In the history of South Africa, conflict between the original Dutch settlers, known as the Boers, and the British, who acquired the colony in 1814, culminated in a series of wars at the end of the 19th century, the most famous of which is the Anglo-Boer War. From 1899 to 1902, fierce fighting and deplorable conditions waged across South Africa before the British Empire proved victorious.
The first phase of the war, from October to December 1899 was initiated with a Boer offensive into British territory in the Natal and Cape Colony areas. The Boer forces consisted of civilian militia, able to move and strike quickly. While the British won the Battle of Talana Hill, the cost was heavy.
Anglo-Boer War and Britain
By January 1900, the second phase had begun, marked by British counteroffensives. The largest fighting force Britain had ever assembled was sent to South Africa. The Battle of Spion Kopp was a Boer victory, but British efforts pushed the war into a stalemate, but continued Boer defeats led to the third phase of the war by September 1900, marked by guerrilla warfare.
With British forces in control of South African territory, the Boers adopted guerrilla strategies, raiding British supplies and infrastructure. British response, led by Lord Kitchener, included a scorched earth policy, in which any possible Boer support was literally burned. This was also saw the birth of concentration camps, where the British house Boer civilians.
Phases of the Anglo-Boer War
From 1899 to 1902 the British and the Boer (Dutch and Dutch decedents) conflict came in two phases:
- A period of Boer successes, quickly reversed after the arrival of the main British force in January 1900.
- Then came a guerrilla phase when the Boer forces regrouped and carried on the conflict for two years.
- Finally, the Boers lost the war but won the peace.
The African paid the price by being excluded from political power and being forced from much of the land retaken during the war. The upshot of the Boer War was that in 1909 the South African National Convention opted for a constitution which ensured the retention of political power in white hands.