The Anglo Boer War: A Chronology

The Anglo-Boer War fought between the Afrikaans and English Colonialists in South Africa in 1899, marked the first appearance of concentration camps in battle.

The Anglo-Boer War, a three-year-long skirmish between English colonialists in South Africa and the Dutch descendants, the Afrikaaners, took place at the turn of the Century and is notable for a number of features, such as the first appearance in the Twentieth Century of the Concentration Camp system.

Following the settlements in the Cape by the Dutch-East India Company after 1652 and subsequent landings by the British, the Afrikaaners moved North (in an arduous journey known as ‘The Great Trek’ and immortalized in the Voortrekker Monument that stands to this day in Pretoria).

The British followed the Afrikaaners into the heart of the country, and when gold was discovered in northern regions (nowadays Gauteng), the British sought to reassert their dominance over the Afrikaaners. The Afrikaans resented the English presence and launched a series of small-scale offensives designed to illustrate their rejection of British rule.

When this was met with scant regard by the English, the Boers mobiled the combined forces of the Republic of the Orange Free State and the self-styled South African Republic to defend what they believed to be their territorial advantage over the British.

War was officially declared on the 11th of October 1899.

The Boers initially established an early advantage over the British, but as London began to view the situation as more than a minor colonial dispute, more forces were mobilized, spelling an end to the Boer victories.

The Boers had launched their initial offensive into four regions taking the Orange Free State capital of Bloemfontein as the main point. The Boers moved east into Natal, north-west into Mafikeng, south-west towards Kimberley and south into the Eastern Cape region, all British territories.

Grave tactical errors by the Boers that allowed the mass of British troops to successfully land in the country caused them to surrender their advantage.

Towards the middle of 1900, the British began to gain the upper hand, accentuated by the loss of Bloemfontein to the English on the 13th of March. At the beginning of June, the English invaded the capital of the so-called South African Republic, Pretoria.

The English, believing that the back of the Boer offensive had been broken, relaxed, which allowed the Boers to regroup for a more guerilla-style underground war towards the end of 1900.

The British responded by launching a series of violent initiatives, such as the ‘Scorched Earth’ policy of burning down Afrikaaner settlements and initiating the Concentration Camp system that would be later used with such venom by the Nazis in Germany.

Faced with such tactics, the Boers were forced to concede defeat and begin negotiations.

In April 1902, the Boer Governments met with the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, Lord Kitchener at Melrose House in Pretoria to negotiate a peace settlement.

London rejected outright the initial peace conditions laid down by the Boers, and negotiations followed between the Boer provinces at Vereeniging, leading to the eventual compromise.

The eventual peace treaty was accepted by the Boers on a 54-to-6 basis, and a delegation of ten Boer leaders signed the eventual treaty on the 31st of May, 1902.

The treaty inevitably favored the British, removing all independence that the Boer provinces had hitherto enjoyed.

The two Boer provinces hence became the property of the English and formed a substantial component of the Union of South Africa, established by the British in 1910. 

The Legacy of the War

The Anglo-Boer War concluded with the Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902, with the Boer Republics annexed by the British Empire. However, the war’s legacy was far-reaching. It laid the groundwork for the Union of South Africa in 1910, a significant step toward the country’s eventual independence. The war also left deep scars in South African society, exacerbating racial divisions and sowing the seeds for the apartheid system that would dominate South African politics for much of the 20th Century.

On a global scale, the war prompted a reevaluation of military tactics and the treatment of civilians during conflicts, contributing to the development of international humanitarian laws. The use of concentration camps by the British drew widespread condemnation, highlighting the dark side of colonial ambitions and the need for ethical conduct in warfare.

The Anglo-Boer War was more than a conflict between the British Empire and Boer settlers; it was a defining moment in South Africa’s history and a significant event in the annals of the British Empire. Its outcomes influenced the course of South African history, from establishing the Union of South Africa to implementing apartheid. The war’s legacy in military strategy and international law continues to be studied and debated by historians and military scholars.

Understanding the Anglo-Boer War requires us to look beyond the battles and tactics, seeing it as a human drama that affected countless lives and shaped the destiny of a nation. It reminds us of the complexities of colonialism, the struggles for national identity, and the costs of war. As we reflect on this chapter of history, we gain insights into the enduring impact of the past on the present, offering valuable lessons for the future as we strive to build a more just and peaceful world.

Scroll to Top