Ever wondered how the British came to rule South Africa? It all started with the epic Second Boer War of 1899. For three long years, British troops brutally clashed with the Republic of Transvaal (currently known as South Africa) and the Orange Free State (now part of South Africa). Learn more about the legend of the Second Boer War.

Golden dreams

Alternatively dubbed the “South African War,” the Second Boer War raged from Oct. 11, 1899, to May 31, 1902. The battle was waged between the British against two Boer countries. With “boer” translating to “farmer,” the historical struggle involved Afrikaans-speaking Caucasian South Africans fighting against their colonizer. The Brits spent a whopping £200 million in their war against the Boers and had almost half a million troops on their side. Although the Boers had less than 90,000 fighters, they definitely had a hometown advantage.

While some historians believe that the war was caused by the Brit’s quest for sovereign rule, others believe that it had more materialistic origins. At the time of the conflict, the South African Republic (SAR) controlled Witwatersrand, the biggest gold mine in the world. Since the English were anxious to fill their coffers with gold, they would’ve benefitted from controlling the SAR’s gold rush. When the Witwatersrand struck gold in 1886, the SAR became Britain’s prime competitor for control of South Africa.

By 1897, British high commissioner Alfred Milner was already trying to insert the British agenda into the Boer countries’ politics. However, the Orange Free State stepped in, hosting the failed Bloemfontein Conference in an effort to keep the peace. At the conference’s end, the SAR’s president Paul Kruger attempted to appeal to the desires of the British officials. Yet, their compromises weren’t enough, and the British Empire sent in more armed soldiers to protect their stronghold in South Africa. Near the end of 1897, the Britsh troops heavily increased their presence in the SAR. Seeing no other option, the Boers decided to strike back. They gave the British the choice to withdraw their armies by October 9, 1899. On October 11, 1899, the Brits had ignored their request, and the Boers were forced to declare war.

Fight the power

The first phase of the war was dominated by the Boers. Although the Brits had way more manpower, they weren’t ready for battle. The Boer troops struck the English at the Natal Colony and at the Cape Colony. In fact, the Cape Colony rebels even teamed up with the Boers to fight against the British. From December 10, 1899, to December 15, 1899, the Boers’ string of victories was referred to as “Black Week.” At the beginning of 1900, the Boer insurgents won their fight against the British in several key battles and placed the cities of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley under siege.

Once the Brits recovered from the unexpected war declaration, they were quick to make a comeback. When more British soldiers were sent to South Africa, it ensured a British victory. During the second phase of the war, British Lords Kitchener and Roberts freed their sieged cities and destroyed the Boers on the battlefield. By February 1900, the English had besieged Bloemfontein, the state capital of the Orange Free State. At this point, the British troops attempted to apprehend SAR president Kruger, but he was able to escape to Europe. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to gain any substantial support for his war against England.

At the close of 1900, the Second Boer War became more bloody than ever. For over a year, the Boer troops fought vigilantly under the leadership of generals Christiaan Rudolf de Wet and Jacobus Hercules de la Rey. Keeping the British soldiers at a distance, the Boers employed the standard guerilla tactics of military warfare. They continuously assaulted English strongholds, maintaining their ownership of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. When debilitating the SAR’s railroads didn’t work, Lord Kitchener began his “scorched-earth” procedure. The British troops set the farmhouses of the Boers and Africans on fire and captured the residents into rudimentary concentration camps. Sadly, many lost their lives during their captivity, especially Boer mothers and children. British assaults continued and the Boers ended up conceding the fight, with many of them joining British forces.

War and peace

After denying England peace offering in March 1901, the Boers continued fighting until the last possible moment. Realizing that they had lost their independence, the Boers accepted defeat with the 1902 Peace of Vereeniging treaty. In the end, Boer leaders Louis Botha and General Smuts were able to make peace negotiations with the Brits in exchange for English sovereignty. In light of their loss, the Boers managed to establish their own local self-government and to maintain their ownership of the gold mine. Regrettably, this pact united the Brits and the Boers in an unholy union against their darker-skinned neighbors.

By the end of the Second Boer War, almost 100,000 people lost their lives. This astronomical number also included the loss of 20,000 English soldiers and 14,000 Boer forces. Not to mention the untimely deaths of over 26,000 Boer mothers and children who had passed away in inhumane concentration camps. It’s also estimated that between 13,000 and 20,000 Africans died in the process as well. Alas, the British and Boers’ joint campaign to deny the rights of black citizens continued for the greater part of the century.