Britain and the Boers, 1850s

From Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2008), Kindle pp. 7-8:

Determined to check the drain of imperial revenues into southern Africa, Britain abandoned the idea of intervention; humanitarianism on the cheap seemed to lead only to recurrent wars and mounting expense; it was no longer considered a viable policy. At a convention at Sand River in 1852, British officials recognised the independence of ‘the Emigrant Farmers’ in territory north of the Vaal River – the Transvaal, or the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, as they called it. In exchange for a promise that there would be no slavery in the Transvaal, Britain disclaimed all alliances with ‘coloured nations’ there. At the Bloemfontein Convention in 1854, Britain similarly recognised the independence of the Orange Free State.

The two miniature republics were states in little more than name. The small trekker communities there claimed vast areas of land for themselves but were greatly outnumbered by the indigenous black population that occupied much of it. The administrations they set up were weak and disorganised and, unable to raise taxes, were constantly short of funds. The Transvaal, with a white population of 20,000, survived almost entirely on subsistence farming. Officials were often paid for their services in land grants instead of cash. The quest for more land continued relentlessly. African chiefs were often tricked into ceding territory, signing documents without realising the full implications, some believing they had merely entered into ‘alliances’. Tswana chiefdoms were subjected to years of raids and harassment. A Boer commando raiding Tswana country in 1852 attacked David Livingstone’s mission station at Kolobeng, destroying his store of Bibles and medicines. In the Orange Free State, Boer commandos fought a prolonged campaign to wrest the fertile Caledon River valley from the Basotho.

To satisfy the white demand for labour, commandos frequently abducted African children, describing them as ‘apprentices’ – inboekelings – to avoid accusation of overt slavery. The practice was sanctioned in the Transvaal by an Apprentice Act passed by the governing body, the Volksraad. In the 1860s missionaries considered inboekelings provided the main source of labour in the eastern Transvaal. A German missionary at Makapanspoort reported that wagonloads of children were regularly brought to the settlement. In the far north, in the Zoutpansberg district, the trade was known as ‘black ivory’, and soon outstripped the trade in white ivory once the elephant herds there had been decimated.

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Filed under Britain, economics, labor, migration, nationalism, Netherlands, religion, slavery, South Africa

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