For those who complain that I never have anything good to say about any republics, ever (even my own, which is certainly not true), take note that I have no fundamental objection to the Boer republics and moreover that I think the Boer republics had much to recommend them. The Boers were a rough-hewn, rugged, frontier type of people who were excellent horsemen, crack shots with a rifle and devoutly religious -all of which are qualities to admire in my book. Unlike the republics in places such as France or Russia or China, I have no problem with the creation of the Boer republics because of the nature of their birth. They were not born out of any sort of radical, revolutionary upheaval. If France or Russia represent the extreme left in the birth of republics, the United States would be much more to the right but the Boer republics would be even further to the right still. To explain, and for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the story, a brief summary of how the Boer republics came to be is probably in order.
|The Dutch arrive on the Cape|
The British became more established in the region and the Boers lived in peace beside them, mostly as farmers and ranchers. They lived simple lives but were accustomed to the hardships of frontier life and were content. However, things began to change when it was found that the Boer republics sat on top of extremely lucrative mineral deposits. They were quite literally ‘sitting on a gold mine’ (and a number of diamond mines too). This, of course, attracted more and more British settlers who moved into Boer territory and that, of course, began to arouse the opposition of the Boers. They began to enact laws to curtail the flow of the British into their territory and the influence they had. That was only natural. It was also then, only natural, for the British to object to their rights being restricted and the British Empire, also not surprisingly, took up the cause of their fellow countrymen against the Boer republics and soon this led to the outbreak of war. Looking back at the overall situation there are few historians who would try to deny that the bottom line was simply this: the Boers had control of vast riches that the British wanted for themselves and they were prepared to fight and conquer the Boer republics in order to obtain control of these mineral deposits. Would any other power, similarly placed, have done otherwise? Probably not. Still, it was hardly Britain’s finest hour.
|Boer President Paul Kruger|
Today, the unthinking mob tends to think of a “concentration camp” as a “death camp” thanks to the influence of Nazi Germany on the popular imagination. However, this should not be so and the British certainly did not put Boers into camps in order to systematically exterminate the Afrikaner people. Which is also not to say that these were nice places. They were certainly not and large numbers of civilian men, women and children died in these camps from disease, malnutrition and poor sanitation. It was, however, not due to intentional British cruelty but rather to supply shortages, logistical failures and bureaucratic log jam. In fact, it was a British woman who came to the rescue of the imprisoned Boers, raising a public outcry over the conditions in which they were being held and who mounted the effort to relieve their suffering through much more efficient private, charitable channels. Obviously, if the British were a cruel and heartless people, no one would have cared about the concentration camps, there would have been no public outcry and no massive effort to put a stop to it. The British also proved themselves to be gracious victors when the brutal bloodletting was over. Rather than rule the Afrikaners as a conquered people, the British made them partners in the new colonial enterprise that became South Africa and, as a result, many of the men who had fought the hardest against the British became ardent supporters of the British Empire, even taking up arms again to defend it in World War I.
|Louis Botha, Boer leader|
|Battle of Blood River|
The British had long abolished the slave trade and expended a great deal in suppressing it, had abolished slavery long before across the British Empire and even in Victorian times, while certainly not possessing the thinking about race that modern Britons do, tended to look on racism as something terribly uncivilized at the very least. The Boers, on the other hand, took a more old-fashioned and Biblical view of race. They outlawed slavery too though some observers felt that was more in name rather than fact and they certainly viewed Blacks as a people to be kept apart from themselves, people who were different and to be treated differently. Black Africans could not become citizens in the Boer republics, they had fewer rights and freedoms and all the rest of it (any non-Boers and anyone not Protestant also faced degrees of discrimination as well). British society tended to look down on how Blacks were treated in the Boer republics and the inferior position of the Black Africans in the Boer republics was one of the ways that British public opinion was turned in favor of military action against them though it could hardly be argued that this was ever the primary reason for the war. Nonetheless, that was an aspect which enemies of the British Empire today tend to overlook. The vast majority of Black Africans supported the British because the British offered them more rights and more equal treatment than the Boers.
By taking the side of the Black Africans, another race against those of their own blood in South Africa, the Boers and other White Africans tended to view the British as race-traitors, the people who sold out their own kind and it is easy to find people still today who have never forgiven the British for the part they played in the eradication of the White population in South Africa. The Crown, as usual, does not escape such criticism due to the way people view the monarch as the pinnacle and representation of all British people, society and government. However, while that was to be expected, the actions of Britain have obviously not immunized the British from accusations of racism and upon attaining political power, the Blacks of South Africa did not rush to restore the monarchy and become a Commonwealth Realm again. No, as we all know, the republican form of government was one thing about apartheid South Africa that the new regime wished to retain. Some do still think well of the British in South Africa, but it is not something that can be expressed openly without a severe backlash, even if you are a prominent African chief. And, today, Red China has far more influence in South Africa than Great Britain does. Taken altogether, it is simply a fact that neither Britain nor the British monarchy gained anything tangible nor even in terms of much goodwill and gratitude from its history of pro-Black policies in Africa.
|Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts|