The Boerenoorlog (or Boer War, or Second Boer War or Anglo-Boer War or South African War) only lasted three years but made a lasting impression in South Africa and abroad. The Dutch historian and writer wrote about the Dutch colonial legacy in the 19th and 20th and took time to return to the 19th century and travelled all the way the southern most areas of the African continent.
Long before the Boer war the Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck started a trading post at the Cape, with the intention of having a good stop for the sailing ships from the East Indies to the Low Lands. This post turned into a fort and in due time into Cape Town, always with a Dutch influx. Some of the Dutch settlers decided to move north and in the late 19th century we find two republics run by these socalled Boer (= farmer). One of the Republics was Transvaal, the other was Orange Free State. In these two Republics the presence of descendants from Dutch (and other) people was clearly visible. During the centuries there was also a serious influx of British people. The Boer and then British did not always see eye to eye.
The Boer War (1899-1902) was a severe clash between the two Boer Republics and the British power. Bossenbroek has focused on three people to tell this clash between these two small republics and the the important colonial power of the day.
The first focus is on the Dutch legal mind Willem Leyds.At the age of 25 years this brilliant young man had just finished his academic studies in the field law. He did so with the highest hounours. There were ample opportunities for him, to become professor of law, to become a judge in the East Indies, to take up a position at the Dutch Bank. But Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic visited The Netherlands in June 1884 and he himself offered Leyds the job of State Attorney of the Transvaal Republ;ci. At first he declined the offer, Kruger did not accept a ‘no’ and the second time Leyds accepted the offer. So he travelled with his wife to Transvaal to take up his position. It was an influential position and it was a barren legal land in which he had to work and he did so with much enthusiasm. He was an outsider but he was drawn more and more to the Boer cause. )Ossenbroek follows Leyds closely in the years leading up to the start of the Boerenoorlog.
The second person, als a young one, is the journalist Winston Churchill who had travelled to Southern Africa to report about the war for British newspapers. He had done so with other wars, like the one in Sudan. Churchill was a well connected young man and he used his upper class network to get as close as possible to the frontline of the war that was unfolding. He was a kind of embedded journalist travelling with the British Army, even getting involved as a part of the army himselfr. he had been taken prisoner by the Boer, but he escaped and that good for for his won publicity. Clearly Churchill was on the British side, but the Boer got close to his kin. He was impressed by their way of fighting this war. The British used the classical and very hierarchial way of fighting a war. The Boer were for more mobile and used the initiatives of their lower ranks. The Boer were outnumbered by the British but still they caused a lot of damage to the British Army. In this section of the book we see the buildup of the British Army, thousand of army men were sent to southern Africa to fight for the Empire, against those two small republics, fighting for their own existence.
The third young man, the youngest of the three, is Deneys Reitz. We meet him when the defeated Boer travelled north to Pretoria, the capital of the now defeated republic Transvaal. Just eight months ago Reitz had moved to Natal to fight the British. He was barely seventeen years. He was at Ladysmith, he was at Spionkop. He moved to Orange Free State and encountered defeat. He moved back to Transvaal. He went home to Pretoria, but at his parental home none was to be seen. His father, State Attorney in Transvaal, after having served as president in Orange Free State. Leyds was in Europe to wage a diplomatic war. The old Reitz and president Kruger had moved on. They had not surrendered, just like many other Boer had not surrendered. All over the place, in Transvaal. in Natal, in Orange Free State, in Cape Colony, groups of Boer continued the war, they roamed the contryside as guerilla fighters attacking the British Army where ever and when ever they could. And the young Deneys Reitz was one of them, switching from one group to another. His brothers were also not surrendering. They wanted to fight till the bitter end. For a long time Reitz fought under the command of Jan Smuts, who later became a famous politician, just like the young Reitz. The group led by Jan Smuts moved into the Cape Colony with the intention of luring a large segment of the British Army away from Cape Town, in order to made a surprise attack on that town. The British Army and the government had proclaimed victory, but many Boer did not want to surrender. In order to defeat the roaming and roving bands of Boer the British decided to burn down farms, to burn crops, to empty the countryside. Men, women and children were locked up in camps, were 28.000 people died in very poor conditions. A Britsih lady, Emily Hobhouse, tried to help the thousands and thousands of people in these camps. She tried to get help from the British public, but the British government was not very keen in giving help.
Three young man in a subcontinent in turmoil, with lasting effects. Martin Bossenbroek has written a book showing views from different sides. His style of writing took me from one page to another and on to the next one. I wanted to know how history developed in those days.
Martin Bossenbroek – De Boerenoorlog – 2012
This book has been translated into English – The Boer War – 2015 – Jacana PublishersJohannesburg
This book has been translated into Afrikaner – Die Boereoorlog – 2014 – Jacana Publishers, Johannesburg