Academic journal article African Studies Review

Why the Boers Lost the War

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Why the Boers Lost the War

Article excerpt

Leopold Scholtz. Why the Boers Lost the War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. xiv + 202. Maps. Bibliography. Index. $80.00. Cloth.

Even posing the question of why the Afrikaners (Boers) of the twin republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State in South Africa lost the Anglo-Boer (or South African) War of 1899-1902 might seem unnecessary. After all, the mighty British Empire was-like the United States today-the sole superpower, and at first glance the Boers were simply no match for it. In an important essay that examines all aspects of the Boers' war effort, André Wessels has convincingly argued that the Boers lost the war the moment they handed their ultimatum to the British government on October 9, 1899 ("Afrikaners at War," in The Boer War: Direction, Experience and Image, edited by John Gooch [Frank Cass, 2000], 82). Boer resources and strategic expertise were simply not up to the contest. On the other hand, in the earlier war of 1880-81 between the Transvaal and Britain, the British had declined to fight on after suffering several minor military reverses and initiated a negotiated settlement. There was Boer hope in 1899 that this scenario might be repeated. It was not, and by early 1900 the Boers had comprehensively lost the conventional stage of the war. Yet their decision to adopt a guerrilla strategy so prolonged the war (with terrible consequences to civilians, both black and white) that the British generals pushed aside the politicians and agreed to a peace in 1902 that restored self-goveminent to the Boers before the decade was out. The Boers might have lost the war, but their determined resistance won them the peace.

Leopold Scholtz's book does not offer any startling revisions to this generally accepted interpretation. …

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