A South African Year of Crisis 1899

Edna Bradlow writes that while Paul Kruger felt he had an obligation to protect his country's moral right on behalf of the Transvaal Republic, Chamberlain, speaking for his own countrymen, declared that the issue involved both “our supremacy in South Africa and our existence as a great power”.

The events of the most ill-fated year in South African history—1899—were the culmination of developments that began some twenty years earlier, with the British annexation of the Transvaal in 1877, the establishment of the anti-British Afrikaner Bond in 1879, and the Boer defeat of British forces at Majuba two years later. Majuba marked the death of Lord Carnarvon’s misconceived scheme for federating South Africa under the Imperial aegis, a scheme that, in Dormer’s1 words, “sought to lay violent hands upon the ark of a political covenant.”

Its failure led to the recognition that confederation must arise from among the South African states themselves—or not at all. And with this insight was born, too, a mutual distrust between the Northern Afrikaner on the one hand, the “Imperial factor” on the other—a distrust that was carried to its logical conclusion in October 1899.

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