In 1652 the Dutch East India Company began anchoring its ships in a bay near the southern tip of Africa, halfway on their voyages to India, their anchorage to be called Cape Town. There, brown-skinned Khoikhoi pastoralists sold the Dutch their old and sick animals in exchange for iron, copper, tobacco and beads.
The Dutch trading company developed a colony at Cape Town, where employees could retire and cultivate crops on a small piece of land, using imported slave labor. The neighboring Kakoi were decimated by smallpox, and they had begun to sell themselves to the colony as laborers or as servants. The Bushmen nearby were resisting Dutch intrusions, killing Dutch settlers and driving their cattle from their hunting grounds and watering holes.
Cape Town Colony continued to expand. Settlers left the Cape Town colony on their creaking ox-drawn wagons and moved into nearby fertile valleys. They were called Boers (Dutch for farmer) or Afrikaners. They were a mix of Dutch, Germans, and French Huguenots.
By the late 1760s, Boers were confronting Bantu-speaking blacks, who were also recent migrants to the area. And like the Boers they were eager to acquire land. There were Boer men who married Bantu women, some in the Bantu custom of polygamy.
Boers and Bantu traded and lived side by side in peace, but by the 1770s a series of "frontier wars" – also called the Kaffir wars – broke out between them. The Boers were also fighting Bushmen, who were raiding Boer cattle and attacking Boer families. The Boers were driving the Bushmen toward the Kalahari desert and making servants of children orphaned during their raids.
During Britain's war against Napoleon (and Napoleon's rule of the Dutch) the British took control of the Cape Town Colony and used it for provisioning their ships. The colony now had around 26,000 whites, 20,000 people of mixed-race and about 30,000 slaves. Having outlawed the slave trade in 1803, the British were uncomfortable with the slavery that came with the colony. They passed a law that protected the slaves from abuse, and they encouraged the Boers to give up their slaves. The Boers were displeased and began what was to be known as the Great Trek: a semi-nomadic lifestyle in covered wagons away from British administrators. And they took with them their slaves, their rifles and their one book – the Bible. They believed that whatever land they wanted – taken by violence if necessary — was theirs.
Wars with tribespeople — Zulus and others — followed. Several autonomous Boer republics were created. From the Boers the British took over the port town of Natal (in the southeast of what today if South Africa), and they made Natal a dependency of the Cape Colony. A British company started cotton growing near Natal – the Natal Cotton Company, which was soon to fail.
Meanwhile, diamond deposits had been discovered in the land of the Griqua people, south of the Natal area. In 1870, opportunists rushed in to dig for diamonds: blacks from Africa, Africans, whites from Europe, Australia and the Americas. Southern Africa became the largest diamond producing area in the world.
The British moved to control the area. In 1878 they demanded the Zulu nation disband its army. The King of the Zulus refused. War followed. The British lost 800 soldiers at Isandlwana. They struck back and overpowered the Zulu in 1879. Queen Victoria urged "kind and generous treatment of the Sulu king, Cetshwayo," who was captured and exiled to Cape Town. And the British left the Zulus divided and therefore weakened, under thirteen separate chiefdoms.
In the Transvaal (northwest of the Natal area) financial mismanagement bankrupted the Boer government. In April 1877, the British annexed the area, promising to put the Boers on a sound financial footing and promising to protect them from the Zulu and others while allowing a degree of local self-rule. More than 6,500 Boers, in a nation of around 20,000, signed a petition protesting the annexation, but the British government was adamant that the annexation would remain.
By the early 1880s, explorations had added to recognition of Africa's abundance of valuable resources — gold, timber, land, and markets. The Belgians were exploring the Congo area in the middle of the continent. The British persuaded the Griqua chieftain to accept British protection from their Boer neighbors in the Transvaal, and in 1881 Britain annexed the Griqua's territory.
Germany's chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, by this time had decided to become involved in Africa. In 1884, Germany declared Togoland, Cameroon, and Southwest Africa as protectorates, Bismarck claiming he was protecting German missionaries and traders.
Nearby, Portugal still controlled its two centuries-old colonies, Angola and Mozambique. Bismarck responded to Portugal's call for a conference in the interest of order and trade in Africa. The 14-nation conference began in 1884 and lasted into 1885. It recognized the rule of Leopold of Belgium in the Congo basin. It recognized Britain as in charge of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and Zanzibar (an island off the coast of what today is Tanzania. Britain recognized Germany's position in Southwest Africa and approved of German expansion into the interior of Cameroon.
Also in 1885 the French established a colony on the northern tip of Madagascar, and they claimed the whole of Madagascar as a protectorate.
By 1888 the Englishman Cecil Rhodes was extending his mining operations. With the help of Reverend Helm, Rhodes tricked the Ndebele chieftain, Lobengula, into allowing Rhodes to take "whatever action" was necessary to exploit the minerals in Lobengula's kingdom. The British government backed the move and granted Rhodes a charter to establish the British South Africa Company. Britain permitted the company to mine and administer what had been Lobengula's kingdom and beyond. Gold was not found in quantity enough to avoid a threat of financial disaster for Rhodes. He made war against King Lobengula, defeating him in 1893, and he sold the kingdom's cattle and land to white settlers, saving himself financially. The area became a British protectorate, with Germany recognizing its boundaries.
The year 1890 was another year of agreements. Britain recognized France's attempt to dominate Madagascar in exchange for the French recognizing Britain's domination of Zanzibar and what was becoming Nigeria. The British and Germans signed a treaty recognizing German East Africa (today Tanzania), and the Germans recognized Uganda as "falling within the British sphere."
In Uganda the British granted administration rights and the exploitation of resources a private merchant company, the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA). The company negotiated a treaty with King Mwanga and Catholic and Protestant chiefs. The British recruited Sudanese troops, and with the Protestants they won military skirmishes against the Catholics, establishing Protestant political supremacy. The British and Mwanga signed a treaty, Mwanga accepting British protection and the British declaring Uganda a protectorate. Agricultural land was held by chieftains who rented it to tenant farmers, and here in 1903 cotton growing for export was to begin.
The colonial conquest of Africa was filling out. In North Africa the French took over Tunisia. In West Africa the French were expanding inland from Senegal against the Tukolor and Mandinka empires. The first 264 kilometers of their railway from the town of Dakar (on the Atlantic coast) opened in 1885. In 1894 the French expanded to the northeastern corner of the Tukolor Empire, taking the city of Timbuktu. In 894 the French proclaimed Dahomey (now Benin) a part of their West Africa empire. The French also conquered Mauritania, north of Senegal, and they conquered as far east as Chad in north-central Africa.
The French were headed toward the Sudan, where Britain's Horatio Herbert Kitchener had been in command fighting Abdullah et Taaisha. A major showdown came at Omdurman, near Khartoum in 1898. The Muslims believed that Allah was with them, but they had only two machine guns against fifty-five among Kitchener's troops, and in the Muslim force were armed only with spears. Kitchener killed close to 11,000 and wounded 16,000, while the British forces lost 23 dead and 434 wounded.
Having learned that a French force had arrived at Fashoda, 600 kilometers (about 400 mi) south of Khartoum, Kitchener and his army journeyed to confront them. The French were claiming possession of the Upper Nile, but they didn't want war with Britain, and in 1899 the French signed an agreement recognizing Sudan as British — contrary to Egyptian opinion.
Regarding Egypt, the British were content to allow the Egyptians control over their internal affairs — all but the country's military and foreign affairs and the Suez Canal. Egyptian landowners controlled their lands, and to Britain's satisfaction they were growing cotton to sell to British manufacturers.
In German West Africa things were not going as well. In 1893-94 the Germans experienced the first Hottentot Uprising ("Hottentot" a pejorative word for the Khoikhoi). A larger rebellion against German rule would be coming in the first decade of the 1900s.
In 1895 the British established direct in the area eventually to be known as Kenya. That year they began to build a railroad from the Kenyan coast inland to Uganda. Something like 32,000 workers were imported from British India, and many were to stay, as would most of the Indian tradesmen who arrived with them. And in 1902, following the completion of the railway, the British opened Kenya's fertile highlands to white settlers.
Meanwhile, Belgium's soldiers were conquering the eastern Congo basin. Italy was moving to gain control over a coastal area along the Red Sea known for trade: Eritrea. And Italy laid claim to an area along the Indian Ocean known as Somaliland.
The century ended with imprialists and their supporters at home believing it was okay to deny people the self-determination they wanted for themselves. They believed theselves to be collectively superior, especially in the arts of civilization. Alongside their imperialist conflicts in Asia and the Pacific they introduced the new century to whites fighting whites in Africa. This was the Second Boer War. (The First Boer War, December 1880 to March 1881, ended with Britain's Prime Minister Gladstone granting the Boers self-government in the Transvaal, today the northeast of South Africa.)
The Second Boer War was inspired by fear from the Boers over interest by Britons in the gold mining in the Transvaal. Boers were afraid that policies by Britain's government (the conservative Marquess of Salisbury as Prime Minister) would deprive them of their independence. The Boers felt closer to the Germans than the British and they planned to link with German Southwest Africa. The British did not want this. Seeing war coming, the Boers attacked first, in October 1899.
The British government sent their famous general Kitchener from Egypt to take charge of the war. Guerilla warfare developed, and Kitchener resorted to a scorthed earth policy. The British attempted to deny the Boer fighters the food, water and lodging provided by sympathetic farmers. Boer houses and farms were destroyed and civilians, including women and children, were moved to internment camps. Boers, including women and children, were put in concentration camps, where around 20,000 camp inmates were to die.
In Britain some opposed the war, among them the Liberal politician David Lloyd George. He was challenged by what has been described as jingoism. Lloyd George was physically beaten and had chairs thrown at him by people outraged by the suggestion that the war against the Boers was not serving the best interest or glory of the nation — or of civilization. There were those who argued that the war was about British freedom, justice, and civilization against Boer backwardness. In the House of Commons Lloyd George (a future prime minister) accused the government of "a policy of extermination" directed against the Boer population.
The Second Boer War was the longest, the most expensive, and the bloodiest conflict between 1815 and 1914 — with higher British casualties than the Crimean War (1853–56). The last of the Boers surrendered in May 1902. The two Boer states, the Republic of Transvaal and its neighbor to the south, the Orange Free State, were erased from the map of Africa.
Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.