The Boer War, from 1899 to 1902, was a conflict between Great Britain and the Boers, or Dutch settlers, in South Africa. The Boers were mostly farmers who had settled as early as the 18th century in South Africa. The British wanted to unify their Cape Colony and Natal colonies and the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic.
The discovery of gold in Transvaal in 1886 led more English settlers to South Africa. These new settlers, called Uitlanders by the Boers, raised Boer concerns over the possible loss of valuable farmland to the English, who were predominantly interested in the mineral resources of South Africa.
After British leaders attempted to incite an uprising among the English in Transvaal in the Jameson Raid of 1896, the rift between the British and the Boers widened. As a result, the Boer leader Paul Kruger won the 1898 election as president of the South African Republic.
To undercut possible British moves, the Boers demanded that the British withdraw all their troops; when the ultimatum was rejected, the Boers attacked the Cape Colony and Natal, laying siege to the cities of Kimberley, Mafeking, and Ladysmith. The defense of Mafeking was led by Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. The future prime minister of Britain Winston Churchill also participated in the war, as did the Indian nationalist leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, who served in the British medical corps.
After initial defeats, the British rallied their troops and in 1900 appointed Horatio Herbert Kitchener, who had just successfully taken the Sudan, as the commander in chief. With superior firepower the British army successfully lifted the sieges, but the Boers then resorted to hit-and-run guerrilla warfare tactics, some of which they had learned from the Zulus in earlier confrontations.
|Boer leader Paul Kruger|
To defeat the Boers, Kitchener adopted techniques that were used against guerrilla fighters throughout the world in the 20th century. These included slash-and-burn attacks against civilian farms and cutting off supplies of food and arms to Boer fighters by placing the civilian population in concentration camps.
Thousands of Boer women and children were rounded up and placed in armed camps, where many starved to death. Their farms were then burned to the ground, thereby depriving the Boer fighters of cover and food supplies. Many indigenous Africans were also placed in camps.
Some were sent to camps in Bermuda, India, and St. Helena. Almost 30,000 Boers, mostly women and children, and 14,000 Africans died in the camps. The destruction of much of the countryside also led to food shortages. In the spring of 1902 the Boers were forced to accept defeat. Under the Treaty of Vereeniging all of South Africa became part of the British Empire.