Boer Republics and South African Independence

Map of southern Africa in 1885, with Transvaal and the Orange Free State being Boer republics.

As explained in the previous chapter, from the 17th century onward, Dutch settlers fought with black Africans for territory in southern Africa. These weren’t, however, the only wars that took place. Dutchmen and later-arriving Brits also feuded with each other.

The Dutch-British feuds, over time, pressed Dutch settlers away from the coast. The Dutch, or Boers as they had now come to be called, instead trekked into the interior, where they formed their own independent republics in the mid-1800s. Even so, after large deposits of diamonds and gold were discovered in or around the new Boer republics, the British lay claim to these areas too, resulting in two all-out wars between Boers and Brits.

The Boers lose their inland republics

The British lost the First Anglo-Boer War but emerged victorious in the Second Anglo-Boer War, ending in 1902. The victory was total and meant that all Boer republics came under the control of London, who by 1910 created the Union of South Africa, into which they also forced the former Boer republics. Immediately upon the creation of the union, though, the British Parliament began to cede political power over the union to all whites in South Africa, including the Boers.

Controlling all of South Africa

By the early 1930s, London, in every important respect, had granted South Africa sovereignty. The colonial link to Europe was now broken, but white people in the form of South Africans with European roots were still in charge of the country. Blacks, immigrants from Asia and people who were considered mixed-race were left out of important decision-making, just like before independence.

The non-whites, quite naturally, opposed the imperious type of white rule that had been set up and their opposition, over time, was to make South Africa increasingly difficult to govern. Also contributing to the new government having a difficult time ahead of them was the fact that the new country included tribes and peoples with a wide range of cultures and languages.