Cape in December 1899, does nothing to reverse the trend. In what becomes known as Black Week (December 10-15) British forces are decisively defeated in three separate engagements against the Boers (at Stromberg, Magersfontein and Colenso), in each case losing between 700 and 1100 men to minimal Boer casualties.

The tide begins to turn in Britain's favour after the arrival of Frederick Roberts and Herbert Kitchener to take command in January 1900. Kimberley and Ladysmith are relieved in February, followed on May 17 by Mafeking (where Robert Baden-Powell first makes his name in command of a heroic resistance).
 







Meanwhile Roberts has occupied Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange Free State - the annexation of which he announces on May 24. By the end of that month he is in Johannesburg. On June 5 he occupies Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal. Roberts proclaims its annexation. A few days later Kruger escapes from the republic into Mozambique.

In all normal senses the war is over, but the Boers are not so easily defeated. They adopt extremely successful guerrilla tactics, prompting an equally unconventional and much criticized response from the British. Kitchener, by now in sole command (Roberts returns to Britain in January 1901) adopts three ruthless but effective measures.
 







First he pioneers a new use of a railway network in warfare, building corrugated-iron blockhouses beside the railway lines as temporary forts for British troops. Here they can be rapidly reinforced as required. Meanwhile, from this relative security, they ride out to effect a scorched earth policy, destroying the crops and farms of the Boers.

This results in a great many homeless and starving women and children, whom Kitchener provides for in a manner recently pioneered by the Spanish governor in Cuba - concentration camps. By the end of the war, in 1902, about 115,000 people are living in these camps. More significantly, some 4000 women and 16,000 children have died in them of illness.
 






Vereeniging and Union: 1902-1910

The statistics of the concentration camps tarnish the British victory in the Boer War. By contrast the military deaths during the three years of fighting emphasize the martial spirit and skills of the Afrikaners (22,000 British dead, 6000 Boers).

The treaty ending the war is agreed in May 1902 at Vereeniging, an existing town of which the name happens to mean 'union' in Dutch. British annexation of the Boer republics is confirmed, but there are several important concessions (there are to be no recriminations, Dutch is to be taught to Afrikaner children in public schools). Nevertheless the overall effect of the Boer War is to make possible Rhodes's dream of a united South Africa under the British flag.
 









Among the Boers, defeat in the war prompts a new commitment to Afrikaner culture. In a familiar pattern, Language and nationalism go together. The Taalbond ('language union') is formed in 1903 to promote the use of Dutch rather than English. At the same time there is a campaign to take more seriously the writing of Afrikaans, the colloquial version of Dutch spoken by the Boers. Vigorous Afrikaans poetry and prose begin to be published.

Specifically political organizations accompany this development. Parties committed to Afrikaner self-government are formed - Het Volk ('The People') in the Transvaal in 1905, and Orangia Unie ('Orange Union') in the Orange River Colony in 1906.
 







An unspecific promise of internal self-government for the two Boer colonies has been included in the Vereeniging treaty. In the event the promise is fulfilled with reasonable speed, largely because the Conservative government in Britain (responsible for the conduct of the recent war) is replaced in 1906 by a Liberal administration more inclined to offer concessions. Transvaal is given self-governing status in 1906, followed by the Orange River Colony in 1907.

Meanwhile the entire region has been prospering. During the years immediately after the war Milner does much to integrate the economies of the British and Boer colonies, bringing them into a single customs union and amalgamating their railway systems.
 







With increasing economic cooperation, a greater degree of political union becomes attractive - even for communities so recently and bitterly at war. Moreover there is the example of the dominion status recently accorded to Australia (1901) and New Zealand (1907). The idea of a united independent South Africa, free of further interference from Britain, begins to gain favour among the leaders of both the British and Afrikaner communities.

A national convention of delegates from the four colonial parliaments meets in 1908-9 and draws up a constitution. It is passed almost unanimously in the parliaments of the Cape Colony, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and by a large majority in a referendum in Natal.
 







On one thorny issue a compromise is reached, allowing the former colonies (now to be provinces) to keep their own local traditions. The Cape colony, which has eliminated race as a consideration in the franchise, is allowed to retain this policy. In the other three colonies, where it is a point of principle that the electorate is exclusively white, a colour bar remains in place.

The British parliament passes the South Africa Act in September 1909. The Union of South Africa becomes an independent dominion within the British empire in May 1910. Pretoria becomes the administrative capital of the new nation, while the legislative capital (as the seat of parliament) is Cape Town.
 






Racial distinctions: 1910-1934

The new Union of South Africa is not alone in having several clearly defined racial groups (19th-century Latin America has even more), but it is unusual in its obsession with categorizing and segregating them.

On independence, in 1910, there are about 1.3 million white citizens of South Africa. The majority of these are Afrikaners of Dutch descent; the minority is British in origin. There is considerable antipathy between the two communities. The history of the past two centuries has given the Afrikaners good reason to resent the later colonists who have displaced and harassed them.
 









By far the largest group in the new nation is the black Africans, numbering some four million people. The two European groups disagree on the level of rights which these indigenous people should enjoy, but they are of one mind in seeing them as a supply of very cheap manual labour.

Two smaller communities consist of about half a million Coloured people (the south African term for those of mixed European and African parentage) and about 180,000 Asians. Most of the Asians live in Natal, where from the 1860s the colonial government has brought in indentured labour from India to work the colony's sugar plantations.
 







In the individual provinces different restrictions are placed on these various racial groups. In the Cape Province the Coloureds have the same status as the whites, taking their place on the electoral register if they can meet the property qualifications; elsewhere in the Union they are classed with the other non-white groups.

Similarly Asians suffer particular discrimination in Natal, where they outnumber the whites. They are subject to a special tax of 3 and to humiliating measures, such as the act of 1906 which requires all Indians in the colony to register their fingerprints. (This indignity prompts Gandhi to develop his policy of satyagraha, or non-violent resistance, which eventually causes the law to be withdrawn.)
 







At the level of national politics, the Afrikaner majority over the British (combined with the restriction of the electorate almost exclusively to whites) means that from the start the nation has governments in which the Afrikaner element predominates. However this does not at first imply an anti-British policy.

The first Union cabinet, in 1910, is headed by Louis Botha as prime minister and Jan Smuts as minister of the interior and defence. Both have served with distinction against the British in the Boer War. But the Afrikaner Party which they found in 1910 (later known as the South African Party) is dedicated to cooperation with the British government and to partnership between the two European communities of South Africa.
 







This policy soon offends the more radical Afrikaners, always fearful that their identity will be eroded by the British influence. Their concerns are reinforced in 1914 when Botha unhesitatingly brings South Africa into World War I on the allied side (and soon organizes the conquest of German South West Africa).

In this climate of unrest an Afrikaner nationalist party, the National Party, is founded in 1914 by J.B.M. Hertzog. The conciliatory South African Party remains in power until 1924 (Smuts succeeds Botha as prime minister in 1919), but it is increasingly the Nationalists who set the nation's political agenda.
 







Hertzog's party wins the election of 1924 and begins to put in place legislation to protect the privileged position of South Africa's white minority. During the next fifteen years laws are passed to prevent Africans and Asians taking up skilled trades, to limit African access to towns and to enforce various degrees of segregation upon the white and black communities.

Even so Hertzog's measures are too mild for many Afrikaners (he makes no distinction, for example, between Coloureds and whites) and in 1934 Daniel Malan forms a Purified National Party. As yet it is small, and World War II delays its coming to power. But its attitudes prefigure apartheid and the dark future of South Africa.
 






United Party and World War II: 1934-1948

Economic upheaval in the mid-1930s threatens Hertzog's government, causing him to form a coalition with Smuts. In 1934 their two parties, National and South African, are merged as the United Party. Hertzog remains prime minister with Smuts as his deputy.

Smuts acquiesces in further measures by Hertzog to strengthen his policy of racial segregation, but the outbreak of World War II causes a rift between the two men. Smuts, as in World War I, is determined to fight on Britain's side; Hertzog favours neutrality. In a close vote, on 4 September 1939, the South African parliament supports Smuts (80 votes to 67). Hertzog resigns, making way for Smuts to return as prime minister.
 









South Africans rally behind Smuts. Some 325,000 join the forces, with the Afrikaners sending more men to war than the British community. And a general election in 1943 returns Smuts to power. But the writing is on the wall. Every single seat not won by Smuts's United Party falls to the Nationalists of Daniel Malan.

Five years later Malan's party (by now the Reunited National Party, and subsequently just the National Party) wins a narrow majority in the house of assembly in alliance with a small Afrikaner Party. The era of strict apartheid, and of South Africa's increasing international isolation, is about to begin.
 






Apartheid: 1948-1990

The Afrikaans word apartheid ('apartness') is much in evidence after 1948 as a central plank of South African government policy, but it is only another word for the segregation of the races already promoted by Hertzog and accepted by Smuts. The difference in the postwar years, under successive National Party prime ministers (Malan 1948-54, Strijdom 1954-58, Verwoerd 1958-66, Vorster 1966-78), is the obsessive vigour with which systems of segregation are devised and imposed.

A population register is established to fix the racial classification of every South African citizen. Marriage between whites and nonwhites (and even inter-racial sexual intercourse) becomes a criminal offence.
 









Towns and rural areas are divided into zones in which ownership of property, commercial activity and residence is limited to people of a specific racial group. Africans travel into white areas to work, but they require passes to do so.

The universities are reserved for white students, while 'apartness' is carried to extreme lengths in the educational arrangements for everyone else: Coloureds, Asians and even the major African tribal groups (Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu) are now provided with colleges of their own. In everyday life separate facilities are introduced where previously there was no formal segregation - in buses and trains, post offices and libraries, cinemas and theatres.
 







The non-white population of South Africa is progressively excluded from the nation's political processes. The Coloured citizens of the Cape province, for example, are deprived in 1956 (after a long legal battle) of their previous electoral rights.

The advocates of apartheid claim that these limitations are balanced by a separate political system designed for the African majority. The Promotion of Self Government Act, in 1959, arranges for the creation of ten African homelands (also known as Bantustans) which will be to some extent self-governing, though their policies remain subject to veto by the national administration in Pretoria. The Transkei, dating from 1959, is the largest and earliest of the Bantustans.
 







The policy of apartheid brings widespread international opprobrium. After being censured by fellow members, South Africa withdraws from the British Commonwealth in 1961 and becomes a republic. The General Assembly of the UN condemns apartheid in 1948, the first year of National Party rule, and in 1962 calls on member states to apply economic sanctions. Most African states do so, but western governments are reluctant to take this step - particularly the USA and Britain in the 1980s under Reagan and Thatcher.

By 1986 public pressure in the USA is so strong that congress, overriding Reagan's presidential veto, imposes trade and financial restrictions and bans air travel to South Africa. Other western countries follow suit.
 







Meanwhile popular revulsion at apartheid has led to the isolation of South Africa in fields such as sport and culture. South African teams and competitors no longer feature at international events. Theatre companies and orchestras refuse to go on tour to the apartheid republic, or face censure from their fellow professionals if they do so.

But the most significant opposition to apartheid is internal. It begins with non-violent protest in the tradition of Gandhi, but possibly includes in 1966 the assassination in parliament of the prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd (stabbed by an immigrant of mixed racial descent, but of severely unbalanced mind and with no clear motive). With mounting desperation, as the white regime becomes ever more repressive, violence escalates. Spearheading the campaign are two linked organizations, the ANC and the PAC.
 






ANC and PAC: 1949-1978

The African National Congress predates the Afrikaner Nationalist Party as a political organization in South Africa. Originally founded in 1912 (as the South African Native National Congress, acquiring its present name in 1923), its first purpose is to defend and extend the voting rights of Coloured and African citizens in the Cape Province.

After the National Party's postwar election victory, with conditions getting worse rather than better, leadership of the ANC is taken in 1949 by radical younger members including Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. They organize a programme of industrial strikes, boycotts, marches and passive resistance to discriminatory laws. In 1955 they convene a mass public meeting, a Congress of the People, which proclaims a Freedom Charter.
 









The Freedom Charter of 1955 emphasizes the ANC's democratic nonracial credentials, stating that 'South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black or white, and no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people'.

The ANC leaders and their supporters (among them Coloureds, Asians and liberal whites) are increasingly harassed by the police. Yet at this stage the campaign remains one of non-violent resistance - a fact internationally recognized when Albert Luthuli, president of the ANC from 1952, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960. But this same year also sees a dramatic escalation in the conflict, following the founding of the PAC.
 







In 1959 Robert Sobukwe, believing that the African cause is weakened by the ANC's partnership with other races, forms a breakaway group under the name Pan-Africanist Congress. The PAC devises a more confrontational gesture than any yet attempted by the ANC. In March 1960 tens of thousands of Africans all round the country present themselves at police stations. They are breaking the law since they are not carrying their compulsory passes. In their vast numbers they present the police with an impossible challenge: arrest us.

At Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, the police overreact. They fire on the crowd, killing more than 60 people and wounding about 180 (most of them shot in the back as they flee).
 







This outrage proves a turning point. Thousands march and go on strike, while the government reacts with severity - declaring both the ANC and PAC prohibited organizations and arresting some 11,000 people under emergency measures.

The ANC responds in 1961 with the formation of a guerrilla force, Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation'), to carry out acts of sabotage. One of its leaders is Nelson Mandela. He is captured and is sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment. He is sent to a gaol on Robben Island, in the bay off Cape Town. Oliver Tambo escapes in 1960 to Zambia, where he presides over the executive of the ANC in exile.
 







With the ANC and PAC leaders in prison or in exile, and with the nation vigorously policed, the late 1960s are a relatively quiet time. But in the 1970s a new African generation begins to demand change. A group of students, including Steve Biko, found Black Consciousness - a movement to encourage pride in African culture and traditions.

It is in the spirit of Black Consciousness that schoolchildren stage a protest in July 1976 in Soweto (a huge black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg) against a new government rule that lessons in black schools must be in Afrikaans.
 







The demonstration gets out of hand and turns to looting. The police fire on the crowd. News of this event prompts riots throughout the nation. At the end of three days of chaos and police retaliation at least 100 black Africans are dead and more than 1000 injured. In the ensuing government crackdown many more die, including in 1977 Steve Biko - the victim of wounds to the head, sustained while in police custody.

By now internal disruption and international hostility make it evident, particularly to South Africa's business community, that apartheid in its present form cannot be long sustained. A new approach is therefore attempted by P. W. Botha, who succeeds Vorster in 1978 as prime minister.
 






Botha and de Klerk: 1978-1990

The Botha period is one of stark contrasts. Many of the defining characteristics of apartheid are brought to an end. The pass laws, restricting African movement, are abolished. The ban on interracial sexual relations is rescinded. Segregation in public places is either removed or greatly reduced. Skilled jobs are no longer reserved for whites. And for the first time black trade unions are allowed to register and to function legally.

Yet these are only attempts to preserve intact the central bastion of apartheid, white supremacy. There is still no place of any kind for the African majority in the nation's political processes. The roots of discontent are untouched, and Botha simultaneously takes forceful preventive measures.
 









Greatly increasing the nation's military strength, he sends troops over the borders to destroy ANC support and to destabilize neighbouring countries (Angola, Mozambique, Botswana), whose governments are hostile to South Africa. In South West Africa he commits large numbers of men to the struggle against SWAPO. At home, amid escalating terrorist activity, he authorizes the aggressive use of police and soldiers to intimidate the black townships.

Rigid censorship conceals much of this from the outer world, but brave witnesses continue to speak out - among them Desmond Tutu, at this time rector of an Anglican church in Soweto. In 1984 he is awarded the second Nobel Peace Prize in the fight against apartheid.
 







During the second half of the 1980s a declining economy is further damaged by strike action on the part of black workers in the gold and diamond mines, the main source of the nation's wealth. In 1989 an ill P.W. Botha is persuaded to step down. The National Party elects in his place a much younger man, F.W. de Klerk.

On 2 February 1990 de Klerk astonishes the South African parliament and the world with a speech announcing radical change. He proposes to dismantle apartheid, to free political prisoners, to lift the ban on the ANC and PAC, and in effect to introduce a new era of consultation and dialogue. Nine days after this speech Mandela is released from prison. Before the end of the year Tambo returns from exile.
 






De Klerk and Mandela: 1990-1994

Until the 1990s it has seemed impossible that majority rule could be achieved in South Africa without an intervening period of violent civil war. But a peaceful transition from Afrikaner to African rule is the extraordinary achievement of de Klerk and Mandela, who together collect the troubled nation's third Nobel Prize for Peace (in 1993).

Mandela, greeted ecstatically by black Africans on his release from gaol, is already the real figure of authority within the ANC; he becomes its official leader when he succeeds Oliver Tambo as president in 1991. The immediate problem facing both him and de Klerk is to persuade their followers to make sufficient compromises for the transition to be feasible.
 









Astonishingly they are able to do so, greatly helped by Mandela's shining generosity of spirit. In spite of nearly three decades in gaol he appears to harbour no bitterness. He is eager to talk even to those who have been most implacably opposed to all he has fought for. He seems to personify the spirit of reconciliation and the hope of a shared multiracial future.

Nevertheless both men confront grave political difficulties. De Klerk must convince the more extreme Afrikaners in the National Party. Mandela has problems with the Zulu people in Natal, led by their hereditary chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
 






Buthelezi and Inkatha: 1990-1994


Ever since the great days of their kingdom in the 19th century the Zulu have stood somewhat apart from other black African groups. Chief Buthelezi's uncle has founded in 1922 a movement called Inkatha yeNkululedo yeSizwe, specifically to promote Zulu culture. From the 1970s Buthelezi builds on this tradition and revives Inkatha.

In 1972 he collaborates with apartheid to the extent of becoming chief minister of KwaZulu, the homeland set up for the Zulu people. At the time he is a member of the ANC but he breaks with them in 1974, arguing that there is more chance of African advancement in cooperation with the government. In the Botha years the National Party fosters this rift by secretly subsidizing Inkatha.
 










In the early 1990s, with the approach of South Africa's first democratic elections, Buthelezi transforms Inkatha into a political party - the Inkatha Freedom Party. The result is a brutal power struggle, with thousands of deaths, between ANC supporters and Inkatha in the Zulu tribal lands of northern Natal.

In spite of these difficulties, the long awaited election takes place relatively peacefully in April 1994. The voting figures for the main parties are ANC 63%, National Party 20%, Inkatha 10%. An interim constitution, agreed late in 1993, provides for a proportional share of seats in the cabinet. Thus there are twenty ANC ministers, seven from the National Party and three from Inkatha.
 






Nelson Mandela: 1994-1999

On an extraordinarily emotional occasion, attended by forty-five heads of state and viewed on television round the world, Nelson Mandela is sworn in on 10 May 1994 as the first president of the new democratic South Africa. The goodwill generated by his example and leadership (he is a strong candidate to be considered the most impressive statesman of the 20th century) means that he has a reasonable chance of grappling successfully with the republic's many problems.

Among these, two are paramount - one dealing with the past, the other with the immediate future.
 









The president must somehow defuse the racial fears and bitter resentments from the apartheid years. And he must confront the unrealistic hope of South Africa's poor and unemployed for instant remedies - a hope fuelled by the ANC's election slogan 'a better life for all'.

On the first issue Mandela sets up in 1994 a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, charged with investigating political crimes committed by all parties between 1960 and December 1993. The commission, under the chairmanship of Desmond Tutu, begins to hear evidence in 1996 from victims of such crimes. It has the power to grant amnesty to the guilty if they cooperate truthfully in the investigation.
 







On the economic front the government sets ambitious targets in such areas as house-building and job creation (considerable progress is made on housing, but jobs prove harder to deliver). The Restitution of Land Rights Act, passed in 1994, aims to restore ownership to those dispossed of their land - and by 1997 some five million acres have been redistributed. But continuing poverty, without the restraining limits of a police state, soon leads to an alarming rise in the crime rate.

The interim constitution is replaced in 1996 by the first draft of a permanent one. This proposes to end, from 1999, the compulsory power sharing between the parties which has characterized the existing government of national unity.
 







The power sharing has worked surprisingly well, with de Klerk serving as one of two deputy presidents and Buthelezi as minister for home affairs. With the passing of the new constitution in 1996 de Klerk and the National Party decide to withdraw in advance from the government, promising to provide a 'dynamic but responsible' opposition. Buthelezi and Inkatha remain in the government coalition, having achieved steadily improving relations with the ANC.

The other deputy president is ANC member Thabo Mbeki. In 1999, when the 81-year-old Mandela retires from politics, Mbeki succeeds him as South Africa's president. In the elections of this year the ANC win 266 seats, the Democratic Party 38, the Inkatha Freedom Party 34 and the New National Party 28.
 






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