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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Africa is rapidly taking on new importance in global geopolitical thinking on a number of fronts, in particular the military dimension and the role of the continental "superpower," the Republic of South Africa, in African affairs. Yet, apart from what may have been gleaned from films and novels, the nation's military history remains remarkably unfamiliar to most outsiders.

Excerpt

By singing the controversial song “Bring My Machine Gun,” South African President Jacob Zuma acknowledges not only the importance of armed struggle in ending apartheid but also the centrality of warfare and military structures to the last several centuries of South Africa’s history. This fact is also illustrated by the prominence of the memory of armed conflict to various South African identities. African nationalists proudly remember earlier African leaders such as Maqoma, Sekhukhune, and Bambatha who resisted European conquest. Zulu patriots take inspiration from the warrior legend of Shaka. Afrikaner nationalists look back on victories such as Blood River or Majuba Hill and grievances such as British concentration camps during the South African War. For many English-speaking whites, names of world war battles such as Delville Wood and El Alamein evoke a sense of shared sacrifice with Britain and its other dominions in global struggles for freedom.

Much of South Africa’s history involved a process of European colonial conquest and African resistance. During the late 1600s and 1700s the military advantage of horses and firearms enabled Dutch settlers to subjugate the Khoisan and establish the Cape Colony. Dutch eastward expansion was halted in the late 1700s by the more numerous and better organized Xhosa. The gradual dispossession of the Xhosa began in the early 1800s when the British, as new rulers of the strategically important Cape, tipped the local balance of power by introducing a standing army with artillery. In the interior and along the Indian Ocean coast, competition over growing international trade, including slaving, led to the growth of new African powers such as the Zulu, Ndebele, and Sotho kingdoms. Colonial expansion accelerated in the mid-nineteenth century as British scorched earth campaigns from the Cape forced Xhosa bush fighters to surrender. Around the same time the Boers moved inland where they used superior firepower and mobility to defeat African rivals and establish independent republics. Diamond discovery in the late 1860s invigorated British ambitions in the region leading to a period of intense warfare that began with the overthrow of remaining African states, in which new military technologies such as breech-loading rifles and extensive use of African allies were central, but ended with Boer and African . . .

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