‘A fourth rate, cruel, unstable, corrupt, brutal regime’

‘The Falklands Play’ was written back in 1983, and is a dramatic account of the political events leading up to, and during, the 1982 Falklands War. It was originally commissioned by the BBC for production and broadcast in 1986, but – due to lots of internal politics – only finally saw the light of day in 2002, with separate adaptations on BBC Television and Radio.

While I do not for a moment claim that it is 100% historically accurate, the play nevertheless contains an illuminating exchange.

The veteran US diplomat and – at the time – Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Tom Enders, is trying to find a peaceful ‘solution’ to the crisis, and informs Margaret Thatcher:

“we have to treat Britain and Argentina even-handedly for the purpose of negotiation…”

Needless to say, the Iron Lady is having none of this nonsense, retorting:

“How DARE you treat us even-handedly? Argentina is the aggressor, the invader. A fourth-rate, cruel, unstable, corrupt, brutal regime with no morals or scruples whatever! … And this is the regime you wish to give even a foothold over British citizens”

Whether or not this exchange – or something similar – took place is, of course, unclear, but the point made remains valid: why should anyone have any sympathy or show any respect for the side that is the aggressor / invader in a war? Why should there be any attempt to find ‘common ground’ when one side is so blatantly in the wrong?

And it is not as though such mental gymnastics are unique to the Falklands War. Indeed, when it comes to the Boer War, there are those who take it much further; they do not just seek to treat Great Britain and Kruger’s Transvaal ‘even-handedly’. Instead, they actively side with the ‘aggressor and invader’, and are shamelessly desperate to hammer their colours to the mast of a ‘fourth-rate, cruel, unstable and corrupt, brutal regime’ – a truly ghastly regime that some today dearly wish could have won ‘a foothold over British citizens’ in Natal, the Cape Colony and Rhodesia.

And, for the benefit of those True Believers who live in a blissful state of sheer willful delusion, it is certainly no exaggeration to state that Kruger’s Transvaal was every bit as ghastly as Galtieri’s Argentina. Indeed, Kruger presided over a system which, unless you happened to be one of the self-appointed ‘Chosen People’, was in every way worse than the later Apartheid government.

Though this is studiously ignored by their modern-day apologists (who have, ludicrously, recently taken to pretending that the British Empire / Cecil Rhodes was somehow responsible for Apartheid[1]), about the only thing the quarrelsome Transvaalers were able to agree upon 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’.[2] With admirable forthrightness, the Boers’ chief cheerleader in Europe, Dr Kuyper, described the difference between the relatively benign rule in the British colonies in southern Africa, 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.[3]

Kuyper[4], 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 Transvaal Boers:

‘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.[5]

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[6], 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 K****rs.[7]

Bearing in mind that Guyot was a) French, b) a former liberal politician, and c) had served time in gaol for campaigning against the excesses of the Parisian Police, only a bona fide lunatic would seek to dismiss his views by claiming that he was a ‘British jingo’.

A member of the Orange Free State Volksraad at the time described the ‘reign of terror’ in the Transvaal:

‘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.’[8]

History has – rather strangely – not been kind those who attempted to stand up to Kruger’s corrupt and racist regime, and who campaigned for the extension of democracy in the Transvaal. It suits today’s pro-Boer writers to pretend that the ‘Utilander’ Reformers and the Jameson Raiders were nothing but devious British attempts to steal the Transvaal’s gold from Kruger – but the reality is rather different. Though the British Government undoubtedly had prior knowledge that there was a coup attempt in the offing, they had done nothing to foment the trouble in the ZAR, nor were they in any position to prevent it.[9]

The Raid was, in fact, more of a local uprising, and one with more than a little justification. The discovery of the Witwatersrand goldfields had brought huge numbers of English-speaking immigrants to Johannesburg[10] so many in fact that, by the mid-1890s, these newcomers (dismissively dubbed uitlanders) were generally accepted to significantly outnumber the Transvaal Boers (all of whom were, of course, also relatively recently arrived ‘uitlanders’ too), at least in terms of adult males. It is difficult to get truly accurate figures, but even the Transvaal’s own Staats Almanak, for example, reckoned the total white population of the republic to be 300,000 of whom some 175,000 were male. Just 29,447 of these were listed as burghers between the ages of 16 and 60, and eligible to vote; the number of male uitlanders, between the same ages, was given as 81,000.[11]

The skills, investment, and hard work of this diverse, but mainly English-speaking, community completely transformed the ZAR’s economy, so much so that by 1895 it was reckoned the uitlanders contributed 90% of the nation’s taxes.[12] Despite this, Kruger’s ruling cabal arrogantly dismissed their perfectly reasonable requests for fair democratic representation, and constantly changed the franchise rules to deny them the vote.[13] This in stark contrast to the British-run Cape Colony, where Afrikaans-speakers made up a majority of the electorate and the British made no attempt to alter this situation.

With their petitions ignored and finding themselves called up to serve in the Transvaal’s never-ending wars of expansion,[14] the uitlanders had had enough and a ‘Reform Committee’[15] was formed to stand up to this blatant injustice. Despite having campaigned for democratic reform against an autocratic, corrupt, racist and violently expansionist regime, these ‘revolutionaries’ (described by a refreshingly politically incorrect modern commentator as ‘the ANC whiteys of the age’[16]) have never caught the eye of the British Left in the way that all other such groups throughout modern history have. Their peaceful efforts to prompt change were ridiculed by the Kruger Government, and one member of the volksraad even laughed at the presentation of a petition, shouting, ‘Come on and fight! Come on!’. Kruger himself showed similar contempt for the Reform Committee’s peaceful demonstrations (and for democratic government in general), declaring: ‘Protest! Protest! What is the good of protesting? You have not got the guns—I have.’[17]

This is the man who today’s apologists wish had won control of the whole of South Africa.

With non-violent methods getting nowhere, by late 1895, the growing rumblings of discontent in Johannesburg had matured into uitlander resolve to overthrow the Kruger Government. The basic plan was that rifles and machine guns would be smuggled into Johannesburg and the English-speakers would rise up to demand a reformed republic. In support, Cecil Rhodes had organized a force of light horse, and placed this under the command of his loyal lieutenant Dr Leander Starr Jameson. When the balloon went up, Dr Jim was to ride in from neighbouring Bechuanaland, and (ahem) restore order.

From the very start, the plan began to unravel[18] as Johannesburg’s cosmopolitan and money-driven uitlander community squabbled over minutiae.[19] Many reformers simply wanted a fair franchise and to be rid of Kruger’s corrupt regime. Others, like Rhodes and Beit,[20] wanted the Transvaal to become British territory. The numerous Irish and American miners made it clear that, while they wanted reform as much as the next man, they had no interest in fighting under or for the Union Jack.[21] Indeed, even many of the British uitlanders were individualistic mavericks / hedonists who were at the diggings purely to make money, and they had no pressing desire to risk their lives simply to replace Kruger’s rules and regulations with rather less onerous British rules and regulations.[22] All in all, this wealthy—in some cases, hugely wealthy—and diverse population made for unlikely revolutionaries, and the planned uprising in Johannesburg fizzled out before it really began. Nevertheless, and perhaps hoping to belatedly galvanize them into action, Jameson crossed the border to ride to their ‘rescue’. Alas, for pretty much everyone in South Africa, apart from the Kruger clique, the Doctor’s 500-strong force was callously and shamefully left to its fate by the Johannesburg comrades, and forced to surrender near modern-day Soweto.[23] So near, but yet so far.

For reasons known only to themselves, many writers tend to dismiss the Reform Committee’s complaints,[24] invariably supporting their position with a single quote deliberately taken out of context, typically Lionel Phillips’s throwaway remark: ‘as to the franchise, I do not think many people care a fig for it.[25] What Phillips, who represented the interests of Alfred Beit, actually said was that they didn’t care a fig for the franchise ‘for fear of irritating old Kruger’, but what they did want was reform, decent administration, and something done to improve the volksraad.[26] Unsurprisingly, even this single supposedly damning quote sounds quite different when you get the full story.

Another uitlander wrote:
‘13 years ago I entered my name on the field cornet’s book, in the belief that I should receive the franchise at the expiration of four years. For nine years I have been deprived of my rights; and I may have to wait 20 years in this country without becoming a citizen.[27]

And with his position secured by the farce that was the failed Jameson Raid, Kruger was greatly emboldened. The moral high ground afforded Oom Paul by Jameson’s faux pas justified his ever-increasing spend on weaponry and espionage. And with the shame of the Raid still raw, HM Government had little choice but to turn a blind eye. Kruger was happiest playing the victim and the botched Raid was a heaven-sent opportunity for him to do just that.

As our French friend, M. Yves Guyot, wryly noted at the time, the consequences of the Raid, at least as seen by Kruger’s government, were as follows:

The Jameson Raid of 29 December 1895 gives the South African Republic the right in perpetuity to regard the Convention of 1884[28] as null and void.

The Jameson Raid gives the government of the South African Republic the right to treat all uitlanders, especially the British, as Boers treat K****rs.

The Jameson Raid gives the government of the South African Republic an undefined and perpetual right to plunder the uitlanders.[29]

It would be a mistake to blame the Jameson Raid for the tensions in the region, however, as Kruger had been planning an attack on the British since at least 1887, when he attempted to convince a delegation from the Orange Free State to join him in an Offensive Alliance[30]. But, by failing so spectacularly, the Jameson Raid allowed the emboldened and increasingly powerful Transvaal to take advantage of British embarrassment to engage in further intrigue and wars of expansion. The late 1890s saw the Transvaal’s Secret Service fomenting African rebellions in both Rhodesia and Bechuanaland, their obvious aim being to destabilize those British territories.

Kruger’s Secret Service 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.[31] 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’.[32]

Enormous sums of money were transferred to the Transvaal’s agents in Europe, forts were built, and orders were placed for the latest artillery pieces and new magazine rifles. Though some so-called History Professors don’t like to admit it, the inconvenient reality is that this splurge pre-dated the Jameson Raid, and so many rifles had been bought that by 1894—almost two years before the raid—the Transvaal already owned two modern rifles for every burgher.[33]

In 1898 the ZAR put their newly acquired weaponry to use, invading and seizing the lands of the Venda people.[34] A Boer force of about 4,000 men armed with the new Mauser rifles and modern artillery smashed the Venda of Chief Mphephu,[35] and incorporated his territory into the ever-expanding Transvaal. Many Venda fled over the Limpopo to the safety of the British territory of Rhodesia.

Also in 1898, Kruger dispatched his men into Swaziland to seize the Swazi Chief after he had dared rule in a matter between two of his own subjects.[36] The Chief fled over the border to find British protection, and Sir Alfred Milner[37], the newly installed high commissioner, issued a stern rebuke to the Transvaal. This enthusiasm to get involved in Swaziland’s affairs rather makes a mockery of Kruger’s stage-managed indignation about British interference in the internal affairs of the Transvaal and the plight of the uitlanders.

It should be little surprise therefore that, with London applying diplomatic pressure to resolve the lack of democracy in the Transvaal, rather than give any sort of fair franchise to the uitlanders, Kruger instead started assembling his forces on the border of Natal in September 1899[38]. Indeed, starting a war against Britain was nothing more than the continuation of the policy of expansionism Kruger had followed throughout the 1880s and 90s, and driving the hated British from the region was simply the next necessary step to building his pie-in-the-sky ‘Empire from the Zambesi to Simon’s Bay’[39]. Comically convinced the Almighty would rock up to win the day for his ‘Chosen People’, the old troll brainlessly declared war on the Greatest of the Great Powers of the Age in October 1899, invading the British territories of Natal and the Cape Colony.

There can be little doubt that, had the Iron Lady been around at the time, she would quite rightly have described Kruger’s crack-pot Theocracy as ‘A fourth-rate, cruel, unstable, corrupt, brutal regime with no morals or scruples whatever!’. And she, unlike a few blinkered fanatics today, would certainly have called Kruger’s republic out for what they were: ‘the aggressor, the invader’.


[1] There is little doubt that Cecil Rhodes was a remarkable man, but it seems fanciful to blame him for a system of Government which was implemented 46 years after his death

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

[3] Guyot, Boer Politics, p.21

[4] 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.

[5] Guyot, p.23

[6] M. Yves Guyot (1843–1928) worked as a journalist in Paris, before entering the Chamber of Deputies in 1885 as the representative of the 1st Arrondissement of Paris, rising to become the Rapporteur General of the Budget of 1888 and being awarded a Silver Guy Medal by the Royal Statistical Society. In the late 1890s, Guyot wrote a series of columns for the French newspaper, Le Siècle, which sought to challenge the pro-Boer propaganda prevalent in Europe at the time. These columns, together with some correspondence between Guyot and Kuyper, were compiled and released as the booklet, ‘La Politique Boer’, which was, in turn translated into English and released in 1900 as ‘Boer Politics’. All profits from the sale of the book were donated to charities supporting the widows and orphans of combatants from both sides.

[7] Guyot, p.25

[8] Botha, From Boer to Boer and Englishman, p.23

[9] Porter, The Origins of the South African War, 1899–1902, p.72

[10] Pakenham, The Boer War, p.21

[11] Guyot, p.71

[12] Conan-Doyle, The Great Boer War, p.27

[13] At the end of the First Boer War in 1881, the franchise was available after one year’s residency in the Transvaal, but was raised to five years in 1882 and ultimately to 14 years – anything, indeed, to keep Kruger’s ‘Chosen People’ in absolute power

[14] Colvin, The Life of Jameson, Vol. II, p.12

[15] After the Jameson Raid, the Reform Committee would evolve into the South African League

[16] Guardian, 18 November 2010

[17] Conan-Doyle, p.32

[18] Garrett, The Story of an African Crisis, p.63

[19] Bower, Secret History of the Jameson Raid and the South African Crisis, pp.60–1

[20] Alfred Beit (1853–1906) born in Hamburg to a wealthy Jewish family, became a passionate supporter of the British Empire in southern Africa. Having made his fortune on the Kimberley diamond fields, in 1886 he turned his attention to the Transvaal gold fields. He was a major donor to public works projects in Southern Africa and also to University projects in Great Britain and Germany. The Beit Trust continues to support students from today’s Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, and the bridge which connects Zimbabwe to South Africa over the Limpopo is named after him—for now, at least.

[21] Bower, p.47

[22] Pakenham, p.21

[23] Jameson and his men fought a running battle with Boer commandos before being forced to surrender at Doornkop on 2 January 1896. Far from this being a British Government backed scheme, Jameson served time in an English gaol for his part in the fiasco

[24] Scholtz, Why the Boers Lost the War, p.1

[25] Meredith, Diamonds, Gold and War, p. 319

[26] Walker, A History of Southern Africa, p.442

[27] Guyot, p.90

[28] The 1884 Convention of London, which guaranteed the rights of loyalists and resident non-citizens.

[29] Guyot, p.17

[30] Cook, The Rights and Wrongs of the Transvaal War, p.95

[31] Botha, p.23

[32] Ibid, p.22

[33] Fitzpatrick, The Transvaal from Within, p.ix

[34] Welsh, A History of South Africa, p.130

[35] Yakan, Almanac of African Peoples and Nations, p.689

[36] Farrelly, The Settlement After the War in South Africa, p.176

[37] Alfred Milner, later 1st Viscount Milner KG, GCB, GCMG, PC (1854–1925). Born in modern-day Germany to mixed British-German stock, Milner earned a 1st Class degree in Classics at Oxford and briefly flirted with the law, journalism, and politics (he stood as the Liberal candidate for Harrow in 1885) before entering Government service. His first major appointment was as the under-secretary for finance in Egypt, before returning to England and being appointed the Chairman of the Board of the Inland Revenue. Highly regarded for his intellect and known for his liberal views, Milner arrived in South Africa in 1897 to hold the twin role of governor of the Cape Colony and high commissioner for Southern Africa. He went on to serve as the first governor of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony after the Boer War. In 1916 he was asked to serve on the War Cabinet under Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and ultimately as Secretary of State for War for the last few months of the Great War. He finished his career as Secretary of State for the Colonies.

[38] Farrelly, p.213

[39] Lowry, The South African War Reappraised, p.209


  • Mike Oettle Posted July 3, 2024 6:46 pm

    Milner also served for many years as head of the Rhodes Trust, which was tasked with administering the Rhodes scholarships endowed by Cecil John Rhodes.

    • Bulldog Posted July 4, 2024 4:05 am

      It is also worth noting that Milner stood as the Liberal candidate for Harrow in the 1885 election. In December 1916, the Liberal PM, Lloyd George, brought Milner into his five-strong War Cabinet. Had Lloyd George – who, like many others in the Liberal Party, generally opposed Britain’s position in the Boer War – considered Milner some sort of a genocidal war-monger (as we are so often told he was), this would have been implausible.

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