A Military History of South Africa: From the Dutch-Khoi Wars to the End of Apartheid

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A Military History of South Africa: From the Dutch-Khoi Wars to the End of Apartheid. By Timothy J. Stapleton. Praeger Security International. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010. Pp. xi, 229; maps, index. $49.95.

In a synthesis of South African military history that spans nearly 400 years and includes four major international wars and numerous smaller-scale confrontations in under 200 pages (excluding references), some careful choices have to be made. Timothy Stapleton, a seasoned historian of the frontier wars of the nineteenth-century eastern Cape, has opted for an inclusive approach by placing some of South Africa's better known wars, such as the South African War (or Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902), alongside conflicts known by specialists and local participants, such as the Bambatha Rebellion (1906). In a similar fashion, South African operations in international wars, such as North Africa during World War II, are examined along with lesser-known campaigns such as in Madagascar during the same period.

Such a thorough but inevitably compressed history of many wars, rebellions, and military interventions leaves little opportunity for analysis, except in a few pithy paragraphs that conclude each of the six chronological chapters. Thus readers who yearn to learn more about the culture of warfare, the thinking and rationales behind military strategies, or even the political economy of war will be disappointed. Stapleton sticks to the facts. He contextualizes each conflict in South African history, recounts the engagements, and ends with an account of the casualties on either side. (In general, a litany of uneven battles with massive African casualties). The efficiency with which he renders this history, along with the comprehensive index, will make this book a valuable reference tool.

The work does not claim to be original in either its source material or analysis. Nevertheless, Stapleton is well versed in the historiography and is able to give a balanced and informed account of controversial moments in South African military history, such as the rise of the Zulu Kingdom. Few primary sources, published or not, are analyzed. …