Do modern-day Kruger apologists realise what they are defending?

A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened
– George Orwell on why national myths are created and used by ghastly regimes


Defenders of the Myth™ truly are a strange breed. In my experience, they are deeply passionate about the Boer War, certainly passionate enough to spend hours frantically tapping away at their keyboards to maintain the Apartheid-regime fiction that the Boers are in no way to blame for absolutely anything whatsoever, at all, ever in history… and yet not quite passionate enough to actually read anything about the subject. Perhaps they think that simply getting worked-up and angry is a decent substitute for taking the trouble to learn about the Boer War, and – besides – as soon as someone catches them out, they can always just pretend the evil British murdered their grandmother when she was a baby.

As they exist largely in an echo-chamber of like-minded folk, Defenders of the Myth™ struggle when they come across someone who actually knows something about the war, and who dares to challenge their comfort blanket of legends. Faced with this, their comical combination of insane passion and woeful ignorance leads them to react in such situations by just getting angry and blurting out nonsense, some favourites being:

“The British attacked us to steal our gold and / diamonds!” (delete as applicable)
“We just wanted to be left alone!”
“We won all the battles!”
“The British murdered millions of women and children!”
“Britain needed a million men to defeat us!”
“Britain outnumbered us, like, 100 – 1!”
(or any other random, made-up-on-the-spot, number they pick)

Passion for history is, of course, a good thing, but only when tempered with actually knowing something about the given subject. I often wonder whether or not the Defenders of the Myth™ realise just what a God-awful, odious and ghastly government they work themselves up into a frenzy to defend, lying through their teeth, and tying themselves up in knots to maintain their fantasies.
Are they really completely ignorant as to just what a truly repugnant regime held power in the Transvaal of the late 19th Century? If not, do they not care that they are passionately defending (championing?) a system so unashamedly racist and discriminatory, that it made the later Apartheid-government look positively benign, liberal and forward looking?

It is often forgotten—when talking of the Transvaal / Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek in the run-up to the Boer War—that one is not referring to a long-established nation with healthy traditions of stability, democracy, and rule of law. Defenders of the Myth™ love to say that the Boers had been in South Africa since 1652, but the Transvaal itself was only occupied much later. Indeed, it was only in the 1830s that the Voortrekkers – enraged by the ‘wicked British’ outlawing slavery in the Cape – crossed the Vaal River and arrived in the region. They immediately clashed with the ruling Matabele tribe (an offshoot of the famous Zulus) who had only recently established themselves as the dominant tribe in the region. The Voortrekkers steadily drove the Matabele from the area in a series of battles, and burned down many of their kraals and settlements.[1]

By 1838 the Matabele had fled north over the Limpopo and established Matabeleland in the west of what would later be known as Rhodesia.[2] Their ‘scorched-earth’ campaign having ethnically-cleansed the territory, the invaders / settlers / newcomers then scattered themselves across the Highveldt, establishing a haphazard mish-mash of mini-republics. Though the newcomers had been ably assisted in their battles against the Matabele by some of the other tribes in the region, they quickly forgot this and accorded these people no political rights. Worse still, they also instituted a system of ‘apprenticeships’ that was nothing other than slavery by another name.[3]

Those who dared to criticize the Voortrekkers’ callous and inhumane treatment of blacks could expect trouble. Dr David Livingstone, the respected churchman, explorer, Afrophile,[4] and famously outspoken and passionate opponent of the slave trade, was regarded as an especially dangerous enemy by the early settlers in the Transvaal.[5] In a somewhat ironic foretaste of the raids that imperial units would later launch against Boer farms, a commando was sent to attack, loot, and trash Livingstone’s mission station at Kolobeng. Luckily Livingstone had unexpectedly been called away, but the Boers smashed up and thoroughly ransacked the station, displaying impressive forward planning by bringing four empty wagons which they gleefully loaded with pillage. The marauders also fell upon the natives who lived around Livingstone’s mission: 300 women and children were dragged away as spoils of war, and divided up among the members of the commando as ‘apprentices’.[6]The incursion caused so much unrest among the local tribe (the Bakwena) that Livingstone was forced to abandon the mission station.

Dr Abraham Kuyper,[7] a passionately pro-Boer Hollander who would later serve as prime minister of the Netherlands, wrote numerous articles supporting Kruger’s regime during the war. In one of these, he wrote admiringly of the sort of men who had driven the Matabele from the Transvaal:

‘The word Boer signifies ‘peasant’, but it would be a mistake to compare Boers with French peasants, English farmers, or even the settlers of America. They are rather a conquering race, who established themselves among the Hottentots and Basutos in the same manner that the Normans, in the XI Century, established themselves among the Anglo-Saxons. Abstaining from all manual labour, they devote themselves to their properties, sometimes as much as 5,000 to 6,000 acres in extent, and to the breeding of cattle and horses. Beyond this, their object in life is hunting lion and big game. The Boer is essentially a man of war and politics.’

This praise certainly contradicts the carefully manufactured modern day notion of the Boer as a simple, pastoral man, keen only to be left alone. As one of Dr Kuyper’s sparring partners in the European Press, the French journalist, noted economist, and former politician, Yves Guyot, pointed out:

‘The Boers represent that form of warlike and political civilization in which production is indirect, and obtained by utilizing the labour of others. It is a type of that ancient pillaging civilization which we call war-like when its methods have been reduced to rules. In this stage, politics mean the organization of pillage. Mr Kuyper is right. ‘The Boer is essentially a man of war and politics.’ He has employed his talents at the expense of the Hottentots and Kaffirs.’

The simple reality is, for all the modern-day fantasies entertained by their apologists, that the scattered settlements these ‘men of war and politics’ established across the Transvaal could not really have been considered a functioning nation-state. Fanatically religious, fiercely independent, poorly-educated in the main, and loath to pay taxes, the perennially fractious settlers had little interest in law and order being keener to resolve disputes through violence. Seemingly blessed with more chiefs than Indians they splintered into tiny groups and established miniscule ‘capital cities’ in insignificant hamlets like Lydenburg, Potchefstroom, and Zoutpansberg. Never people to settle for small patches of land, the men among the 40,000 Boer settlers scattered across the Transvaal each considered it his God-given right to own a 6,000-acre farm, which perhaps explains why they spread themselves over an area larger than Great Britain.[10]

To further complicate matters, they also turned their covetous eyes towards the republic of the Orange Free State (established to their south by their brother Boers) and—despite British settlers having established themselves at Port Natal / Durban years before the Voortrekkers arrived—believed that they had somehow been cheated out of Natal by scheming Englishmen.

Far from the venal British wishing to deny the Transvaal Boers their right to self-rule as some commentators claim, the imperial authorities signed the Sand River Convention in 1852—an agreement which, while expressly prohibiting the practice of slavery, recognized the independence of the Transvaal.
Yet even this convention caused the Transvaalers to start squabbling among themselves as the other mini-republics refused to recognize the right of Andries Pretorius (Commandant of the Potchefstroom-based Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, the ZAR, or the South African Republic) to sign on their behalf. With the death of Pretorius in 1853, his son, Marthinus, a man equally as given to war-lordism as his father, assumed command of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. A truly Machiavellian power struggle soon ensued as he endeavoured to gain control, not only of all the other Transvaal republics, but also of the Orange Free State.[11]
Pretorius the younger brazenly declared the rival republics to be rebels and between 1856 and 1864, the patchwork of various micro-states which would ultimately become the Transvaal fought a series of intermittent wars against one another. The one constant in these spluttering, chaotic mini civil wars was a certain Paul Kruger, ‘…sometimes on the side of Pretorius, and sometimes against him, but always exceedingly ready to take up arms’.[12] Kruger flitted:

‘…across the scene generally as a stormy petrel. We find him on the side of certain Boer revolutionaries or reformers, upholding them in their actions and protesting against their being saddled with fines when their actions failed. On two separate occasions we find him marching on Pretoria to drive out the head of a rival party. We even find him joining in a kind of raid across the border of the friendly [Orange] Free State and issuing a 24 hours’ ultimatum to its Government.’[13]

Launched in 1857, Kruger’s attack on the Orange Free State[14] was nothing less than a blatant invasion after ZAR political attempts to force union on its neighbour had been rebuffed. Pretorius and Kruger were out-manoeuvred, however, and forced to slink back to the ZAR with their tails between their legs. Such was their determination to invade the Orange Free State that agents of the ZAR were even sent to Basutoland to persuade King Moshoeshoe to join their attack,[15] this at a time when using black warriors against fellow whites was viewed as the ultimate act of dishonour. Though the Transvaalers were unsuccessful in this particular plot, they did later manage to get their hands on both the Wakkerstroom and Utrecht Districts—areas which, by the terms of the Sand River Convention, the Boers of the Orange Free State believed to be rightfully theirs.[16]Far from the preferred fiction spewed out by Defenders of the Myth™, the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek continued to expand and endeavoured to dominate all around it. Kruger remained a driving force in all the fighting, routing a rival faction out of Pretoria and blasting another out of Potchefstroom with his artillery.[17] When Kruger’s men marched into Potchefstroom, the inhabitants were warned that anyone who resisted would be shot.[18]

The mini-republics of Lydenburg and Zoutpansberg were finally incorporated into the ZAR in 1860 though in truth, it was really only a union on paper[19] with the Zoutpansbergers being especially resistant. Pretorius was named president of the vastly enlarged State and the new capital of Pretoria (named in honour of his late father) was established. Still not content with the size of his empire—and his attempt at empire-building is strangely overlooked today—Pretorius fancied another crack at gaining control of the Orange Free State. His men on the ground in the OFS helped in his election as president of that State too, a feat which must be fairly unique in modern history.

Not surprisingly, this attempt to railroad the two republics into political union did not go down well and sparked a fresh uprising in the ZAR. The Transvaal Volksraad demanded that Pretorius choose one state or the other, and when he chose the OFS it prompted yet further anarchy and civil war in the Transvaal. This state of utter chaos lasted until 1864, dividing the Boers, and pitting brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour.[20] A semblance of order was restored only when Pretorius was finally persuaded to give up the Presidency of the OFS before he—the consummate political survivor—amazingly returned to lead the Transvaal. One is left astounded that there was no candidate more suitable.

As far as states go, the ZAR of the 1860s would be unrecognizable as such to modern eyes or, indeed, even by the standards of the day. The central government’s authority over the former Zoutpansberg Republic remained no more than nominal,[21] the state coffers were generally empty, and bankruptcy was never far off: ‘There were no schools, education being in the hands of itinerant teachers, no newspapers or libraries, nor indeed any recognizable towns.[22]

There was also no real law and order. With no standing army, the ZAR relied on the auxiliary commando system to suppress the ever-restless natives among whom they lived—and who vastly outnumbered them—and when a native uprising in the Zoutpansberg sent the settlers fleeing into laagers, the central Transvaal Government could do nothing to assist. Indeed, the more pious of the Boers refused to ride to the assistance of the Zoutspanberg’s wild and hedonistic frontier village of Schoemansdal and it was subsequently burned to the ground. The area remained in the hands of native rebels for several years.

A contemporary commentator noted that this chaotic state of affairs even extended to the church:

‘No minister of the Reformed Dutch Church had accompanied the Boers in their trek. They therefore formed themselves into a separate reformed Church, whose members called themselves ‘doppers’ (round heads). They allow no liberty of thought; they believe in literal inspiration. If they had ever heard of Galileo, they would have looked upon him as an imposter. They place the authority of the Old Testament above that of the New. There are three contending sects in the Transvaal, whose hostility is such that both before and after 1881, threats of civil war were indulged in.’

One thing the quarrelsome Transvaalers were able to agree upon, however, was a line in their 1860 constitution which confirmed, ‘The people are not prepared to allow any equality of the non-white with the white inhabitants, either in church or state’.[24] With admirable forthrightness, the Boers’ chief cheerleader in Europe, Dr Kuyper, described the difference between the relatively benign rule in the British colonies and that in the republics:

‘The English prided themselves on protecting the imaginary rights of the natives… The Boers are not sentimentalists, but are eminently practical. They recognized that these Hottentots and Basutos were an inferior race.’[25]

This blatantly racist nation, let us remember, is the state that the Defenders of the Myth tie themselves in knots to champion. While their constitution expressly declared that they had no interest in extending the franchise to these ‘inferior races’, the Transvaalers allowed incoming whites to gain citizenship and the right to vote after one year’s residence. The period for qualification would later be changed to five years, however, and then changed again, and again, and again as the ruling clique embarked on a desperate and dangerous bid to retain absolute power at all costs. Again, this political chicanery is defended to the hilt by modern-day keyboard warriors. Why, one wonders?


When the Transvaal Boers were not fighting each other or trying to invade the Orange Free State, they endeavoured to expand their territorial influence in every direction, dominating and marauding as they saw fit. Commandos regularly raided neighbouring tribes, killing, looting, and seizing children who were taken back to serve as ‘apprentices’.[26] There was a thriving trade in slaves, and ‘Slim’ Piet Joubert, the God-fearing commandant-general of the Transvaal, was known as a particularly good source of these. The Joubert Papers contain many letters written on the subject, the following (sent to his wife) being typical:

‘Please ask the General to let me have a little Malaboch kaffir, as of course there are some whose father and mother have been killed. I don’t mind if it’s a boy or a girl. I want one about seven years old, or any one that the General will give me.’[27]

Despite their superior weapons, and the oft-claimed and much-trumpeted fighting prowess of the Boer, not all the Transvaal’s attempts to snatch land and slaves were successful. Paul Kruger was repulsed with heavy losses when he led a commando against the Venda in 1867[28] and the Pedi in the northern parts of the Transvaal were able to defy the Transvaal’s expansionism for many years. The fragmented Tswana people who occupied that part of Bechuanaland to the west of the Transvaal proved less troublesome to the land-grabbing Boers who insidiously expanded the borders of the ZAR into their territory.[29]

There was no attempt at subtlety, however, when the discovery of gold deposits at Tati in 1868 led President Pretorius simply to announce the extension of his borders to the north and west so as to secure these[30]—rather ironic considering the indignation with which today’s Boer apologists complain about British attempts to ‘steal their gold’. Pretorius later tried to do exactly the same when diamonds were discovered in Griqualand.[31] This later attempt was less successful; his invasion force was driven off by a mob of angry prospectors.

The rewriting of the ZAR borders to incorporate the Tati gold fields meant that Pretorius had cheerfully snatched another chunk of Bechuanaland from the long-suffering but hopelessly divided Tswana people. Indeed, and despite the nonsense that certain History Professors pretend about the poor old innocent Boers ‘only wishing to be left alone’, the reality is that Transvaal Boers seem to have viewed Bechuanaland as theirs to do with as they chose, and various attempts were made to forcibly collect tax from one of the principal tribes in the area, the Barolong. These were not successful and when the ZAR sent a commando against the Barolong in 1868, it was driven off.

In response to this constant Boer aggression, Montsioa Toane, Chief of the Barolong, requested that Great Britain take his people under imperial protection, just as the Sotho king had. In a letter flamboyantly addressed to ‘His Excellency Her Britannic Majesty’s High Commissioner, Sir P. Wodehouse, KCB’, the chief requested ‘refuge under your protecting wings from the injustice of the Transvaal Republic, whose government have lately, by proclamation, included our country within the possessions of the said Republic’. He went on to explain:

‘…without the least provocation on our side, though the Boers have from time to time murdered some of my people and enslaved several Balala villages, the Transvaal Republic deprives us, by said proclamation, of our land and our liberty, against which we would protest in the strongest terms, and entreat your Excellency, as Her Britannic Majesty’s High Commissioner, to protect us.’[32]

True to form, however, the British were not interested in acquiring yet more responsibility. The ZAR was also not to give up so easily and continued raiding their neighbours in Bechuanaland. Barolong chiefs met a delegation from the ZAR (including Pretorius and Kruger) at Buhrmansdrift in 1870 to try and establish a boundary.[33] When no agreement was reached the matter was referred to a neutral party, Governor Keate of Natal, but the Transvaal Boers, unenamoured with his equitable suggestion, simply ignored it and continued their schemes of expansion regardless.
In 1876 King Khama, Chief of the Bamangwato people from northern Bechuanaland, joined the appeal, writing to Sir Henry Barkly to plead for a British protectorate. The letter contained the following significant passage:

‘I write to you, Sir Henry, in order that your queen may preserve for me my country, it being in her hands. The Boers are coming into it, and I do not like them. Their actions are cruel among us black people. We are like money, they sell us and our children. I ask Her Majesty to defend me, as she defends all her people. There are three things which distress me very much: war, selling people, and drink. All these things I shall find in the Boers, and it is these things which destroy people to make an end of them in the country. The custom of the Boers has always been to cause people to be sold, and to-day they are still selling people.’[34]

Again, and despite the British Empire’s reputation as some sort of grasping land-hungry behemoth desperately seeking any excuse to snatch new territory, the pleas of the Barolong and Bamangwato—like those of the Sotho before them—went unanswered for several years. It was only in 1878 that the British finally bowed to pressure and sent troops under Colonel (later General Sir) Charles Warren to occupy southern Bechuanaland.

By then another of the ZAR’s attempts to dominate its black neighbours had backfired spectacularly. Since 1872 the president of the ZAR had been the relatively liberal and forward-looking Thomas Burgers[35] while the distinctly illiberal and backward-looking Paul Kruger had risen to the position of vice-president. Burgers with his modern ways and the gaggle of civil servants he had imported from the Netherlands en masse, had quickly become highly unpopular with many Transvaal burghers. The ultra-conservative Dopper Party announced that they had had more than enough of all this progress malarkey and proposed the reassuringly blinkered Kruger as their presidential candidate.[36]

For all his much-derided attempts at modernization, what Burgers presided over was still less of a functioning nation-state and more of a chaotic and virtually bankrupt collection of lawless individuals thinly scattered across the veldt. Potchefstroom, Lydenburg, and Pretoria were still little more than villages, there were only four state schools in the whole country, as late as 1877 total annual expenditure was less than £5,000,[37] and there was by then quite simply no money to pay government workers. Though most went without any sort of salary at all, the state-surveyor took his pay in land while the postmaster-general had a slightly less attractive deal being forced to take his in stamps.[38] Illiteracy was also a major problem—only eight per cent of white children in the ZAR (compared to 50% in Britain’s Cape Colony) attended school in 1877.[39] It was, in modern parlance, a failed state.

As Dr Jorrisen (later one of President Kruger’s chief agents) admitted in his reminiscences: ‘…there was no such thing in 1876 as Transvaal patriotism, the whole country was in a state of chaos.’[40]

Disregarding this precarious situation, the leaders of the ZAR jauntily embarked on yet another military adventure, this time against the mountain strongholds of the Pedi to the north of the Transvaal. The 1,400-strong commando was supported by an especially savage contingent of Swazi allies who were given carte blanche to butcher any women and children they came across.[41] Despite this the Transvaalers came off badly and were quickly routed, scurrying back to Pretoria in a panic.[42] One observer recorded the complete collapse of Boer morale:

‘… [as the war] lasted longer and longer the burghers lost their courage. Some packed up on the quiet and went home, amongst others demoralization set in so fast that the whole commando in spite of the exhortations of the chivalrous president [Reverend Thomas Burgers] melted like snow in the sun and everybody rushed huistoe [home].’[43]

Their commandos routed by the Pedi and, and with Zulu impis ready to take their revenge and strike from the south, the Transvaal Boers faced complete annihilation. Quite understandably fearing for their lives, the Lydenburg Boers shamelessly requested British protection as did various (mainly German and British) inhabitants of villages across the republic.[44] Seeing the writing on the wall, President Burgers made a remarkable speech to the volksraad:

‘I would rather be a policeman under a strong government than a president of such a state. It is you—you members of the raad and the Boers—who have ruined the country, who have sold your independence for a drink. You have ill-treated the natives, you have shot them down, you have sold them into slavery, and now you have to pay the penalty.’[45]

Thus, the Transvaal was annexed by Great Britain on 12 April 1877 without a shot having been fired by these fearsome ‘men of war and politics’. Though later billed by Kruger’s propaganda machine as ‘a small army’,[46] the British ‘invasion force’ actually consisted of a single 25-strong troop of Natal Mounted Police. There can be little doubt that the majority of the ZAR’s inhabitants welcomed their arrival, breathing a very deep sigh of relief at what they represented. None other than Henry Rider Haggard read the proclamation announcing the annexation, a proclamation which rightly declared the ZAR to have been facing ‘anarchy and bloodshed’. Incidentally, and to highlight how well the annexation was received, this proclamation was printed on the presses of the ZAR’s government-approved newspaper[47] and another leading local newspaper stated that 96% of the Transvaal’s citizens were in favour of the annexation.[48] One can hardly blame them, given that Imperial intervention saved them and their families from being butchered.

With casual, unconscious racism, today’s critics of the annexation always focus on its impact on the Boers, ignoring the fact that, even then, they were a tiny minority in the Transvaal. This was even the case at the time, as Henry Rider Haggard put it:
‘It never seems to have occurred to those who have raised so much outcry on behalf of 40,000 Boers, to inquire what was thought of the matter by the million natives.’[49]
Haggard would be disappointed to learn that today’s Defenders of the Myth™ continue to simply disregard these million voices – clearly they are of no importance to today’s Kruger apologists.

In about four years, Imperial rule sorted out the train wreck that was the Transvaal. The British army quickly did what the Boers had been unable to do, breaking the power of both the Pedi and the Zulus, and thus removing the two existential threats to the territory. The ZAR’s basket-case finances were addressed with an injection of British money[50] and the place was thus set on an even keel again, thanks to the long-suffering British tax-payer.

Their failed state saved from both annihilation and bankruptcy by the ‘wicked’ British, Kruger and his claque responded by demanding to have another go at running things. Republican victory in the First Boer War of 1880/81 saw Kruger et al back in power again, and set the Transvaal on their path towards attempting to drive the British Empire from the region.

With Kruger’s clique back in power, no one would suffer more than the Africans who—it is always overlooked by Defenders of the Myth™—made up the vast majority of the ZAR’s population. A distraught Henry Rider Haggard stated that they deserved ‘some protection and consideration, some voice in the settlement of their fate.’
‘They outnumbered the Boers by 25 to one, taking their numbers at a million and those of the Boers at 40,000, a fair estimate, I believe … as the lash and the bullet have been the lot of the wretched Transvaal Kaffir in the past, so they will be his lot in the future … after leading those hundreds of thousands of men and women to believe that they were once and for ever the subjects of Her Majesty, safe from all violence, cruelty, and oppression, we have handed them over without a word of warning to the tender mercies of one, where natives are concerned, of the cruellest white races in the world.[51]

It fell to the missionary John Moffat to try to explain to the African chiefs in the Transvaal that they would no longer enjoy British protection or equality before the law. Moffat described how, ‘for the most part there was the silence of despair. One gentle old man, Mokhatle, a man of great influence, used the language of resignation, ‘When I was a child, the Matabele came, they swept over us like the wind and we bowed before them like the long white grass on the plains. They left us and we stood upright again. The Boers came and we bowed ourselves under them in like manner. The British came and we rose upright, our hearts lived within us and we said: Now we are the children of the Great Lady. And now that is past and we must lie flat again under the wind—who knows what are the ways of God?’’[52]


And these men were right to be worried about what was to come, as, to any but the ‘Chosen People’, the post-rebellion Transvaal was even less pleasant than it had been pre-1877. Even before Kruger was formally elected president in 1883,[53] the Transvaal, emboldened by its victory in the First Boer War, quickly resumed the process of expanding its western borders. An ongoing tribal power struggle in Bechuanaland provided an opportunity for the Transvaalers to get involved and they again backed one chief against another after having been promised vast tracts of land as payment for their support.[54] Hundreds of ‘filibusters and freebooters’ from the Transvaal fought a nine-month campaign that essentially involved seizing cattle from the other faction.[55] The raiding and killing continued until the Transvaal Government suddenly imposed a peace and, rather conveniently, awarded itself a large chunk of land as a result. Though patently a colony of the Transvaal settled by hundreds of her people, this newly acquired territory, Stellaland, was nominally made an independent Boer republic.

And even grabbing this land was not enough, and the Transvaal quickly involved itself in another power struggle. A long-running feud between two rival Barolong chiefs, Moshete and Montsiwa, had kept southern Bechuanaland in a state of turmoil for many years.[56] Following a now familiar pattern, large numbers of Transvaalers travelled to fight for Moshete despite protests from the British. So great were their numbers and influence that it was the leader of these Transvaal Boers, the extravagantly named Nicolas Claudius Gey van Pittius—and not Chief Moshete—who directed operations.[57]

The Transvaalers and Moshete’s warriors drove Montsiwa from his main settlement at Sehuba and burned it to the ground.[58] Montsiwa’s followers retreated to Mafeking where, under the supervision of a handful of mainly British advisers, trenches were dug and fortifications constructed. Indeed, Mafeking was so well fortified that Moshete and the Transvaalers had no choice other than to lay siege to it in an attempt to starve out Montsiwa’s people. It was an especially savage conflict. Women and children were targeted, and if captured, Montsiwa’s English-speaking advisers could expect no mercy from the Transvaalers. The brutal killing of one James Scott McGillivray caused a diplomatic outcry after it appeared that he had been captured by the Transvaalers, placed in chains, and murdered.

As before, the ZAR forced a peace on the situation and used this to snatch large portions of land. Most of Montsiwa’s territory was seized (as was a good chunk of Moshete’s) and his people were placed under the dubious ‘protection and control of the Transvaal Government’.[59] To rub salt into the wound, Montsiwa was also required to pay £16,000 to the Transvaal as a ‘war indemnity’. As with Stellaland, the ZAR went through the charade of pretending that the newly snatched territory—shamelessly given the Biblical name of Goshen[60]—was an independent republic, rather than very obviously a colony of the Transvaal.

Though the British belatedly moved to prevent this blatant expansion into Bechuanaland, down in Zululand the empire-building of the ZAR proceeded with more success. Exactly as they had done in Bechuanaland, the Transvaal Boers took advantage of inter-tribal chaos and ongoing strife among various competing chiefs, and picked sides in return for vast tracts of land. Zululand was ripe for the taking as it had been in considerable turmoil since the British victory in the Zulu War of 1879, with various chiefs vying for supremacy.

At a meeting on 23 May 1884, a Boer delegation agreed to support Dinizulu in his quest to become supreme chief of the Zulus,[61] the quid pro quo being about half of Zululand. It is not clear whether Dinizulu simply had no intention of ever honouring the deal or failed to understand that he was cheerfully signing away 7,500 square miles of land.[62] Either way, just a few months later, hundreds of Boers moved to occupy the newly acquired territory, rather unimaginatively naming it the New Republic.[63] A capital was laid out and named Vryheid (‘Freedom’), a name which the town retains to this day.

Though apologists at the time maintained that the New Republic had been gained and occupied by private individuals rather than by the government of the Transvaal, this was merely the latest in the by-now-familiar method of expansion: hundreds of farmers on the border would, one way or another, move in and occupy someone else’s land, declaring it yet another mini-republic, though one blatantly—and inextricably—linked to the ZAR. Indeed (and though he declined) none other than the commandant-general of the Transvaal, ‘Slim’ Piet Joubert, was invited to become the president of the New Republic. The British had finally be pricked into action in time to prevent in the ‘United States of Stellaland’ to be formally incorporated into the Transvaal, but this was not the case for the New Republic. On 11 September 1887 it was suddenly decided that the New Republic was too small to remain independent and was—surprise, surprise—incorporated into the ever-expanding Transvaal.[64]

To the north of Zululand and the New Republic, and between the ZAR and the much-coveted sea port, lay the small, sparsely populated kingdom of Swaziland. For decades the Transvaal Boers had taken advantage of any political power struggle to encroach on Swazi territory, and had secured about half of the land once controlled by the Swazi king. Despite the independence and borders of Swaziland having been formalized and acknowledged by the ZAR in both the Pretoria Convention of 1881 and the London Convention of 1884, Kruger remained determined to gain control of the rest of the territory. In 1886 the paramount chief of the Swazis, Mbandini, informed the governor of Natal that Piet Joubert had visited him, requesting he issue a declaration that ‘he and all the Swazis agree to go over and recognize the authority of the Boer Government, and have nothing more to do with the English’.[65] When Mbandini refused, Joubert had said:

‘Those fathers of yours, the English, act very slowly; and if you look to them for help, and refuse to sign this paper, we shall have scattered you and your people, and taken possession of your land before they arrive. Why do you refuse to sign the paper? You know we defeated the English at Majuba.’[66]

Joubert had gone on to add, rather optimistically, that the British Empire was a ‘broken reed’. By Transvaal standards, Joubert was something of a moderate, so his remarkable outburst should leave one in no doubt as to the impact of that battle on the mind-set of the men who ran the ZAR: after their victory at Majuba, their contempt for the British Empire was such that, if even relative moderates like Joubert believed the British Empire was a spent force, others felt that the whole of southern Africa was simply theirs for the taking.

Knowing the ZAR’s intentions, Mbandini repeatedly asked for imperial protection and for a British resident to be installed, just as the chiefs of the Basuto and the Tswana had done. Unfortunately, and again, just as in the cases of the Basuto and the Tswana, the British were hesitant to get involved. However, the ZAR’s aggressively expansionist policy knew no such reluctance and, in the now time-honoured fashion, a group of Transvaal Boers moved into Swazi territory and declared yet another mini-republic. This one was called the Klein Vrystaat (‘the Little Free State’) with the tiny settlement of Piet Retief serving as the capital,[67] and just like the New Republic before it, the Klein Vrystaat was duly incorporated into the ZAR in August 1890.

Under increasing pressure from the ZAR, Mbandini was coerced into giving mining and grazing rights to increasing numbers of settlers, and granting concessions allowing the Transvaal to run his ‘postal, telegraphic, banking, and customs’. This sneaky takeover was so successful that in 1893 the British were essentially presented with a fait accompli and their efforts to arrange a system of ‘dual control’ were too little, too late.

As well as the constant expansion of their borders, the 1890s saw the ZAR fighting a never-ending series of wars to consolidate their hold on territory that they already considered theirs. In 1894 the ZAR declared war on Chief Leboho of the Hananwa who lived in the Blouberg Mountains in the northern Transvaal with the objective, as ever, of extending the ZAR’s influence and dominance. Joubert, commanding a force of around 1,800 Boers complete with artillery, surrounded the Chief’s kraal, laying siege to it and cutting off food and water supplies. As usual in such conflicts (and despite their later squeals of protest about such things) Joubert’s force was supplemented by 700 black allies. After several months of siege, on 31 July, the Chief surrendered and was taken to Pretoria where his people were essentially enslaved, being divvied up among the members of the victorious commandos and forced to work on Boer farms for five years.[68]

Whether the modern day Boer apologists, Kruger fanboys and other strange keyboard warriors actively approve of this disgraceful reality, or are simply utterly ignorant of it, I wouldn’t like to guess, but the fact is the treatment of blacks in the Transvaal was utterly brutal in every way. One European visitor to the republic approvingly described it thus:

‘The standing of the Kaffir in the Transvaal is worth notice. While in the English colony they enjoy equal rights with white men, and even have a vote, in the Transvaal their standing is very different. The Kaffir must not walk on the pavement, he must salute every white man, and must not leave his house after 9pm … every Boer has the tacitly recognized right to punish his blacks. He never does it in passion. When the Kaffir does anything, he is told to appear the next day at a certain hour. He is then tied to the wagon, the braces are dampened, and he gets the necessary number of lashes.’[69]

As well as this outrageous racial discrimination and a heady enthusiasm for slavery, the Transvaal was essentially a Christian fundamentalist state. Kruger believed absolutely in the divine right of the Afrikaners, somewhat ludicrously considering them to be God’s chosen people:

‘The President really believes, and has always believed, that the Boers are the chosen people of the Old Testament, to whom the people of Ham should be servants, and that they are promised the annexing of the Promised Land.’[70]

A member of the Orange Free State Volksraad wrote that Kruger:

‘…made the burghers believe that he was a prophet who, like Moses, was the means of communication between God and his chosen people. This is literally true. In the earlier days, he often vanished for long periods, and [when] he came back, he made the people believe that he had been communicating with God. It was absolutely believed by the burghers that Kruger, who was in Heidelberg at the time—100 miles from the scene—knew the result of the battle of Majuba on the very morning on which it was fought!’[71]

As is only to be expected, armour-plated ignorance went hand-in-hand with this widespread religious fanaticism. Kruger proudly made it known that the only book he had ever read was the Bible and, despite having travelled to Europe on several occasions, he died firmly believing that the Earth was flat: hardly a suitable man to lead any nation into the 20th century. When English-speaking residents of Johannesburg fired rockets at clouds hoping to prompt a badly needed rain storm, the ruling Boer elite were furious. These devil-dodging Calvinists declared that the experiment was ‘…a defiance of God and would most likely bring down a visitation from the Almighty’.[72] A Meneer Wolmarans was particularly outraged at such heresy and declared to the volksraad that if any of his children fired a revolver at a cloud, he would thrash the child for mocking the Almighty.[73]Writing in 1900, a Hollander called Thomas C. Hutten shared a few home truths about the religious zealotry which held sway in the Transvaal. His article, published in the North American Review, was called The Doom of the Boer Oligarchies, and Hutten did not buy into the idea of supporting the Boer underdog which was so common throughout Europe at the time. Instead, Hutten told his readers exactly what an unpleasant place the people of Europe were unthinkingly cheering for, and compared their support to that given to the ‘plucky underdogs’ of the Confederate States during the American Civil War—despite it being ‘indisputable that they [the Confederacy] had taken up arms in defence of the worst cause that, perhaps, ever united five million intelligent beings of our species’.[74]Describing the Transvaal, he wrote:‘…to say that the social tendencies of Boerdom are 100 years behind the march of progress would be an insult to the culture of the 18th century. Their votaries are relics of the dogma-crazed Middle Ages, uncompromising disciples of the bigots who exiled Hugo Grotius and blighted the career of the patriot Barneveldt, of the obscurantists whose opposition to every national reform forced Holland from her proud position in the forefront of cosmopolitan enterprise.’[75] He continued with a scathing assessment of Kruger’s followers:

‘They would, perhaps, have done better to settle nearer to the centre of the continent, at the sources of the Congo, or in the Mountains of the Moon. A colony of mental mummies might hold its own in a region of absolute darkness, but could not hope to prosper beside communities basking in the sunlight of civilization… the Transvaal ‘Republic’ is administered in the interests of a conservative clique of about three dozen families. ‘He heaps up pensions and preferments on his relatives in a way that would put Tammany Hall to shame,’ writes Mr T. A. McKenzie in his recently published pamphlet on President Kruger.’[76]George Bernard Shaw—a man who can hardly be considered a jingo—found himself in a similar position, writing:
‘During the war a curious thing happened in Norway. There, as in Germany, everyone took it for granted that the right side was the anti-English side [some things never change, it would seem!]. Suddenly Ibsen asked in his grim manner, ‘Are we really on the side of Kruger and his Old Testament?’… I saw that Kruger meant the 17th century and the Scottish 17th century at that; and so to my great embarrassment I found myself on the side of the mob.[77]The Transvaal of the late 19th century was chaotically mismanaged by these anachronistic religious extremists, and their fanatical fundamentalism was steadily marching southern Africa toward war. One of the more enlightened Afrikaans leaders wrote in frustration, that due to this widespread God-fearing ignorance:‘…it is easier to mislead [a Boer] than to lead him. A man who plays upon his vanity and prejudice against England quickly obtains influence. A loud talker and blusterer gets a better hearing than a quiet reasoner. I ascribe this to want of education and complete isolation on the veldt from generation to generation. The depth of their ignorance will hardly be understood by one who does not know them as well as I do … Unfortunately, the ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church, greedy for the fat lamb, the fowl, and the purse, foster this ignorance. One parson actually had the audacity, during the war, to tell his congregation that God must help His chosen people, otherwise He would lose His influence.’[78]Hutten also described how dreadful life was for the more open-minded, and forward looking burghers: ‘A Junta, more narrow-minded, more intolerant, more obstinate than the State Council of medieval Venice, restrains their progressive tendencies, and reduces their suffrage to the formality of ratifying a prearranged programme. Parish bigots complete that system of feudalism. Rationalists exist, but a liquor dealer advertising his stimulants on the temple walls of Mecca would not provoke more immediate ruin than a philosopher expounding the principles of liberalism in a Transvaal country town. An aggressive boycott would be organized in less than 48 hours. The dissenter’s neighbours would be warned to cut his acquaintance. Gangs of superstition-crazed Yahoos would howl under his windows after dark. Good wives, at his approach, would snatch up their youngsters and slam the door in his face. A ceaseless cackle of vituperation and slander would dodge his steps from house to house, from camp to camp.’[79]

Today’s Kruger apologists like to pretend that the poor old Boers ‘only ever wished to be left alone’, but this is actually one of the biggest lies of all. In reality, the 1890s saw the Transvaal’s well-funded Secret Service seeking to foment rebellions in both Rhodesia and Bechuanaland, their obvious aim being to destabilize those British territories. The Transvaal’s agents were also busy in the Cape Colony and the Orange Free State, spreading anti-British propaganda, smuggling in weapons, bank-rolling pro-Transvaal candidates in elections and funding sedition through the media.[80] One of the most effective ways to disseminate hatred among the poorly educated, God-fearing Boers was from the pulpit, so Kruger’s minions turned his venomous loathing of Englishmen into something akin to a crusade. One churchman admitted that ‘he had to preach anti-English, because otherwise he would lose favour with those in power’.[81]

The propaganda fell on fertile ground, as one moderate Orange Free State Volksraad member recalled:

‘This successful anti-British policy of Kruger created a number of imitators—Steyn, Fischer, Esselen, Smuts, and numerous other young educated Afrikanders of the Transvaal, Orange Free State, and the Cape Colony, who, misled by his successes, ambitiously hoped by the same means to raise themselves to the same pinnacle … Krugerism under them developed into a reign of terror. If you were anti-Kruger, you were stigmatized as ‘Engelschgezind’ [lit. English sympathizing] and a traitor to your people, unworthy of a hearing. I have suffered bitterly from this taunt, especially under Steyn’s regime. The more hostile you were to England, the greater patriot you were accounted … This gang, which I wish to be clearly understood, was spread over the whole of South Africa, the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and the Cape Colony, used the Bond, the press, and the pulpit to further its schemes.’[82]  


This then was the Transvaal that today’s Defenders of the Myth™ rush to champion at every opportunity: an undeniably aggressive, warlike, racist, expansionist, and fundamentalist state. A place where White Supremacy was literally written into their constitution, where Catholics and Jews were openly and callously discriminated against, and where slavery was still practiced. It was a nation whose corrupt ruling caste were described even by their admirers of the time as ‘men of war and politics’ and a ‘conquering race’, and by others as a gang of ‘mental mummies’. Unless you were one of the self-appointed Chosen People, life in Kruger’s Transvaal was many times worse than in the later Apartheid South Africa – a system and regime which pretty much everyone today (in public, at least) agrees was utterly odious and repellent.

It certainly makes one wonder about the sort of people who will always tie themselves in knots to defend Kruger’s Transvaal today.


[1] Binckes, The Great Trek Uncut, p. 279

[2] Scaife, ‘The War To Date (March 1, 1900)’, p. 8

[3] Welsh, A History of South Africa, p. 238

[4]Jeal, Explorers of the Nile, p. 82

[5] Fisher, p. 35

[6]Ibid, p. 36

[7] Abraham Kuyper (Kuijper), (1837–1920). Dutch journalist, politician, and outspoken Neo-Calvinist. He served as prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. His son was a staunch supporter of Afrikaans nationalism and a Nazi collaborator in World War 2. His grandson volunteered for the SS and was killed on the Russian Front. Nice family.

[8] Guyot, Boer Politics, p. 23

[9] Guyot, Boer Politics, p. 25

[10] Creswicke, South Africa and the Transvaal War, Vol. 1, p. 1

[11] Garrett, The Story of an African Crisis, p. 8

[12]Ibid, p. 8

[13]Ibid, p. 8

[14] Rethman, Friends and Enemies, p. 8

[15] Botha From Boer to Boer and Englishman, p. 15

[16]Theal, History of South Africa since September 1795, Vol. IV, p. 236

[17] Walker, A History of Southern Africa, p. 314

[18]Chilvers, The Yellow Man Looks On, p. 44

[19] Walker, p. 312

[20]Tingay & Johnson, Transvaal Epic, p. 76

[21] Walker, p. 316

[22] Welsh, p. 226

[23] Guyot, Boer Politics, p. 35

[24] Thompson, A History of South Africa, p. 102

[25] Guyot, Boer Politics, p. 21

[26] Thompson, A History of South Africa, p. 103

[27] Gordon, The Growth in Boer Opposition to Kruger, 1890–1895, p. 8

[28] Thompson, p. 104

[29] Thompson, p. 103

[30] Welsh, p. 237

[31] Roberts, Kimberley, Turbulent City, p. 29

[32] Carter, A Narrative of the Boer War, p. 23

[33]Heale, Of Bullets and Boys, p. 2

[34] Haggard, p. 19

[35] Welsh, p. 254

[36] Haggard, p. 23

[37] Welsh, p. 254

[38] Haggard, p. 22

[39] Vail, The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa, p. 38

[40] Gibson, The Story of the Imperial Light Horse, p. 14

[41] Fisher, p. 50

[42] Welsh, p. 257

[43] South African Military History Society, Military History Journal, Vo.8, No.6, December 1991

[44]Scaife, p. 37

[45] Fisher, p. 52

[46]Guyot, Boer Politics, p. 33

[47] Carter, p. 29

[48] Rethman, Friends and Enemies, p. 8

[49] Haggard, p. 30

[50] Carter, p. 49

[51] Creswicke, Vol. I, p. 103

[52] Mason, The Birth of a Dilemma: The Conquest and Settlement of Rhodesia, p. 110

[53]Theal, History of South Africa from 1873–1884, p. 133

[54]Ibid, p. 146

[55]Ibid, p. 147

[56]Ibid, p. 148

[57]Ibid, p. 150

[58] Walker, p. 396

[59]Theal, p. 152

[60] Walker, p. 396

[61]Ibid, p. 19

[62]Ibid, p. 20

[63] Walker, p. 402

[64]Theal, p. 27

[65]Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 edition, Swaziland entry

[66] Haggard, p. 96

[67]Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 edition, Swaziland entry

[68] South African Military History Society, Military History Journal, Vol. 8 No. 5

[69] Sternberg &Henderson, My Experiences of the Boer War, p. 78

[70]Farrelly, p. 64

[71] Botha, p. 18

[72]Wheatcroft, The Randlords, p. 5

[73] Fitzpatrick, p. 310

[74]North American Review, Vol.170, Number 520, March 1900, p. 327

[75]North American Review, Vol.170, Number 520, March 1900, p. 328

[76]North American Review, Vol.170, Number 520, March 1900, p. 329

[77] Le May, British Supremacy in South Africa, 1899–1902, p. 29

[78] Botha, p. 9

[79]North American Review, Vol.170, Number 520, March 1900, p. 329

[80] Botha, p. 23

[81]Ibid, p. 22

[82]Ibid, p. 23

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