Almost everybody knows we have had a lot to do with South Africa so I won’t go into it in detail in this book, except to cover some of the basics.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to spend time in the area of what is now South Africa, but they didn’t try to settle. Unlike the Dutch, who settled here later, along with Germans, some Scandinavians and so on.
As with a lot of other Dutch-controlled territory, we got our hands on the Cape during the Napoleonic Wars, when it seemed likely that the French might make use of Dutch-controlled territories against us. We took it in 1795, gave it back to the Dutch for a bit after a temporary peace in 1803, then took it again in 1806 and kept it at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
In 1820 we brought in settlers to the East Cape, which established a large British civilian population in the area.
Gradually we began to extend our area of control. We fought a long and bitter series of wars against the Xhosa people that extended right up until 1879 as our forces gradually pushed the Xhosa back and eventually took control of their territory. This involved much suffering for the Xhosa and large numbers of casualties.
We weren’t the only ones extending our area of control in the region in the early nineteenth century. Shaka, chief of the Zulus, built a massive kingdom through military might as well. In 1879, we invaded it. On 22 January 1879, a British force was defeated by the Zulus at the Battle of Insandlwana, but in a subsequent action, the Zulus failed to take Rorke’s Drift, which was stoutly defended by our hugely outnumbered forces in an epic action that led to the award of no less than eleven Victoria Crosses and, of course, the 1960s film Zulu. Eventually, the forces of the Zulu King Cetshwayo were decisively defeated at the Battle of Ulundi.
Meanwhile, many of the settlers of Dutch descent, the Boers, had become frustrated with British rule and moved further inland in search of fresh territory beyond British control. New Boer states emerged: Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In 1842 we took Natal and annexed it in 1845.
In 1869 diamonds were found near what was to become Kimberley. The diamond fields were in territory claimed by Nicholas Waterboer, leader of the Griqua people, and also by Boers. In 1871 we annexed the area anyway.
In April 1877, even though the Boers protested, we moved in to take over the Transvaal. This didn’t last long because in 1880, the Boers of the Transvaal rose against us and in the First Boer War defeated British forces at the Battle of Majuba Hill on 27 February 1881. Transvaal became independent again and in 1883 Paul Kruger became its president.
In 1886, geology and politics once again caused an explosive combination. In 1886, gold was found at Witwatersrand, Johannesburg was founded, and large numbers of non-Boers moved in to mine the gold. In 1895, one Captain Leander Starr Jameson launched the so-called Jameson Raid in a failed attempt to set off an uprising and seize the area. In 1899, however, non-Boers at Witwatersrand petitioned Queen Victoria, asking her to intervene on their behalf on assorted political and economic issues, and it all ended with Kruger leading the Transvaal and Orange Free State into a war against us.
This was the Second Boer War. Key events like the sieges of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking are well known, as are setbacks for us at Magersfrontein, Colenso and Spion Kop. Our forces suffered, but in the end we ground down Boer resistance. In June 1900, Pretoria was taken and in October we won a major victory at Bergendal. The Boers continued a guerrilla war for another two years and we responded with harsh tactics, such as the rounding up of Boer civilians into concentration camps. These weren’t extermination camps. They were camps where people were concentrated, but they were still terrible places where large numbers died from disease. In 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed and the Boer republics finally came under our control.
South Africa became independent from Britain through a series of steps.