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

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

CHAPTER XIV
South Africa: another Canada or another United States?

F ashoda closed the twenty-year-old crisis of British security on the Nile. Meanwhile, the Jameson Raid of 1895 had re-opened that crisis of imperial supremacy in south Africa which British statesmen had feared since the Transvaal rebellion of 1881. The second Boer War followed hard upon Fashoda. At first sight these spectacular African aggressions at the end of the century might suggest a fullblooded drive for empire -- a climactic 'new imperialism'. But this was not how ministers saw their onslaughts upon the Sudan and the Transvaal. What moved them to reconquer the Sudan was the ancient pursuit of security in the Mediterranean. What brought them in the end to absorb the Transvaal was the belief that otherwise their influence over south Africa would be lost.

In a sense the logic behind the intervention in the Transvaal was like that behind the occupation of Egypt in 1882. As in Egypt so in south Africa, an inpouring of trade and capital combined with a nationalist reaction against foreign interference to crack British paramountcy. In both cases the routes to the East were threatened. In Egypt, Anglo- French commercial expansion by 1882 had undermined the Khedivate -- the basis of the dual political influence. Interference to restore it had provoked the Arabist revolution and completed the collapse; and the failure to come to terms with the Egyptian nationalists and with France had rooted the British on the Nile. The connection between the growth of trade in south Africa and the eventual engulfing of the Transvaal was somewhat similar. By 1896 economic growth had released the South African Republic from the stranglehold of the British colonies and reversed the supremacy of the Cape and the dependence of the Transvaal. Statesmen had assumed that the colony would absorb the republics into a British dominion, but now it seemed more likely that the republic would draw the colonies into a ' United States' of south Africa. As in Egypt, aggression began where investment left off and external hegemony became uncertain. The attempt at repair damaged it further. The

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