The Boer War

by Mike Halsey
Class of 1997

The Boer War of 1899 was a dirty little conflict which involved all the Boer Republics and the British empire. It started a result of cultural resentment between the Boers (Dutch settlers) and immigrating British. It began as an uprising of British immigrants against the Boer government. The British Empire, seeing their subjects misteated, decided to get involved. At first the war was fought with the honor typically associated with the British, but, in the end, it turned nasty.

Problems began with the discovery of gold in the Transvaal. Thousands of British miners flooded into the Boer culture, almost overnight. This disruption caused the Boers to resent the new immigrants. They decided to make the British second-class citizens; paying high taxes and not getting the right to vote. The British miners understandably unhappy with this situation. They decided to follow the example set by the French and Americans, they revolted. If it had stopped there, the Boer War would have been nothing but an obscure trivia question, but it didn't; the British empire chose to get involved. British troops began building up on the Transvaal borders. A threat was made, a threat was ignored, and a war began.

At first, the war went well for the Boers. These Dutch farmers handily beat the famous British army in several encounters, yet their success would not last. The better trained British army captured the capital of the Orange Free State, Johannesburg and Pretoria. The British had claimed yet another victory for the crown. The Boers though, refused to admit defeat.

Upon their devastating defeats at the hands of the British, the Boers realized that a new strategy had be developed if they were to have a prayer of defeating the British. The Dutch farmers couldn't win in a stand up fight against the better trained British soldiers. Taking a queue from the American Revolutionaries, the Boers began successfully using guerrilla tactics against the British. The British soon realized that harsh means would have to be used in order to crush the motivated Boers.

In a despicable move, the normally morally stalwart British began imprisoning Boer women and children in concentration camps. Over 26,000 of these innocent civilians died in the British concentration camps. The Boers were broken.

A treaty was signed at Vereeniging. The defeated Boers had no choice but to submit to the British demands. The Treaty of Vereeniging made the Transvaal and the Orange Free State into British colonies. The Boers have never forgotten the British cruelty, and until recently the Boers had almost totally isolated themselves from other cultures. The British victory was a bitter pill for the Boers to swallow.