The Transvaal and the Thucydides Trap

‘…as the Transvaal is almost entirely surrounded by British territory, this large expenditure can have no other explanation than an anticipation of war, or an intention of aggression against this country, and its supremacy in South Africa.’
Major General Ardagh, The Transvaal Boers from a Military Point of View, 1896[1]

In the study of geopolitics, the concept of ‘the Thucydides Trap’[2] was popularised in about 2015 by the American political scientist, Graham Allison[3]. It describes the likelihood (though certainly not the inevitability) of war occurring when an emerging nation threatens to displace the existing dominant power, whether regionally, or globally. In order to understand what the rapid rise of China might mean for modern-day American supremacy, Allison explored this concept in his best-selling work, ‘Destined for War’. The book examined various examples of Thucydides’ Trap throughout history – from the original Athens versus Sparta clash, to the Ottoman Empire challenging the Hapsburgs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to Germany challenging French dominance in Europe in the mid-19th Century, and how the rise of Japan in the first few years of early 20th Century upset the established order in the Far East, resulting in the Russo-Japanese War. Of the 16 case studies Allison presented, 12 resulted in war.

As the quote by Major General Ardagh states, one could also consider the Boer War as an example of the Thucydides Trap in action. No one could possibly dispute that, in the 1890s, the British Empire was the established, dominant power in Southern Africa – a position which was challenged by the rise of Kruger’s aggressively expansionist Transvaal.

Though his modern-day apologists like to pretend that Kruger’s republic was a peace-loving, bucolic place, populated by people who only wanted to be left alone to chew biltong and read their Bibles, the reality was totally different. Allison notes the various territorial disputes that the newly emboldened China is getting in with her neighbours, claiming and grabbing land which had been considered to belong to the Philippines, for example. So the Transvaal also continually expanded her borders in the late 19th Century, snatching land in all directions at the expense of Kruger’s black neighbours[4].

Though the rise of China’s economy over the last 40 years has been incredible, the massive expansion in that of Kruger’s Transvaal’s was no less remarkable – by 1895, it was 25 times the size it had been in 1887[5]. Though this new-found wealth was almost entirely due to the hard work and skills of the despised and ill-treated Uitlanders, this economic explosion meant the Transvaal could splurge of weaponry; writing in 1900, Michael Farrelly – the brilliant Irish barrister who was at the heart of Kruger’s government – described the Transvaal’s military build-up prior to the war:

‘…it is quite easy to prepare for war if you have gold, with which to obtain cannon and rifles, and ammunition, and skilled strategists, veterans in stricken fields and expert artillerists. There is no necessity, if things go well, of declaring war until the British Empire is at war with another Great Power.’[6]

The ocean-going cock-up that was the Jameson Raid also provided a perfect excuse for Kruger to further increase his military capability.[7] But – and despite it being reinvented by Apartheid-era propagandists to excuse the war the Boers started a few years later – the inconvenient truth is that Kruger’s rapidly-increasing expenditure on his war machine antedated the raid; the Transvaal’s military expenditure in 1895 was over four times that of 1893[8]. Expenditure in 1896 was over four times that of 1895, and obviously many of these contracts would have been signed long before the raid.

In fact, Kruger’s increasing expenditure on military hardware was one of the many factors that prompted the Raid:

‘A policy of force is openly declared against us; £250,000 has been expended on the construction of forts; upon one alone, designed to terrorize the inhabitants of Johannesburg, £100,000 has been spent. Large orders have been given to Krupp for big guns and Maxims; and it is said that German officers are coming to drill the burghers.[9]

So with a rapidly-growing economy, massive splurging on weapons, and a penchant for expansionism, it was clear that the Transvaal was an emerging / rising power in the sub-continent. Though, for some strange reason, it still upsets a certain type of person to admit it, there can be absolutely no doubt that the crackpot leaders of the Transvaal wanted to usurp Britain’s position as the preeminent power in the region; as Michael Farrelly—who was uniquely well placed to comment—wrote in 1900:

‘The Afrikaner party kept steady in view the Pan-Afrikaner anti-British goal. To preserve the nucleus round which was to group the Dutch domination from the Zambesi to the Cape, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, a most jealous grasp was to be kept on political power, on the gold in the reef, on the command of rifles, forts, and armaments, on the exclusive use of the Dutch tongue.[10]

A month prior to the Boer invasions of British territory, Jan Smuts took a similar line, stating in a secret memorandum that: ‘South Africa stands on the eve of a frightful blood-bath out of which our Volk shall come … either as … hewers of wood and drawers of water for a hated race, or as victors, founders of a United South Africa, of one of the great empires [rijken] of the world … an Afrikaans republic of South Africa stretching from Table Bay to the Zambezi.[11]

And the Transvaal’s efforts to destabilise Britain’s position in the region long pre-dated the war itself. Back in December 1895, prior to the Jameson Raid, Henning Pretorius[12], lieutenant-colonel of the Transvaal Staats Artillerie, entered Rhodesia. Though ostensibly on a hunting trip, the Colonel’s busy mind was concerned with greater matters than shooting game, for he was actually an agent in the Transvaal’s Secret Service.[13] According to a Daily Telegraph correspondent, Pretorius and his agents smuggled 175 rifles and 30 cases of ammunition—all ‘made in Germany’ and ‘bearing the Transvaal government mark’ having been drawn from the Transvaal’s magazine at Middleburg—into Rhodesia for distribution to potential rebels and troublemakers.[14]

The agents of the Transvaal’s Secret Service—including Kruger’s son, Tjaart[15]—were also busy in other British territory. Situated in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, the rugged Langberg Mountains were the scene of a rebellion against imperial stewardship in 1896–7. Like the Matabele rebellion, one of the catalysts for this uprising was the British response to the rinderpest outbreak.[16] And as with the Matabele rebellion, Transvaal agents were hard at work, whipping up resentment and supplying weapons to the rebels behind the scenes.

All this was confirmed when, after his arrest, the principal rebel chief, Galishiwe, confessed that another Transvaal secret agent, a Meneer Piet Bosman, had actively encouraged him to fight the British. At first, Galishiwe had rejected Bosman’s advances, claiming, ‘I cannot fight the Englishmen, I am the Englishman’s child.’ Bosman dismissed this, using the veterinary culls implemented by the British in tackling the rinderpest outbreak to trick Galishiwe. Bosman then offered to purchase powder and ammunition for Galishiwe, providing him ‘six bags of powder, five boxes of caps, and five packets of Martini-Henry cartridges’,[17] and later providing additional Westley-Richards ammunition. Indeed, a feature of the rebellion was how well supplied the insurgents were with ammunition.[18]

Galishiwe asked Bosman also to provide him with rifles. However, Bosman refused fearing that the British would be able to trace these back to the Transvaal: ‘The Englishmen will see the guns. I will get my people together and come myself to your assistance when you fight the Englishmen.’ Despite having a 200-strong commando at his disposal, Bosman did not honour this promise and left the unfortunate Galishiwe and his people to carry the can.[19]

Agents of Kruger’s ally, the Orange Free State[20], were also busy in Britain’s Basutoland and reports were spread through native workers that ‘the Boers would soon be the undisputed masters of southern Africa’.[21] So much for the bizarre, though currently trendy, idea that the federal attacks which started the war were in some way (ahem) ‘defensive invasions’. These Free State agents also approached one dissident Basuto chief, Joel Molapo, and agreed a deal whereby a 500-strong commando would be sent to aid him against his half-brother, the preeminent pro-British chief, Jonathan.[22] These two had been in conflict for almost 20 years, and so the Boer agents implemented their time-honoured tactic of supporting one faction against the other. It was well known to Jonathan that Joel was in close contact with several farmers over the border in the Orange Free State and he became very alarmed when it emerged that federal agents had supplied Joel’s rebels with Mausers. It was this latest bout of Boer intrigue and gun-running that drove Jonathan to declare his unconditional support for the British Government.[23]

As Allison notes, the leaders of a newly emerging nation feel they do not have to operate under the rules of the ‘established order’ – rules which were imposed by the dominant power, and which thus reflect its values. This clash of ideals / values / cultures leads to tensions as the emerging nation seeks to assert itself, and no longer feels it needs to be constrained by the ‘system’ of others. Tensions which – if not handled carefully – can ultimately lead to war.

While the British Empire championed free trade, for example, the Transvaal Boers tried to control the market by imposing monopolies on everything from dynamite to railways to jam[24]. This obsession with protectionism and dislike of competition caused the Drifts Crisis of September and October 1895, which almost sparked a war between the Transvaal and the Cape Colony.

Contrasting values on Human Rights were another constant source of tension. Kruger’s Transvaal and the British Empire had very different views on slavery, for example, and it was only British dominance in the region that prevented the Boers from openly practicing this. The conditions of British suzerainty over the Transvaal outlawed the vile practice – instead, the Boers attempted to get round it simply by calling their slaves ‘apprentices’.[25]

Similarly, Britain’s territories in the region placed far greater value on democracy and progress than the Transvaal – even to extent of there being a Colour-Blind franchise system in the Cape Colony. In stark contrast, the leaders in the Transvaal moved Heaven and Earth to prevent English-speakers, Jews and Catholics getting the franchise. Worse still, the Constitution of the Transvaal explicitly denied blacks any sort of chance to vote, or much in the way of human rights: ‘The people are not prepared to allow any equality of the non-white with the white inhabitants, either in church or state’.[26]

The Boers’ chief cheerleader in Europe, Dr Kuyper, proudly described the difference between the relatively benign rule in the British colonies, and the way blacks were treated 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.[27]

This Apartheid-like situation was the prime source of tension between Kruger’s republic and the British Empire in the years prior to the Boer War. It really was a clash of cultures: the Transvaal was a volatile nation ruled by self-declared ‘Master Race’ of religious fanatics who mixed the worst parts of the Old Testament with the worst parts of 17th century[28]. Worse still, the rise of the Kruger’s corrupt theocracy was happening not only in the years just prior to the 20th Century, but next to territory of the nation which was (arguably) the age’s the most forward-looking champion of democracy, scientific discovery, innovation, human rights and free enterprise.

Writing in 1900, Thomas C. Hutten, a Hollander, tried to explain this clash:
‘…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.[29]

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.[30]

And how life was for non-fanatics in Kruger’s republic:
‘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.[31]

But for all that Kruger’s fundamentalist and expansionist Transvaal was clearly a massively destablising influence in the region, one must always remember is that the theory of the Thucydides Trap does not mean war is inevitable[32]. So how could it have been avoided in South Africa? Was it ever going to be possible for two such disparate powers to coexist peacefully, and for the Empire-building ambitions of the Kruger-clique to have been sated without them starting a war with Great Britain?

One of the case studies which Graham Allison uses in his book is the way that the emergence of the USA as a Great Power did not lead to war with Britain. The rapidly growing American GDP had matched Britain’s in the 1870s, and, by 1916, would match that of the whole British Empire[33]. Citing the 1823 Monroe Doctrine[34], the emerging USA had challenged Britain in 1895, over a border dispute between British Guiana and Venezuela. Previously, this would have been ‘settled’ (in Britain’s favour) through a bit of gunboat diplomacy, and though the Royal Navy still greatly outnumbered the US Navy at that time[35], London recognised that America’s economic might meant this would not be the case for much longer. Accepting that the US was now a force to be reckoned with, Britain agreed to settle the dispute through arbitration[36]. In the years thereafter, with the Royal Navy necessarily focused on the rise of German naval power much closer to home, Britain essentially accepted American dominance of the Western Hemisphere, and war was avoided.

The huge difference between this situation, and that in South Africa at the same time, however, is that London’s ‘Realpolitik’ acceptance of American domination of the Western Hemisphere did not, however, see Britain lose any of her considerable territories there. As well as the vast expanse of Canada, there was also Newfoundland (which would only unite with the rest of Canada in 1949), British Honduras, British Guiana, the Falkland Islands, Bermuda and the many British islands in the Caribbean. Though the USA happily invaded and annexed Spanish and Mexican territory throughout the 19th Century, its 1812 attempt to invade Upper Canada had ended in defeat and the White House as a smoldering shell. So, by the 1890s, with Germany on the rise, and no immediate prospect of the USA using her new regional dominance to invade British territory, it was very much a case of London accepting the reality of the situation, and making the best of it. The only alternative would have been to start a war for the sake of principals and pride – a war which, with HM Forces scattered all over the world, America would surely win[37]. As Allison notes, this acceptance of the new reality was probably made easier by the fact that the USA and Great Britain held / still hold broadly similar values, and share a common language and culture. Indeed, there was suddenly a (rather convenient) notion of the two powers being ‘the English-speaking peoples’, suggestions of ‘passing on the baton’, and (later, and famously) consoling talk of the Americans being the Romans to Britain’s Greeks[38].

Avoiding war to accommodate an emerging Transvaal building an Empire ‘from the Zambesi to the Cape’, however, would have meant handing over huge swathes of British territory – an utter humiliation which would have been completely unthinkable. Even had London meekly acquiesced to the ‘gracious’ Boer proposal of being able to retain (only) the Royal Navy base at Simon’s Town, and for Britain to stay on merely as their ‘coast protector’[39], this would have meant London abandoning millions of loyalists, of allowing Kruger’s racist laws to replace those of the Cape Colony, of the massive loss of face in front of the other Great Powers, and of not being in a position to block Germany establishing naval bases in the region. And though they would nominally have retained it, in reality agreeing to such a deal would have placed the security of the Simon’s Town RN base at the mercy of Kruger’s Empire: with no hinterland to protect it, it would only have existed for as long as the old troll wished it to. Needless to say, none of this was ever going to be acceptable to London.

Or, as one contemporary observer bluntly put it:
‘Of course the war could have been avoided. Of course, it would have been quite possible [for Britain] to voluntarily retire from the Cape and allow South Africa to become entirely Dutch. In the same way we could give up governing India and hand it over to Russia and confine our expenses and our energies to Great Britain, the water supply, the development of national cookery, and the propagation of cabbages.’[40]

So if Britain meekly handing over her territories to Kruger was not an option, how else could war have been avoided?

Had London identified and taken seriously the threat from the emerging Transvaal sooner, Britain could have greatly increased her garrison and defences in the region. Writing in 1901, Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson remarked that ‘it is doubtless true that, had Natal been garrisoned by 20,000 men, and Ladysmith adequately fortified’[41] then the British would have won the war very quickly. Alternatively, this might have been enough of a deterrent to prevent Kruger from embarking on his madcap Crusade in the first place.

However, bolstering the Imperial garrison in the region would not necessarily have avoided war, but possibly only have delayed it. As the Michael Farrelly quote made clear, Kruger’s long-held plan was only to attack British territory once London was already embroiled in another war with a Great Power; in such an event, one can imagine London not being in a position to greatly reinforce her garrison, and perhaps even having to reduce it.

Possibly the most viable option, therefore, was for London to match the intrigues, espionage and gun-running of Kruger’s spooks in the 1890s, and do some ‘ungentlemanly’ destablisation of their own. Britain (despite her vast global empire) budgeted just £20,000 a year on such things,[42] only £2,000 of which was spent in Southern Africa.[43] By comparison, some sources claim that Kruger’s Secret Service had an annual budget of as much as £300,000.[44] While Britain’s Secret Service budget was thus dwarfed by that of the Transvaal, the Empire had long engaged in such things on the NW Frontier against Russia (famously known as the ‘Great Game’[45]), and London’s enormous treasury could easily have boosted their efforts in South Africa. It might sound far-fetched, but by the early 1890s, and had London’s Secret Service been on the ball and had the funding, they should have identified the growing threat from the Kruger regime – if the 1887 attempt to get the Orange Free State to join him in an offensive alliance[46] against Britain hadn’t started alarm bells ringing, surely the Transvaal’s (unofficial) failed attempt to invade Rhodesia in 1891 should have[47].

Prior to the Jameson Raid, Kruger enjoyed only a wafer-thin advantage over his political rival, Piet Joubert. Elections were held in the Transvaal in 1893, and in a closely, bitterly, and many thought, unfairly, fought contest, Kruger pipped Joubert by 7,911 votes to 7,246.[48] The tiny size of the electorate should leave one in no doubt as to just how restricted the franchise was. It was widely reported, and generally believed, that the scheming Kruger had manipulated the ballot, and many of Joubert’s supporters were incensed by what they saw as having been cheated of their rightful victory. Indeed, one who went on to serve in the volksraad even offered £1,000 to any man who would shoot Kruger.[49] It is a crying shame that no one took him up on the offer. Others ‘…implored Joubert to refuse to submit, and to fight it out if necessary; but the General, who was as weak as water, decided that, however great the sacrifice, he could not consent to divide the country on the issue. A stronger man would have hazarded a coup d’état, but Slim Piet was no match for his old rival, whose motto is to get home by any means, fair or foul’.[50]

This would have been a perfect chance for British ‘ungentlemanly forces’ to act. Joubert was a member of the Afrikaner Bond and a renowned slave owner, yet (by the shocking standards of the Transvaal) still a comparative moderate. Had he been solidly backed by British agents / finance / weapons, and stood up to Kruger in 1893, another Transvaal civil war would undoubtedly have been the result. But it is highly unlikely there would have been a Second Boer War.

If Joubert’s moderate faction had won any such civil war, the quid pro quo for British support would have been the extension of the franchise to include the English-speaking Uitlanders – something which Joubert was in favour of in any case, and which would have ensured another Kruger-like lunatic could never have won another election. And if Joubert’s forces were struggling, Britain could have intervened to ‘restore order’ at his request, and swiftly implemented a similar result. A Transvaal where the large English-speaking community had a fair franchise – and in which the more hardline Krugerites were executed / ‘encouraged’ to trek off to German South West Africa – would naturally gravitate towards Britain, rather than challenging London’s dominance in the region. In such a case, instead of only happening in 1910 and after a bitter and pointless war, the Union of South Africa might have been accomplished before the turn of the century.

Some 30 years earlier, Britain had also missed a chance to reduce the rapidly-growing power of the USA, when it declined to intervene in the American Civil War. As Prime Minister Lord Salisbury lamented in 1902, ‘If we had interfered in the Confederate Wars, it was then possible for us to reduce the power of the United States to manageable proportions’. Had British intervention on the side of the Confederate States led to the USA remaining torn into two rival parts, perhaps even locked in a perpetual ‘cold war’, geopolitics would be very different today. However, as Salisbury went on to say, the opportunity had been missed and ‘two such chances are not given to a nation in the course of its career’.[51]

Failing to intervene in the wake of the Transvaal’s stolen 1893 elections was a similar mistake – and, as Lord Salisbury wistfully commented, Britain would not get a second chance. The Thucydides Trap might not inevitably lead to war – but in the case of the Boer War, it is hard to see how else it could have been prevented.


[1] Soldiers of the Queen, issue 123, December 2005

[2] Pronounced: ‘Thoo-sid-i-dees’, Thucydides lived from c.460 BC to c.400 BC, and was an Athenian Historian and General. His ground-breaking History of the Peloponnesian War covers the war between the established city state of Sparta and the rising state of Athens. His text is still studied at universities and military colleges worldwide

[3] Though his theories faced criticism from some quarters, and there were those who felt the ‘trap’ was no longer applicable in the modern age, Allison’s ‘Destined for War’ was both a Sunday Times and Financial Times book of the year

[4] Another of the many grievances the Uitlanders had was that – though they were denied the vote by Kruger – they were liable for Commando-service in these never-ending wars of expansion

[5] Scholtz, Why the Boers Lost the War, p.151

[6] Farrelly, The Settlement after the War, p.66

[7] Fitzpatrick, The Transvaal from Within, p.viii

[8] Ibid, p.viii

[9] Guyot, Boer Politics, p.14

[10] Farrelly, p.173

[11] Roberts, Salisbury Victorian Titan, p.734

[12] Henning Petrus Nicolaas Pretorius (1844–1897). His father, Marthinus Pretorius, was killed in the First Boer War, and his maternal grandfather was the famous Voortrekker, Piet Retief.

[13] Heyer, A Brief History of the Transvaal Secret Service System, p.16

[14] Ibid, p. 15

[15] Hyslop, The Notorious Syndicalist, p.113

[16] This highly infectious virus rampaged throughout much of southern Africa in the 1890s, killing somewhere around 80 to 90% of the cattle in the region.

[17] Star (NZ), Issue 6695, ‘The Transvaal Secret Service Stirring Up The Natives’, 17 January 1900, p.1

[18] The unedifying tendency of Boers to covertly supply and encourage HM’s African enemies dated back many decades. In 1835 at a truce during the Sixth Cape Frontier War (of which there were nine, spread out over 100 years) two Xhosa Chiefs informed British commanders not to trust their Boer allies: ‘The Boers are your enemies. We have been supplied with powder by some of them; and they have told us to continue the war; others have told us also not to submit’. For more on this fascinating period, read The Great Trek Uncut by Robin Binckes.

[19] Heyer, p. 20

[20] Kruger had been pushing the Orange Free State to join him in an offensive alliance against the British since as early as 1887. This was finally signed in 1897

[21] Warwick, Black People and the South African War, 1899–1902, p. 58

[22] Ibid, p. 55

[23] Ibid, p. 65

[24] Roberts, p.717

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

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

[27] Guyot, p.21

[28] George Bernard Shaw noted: ‘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.’

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

[30] Ibid, p.329

[31] Ibid, p. 329

[32] Graham Allison even notes that those who seek to discredit his work present this claim as a strawman

[33] Allison, ‘Destined for War’, p.271-272

[34] Named for the President at the time, this doctrine is a United States foreign policy position aimed at blocking European colonialism in the Western Hemisphere. It holds that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers is a potentially hostile act against the United States. At the time it was written, there was little the USA could do to enforce it. By 1895, things were very different.

[35] In 1890, the USN did not have a single battleship. By 1905, it had 25

[36] Allison, p.98

[37] In 1904, Britain’s highest ranking Naval Officer, Jacky Fisher, warned Britain should ‘use all possible means to avoid such a war’ because ‘under no conceivable circumstances could we escape an overwhelming and humiliating defeat by the United States’. One should note that, though the Royal Navy remained larger than the USN, it was under the huge disadvantage of being scattered all over the Globe, unlike the more concentrated American fleet

[38] Allison, p.200

[39] Farrelly, p.86

[40] Creswicke, South Africa and the Transvaal War, Vol.3, p.15

[41] Sternberg & Henderson, My Experiences of the Boer War, p.viii

[42] Pakenham, The Boer War, p.76

[43] Soldiers of the Queen, Issue 123, December 2005

[44] Naville, The Transvaal Question from a Foreign Point of View, p.36

[45] The best history of this fascinating episode is still Peter Hopkirk’s classic

[46] Cook, The Rights and Wrongs of the Transvaal War, p.92

[47] Walker, History of South Africa, p.412

[48] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, p.522

[49] Scoble & Abercrombie, The Rise and Fall of Krugerism, p.111

[50] Ibid, p.112

[51] Allison, p.197


  • Colin Posted May 15, 2024 12:23 pm

    Meticulous sir. Thoroughly enjoyed this blog

    • Bulldog Posted May 15, 2024 5:54 pm

      Thanks, Colin – appreciated.

  • James Grant Posted May 15, 2024 1:36 pm

    Really enjoyed this one Bloody good stuff and lots to consider.

    Was thinking, instead of the Brits jumping in on a civil war was assassination of Kruger in 1893 an option?

    • Bulldog Posted May 15, 2024 6:03 pm

      Thanks, James – I am glad you enjoyed it.

      Interesting point re. knocking off Kruger. I guess it – like everything – depends on whether or not the Brits could have got away with it. If such an attempt had been foiled (or – if successful – been proven to have been London’s doing), it might have had a similar impact on wider / moderate Boer opinion as the monumental f***-up that was the Jameson Raid.

      Of course, in the scenario I presented, wherein London backed the Jobert-faction in 1893, one could say the same if that had been telegraphed too blatantly, and Kruger was able to paint Joubert’s moderates as British stooges. All such ‘ungentlemanly warfare’ relies on being untraceable / plausible deniability.

      That said, and to answer your point, if Kruger had suffered a convenient ‘fatal accident’ in the early 1890s, that may well have killed off the personality-cult of Krugerism too, and, with it, the insane attempt to replace Great Britain as the dominant power in the region.

      But perhaps that was a little too ungentlemanly for London to contemplate.

  • Stephen Hunt Posted May 21, 2024 11:36 am

    Thanks Chris for another excellent and informative blog. Every day is a school day with you, as I had never heard of the Thucyidides Trap before!

    Some interesting thoughts on a South African version of the Great Game. Perhaps if we had pursued it with more vigour and in Kruger’s case, with extreme prejudice, the subsequent history of the country would have been a lot happier for all races.

    • Bulldog Posted May 21, 2024 12:50 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Stephen.

      My excitable and ignorant detractors are always at pains to tell one another that there’s nothing to be learned from my writing or research… of course, the truth is that they simply don’t want to learn anything that challenges their comforting National Party version of events.

      As you suggest, if a bit more intrigue / cloak-and-dagger work from London’s agents had led to (another) Transvaal Civil War in the early 1890s, it would certainly have been beneficial to all but the corrupt Kruger-clique.

  • Mike Oettle Posted June 23, 2024 9:37 am

    While the pronunciation you give for Thucydides is the usual English form, his name in Greek was Θουκυδίδης,, which is better rendered as Thoo-koo-di-dees.

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