Re-fighting the second Anglo-Boer War: Historians in the trenches

  • Ian van der Waag University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

Abstract

Some one hundred years ago, South Africa was torn apart by the Second AngloBoer WBI (1899-1902). The WaI was a colossal psychological experience fought at great expense. It cost Britain twenty-two thousand men and £223 million. The social, economic and political cost to South Africa was greater than the statistics immediately indicate: at least ten thousand fighting men in addition to the camp deaths, where a combination of indifference and incompetence resulted in the deaths of 27 927 Boers and atleast 14 154 black South Africans. Yet these numbers belie the consequences. It was easy for the British to "forget" the pain of the War, which seemed so insignificant after the losses sustained in 1914-18. With a long history of far-off battles and foreign wars, the British casualties of the Anglo-Boer War became increasingly insignificant as opposed to the lesser numbers held in the collective Afrikaner mind. This impact may be stated somewhat more candidly in terms of the war participation ratio for the belligerent populations. After all, not all South Africans fought in uniform. For the Australian colonies these varied between 4,5 per thousand (New South Wales) to 42,3 per thousand (Tasmania). For New Zealand there were 8 per thousand, for Britain 8,5 per thousand, and for Canada 12,3 per thousand; while in parts of South Africa this was perhaps as high as 900 per thousand. 2 The deaths and high South African paiticipation ratio, together with the unjustness of the war in the eyes of most Afrikaners, introduced bitterness, if
not hatred, which cast long shadows upon twentieth-century South Africa.

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Published
2002-05-31
Section
Articles