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The Boer Wars (Afrikaans: Vryheidsoorloë, literally "freedom wars") were two wars fought during 1880–1881 and 1899–1902 by the British Empire against the Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic.
First Anglo-Boer War
The First Anglo-Boer War (1880–1881), was a rebellion of Boers (farmers) against British rule in the Transvaal that re-established their independence. The conflict occurred against the backdrop of the Pretoria government becoming increasingly ineffective at dealing with growing claims on South African land from rival interests within the country.
- The war was between the Transvaal Boers and the British.
- When the British annexed Transvaal in 1877 the Boers were angered.
- In 1877, the Pedi attacked the Boers of Transvaal, and Boers claimed the British had not adequately assisted them.
- The Transvaal population included many who were in debt to Cape bankers, perhaps adding to negative British perception of the Boers.
- The British wished to bring Transvaal by force into a union, which furthered chances of war.
- The British defeat by Zulus in 1879 at the Battle of Isandlwana had encouraged Boers to armed resistance.
Second Anglo-Boer War
The Second War (1899–1902), by contrast, was a lengthy war—involving large numbers of troops from many British possessions, which ended with the conversion of the Boer republics into British colonies (with a promise of limited self-governance). These colonies later formed part of the Union of South Africa. The British fought directly against the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, defeating their forces first in open warfare and then in a long and bitter guerrilla campaign. British losses were high due to both disease and combat. The policies of "scorched earth" and civilian internment in concentration camps (adopted by the British to prevent support for the farmers/Boer commando campaign) ravaged the civilian populations in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and news of which led to a significant erosion of support for the war in Britain.
Controversy and significance
During the later stages of the Second Boer War, the British pursued the policy of rounding up and isolating the Boer civilian population in concentration camps, one of the earliest uses of this method by modern powers. The wives and children of Boer guerrillas were sent to these camps, which had poor hygiene and little food. Many of the children in these camps died, as did some of the adults.
A British journalist, WT Stead, wrote:
Every one of these children who died as a result of the halving of their rations, thereby exerting pressure onto their family still on the battle-field, was purposefully murdered. The system of half rations stands exposed, stark and unashamedly as a cold-blooded deed of state policy employed with the purpose of ensuring the surrender of men whom we were not able to defeat on the field.
The German Empire saw this as a clear sign of British weakness as it was struggling to maintain a portion of its empire in Africa, and sent the Kruger Telegram, congratulating the leader of the Boers on his rebellion.
This led to a change in approach to foreign policy from Britain, which now set about looking for more allies. To this end, the 1902 treaty with the Empire of Japan in particular was a sign that the British Empire feared attack on its Far Eastern empire and saw this alliance as an opportunity to strengthen its stance in the Far East. This war led to a change from splendid isolation policy to a policy that involved looking for allies and improving world relations. Later treaties with France ("Entente cordiale") and the Russian Empire, caused partially by the controversy surrounding the Boer War, were major factors in dictating how the battle lines were drawn during World War I.
The Boer War also had other significance. The Army Medical Corps discovered that 40–60% of men presenting for service were physically unfit to fight. This was the first time in which the government was forced to take notice of how unhealthy the British population was. This strengthened the call for the liberal reforms of the first decade of the twentieth century.
The U.S. Army uses several case studies from the Boer War to teach ethics in combat.
Lizzie van Zyl who died in the Bloemfontein concentration camp.
- Breaker Morant, a film set during the Second Boer War
- A Century of Postgraduate Anglo Boer War Studies, p. 32, at Google Books
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- Sources for the Study of Sheffield (UK) and the Boer Wars Produced by Sheffield City Council's Libraries and Archives.