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Orange Free State and Transvaal: 1843-1884

During the years of the Great Trek into Natal, the Boers also maintain their presence in the high veld north of the Orange river - and beyond that too, across the Vaal. It is to these regions that the Natal trekkers gradually return, between 1843 and 1847. And here, over the next four decades (amid endless squabbles between rival groups), there develops the heartland of the Afrikaner tradition.

It is a process viewed with alarm by the British administrators responsible for the Cape colony and Natal. There are two main reasons for this concern. The first is the long-standing humanitarian one. The Boers, needing farm labour, are inclined to employ Africans in conditions of servitude offensive to British opinion.

The other reason for Britain's wish to keep the Boers under control is linked to the trade route north from the Cape. From the early years of the century British missionaries and traders have moved into the interior of the continent on a trail up through Kuruman (the missionary station to which Livingstone is first posted in 1841). To the west of this route is the Kalahari desert. The Boers, pressing westwards in search of new lands, cannot be allowed to throttle this strategic highway.

On two occasions the British annexe one part or other of these Boer heartlands. Each time they soon withdraw, leaving the region once again under Boer control.

The first intervention is in 1848. Sir Harry Smith, newly appointed high commissioner for South Africa, annexes the land between the Orange and Vaal rivers, calling his new province the Orange River Sovereignty. The result is a Boer uprising led by Andries Pretorius (recently returned from Natal).

At first the Boers successfully drive the British back across the Orange river. But Smith marches north with a reinforced British army and defeats Pretorius, in August 1848, at Boomplaats. Pretorius retreats to safety on the far side of the Vaal.

The British government soon tires of trying to administer the distant and landlocked Orange River Sovereignty, occupied by fractious Boers and threatened on its borders by powerful African chieftains. In 1854 the administration is withdrawn. Recognition is given to an independent Boer republic, to be known as the Orange Free State.

The Boers of the Orange Free State establish their own constitution, combining elements from Boer tradition and from US and Dutch political models. Dutch is to be the official language. The Dutch Reformed Church is the state religion. For the Europeans (but not for their African servants) the tone of the constitution is liberal, with adult male suffrage and guaranteed freedom of the press.

Three years later the Transvaal follows the same route. In 1857 the Boers of the southern Transvaal declare independence as the South African Republic. Their leader is Marthinus Pretorius, son of Andries who has died in 1853. In 1860 the younger Pretorius is elected president, a post he holds until 1871. Pretoria, named in 1855 in memory of his father, is selected as the republic's capital.

Of the two republics the Orange Free State achieves the greater stability and prosperity. Financial mismanagement brings the South African Republic to virtual bankruptcy in the mid-1870s. As a result there is at first little Boer opposition to Britain's annexation of the Transvaal in 1877.

But opposition soon develops, largely owing to the emergence of the most dynamic leader in the Transvaal's history, Paul Kruger. Kruger negotiates patiently with the British government for a restoration of autonomy, but he makes little progress. Then, in December 1880, an armed revolt accompanies a new proclamation of independence.

The Boers inflict a series of defeats on British troops arriving to deal with the crisis, culminating in a victory at Majuba in February 1881. These events confirm the instinct of the British prime minister, Gladstone, for colonial retrenchment. After lengthy negotiations a convention in London, in 1884, confirms the renewed independence of the South African Republic.

Native lands: 1843-1906

Around the territories being colonized by the Boers are various regions known to Europeans in the 19th century by the names of the principal tribes inhabiting them: Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Zululand. Each of these becomes, in various ways, of strategic importance to the British administration in South Africa.

The first to be made a British protectorate is the mountainous territory of the Sotho tribe (also known at the time as the Basuto). The Sotho, living in and around the Drakensberg range of mountains, are dispersed and weakened in the early 19th century by conflict with other tribes fleeing west through the Drakensberg to escape the depredations of the Zulu impi.

However the Sotho benefit greatly from an inspired leader, Moshoeshoe, who unites them from the 1820s into a nation. He swells the strength of his tribe by incorporating within it many of the displaced refugees. And he proves adept at dealing with his European neighbours, the Boers and the British.

Moshoeshoe decides that an alliance with the British is in the best Sotho interest. He first achieves this in 1843, when he is afforded British protection. But this is withdrawn in 1854 on the demise of the Orange River Sovereignty, leaving him with a succession of border conflicts with his newly independent Boer neighbours in the Orange Free State.

Moshoeshoe lives long enough to see his pro-British policy come to final fruition. In 1868 Britain annexes his territory, Basutoland. In 1869 its boundaries are fixed by agreement with the Orange Free State. Moshoeshoe dies in 1870, having secured the hereditary kingdom which eventually becomes independent in 1966 as Lesotho.

Bechuanaland, to the west of the Transvaal, has no such clear identity. Ruled by many rival chieftains, it is much encroached upon by Boers - to the increasing alarm of the British. In 1882 two small Boer republics (Stellaland and Goshen) are established here, putting pressure from the east on the vital trade route north to the Zambezi. Soon German colonial activity also threatens to encroach from the west.

The Cape entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes, determined to keep open a route flanking the Transvaal, puts increasing pressure on the British government until, in 1885, Bechuanaland south of the Molopo river is made a crown colony (it is merged with the Cape colony in 1895). Bechuanaland north of the river is at the same time declared a protectorate. It remains under British control until it achieves independence in 1966 as the republic of Botswana.

Swaziland, lying east of the Transvaal, follows a more tortuous route to eventual independence. The Swazi move north into this region in the early 19th century, under pressure from the Zulu. They establish here a stable and well protected monarchy.

Bordering Natal to the south and the Transvaal to the west, Swaziland is an area of concern to both British and Boers. Unusually, the two European groups succeed in cooperating. In 1890 a tripartite British, Boer and Swazi government is set up. After the defeat of the Transvaal in the Boer War, the British take sole control. In 1906 the region is entrusted to a newly appointed high commissioner for Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland. Swaziland follows the other two into independence, in 1968.

Zululand, the most powerful of this quartet of native lands, is the only one to engage Britain directly in war. As a result the independent Zulu kingdom ends as suddenly under Cetshwayo as it has begun under his uncle Shaka.

Zululand: 1843-1878

During the middle decades of the 19th century there are peaceful relations between the Zulu kingdom and the neighbouring British colony of Natal. When the British annexe Natal, in 1843, they make a treaty with the Zulu king Mpande. He cedes to them the territory south of the Tugela river, a region of which they and the remaining Boer trekkers are already in possession.

Good relations survive a war in 1856 between two sons of Mpande, fighting for the succession. The winner is Cetshwayo, who captures and kills his brother Mbulazi. Thereupon the British secretary for native affairs in Natal travels into Zululand to confer Britain's approval on Cetshwayo as the heir to the throne.

The same secretary, Theophilus Shepstone, is back in Zululand in 1873 to assist in the proclamation of Cetshwayo as king of Zululand after the death of his father in the previous year.

The Zulu frontier with Natal is a clear one, along the Tugela river, but Cetshwayo is involved in frequent border disputes with the Boers of the Transvaal to the northwest. Shepstone consistently supports the Zulu claim in these disputes - until, in 1877, he changes his tune. In that year he is the colonial officer who formally annexes the Transvaal for Britain. Cetshwayo's border disputes are now with Shepstone, who suddenly views them differently.

A British boundary commission is set up to investigate the rival claims. Its report - completed in July 1878 but not officially published until December - comes down conclusively on the Zulu side.

The delay in publishing the report is part of a cynical policy by Bartle Frere, the high commissioner in Cape Town. He has decided that the security of both the Transvaal and Natal requires the annexation of Zululand. The boundary report is sent to Cetshwayo, but British acceptance of the Zulu claim is made to depend on conditions which will certainly not be met - including heavy reparations for past border incidents and the acceptance of a British resident to keep an eye on Zulu affairs.

The Zulu War and aftermath: 1879-1897

A date a mere month ahead is given as the deadline by which Frere's terms must be accepted by Cetshwayo. When there is no answer, a British army is already in place in Natal to march north into Zululand.

At first the invading force meets no resistance. But on 22 January 1879, when camped with inadequate precautions near Isandhlwana, the bulk of the British army is surprised by a large Zulu force. After a chaotic and intense battle, much of it hand-to-hand, almost everyone in the camp is killed. The dead on the British side number as many as 1250, but there are even more Zulu casualties. With the advantage of rifles and field artillery, the men about to be overwhelmed kill some 2000 Zulus and wound far more.

Two Zulu impi immediately move from Isandhlwana towards Rorke's Drift, a small British encampment around a hospital a few miles to the west. They reach it in the late afternoon. The British garrison (104 active soldiers and 35 invalids in the hospital) have spent the day feverishly linking the only two buildings with a defensive barricade of biscuit boxes and mealie bags.

Here, till dusk and on through the night, they withstand a succession of Zulu attacks. Several times the defences are breached, but by dawn the Zulu have retreated. They leave about 400 of their number dead. On the British side the casualties are fifteen dead and twelve wounded. Eleven of the survivors are awarded the Victoria Cross.

In the selective process of national memory, Rorke's Drift is famous in British popular history whereas the name Isandhlwana, scene of a costly shambles, is familiar only to experts. But even the Zulu triumph at Isandhlwana can do nothing to interrupt the inexorable process by which British rifles and artillery crush the brave resistance of Zulu impi armed only with spears and ancient muskets.

The end comes in July 1879. A powerful British army advances on Cetshwayo's palace and encampment at Ulundi. More than 1000 Zulu and just ten British soldiers die in this final encounter. Cetshwayo escapes but is captured a few weeks later. He is sent into exile at Cape Town.

For the next eight years Zululand is inadequately governed by a British resident presiding over a network of ill-chosen local rulers. The result is endemic civil war, until Britain finally annexes Zululand in 1887. The area is then administered as a separate colony until, in 1897, it is merged with Natal.

The Zulu, the most assertive of the south African tribes until deprived of their independence by the British, profoundly resent their subjection to the Natal government. Against the odds they contrive to maintain their tribal identity, enabling them to play a distinct role in the late-20th century politics of a South Africa now under majority rule.

Cecil Rhodes: 1871-1891

In the last quarter of the 19th century the driving force behind British colonial expansion in Africa is Cecil Rhodes. He arrives in Kimberley at the age of eighteen in 1871, the very year in which rich diamond-bearing lodes are discovered there. He makes his first successful career as an entrepreneur, buying out the claims of other prospectors in the region.

In the late 1880s he applies these same techniques to the gold fields discovered in the Transvaal. By the end of the decade his two companies, De Beers Consolidated Mines and Gold Fields of South Africa, dominate the already immensely valuable South African export of diamonds and gold.

Rhodes is now rich beyond the reach of everyday imagination, but he wants this wealth for a very specific purpose. It is needed to fulfil his dream of establishing British colonies north of the Transvaal, as the first step towards his ultimate grand vision - a continuous strip of British empire from the Cape to the mouth of the Nile.

The terms of incorporation of both Rhodes's mining companies include clauses allowing them to invest in northern expansion, and in 1889 he forms the British South Africa Company to fulfil this precise purpose. Established with a royal charter, its brief is to extend British rule into central Africa without involving the British government in new responsibility or expense.

The first step north towards the Zambezi has considerable urgency in the late 1880s. It is known that the Boers of the Transvaal are interested in extending their territory in this direction. In the developing scramble for Africa the Portuguese could easily press west from Mozambique. So could the Germans, who by an agreement of 1886 have been allowed Tanganyika as a sphere of interest.

Rhodes has been preparing his campaign some years before the founding of the British South Africa Company in 1889. In 1885 he persuades the British government to secure Bechuanaland, which will be his springboard for the push north. And in 1888 he wins a valuable concession from Lobengula, whose kingdom is immediately north of the Transvaal.

Lobengula is the son of Mzilikazi, the leader of the Ndebele who established a new kingdom (in present-day Zimbabwe) after being driven north by the Boers in 1837. Fifty years later, in 1888, Lobengula grants Rhodes the mining rights in part of his territory (there are reports of gold) in return for 1000 rifles, an armed steamship for use on the Zambezi and a monthly rent of 100.

With these arrangements satisfactorily achieved, Rhodes sends the first party of colonists north from Bechuanaland in 1890. In September they settle on the site which today is Harare and begin prospecting for gold. In support of Rhodes's scheme, the government declares the area a British protectorate in 1891.

The growth of the Rhodesias: 1890-1900

The population of settlers rapidly increases in the territory adminstered by Rhodes's British South Africa Company. There are as many as 1500 Europeans in the region by 1892. More soon follow, thanks partly to developments in transport.

The railway from the Cape has reached Kimberley in 1885, at a fortuitous time just before the start of Rhodes's ambitious venture (one of the stated aims of his company is to extend the line north to the Zambezi). Trains reach Bulawayo as early as 1896. Victoria Falls is the northern terminus by 1904. Meanwhile the territory has been given a name in honour of its colonial founder. From 1895 the region up to the Zambezi is known as Rhodesia.

During the early 1890s the company has considerable difficulty in maintaining its presence in these new territories. Lobengula himself tries to maintain peace with the British, but many of his tribe are eager to expel the intruders. The issue comes to a head when Leander Jameson, administering the region for Rhodes, finds a pretext in 1893 for war against Lobengula.

With five Maxim machine guns, Jameson easily fights his way into Lobengula's kraal at Bulawayo. Lobengula flees, bringing to an end the Ndebele kingdom established by his father. There is a strong tribal uprising against the British in 1896-7, but thereafter Rhodes's company brings the entire region up to the Zambezi under full control.

But Rhodes has ambitions far beyond the Zambezi. In 1890 he arrives in Barotseland (the western region of modern Zambia) to secure a treaty with Lewanika, the paramount chief of the region. With this achieved, Rhodes comes to a new agreement in 1891 with the British government. His company will administer the area from the Zambezi up to Lake Tanganyika (the present-day Zambia).

From 1900 the territory is divided into two protectorates, Northwestern and Northeastern Rhodesia, each of them separately administered by Rhodes's company. In 1911 they are merged as Northern Rhodesia, with the colony's first capital at Livingstone (appropriately named, since it is near Victoria Falls).

Rhodes hopes also to bring under his company's control the territory to the east, up to Lake Nyasa. But this region (the kernel of today's Malawi) is placed in 1891 under direct British administration - to become the British Central African Protectorate.

There is much conflict during the 1890s between the company's servants and the local chieftains, but the shape of the British colonial presence in central Africa is now clear. Rhodes's dream of a continuous strip of British territory has been achieved as far as the great lakes. The Boers in the Transvaal are admittedly an irritant, half blocking an otherwise satisfactory prospect to the north. But Rhodes and Jameson have plans for them too.

Rhodes and Jameson: 1890-1895

Rhodes is a politician as well as a capitalist entrepreneur. A member of the Cape parliament from 1881, he becomes prime minister in 1890. His overriding aim in South African politics is to bring the Boer republics (the Transvaal and the Orange Free State) into a South African Federation - in which the British at the Cape will be the dominant partner.

His motives are varied. There is the obvious one of extending British control. There is irritation at the damage to trade which results from high tarriffs imposed by the Boers. And there is personal hostility to the leading Boer politician, Paul Kruger, a man as stubborn as Rhodes is impulsive.

Rhodes's views are passionately shared by an exact contemporary, Leander Starr Jameson. The two men meet in 1878 when Jameson is working as a doctor in Kimberley. Thereafter their careers are closely linked.

Jameson is among the first colonists heading north into Rhodesia in 1890. In 1891 he is appointed administrator of the region. In 1893 it is he who launches the unscrupulous but successful war against Lobengula. And in 1895 he plays the leading role in a plot, hatched in conjunction with Rhodes, to unseat Kruger and take over the Transvaal by force.

From October 1894 Rhodes and Jameson discuss with uitlanders in Johannesburg the possibility of an uprising. The uitlanders (Afrikaans for 'foreigners') are British settlers who have flocked into the Transvaal after the discovery in 1886 of rich gold fields on the Witwatersrand, also known simply as the Rand. They have a sense of grievance, partly because Kruger has denied them the vote (understandably, since they are soon likely to outnumber the Boers in the republic).

A secret scheme is hatched for an uprising by the uitlanders in December 1895. It is timed to coincide with a British invasion from Mafeking, just over the Transvaal border in Bechuanaland.

The British force of some 600 men (most of them armed police from Rhodesia) is to be led by Jameson. At the last minute it becomes known that the uprising of uitlanders has failed to materialize, but Jameson, in foolhardy mood, decides to go ahead. Four days later his party is confronted by the Boers fourteen miles short of Johannesburg.

At the end of this fiasco of an invasion, which becomes notorious as the Jameson Raid, sixteen of the British force are dead and Jameson himself is under arrest . When the news breaks of the personal involvement of the prime minister of the neighbouring Cape colony, Rhodes has no choice but to resign. His political career never recovers.

Jameson, released by the Boers, is tried in England (for offences under the Foreign Enlistment Act) and spends several months in London's Holloway gaol. But he returns to South Africa and even establishes a political career. For four years (1904-8) he serves in Rhodes's footsteps as prime minister of the Cape Colony.

By then the independence of the Transvaal has been brought to an end in a military campaign longer, more brutal and more effective than Jameson's unfortunate raid. That campaign is the Boer War of 1899-1902, in the build-up to which the Jameson Raid has been one of the more significant moments.

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