Clutching at Straws….

When conversation turns to the Boer War, I have lost count of the times I have been assured – usually by a drunk in some pub in some little South African dorp – that ‘the Boers won every battle in the war’. This, or the equally nonsensical claim that ‘we kicked seven shades of s*** out of the Brits in the war!’, is commonly spouted by those with a certain mindset / extremist political persuasion / self-pitying, victim mentality.

As these claims are, of course, factually incorrect, they are very easily countered by simply listing all the battles which the British won. If one really cannot be bothered to do this, however, one can simply say: ‘Really? So how come the Boers lost?’ The reaction to this is either a threat of violence (which, amusingly, never materialises for some reason) or a furious, ill-considered tirade which involves a lot of swearing and the words: ‘Cheating’, ‘Woman and Children’ and (of course, that old favourite which is trotted out whenever they realise they are losing the argument) ‘Genocide’.

Recently, however, one of my more deluded ‘fans’ tried to assure me that, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary, not only did the Boers win every battle of the war, they also won the war itself. Intrigued by this previously unheard-of historical revelation, I couldn’t resist hearing this goose-stepping lunatic’s justification, and it was well worth waiting for: ‘No Englishman was ever Prime Minister of South Africa’ and ‘Sixty years later, we became a republic’.

Now, both of these statements are (of course) true – but they are also utterly irrelevant.

No Englishman ever became Prime Minister of Germany either – so does this buffoon also claim that Germany won the Second World War? No Brit ever became Prime Minister of Argentina, so I guess the Argies won the Falklands War too? Using the result of a gerrymandered referendum held 60 years after a war has ended to decide who really won the conflict is a pretty unique way of determining the victor. It would be interesting to see the how many books would need to be completely re-written were this bizarre, straw-clutching, self-serving standard to be applied throughout human history.

When one strips away the Apartheid-era propaganda (which is still peddled by certain South African academics today), the reality is that the Boer republics declared war on Great Britain in 1899 with the objective of driving British power from southern Africa. Despite the increasingly frantic denials by latter-day Defenders of the Myth™, the oft-stated objective of the Boer republics was to build ‘an Afrikaans Empire from the Zambezi to the Cape’. Of course, and despite their quasi-lunatic belief that the Almighty would lend a helping hand, Kruger and Steyn failed miserably to do this – as even the most fervent latter-day True Believer would grudgingly have to concede.

Instead, they quickly learned that declaring war on the pre-eminent Great Power of the age was not such a brilliant idea. Despite all the advantages they enjoyed at the start, the Boer invasion forces proved hopelessly unable to take even the likes of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley, let alone Durban and Cape Town. When Imperial reinforcements arrived in theatre, Kruger fled to Europe, and both Boer republics were captured and claimed as British colonies (a jolly strange sort of ‘victory’ so far, one might think). The so-called ‘Arch-Imperialist’ Lord Alfred Milner’s role as High Commissioner of Southern Africa was expanded to administer the newly acquired territories. Their own peace offers rejected by London, the last tattered gangs of Bitter-Einders then surrendered in May 1902, handed in their weapons and took an Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown (again, a decidedly strange way to emerge ‘victorious’ from a war).

Keen to build a new nation, HM Government was magnanimous in victory. Money was pumped into the former republics and there was a determination (from the British side, anyway) to let bygones be bygones. The long-suffering ‘Uitlanders’ of Johannesburg were of course given the franchise they clearly deserved, but in stark contrast to the corruption and chicanery of Kruger’s Kafkaesque regime, there was no attempt by the British to deny democratic rights to the Afrikaners of the former republics. Indeed, even the Cape Rebels (men who were, by any definition, traitors and lucky to avoid a firing squad) were only stripped of the vote for five years – an incredible act of leniency and forgiveness by the Empire.

Self-government was quickly granted to both former-republics and, in 1910, the various colonies and former republics were unified into the South Africa we know today. Former-Boer General Louis Botha (a man who was opposed to Kruger’s insane war in the first place) was elected as the first Prime Minister. By then, both he and his right hand man, Jan Smuts, were born-again Anglophiles, and between them brought South Africa loyally into two World Wars on Britain’s side. The Royal Navy retained their naval base at Simon’s Town until 1957 – indeed, RN ships regularly used it until as late as 1975. And though no Englishman was ever elected Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, three British Kings and one Queen (HM Queen Elizabeth II) were the Heads of State until 1961, and were represented in South Africa by a string of Governors-General.

I have heard a lot very far-fetched things about the Boer War over the years, but to claim that the Boers won the war because, 60 years later, the Apartheid-regime won a (very dodgy) referendum and South Africa became republic must be one of the very stupidest. Of course, it makes a certain type of person feel better about themselves to able to spout this sort of rubbish while standing round the braai, but let’s be clear here: If Country A attacks and invades Country B, but Country A’s invasion forces are defeated and chased back across its borders, leading to Country A itself annexed by Country B, then Country A has lost the war. It’s pretty simple, really.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *