Africa and the Victorians: The Climax of Imperialism in the Dark Continent

By Ronald Robinson; John Gallagher et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
Rhodes' Counterpoise, 1887-1891

A fter 1887, the disturbance in imperial relations with south Africa, which had begun with the Transvaal rebellion and the German intrusion, continued for new reasons. An inrush of mining and railway enterprise changed the shape of local politics. The commercial drawing together of the region sharpened the rivalry between the divided states to control its resources and decide its future. Within a decade, the shifting balance of wealth and power in south Africa appeared to have overturned the paramountcy which Gladstone had tried to restore between 1881 and 1885. Unwittingly, British capitalists freed the Transvaal nationalists from the colonial yoke and made the republic the leading state in south Africa.

The transformation began in 1886, when the Witwatersrand gold reef was found in the heart of the Transvaal. In London a speculative boom in 'Kaffirs' on the London money market followed in 1888-9,1 and by 1894 the gold of Johannesburg was believed to be practically inexhaustible. By the end of the second gold boom of 1895-6, £57 millions had been invested in the Rand alone.2 Five years later, the Rand was producing a quarter of the world's gold supply.3 South Africa for the first time became big business to the British and European merchant and investor, and the energy of the British expansive economy developed it on a scale comparable to that in Australia, South America and India.4 Borrowing money in London, the colonies pushed their railways northward in frantic competition for the rich trade of the Rand. Between 1885 and 1895 the railway mileage was almost doubled, and the colonies' public debt rose by about eleven millions. At the same time south Africa's overseas trade almost doubled in value. Prosperity attracted the first substantial immigration. The white population doubled

____________________
1
Frankel, op. cit., 81.
2
ibid., 95.
3
R. I. Lovell, The Struggle for South Africa, 1875-1899, ( New York, 1934), 285, f.n. 1.
4
For the details see Frankel, op. cit., Schumann, op. cit., J. Van der Poel, Railway and Customs Policies in South Africa, 1885-1910, ( 1933).

-210-

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