As I have mentioned in a few recent blog articles, there are some striking parallels between the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and the republican invasions of British territory which started the Boer War, way back in 1899.
These similarities continued with Moscow announcing their plans to formally annex the land they have grabbed:
For those unable to follow the link, the article – which is titled: ‘Vladimir Putin set to declare occupied land in Ukraine part of Russia’ – begins by stating:
Russia on Tuesday paved the way for the formal annexation of swathes of Ukraine in a major escalation of the Kremlin’s war with Kyiv.
Pro-Moscow leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions – amounting to 15 per cent of the country’s territory – announced plans for referendums, which would lead to annexation, later this week.
In another article in today’s Telegraph, the US government has, quite rightly, completely rejected the legitimacy of any such referenda:
The US has denounced Russia’s planned referendums to annex parts of Ukraine as “sham” actions and said it would not recognise the results. Russian-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions have set out plans for referendums on joining Russia.
They would take place between September 23 and 27 in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing about 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory, or an area roughly the size of Hungary. Ukraine dismissed the plans as a stunt by Moscow to try to reclaim the initiative after crushing losses on the battlefield.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington and its allies would reject any such referendums.
The Boer invasions of Imperial territory in the Cape Colony and Natal followed a remarkably similar path, though Kruger and his minions did not even bother going through the charade of a referendum before announcing their annexations. As Conan-Doyle stated: ‘every yard of British territory which was occupied was instantly annexed either by the Transvaal or by the Orange Free State. This is admitted and beyond dispute’.[i]
Many modern-day writers tend to overlook what happened in the northern Natal town of Dundee once it had been captured by the invaders, for example. The Vierkleur flag of the Transvaal was run up outside the offices of the town board, and it was announced that Dundee was now part of the Transvaal. A Vrederechter[ii] with wide ranging power was appointed and soon began to issue endless proclamations and notices. All residents were required to register with him, a 7pm curfew was imposed, and a permit was required to purchase goods in the two shops which were permitted to remain open.[iii]
As the residents who had remained in Dundee – which was renamed ‘Meyersdorp’ – were now considered to be living in the ever-expanding Transvaal, any criticism of Kruger’s government could be regarded as treason. If not shot out of hand, residents could be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or used in forced labour as required. Others were transported en masse to Pretoria.[iv] The farmers around the town were visited and informed that the area had been annexed to the Transvaal and that, unless they agreed to join the republican cause, they would be considered rebels and face execution.[v]
It was similar across the Buffalo River in Zululand, where republican forces invaded and occupied the districts of Nquthu and Nkandla[vi] in west of the territory. Despite the farcical bleating about a ‘defensive invasion’ from modern-day Defenders of the Myth, these captured districts were also formally annexed to Kruger’s Transvaal, and placed under the control of two veldkornets who supervised the collection of a hut tax. One of this duo, Veldkornet van der Berg, even boasted to the Zulus of Nkandla that ‘the Boers intend to crown Dinuzulu king over the whole native population, and there would be only two kings in the whole of the land—Paul [Kruger] over the whites, and Dinuzulu over the blacks.’[vii]
On the western front, great swathes of invaded land was also annexed. After the capture of Vryburg, De la Rey read a proclamation declaring that ‘the Republican flag was flying over all the land north of the Orange River and would continue to fly there forever’[viii]. Needless to say, this all rather torpedoes the post-facto lies and self-serving nonsense about the poor old, totally innocent invading Boers only seeking to ‘adopt defensive positions just over the border’.
Further south, at Kimberley, it was the same. Though Colonel Kekewich declared the town to be under a state of siege on 15 October 1899, the invading Boers seemed more interested in issuing proclamations declaring the annexation of British territory than actually fighting for it, and Kekewich was moved to issue his own counter-proclamations to repudiate these.[ix]
As Conan-Doyle remarked, ‘The policy of the instant annexation of all territories invaded was habitually carried out by the enemy’[x], though this really should not be a surprise to anyone who has actually studied the war. Despite the latter-day attempts at reinvention by the National Party propaganda machine, and the frenzied squawking and special pleading of today’s Defenders of the Myth, the simple reality is that Kruger and his gaggle had embarked on a war of conquest.
Count Adalbert Graf Sternberg, the illustrious Austrian war correspondent, travelled to both Pretoria and Bloemfontein in December of 1899, in a quest to ‘discover the ultimate objects of the Boers’—something historians have argued about ever since, with certain South African History Professors still twisting themselves in knots, in their desperate attempts to absolve Kruger of all blame whatsoever.
The Count learned that many wanted a Boer-dominated ‘United States of South Africa’ in some form—and this was certainly what the popular press in the republics was calling for. During his visit, Sternberg spent a good deal of time with Kruger, a man he appears to have admired. Tellingly, the Count reported that ‘Kruger himself only wanted Natal, with the port of Durban’[xi]—suggesting some of his circle wanted more.
Sternberg also spent time with President Steyn of the OFS, describing him as ‘a fine man, a European with a clever, striking face … a model of sincerity and candour, and a Boer president par excellence’.[xii] Steyn admitted to the Count that the Orange Free State had always enjoyed good relations with Great Britain and that ‘the present state of affairs’ was ‘quite artificial’. During their meeting, Steyn told the Count that his nation was poor and that: ‘…their first object was the annexation [that inconvenient word again] of the diamond fields. This war made possible the attainment of their wishes.’
It is instructive that Count Sternberg is mentioned by General Ben Viljoen in his Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War. Viljoen criticizes the Count’s memoirs for all manner of things, such as ‘extraordinary tales’ about ‘the galloping and trotting feats of the Basuto ponies’ and claims that the closest Sternberg came to action was when his cigars were stolen by a German ambulance man.[xiii] What General Viljoen does not do, however, is contradict or challenge any of the comments the Count made about the Boer war aims and objectives.
So despite the Apartheid-era propaganda, and the modern-day online rantings of the True Believers, it was quite clearly a war of territorial expansion – which explains the annexations of thousands of square miles of Imperial territory.
Writing in 1905, Leo Amery[xiv] summed up the confused war aims of the Boers rather well:
‘The more sanguine ‘young Afrikanders’ and enthusiastic fanatics like Mr Reitz thought that the time had already come for the final expulsion of the British Power from South Africa and the creation of the great Afrikander Republic, and their sentiments were freely expressed in the Republican Press.’[xv]
Only slightly less ambitious, states Amery, were the dreams of Kruger, who was determined to win an outlet to the sea and, if possible, annex Natal, Mafeking, and Bechuanaland.
Similarly, the leaders of the Orange Free State considered Kimberley and Griqualand West as:
‘…definitely Free State territory, while the more forward spirits among them insisted that the invaded districts south of the Orange River should, on the conclusion of peace, be allowed to decide for themselves whether they would remain British territory or not.’[xvi]
Given that the invaders would have driven most of the Loyalists out of such areas, and terrorised the others into silence, the results of such a ‘decision’ would be pretty obvious: ethnic cleansing tends to have that impact.
But – wait a moment – where have we heard of this sort of thing recently? This sounds suspiciously like Putin’s totally rigged, sham ‘referendums which would lead to annexation’.
[i] Conan-Doyle, The War in South Africa – its cause and conduct, chapter 5
[ii] Roughly, a Justice of the Peace
[iii] Rethman, Friends and Enemies, p. 202
[iv] Ibid, p. 203
[v] Ibid, p. 205
[vi] Better known these days as the site of Jacob Zuma’s enormously extravagant home and chicken coup
[vii] Warwick, Black People and the South African War, 1899-1902, p. 85
[viii] Amery, The Times History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 2, p. 272
[ix] Amery, Vol. 2, p. 276
[x] Conan-Doyle, The Great Boer War, p. 129
[xi] Sternberg & Henderson, My Experiences of the Boer War, p. 88
[xii] Ibid, p. 86
[xiii] Viljoen, My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War, p. 273
[xiv] Leopold Amery (1873–1955), correspondent for The Times during the Boer War and later a long-serving MP, including stints as First Lord of the Admiralty, Colonial Secretary, and Secretary of State for India.
[xv] Amery, Vol.3, p. 68
[xvi] Ibid, p. 69