The year was 1899. Queen Victoria had recently celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. The British Empire was at its zenith in power and prestige. But the High Commissioner of Cape Colony in South Africa, Alfred Milner, wanted more. He wanted to gain for the Empire the economic power of the gold mines in the Dutch Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He also wanted to create a Cape-to-Cairo confederation of British colonies to dominate the African continent. And he wanted to rule over it.

The Boers, under the leadership of Paul Kruger, resented the colonial policy of Joseph Chamberlaim and Alfred Milner which they feared would deprive the Transvaal of its independence. After receiving military equipment from Germany, the Boers had a series of successes on the borders of Cape Colony and Natal between October 1899 and January 1900. Although the Boers only had 88,000 soldiers, led by the outstanding soldiers such as Louis Botha, and Jan Smuts, the Boers were able to successfully besiege the British garrisons at Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley.

In October of 1899 the Boers, starting the war with the maxim ‘the key to a good defense is a good offense’, invade Natal and Cape Province and quickly invest three towns: Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley. This forces the British to abandon their original offensive plans in order to lift the sieges. The subsequent set-piece battles to free these cities only highlight the problems of the British Army. It is after achieving overwhelming superiority in the field that the British manage to lift the sieges and capture the capital cities of the two Boer republics in May/June, 1900.

The British action in South Africa was strongly opposed by many leading Liberal politicians and most of the Independent Labour Party as an example of the worst excesses of imperialism. The Boer War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902. The peace settlement brought to an end the Transvaal and the Orange Free State as Boer republics. However, the British granted the Boers £3 million for restocking and repairing farm lands and promised eventual self-government (granted in 1907).





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