Read Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith Free Online
Book Title: Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa|
The author of the book: Martin Meredith
Edition: Not Avail
Date of issue: March 25th 2008
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Reader ratings: 4.7
ISBN 13: 9780743286183
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.34 MB
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Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should,
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.
-- Rudyard Kipling, on the Boer War
The British Empire was at the height of its arrogance in the late 1800s, but hardly at the height of its competence, if we judge its disastrous performance in South Africa.
Consider the evidence:
After invading the Zulu territory with no real justification, the British military failed to construct even the most rudimentary defense of its key encampment, leading to a slaughter as the Zulus "washed their spears" in British blood at Isandlwana. A rare example where bringing spears to a gunfight actually paid off. This is the first inept British military performance discussed in this book, but it's only a precursor of far worse to come.
As elsewhere in Africa at the time, the British wanted to control territory, but did not want the cost associated with running new and potentially unprofitable colonies, so they outsourced the colonization to private companies, in this case Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company. Rhodes was a megalomaniac whose vision was a British "Cape to Cairo" corridor spanning the entire continent. What could possibly go wrong?
Rhodes' company, without any apparent evidence, convinced themselves (or at least convinced their shareholders) that the Matabele and Mashona tribal lands to the north were rich in gold, and therefore should naturally be in British hands. When it turned out that the land contained scant gold, and that all of the viable farm land was already under African ownership, it was clear what needed to be done: take the Africans' land and turn them into menial laborers, killing those who refused to get with the new program. And, speaking of pesky neighbors, why not invade the Boer colony to the south while we're at it?
Right, I hadn't mentioned the Boers yet. A dour group of conservative religious Dutch farmers, unhappy with the control of Cape Colony by the heathen British, had migrated (it turns out that "trek" is an Afrikaans word) northward and formed two colonies of their own, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The Orange Free State was initially the more prosperous of the two, while the Transvaal was a hardscrabble frontier region which, as was discovered in the 1880s, just happened to sit atop the most valuable gold deposits in the world.
The Transvaal was governed by one Paul Kruger, who was a Calvinist peasant farmer at heart, and was none too pleased with the ensuing gold rush, especially as the newcomers (uitlanders) were disproportionately British. He let them dig their gold without too much interference, although any interference was of course too much for the miners' tastes. Of course, as the newcomers were not citizens of the Transvaal, they did not have the right to elect a more congenial government.
These uitlander "grievances" (a bit too much regulation and not being allowed to vote in the foreign country where they were being allowed to mine) formed the flimsiest possible excuse for not one but two invasions of the Transvaal.
The first invasion was a laughable attempt at a land grab, staged by one Starr Jameson, the head of Rhodesia (as Rhodes' colony to the north was now called). His invasion army could not even properly be called an army, formed as it was by the majority of Rhodesia's police force. The uitlanders, who were expected to rise up and join the revolution, decided upon reflection that they were not really so unhappy with the Boers, and didn't like the possible disruption of income that a war might cause, so for the most part they stayed out of it. (Meanwhile, the Matebele and Mashona back in Rhodesia took advantage of the lack of police presence, killing hundreds of white settlers while the killing was good.)
The Boers, whose staunch Christianity did not extend to honoring the "thou shalt not kill" doctrine, were battle-hardened after years of fighting the Zulus and other African tribes within and adjacent to their colonies. (It turns out that "commando" is another word derived from the Afrikaans.) Needless to say, Jameson and his band of brothers were promptly seized and arrested. Kruger magnanimously handed them over to the British for punishment, and they were promptly freed with a slap on the wrist.
The second, much larger invasion, better known as the Boer War, was the brainchild of the British-installed colonial high commander, Alfred Milner, another would-be "paint the continent British red" advocate, who bristled at having to share southern Africa with the Boers, and once again seized upon the plight of the uitlanders. He offered Kruger an ultimatum: let the uitlanders vote, so they can install a British government in your place, or we will invade. Kruger unsurprisingly didn't think that was a fair deal, and opted for war. His Orange Free State counterpart, Martinus Steyn decided to join the war rather than remaining neutral, and this decision was an important one since Steyn's generals turned out to be a lot more tenacious than Kruger's.
Consequently, the war dragged on for over three years. The British fielded nearly half a million troops against a much smaller Boer army. But the Boers outmaneuvered and evaded the Brits wherever possible, opting for commando/guerilla tactics against the bloated British columns. The British recognized that they were never going to prevail militarily against this sort of army, so they in effect declared war on the Boer civilians, burning their farms, scorching their earth, and imprisoning them in concentration camps - where a significant portion of the prisoners died from disease and malnutrition - or simply leaving them to roam homeless through the countryside.
In this way, the Boers were eventually ground down, and they gave up the fight. The control of their colonies was surrendered to the British, who didn't really want the responsibility and handed it right back to the Boers a few years later. (No, I'm not making that up.) Fast-forward past the end of this book, and the Boers end up running South Africa for most of the 20th century, imposing their own special view of racial relations (even more benighted than that of the British) upon the country. This somewhat reduces any inclination to feel sorry for the Boers in response to their harsh treatment by the British.
Meredith's book tells this whole story and a lot more, with plenty of detail about not only the political and military machinations, but also the mining camps, and how Cecil Rhodes and his fellow capitalists formed their empires. Well worth reading for anyone even slightly interested in this fascinating corner of the world.
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Read information about the authorMartin Meredith is a historian, journalist and biographer, and author of many acclaimed books on Africa.
Meredith first worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa for the Observer and Sunday Times, then as a research fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Residing near Oxford, he is now an independent commentator and author.
Meredith’s writing has been described as authoritative and well-documented, despite the pessimism inherent in his subject matter.
He is the author of Diamonds, Gold and War, Mugabe: Power, Plunder – which sold over 15 000 copies in South Africa, and The Struggle for Zimbabwe’s Future, The State of Africa and Nelson Mandela: A Biography, among many others.
His most recent book is Born in Africa, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.
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