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Boer War

My interest in the Boer War is related, in a certain way, to my interest in the outdoors.  In that war, even more than in most other wars, people who had the ability to observe the terrain carefully were more likely to survive.  It was a conflict fought largely on horseback over vast open spaces.

The war began in 1899 when the Boers—mainly Dutch-speaking people in South Africa—decided to defend their republics against encroachment by the British Empire, which coveted the gold reserves of the Transvaal and had the ambition to control wide sweeps of territory in southern Africa.  It ended in 1902 when the vastly outnumbered Boers were forced to surrender.  The British had burned most of their farms and swept Boer women and children into concentration camps, where more than 27,000 died.

For an excellent compilation of source material about the war, visit the Anglo-Boer War blog crafted by “Pen and Spindle.”

My work of narrative nonfiction about the war, Transvaal Citizen, describes the lives of several young Boer fighters, how their paths collided and separated, how they experienced the same events in very different ways.  A major source for the work is an unpublished memoir written in 1903 by Deneys Reitz, who is well known for a book he published much later, Commando.  I wrote the book following a research trip to South Africa in 2005.

I am aware that is possible for people to misunderstand my interest in the subject.  It is not part of a project to support a racist program of Afrikaner nostalgia.

This page displays the opening passage of my book.  Short selections also appear on the page entitled “Transvaal Citizen.”

* * *

Pretoria was a town of comfortable bungalows. In a country blinded by sun, its shady gardens soothed and protected. Weeping willows and gum trees leaned over the streams. The houses with their cool verandahs had been built in a simple, practical way, and for that reason they were pleasing in appearance.

Atie and Francis Reitz, and a neighbor, Pretoria 1902

The bungalows congregated in the vicinity of Church Square, Pretoria’s point of greatest energy, where important public buildings sprouted up. The Dutch Reformed church had been joined by the massive construction of the Raadzaal, home of the Transvaal parliament. This elegant edifice, with its wedding cake pillars and Victorian superfluities, said to the outside world: we can be as grand as you can. The Raadzaal’s domed roof and turrets were mirrored across the square by its architectural sibling, the Palace of Justice, just recently finished, complete with a telephone system. Down the street loomed the Grand Hotel.

A short distance out of town, smart new houses were going up for successful attorneys and government contractors who were profiting in one way or another from the Rand. They were in the fashionable gothic style, half-timbered with many gables jutting out, set off by neatly clipped shrubs and fences that had a brass nameplate on the gate. Inside they boasted polished floors, stained glass windows, and electric bells.

More distant from the town stood four giant fortresses recently commissioned and built at terrible and troubling expense by the decision of President Paul Kruger. These were the Despoort, Klapperkop, Schanzkop, and Wonderboompoort forts. Each one had an enormous 155-mm Creusot gun.

Beyond the forts a traveller would get out into the endless space and light of the veld. There crouched under the sky were the farmhouses, simple constructions of plaster or mud bricks and corrugated tin. In an arid land, they huddled near the drainages of the terrain, wherever water could be ponded up. Many had floors of packed-down dirt.

The bungalows and the farmhouses seemed to grow out of the land, therefore had no particular style. But the new suburban houses were in an English style, and the government buildings were said to be French Renaissance. The forts had French guns and artillerymen trained by German experts. President Kruger’s tastes ran to the Germanic. On ceremonial occasions he wore a tasselled sash, embroidered with a fierce bird of prey with spread wings—too angular and aggressive for English tastes. The dress uniforms of the Transvaal State Artillery were of blue and gold, with epaulettes and enough gold braid to satisfy the greatest lover of ornament.

And so it was, in a growing town in Africa.

* * *


1. Gary Howell - February 10, 2009

It’s a time and place hard to imagine from here.

One comparison I can make is to Vicksburg MS, the town surrounded by the 1863 battlefield (with signs about how many died and from where) The older houses in the town are from the 1800s .. some but not most antebellum ..

Now they celebrate the 4th of July, but allegedly this is recent. Until 20 years or so, they mourned it (that was the day of the surrender).

Jenny - February 10, 2009

In my opinion, Vicksburg was the most interesting campaign of the Civil War. The obstacles that Grant had to overcome were incredible, and it took him about eight months to do it. I plan to write about Vicksburg in my blog.

2. penandspindle - July 18, 2009

Jenny, this is to let you know that I have transferred your guest posts from The Anglo Boer War to my permanent website of the same name. I know that readers will continue to enjoy them and thanks once again for sharing these. You can follow the thread for these pose on http://web.me.com/penandspindle/angloboerwar/Welcome.html.

3. Ron. - November 26, 2010

The fact of the matter is that the Boers are in fact a distinct entity from the Afrikaners therefore those who might misunderstand your interest in the topic as “a racist program of Afrikaner nostalgia” are making more than one erroneous presumption.

The Boers are the descdendents of the Trekboers who began to occupy the Cape frontier starting during the late 17th cent about 35 years after the initial arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. [ who was a tyrant & looked down on the folks he pulled out of Europe & would later become Boers ]. While history often records them as “Afrikaners” this was based simply on the fact that they were referring to themselves as “Africans” [ as they had cut all ties to Europe early on as they began trekking inland ] often in order to distinguish themselves from the urbane Cape Dutch of the Western Cape. The Cape Dutch were the ones who began to propagate the term Afrikaner in a political context from 1875 onwards when they were starting a language right movement for the lingua franca of the region which they began to call Afrikaans. All during a time when the Boer people were independent within their internationally recognized Boer Republics [ which is also noted on page 96 of The Story of the Boers by Dutch diplomat C W van der Hoogt. ] or living within the cape frontier & only ever referred to their own Afrikaans dialect as “die taal” or Boeretaal & often had to learn High Dutch as that was still the language of officialdom ie: church & state. What was later called the Great Trek was undertaken almost exclusively by Boers & very few Cape Dutch & English speakers. In fact more English speakers went on the Great Trek than did Cape Dutch yet today due to the Broederbond / Human & Rousseau rewriting of history we are expected to believe that the Afrikaners had anything to do with the Great Trek. All while they sanctimoniously try to prevent Boers from gathering at Boer monuments as per the Afrikaner’s illegitimate & politicized claim to Boer monuments.

The Trekboers were the descendents of the impoverished folks who could not make it in Colonial society & its grinding class consciousness & wanted to get out from under the autocratic rule of the VOC therefore they became nomadic pastoralists. The folks who were renown as the Boer people / nation were the direct descendents of the nomadic Trekboers. Whereas the folks who were known as the Afrikaners was a forced political coalition of Cape Dutch & Boer which effectively marginalized the Boers in the process as the Boers are the SMALLER group within the arbitrarily applied Afrikaner designation.

The Boers fell under Cape Dutch / Afrikaner sway most notably after the second Anglo-Boer War when most were pushed off of their farms by the British & were impoverished & forced to look for work in the cities where they often encountered Afrikaners who were ascending to power. The Cape Dutch were pro Colonial & pro British during the 19th cent & many of them assisted & fought with the British during the second Anglo-Boer War. While the Boers on the other hand were historically anti-Colonial & independence oriented & removed themselves from the Cape Dutch descended Afrikaners.

The Boers have also often struggled against the Afrikaner establishment most notably when they tried to restore their Boer Republics from time to time as they tried to do by force of arms in 1914 during the failed Maritz Rebellion. The Boers tried to restore the Boer Republics again during the late 1940s in numbers upwards of 500 000 only for the Afrikaner establishment to organize AGAINST the Boer Republicans & break the movement up & co-opt the remnants. Therefore the distinction between the Boers & Afrikaners is a valid & very important distinction.

Jenny - November 30, 2010

Thanks very much for your detailed discussion, which will be helpful especially for people from outside South Africa (like Americans) who might not be familiar with the historical background. One of the things that fascinates me about South Africa in the 20th century is the way that the Afrikaners mythologized the past. It seemed to me this had little to do with actual Boer history. Something got distorted in the retelling–and then petrified. I’ve also always been interested in the Afrikaner focus on the Voortrekkers nearly to the exclusion of the stories of the Boer wars. As I understand it, the complicated pulls on loyalties between say Cape colonists of Dutch descent and the Boers of the republics, and between the bitter-enders and the hands-uppers and all shades in between, made that side of history not so suitable for the mythologizing treatment.

I notice you use the term “trekboers” rather than “voortrekkers.” In my readings of contemporary material about the 1899-1902 war, I came to have a different sense of what “trekboer” meant. It seemed to refer not to the specific period of the Great Trek but to ongoing groups of perpetually migrating Boers, the ones who went to places as far afield as Portuguese West Africa and German South West, often in the quest to establish tiny republics. I think you have a different understanding of the term.

4. Ron. - December 1, 2010

The term Trekboer is not synonymous with Voortrekker because the Trekboers were from the late 1600s & into the early part of the 1700s. The Trekboers were the impoverished folks who began to trek away from the Western Cape into the Cape frontier from about 1679 up until about 1745 & lived a nomadic existence until some settled down & were known as Grensboere while other Trekboers maintained a semi nomadic lifestyle. While the Voortrekkers was a term used to described those who trekked out of the Cape Colony entirely during the 1835 to 1850 time frame. Certainly most of the Voortrekkers were descendents of the Trekboers but Trekboers continued to exist as an economic class well into the 20th cent & many Trekboers crossed the Orange River long before the Voortrekkers did.

Another way of looking at it is that the Trekboers were the trekkers who moved en mass during the Dutch / VOC rule period while the Voortrekkers were the trekkers who moved en mass [ at even greater distances ] during the British Colonial rule period.

Also interesting is the fact that the Voortrekkers were not known as such at the time as the later Afrikaner Nationalists gave the term Voortrekker to them in retrospect just as they also coined the term the Great Trek. Just as they also rewrote a lot of history turning Boers – like President Paul Kruger – into “Afrikaners” in retrospect so as to propagate an artificial monolithic White Afrikaans speaking population group mainly for the purposes of outnumbering the English speakers within the political realm but also to remove the identity of the Boers so that a rerun of the Maritz Rebellion would be impossible as the promotion of a single Afrikaner population conjured a loyalty to the British created macro State of South Africa. The Boers were essentially lumped onto what can be described as an Afrikaner reservation.

The Afrikaners mythologized the past mainly as a means to capture control of the British created macro State of South Africa so they hijacked a truncated & formulated version of Boer history in order to justify it & to co-opt the Boers in the process whom they effectively recruited many to actually serve the Afrikaner agenda & abandon any agenda of Boer self determination.

I think D F Malan [ who was from the Cape Dutch population ] & others greatly stressed & mythologized the Great Trek because he wanted to draw parallels to how the Afrikaans speakers had trekked to the cities in [ then ] recent decades & this was certainly used to draw in & co-opt the Boers because most of the Afrikaans speakers who moved to the cities were from the Boers. Malan also drew upon anti-British sentiment as most of the mine owners were British & many Boers were now working in the mines. The Afrikaner establishment certainly over hyped the Great Trek [ which they named as noted ] & certainly downplayed or outright omitted other Boer events: Like the Trekboers as I noted. The anti-apartheid Dutch journalist Adriana Stuijt notes that the Boers still had their own organizations up until the 1930s until the Afrikaner Nationalists began to actively co-opt them into the fold.

The Canadian Professor Wallace Mills also talks about the Trekboers in his courses & how they were distinct & recognized themselves as distinct from the Cape Dutch. I have noticed that the Trekboer era is not widely mentioned but it is an integral part of Boer history & in fact there would never have ever been any Boers were it not for the Trekboers in the first place because the Boer people were formed on the Cape frontier [ as noted by author Brian Du Toit ] away from the people who remained in the Western Cape & would often be known as the Cape Dutch.

There are maps which show the migrations of the Trekboers as they moved further & further away from the Western Cape. One of which is noted in the book The Great Trek by Oliver Ransford – though he too calls the Boers “Afrikaners” as per the Broederbond rewriting of history as he wrote his book in 1973. Those Boers who went to Portuguese West Africa & German South West Africa did so in a time frame long after both the Trekboers & Voortrekkers. The Boers are of Trekboer descent & most are of Voortrekker descent [ ie: those who remained in the eastern Cape would not have become Voortrekkers ] but the Cape Dutch are neither of Trekboer descent nor Voortrekker descent though a number of Cape Dutch did move out to the Johannesburg region in the late 19th cent after the discovery of gold.

Jenny - December 1, 2010

Once again, thank you for your very thoughtful discussion of the subject. I think we are on the same page as far as Afrikaner mythologizing is concerned. Now, as far as that term “trekboer” is concerned, I see that you are referring to a specific period of history, one earlier than what the Afrikaners called the “Great Trek.” I can see how the term “trekboer” could be used to designate people in that era. However, in my readings about the 1899-1902 Boer War, I see that the word was used in a different way by people at that time. For instance, by Roland Schikkerling in “Commando Courageous,” in writing about a time in 1900 when the British were chasing the Boers over the Klein Drakensberg escarpment, in the general direction of Portuguese East Africa. Schikkerling and his companions are in the vicinity of Waterval Onder, not far from the main rail line to Hectorspruit and Machadodorp. He says: “In the shady recesses we came across some ‘trekboers,’ and, far down in the kloof, we glimpsed farms…” From that and other references, I gather he is referring to a certain group of perpetually migrating Boers who were not permanent residents of, say, Pretoria or Bloemfontein. They were people of an extremely independent spirit who did not align themselves with the Boer cause in the war. Rather, they were trying to live their own separate lives, staying on the move much of the time so as not to become ensnared in the normal demands (taxation, military duty) of Boer citizenship. Perhaps this is a very specialized use of the term, but I’ve seen it elsewhere in writings of the period.

5. Ron. - December 2, 2010

Well I did note that there were Trekboers well into the 20th cent & Schikkerling’s description of them is accurate because I remember reading that the Trekboers during the Voortrekker era were not in favour of Boer state formation as they viewed the formal creation of a State as a taxation mechanism that would also interfere with their trading agreements with the Sotho. The Trekboers certainly had a very independent spirit because many of them did not align with the Voortrekkers [ the Boers from the Grensboere ] because I read about how Voortrekkers often encountered Trekboers & could not always get them on board because they still remained true to their nomadic lifestyle which shunned any form of formal citizenship.

So the answer to who the Trekboers were is a bit complicated because it essentially describes those nomadic Afrikaans speaking pastoralists who have existed since around 1679 & well into the 20th cent but they probably existed in greatest numbers during the 1679 – 1745 time frame. Because by 1745 to 1779 a large portion of them settled down on the eastern Cape frontier & started to be known as Grensboere & adopted a more sedentary / slightly more developed lifestyle mainly because they were prevented from trekking further due to the Xhosa presence to the immediate east. There were certainly a number of Trekboers since that time frame who were essentially the decendents of Trekboers who did not settle down or get incorporated into Grensboere or Voortrekker society. The point I was making was that all Boers are descended from Trekboers but certainly many people did continue to exist as Trekboers until industrialized society caught up with them or incorporated most of them by the 1950s.

From what I have been able to gather: the Grensboere [ who would later in huge numbers go on to become Voortrekkers ] developed from the Trekboers who migrated along & or not too far from [ though certainly quite inland ] the southern coast line while the folks who remained Trekboers for so long were from the most northernmost migration pattern. Remember that there were quite a number of Trekboer migration patterns trekking into the Cape frontier which traveled along at least 3 to 4 major routes. That is why it was possible for Voortrekkers to encounter Trekboers after they crossed the Orange River because those two particular groups had met up probably for the first time since their ancestors long since left left the Western Cape as they now began to migrate into the same lands once again. Which was inevitable as the Kalahari Desert prevented the Trekboers from going north & the Grensboere were prevented from going eastward. Though the landmass itself starts to slopes northward by that point.

Click on the following link: http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/ransford/map1.htm for an informative map showing the Trekboer migrations of the late 1600s into the 1700s & notice that they did not travel along just one path but in fact along a number of different paths. One group went north westward before then dramatically turning around going eastward due to the Atlantic Ocean & the Kalahari Desert to the north.

I surmise that the two southern paths were the Trekboers who would become the Grensboere [ border region Boers ] when they settled down on the eastern Cape frontier becoming rooted in the region [ as the Voortrekkers came from towns like Cradock / Graaff-Reinet / Grahamstown / Uitenhage & Swellendam ] & later the Vortrekkers – while the northern two paths were those folks who remained as Trekboers for much longer – centuries in fact. The Trekboers crossed the Orange River long before the Voortrekkers did & would only have been able to have done so first because they were situated more northern bound than the Grensboere as the northern most Trekboers were not as hindered from Bantu populations as the Grensboere certainly were when they [ Grensboere ] ran up against the Xhosas within their region.

I will definitely have to post something more to my blog about the Trekboers [ which I have wanted to do for a while ] because it is an interesting topic which is unfortunately often only lightly touched upon because it is overshadowed by the Great Trek & the Anglo-Boer War.

The Trekboers were certainly not talked about much [ if at all ] by the Afrikaner Nationalists as that part of history does not fit neatly into the notion of a single or monolithic Afrikaans speaking population group.

Jenny - December 2, 2010

You’re offering some valuable information here. Thank you. Certainly your descriptions of the various migrations, and the link to the map, give the lie to any simplistic idea that the Boers settled exclusively in the western Cape area and then suddenly migrated in the 1835 to 1850 period to what became the OFS and the Transvaal. It would be fascinating to see the Ransford map transformed into a time-lapse graphic showing the progress of migrations over several centuries. Also, I appreciate the discussion of the term “trekboer.” It seems clear that it was used in at least two different senses. But then, there are many interesting terms in Afrikaans. Another word I have come across is “bushlancers,” a somewhat amusing concept that could probably be applied to some of the trekboers of the narrower sense that Schikkerling (and others) referred to. There is so much history here that I would like to learn more about. If I had one thing to focus on, it might be the histories of all of the Boer republics—the small ones as well as the two major ones. And the Thirstland Trek. And Vryheid.

Ron. - December 3, 2010

The fact that the Voortrekkers came from the towns of the eastern Cape frontier proves that the Voortrekkers were from the eastern Cape & not from the Western Cape. You say you want to see a time lapsed map of the Trekboer migrations? Well I have found one for some years now. Click on this link to view just such a map. It shows the years & progress of the Trekboer migrations. Though it stops at around 1770 because that was when most started to settle down but it would be interesting to see the migration patterns of those who remained as nomadic pastoralists beyond that time frame. There does appear to be two different senses or uses for the term Trekboer but in reality those later Trekboers simply maintained a lifestyle that others had since given up. There must have been something particularly insular among the northern most & inland Trekboer communities. There were in fact upwards of 17 Boer Republics but some of them were simply the size of a town.

I do not think that the Thirstland Trek produced any more Boer Republics as the trekkers simply moved into & lived in Portuguese West Africa [ Angola ] then later to German South West Africa / Namibia. The Vryheid Republic was small Boer Republic in northern Natal of which the southern portion was annexed by Britain & the northern portion was absorbed in the Transvaal Republic. The Vryheid Republic adopted a Vierkleur flag with blue at the hoist.

The Cenotaph Hall within the Voortrekker Monument at Pretoria displays the flags of about 7 Boer Republics & they also raise a different Boer Republic flag out side the monument each day in front.

6. Jenny - December 3, 2010

The stories of the smaller republics lead to larger stories. I picked out the subjects of Vryheid and the Thirstland Trek somewhat randomly, but they both tie in with the smaller republics. I’m interested in Vryheid because it relates to Zulu history as well as Boer history. As far as the Thirstland Trek is concerned, I first heard it mentioned in an excellent story by Herman Charles Bosman, “The Rooinek.” Then, when I was studying the memoir of General Ben Bouwer, I learned that Bouwer’s father, the well-known big game hunter Barend Daniel Bouwer, joined the Thirstland Trek in 1876, the year after Ben Bouwer was born. (The Trek had begun the previous year, and Barend Bouwer went from hunting activities in present Botswana to join the Trek at Ghanzi on the way to South West Africa.) The memoir states that some members of the Trek established the Republic of Grootfontein, also known as Upingtonia, within the borders of South West, but abandoned it by 1887. Barend Bouwer was a member of the “Bestuur,” a managing body of Upingtonia. The family decided to leave Upingtonia sometime in the early 1880s and migrated to Mossamedes in Angola, then finally returned to Pretoria in 1889. The only reason I go into so much detail about the Bouwer family is that I feel that Ben Bouwer is a much-overlooked figure of the Boer War. He was a key associate of Smuts during the Smuts commando’s invasion of the Cape Colony, and his memoir is eloquent and interesting.

7. Ron. - December 4, 2010

The Vryheid Republic is indeed related to Zulu history as well since the very reason the Vryheid Republic even existed was due to the fact that the land it was founded on was granted to the Boers by a local Zulu King named Dinizulu [ a son of Cetshwayo ] who did so as part of his payment to the Boers to enlist their help in aiding his quelling of a rival [ British backed ] Zulu tribe. According to a multi-ethnic & multi-party meeting [ sort of like the CODESA a decade later ] in 1985: a Zulu leader present stated that the local Zulus of northern natal still recognize Boer claims to region. This was stated by him after Robert van Tonder was ridiculed [ even by the Rightist / conservative political parties present at the meeting ] for mentioning the history of region & the Boer-Zulu recognition.

Did you know that Jan Smuts was not a Boer? He is often erroneously presumed to have been one simply because he was Afrikaans speaking & fought on the side [ at least in public ] of the Boers but in actual fact he was a Cape Dutch who was very pro British before the Jameson Raid. He was born in the Western Cape & grew up there & was educated in London & motivated to serve the British Empire. He later moved out to the ZAR & was appointed to a government position just couple years before the Anglo-Boer War. Judging from his prominent role in the post Anglo-Boer War government of South Africa & how soon he reconciled with the British: it appears likely that he was a double agent for the British. He was the Defense Minister of South Africa when the South African government crushed the Maritz Rebellion of 1914 which was aiming at restoring the Boer Republics.

JBM Hertzog – another personality often erroneously presumed to have been a Boer General was also in fact from the Cape Dutch population before accepting a position as a judge in the Orange Free State. Hertzog was another prominent South African personality of the post Anglo-Boer War era who was outwardly not in favour of British control. The only actual Boer General who ever governed South Africa was Louis Botha. Another Boer descendent did not govern South Africa until Hans Strijdom [ whom his predecessor Malan did not want to succeed him ] in 1954. It is strongly believed by some that Strijdom was killed in office as he was purportedly openly talking about restoring the Boer Republics. Perhaps Strijdom was already ill before assuming office but he was the shortest serving Prime Minister in South African history at just four years in office. Therefore the Afrikaner domination of the Boers also obscures some interesting & often little known political intrigue because the Afrikaner establishment has always been against Boer self determination.

Jenny - December 4, 2010

I’d wondered if you would make that argument about Smuts—I saw from your Republicantrekkervolk blog that you took that position. I understand the point you are making—Smuts grew up in Malmesbury in the western Cape—but I think it would go against common sense to say that he was not at any rate a Boer general. He fought to his utmost ability against the British throughout the war. The men of his commando were passionately loyal to him, based on the accounts I have read (ones written by the men, not by Smuts, in case you are wondering), and these were men who would have sniffed out a British sympathizer pretty quickly. I don’t for a moment think he was a double agent. He was not the only one on the Boer side who pushed for a treaty with the British at Vereeniging, and he was not the only one who believed in reconciliation with the British afterwards. You neglect to mention that Louis Botha was his chief ally in this thinking and in the formation of the Unionist party. And that Botha was the prime minister during the Maritz Rebellion, and personally led troops against the rebels. As someone who is not South African, I don’t have any particular feeling that the Maritz Rebellion “should” or “should not” have succeeded, but I do see clearly how men who were absolutely dedicated to the Boer cause in the 1899-1902 war could reasonably come to the position in 1914 that the South African Union should be preserved. If you look on my blog at my “Deneys Reitz in WWI” series, you will see my treatment of the subject. The fact that Hertzog, another “non-Boer general” according to your position, was an ardent foe of the Unionist party just points up how impossible it is to draw conclusions about core political beliefs based on someone’s geographic origin. You say he was “outwardly not in favor of British control,” thereby hinting that he was secretly pro-British. That flies in the face of everything I’ve read about the man.

Ron. - December 5, 2010

I agree with some of your points as even the “Joiners” [ those Boers who later joined the British ] claimed that they were doing so in order to shorten the war so as to prevent the Boers from being totally wiped out. The main point concerning Hertzog & Smuts was that they were not from the Boer community & it is clear in hindsight that Smuts was very likely a British agent as he was among the the main figures in the post Anglo-Boer War government of South Africa who worked in favour of establishing the British dominion of the region. To such an extent that he is considered a “traitor” by many Boers. His history as a fervent supporter of British Colonialism before the Jameson Raid is on the record & would make him an ideal candidate to infiltrate the ZAR government.

Hertzog is a bit more complicated a personality because he vacillated on positions & was outwardly against British control but yet still participated in the British created system & went so far as to later fuse his political party – the original National Party – with the South African Party of Smuts to form the United Party in 1934 [ which he led until 1939 ] during the great depression. Hertzog was used to great effect to corral many Boers into submitting to the new dispensation.

Louis Botha was of course one of the many Boers who decided to work under the new British dispensation. When he became Premier of the new Transvaal province it was under military rule. Essentially he was the leader of a puppet government.

President Marthinus Steyn of the Orange Free State was opposed to the signing of the Vereeniging Treaty but was too ill to be at the negotiations. Though he too later went on to work within the new dispensation.

The point to remember is that the Cape Dutch were always historically very pro British [ as noted in Cecil Rhodes and The Cape Afrikaners by Mordechai Tamarkin. ] & pro Colonial & while some of them turned against the British after the Jameson Raid most still supported the British & assisted them during the second Anglo-Boer War. Therefore it makes sense that the British could use [ or simply just manipulate them behind the scenes ] prominent members of Cape Dutch origin nominally loyal to the Boer cause to steer the Boers into a British dispensation.

Jenny - December 5, 2010

Well, I think this is where we part company. I’ve enjoyed our exchange.

8. Janine Walls - February 9, 2011

I agree with Jenny on one thing – I just don’t believe that Smuts was a ‘double agent’ for the British. It just flies in the face of everything that his men have written about him, the type of man he was and the utmost integrity that he had. I believe the reason he signed the peace treaty at Vereeniging and co-operated with the British post the Boer War is because he could see the writing on the wall, the world was changing quickly and the future lay in peaceful coexistence with the British.

9. Ron. - May 18, 2011

Well I base my analysis of JCS based on his close working relationship with Cecil Rhodes & the British Imperialists prior to his convenient “change of position” & move to the ZAR in the wake of the Jameson Raid. He praise of the British Empire was also well known prior & the notion that he had such a change in outlook due simply to the Jameson Raid does not seem plausible particularly when considering the speed & enthusiasm with which he moved in reverting back to his former pro British outlook right after the Anglo-Boer War.

I strongly doubt that he ever renounced his former pro British Imperialist position because he was a major force that instigated the war [ he even wrote the ultimatum to the British as a member of the Kruger Government ] & then played a prominent role in the construction of the British created & directed macro State that the British Empire had always wanted in the region. One must remember that the notion of going to war with Britain was certain death for the independence of the Boer Republics & later-to-be Bitterender: the renown General Koos de la Rey was in fact a passionate OPPONENT of going to war before the decision was made by the Volksraad & the Transvaal government.

The following are some pertinent quotes demonstrating the validity & certainly the plausibility of the assertion.

Professor Carroll Quigley noted on page 126 in his book Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time that quote:

[ By a process whose details are still obscure, a brilliant, young graduate of Cambridge, Jan Smuts, who had been a vigorous supporter of Rhodes and acted as his agent in Kimberley as late as 1895 and who was one of the most important members of the Rhodes-Milner group in the period 1908-1950, went to the Transvaal and, by violent anti-British agitation, became state secretary of that country (although a British subject) and chief political adviser to President Kruger. . . . ] Source: Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, Macmillan & Company, 1966, p.126.

A Dr. Stanley Monteith notes in an article entitled: The Secret Cabal that quote:

[ I believe Cecil Rhodes sent Jan Smuts to the Transvaal to precipitate the Boer War. How did Jan Smuts incite the conflict? He gained the confidence of President Paul Kruger, ranted against the British government, criticized (his friend) Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner of South Africa, became secretary of state, and convinced President Kruger that the British troop movements that were taking place foreshadowed a British invasion of the Transvaal Republic. As a result, Paul Kruger told Jan Smuts to send an ultimatum to Alfred Milner, and that precipitated the Boer War. ] Source: The Secret Cabal.

I think there is certainly enough evidence to suggest that he was a double agent as he acted in ways that was ultimately beneficial for the British Empire & the fact that he was from the Cape Dutch population [ complete with their long association with the British Empire & their general contentment with it ] & not the Boer population strengthens this conclusion.

Ron. - May 19, 2011

Just wanted to point out that the article states that the source of the text is on page 137 but I found that it was on 126 via the Abode reader.

10. John - August 10, 2011

Ron – Smuts was a valued member of the British War Cabinet in the both the First and Second Wars. There is no way the British would’ve knowingly had a double agent sitting in their War Cabinet – for the simple reason they could not have trusted a double agent in their midst while they plotted their military strategy. Who would he have betrayed next?

In between the wars Smuts was invited to the Treaty of Versailles where he fought hard for the Allies to show clemency on the Germans and not humiliate them – why would he do so if he was merely a servant of the British?

Smuts also proposed the League of Nations, wrote a thesis on holism – a term he coined and wrote the preamble to the United Nations. Quite some work for a shady double agent!

He was appointed Field Marshall in the Second War – the highest military position ever appointed to a non-British citizen. It is also believed by some that Smuts was the back up to Churchill should anything have happened to him during the War, such was the esteem in which he was held by the British.

The British had the utmost respect for Smuts – for his intelligence, leadership, vision and his integrity, not for being their lackey and definitely not for betraying his people. Double agents are not held in high esteem, least of all by their masters.

Churchill had enormous respect for Smuts and we all know Churchill did not suffer fools and would not have respected a double agent.

You have been watching too many 007 movies. The complexity of South Africa and the history of her people cannot be explained away with silly spy theories. It is far deeper than that.

Jenny - August 11, 2011

John, I appreciate your comment. I have a deep aversion to conspiracy theories, myself. This is regardless of the particular subject—whether Smuts or the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I feel that people love these theories because somehow it gives them the feeling of being part of some dramatic narrative—something that makes them feel more important than they really are. It takes quite a bit of harder work to understand that ordinary life itself is actually very dramatic, without the need to add in any conspiracy.

11. Henri - January 30, 2012

Hi Jenny,

Good work on your Boer War stories.

Come and join the rest of us Boers on our facebook group:


And look at the pictures and articles when you are there.

Jenny - January 30, 2012

Thanks very much, Henri! I’ll take a look at that.

Henri - February 21, 2012

More interesting stuff from the ABO site on facebook.

Lookup foreigners that helped the Boers:


A WestPointer with the Boers:


12. JAN STERK - August 22, 2012

Your book, Transvaal Citizen, where can I obtain a copy?

Jenny - August 22, 2012

Jan, thanks for asking. It’s never been published, but some people in S. Africa have read parts of it, and it has led me to make many valuable connections over there.

13. horacio nunes - April 22, 2013

my family descend from boers father side my granparentes were boers related they born in baixo cunene and they had farms they lived in the border of angola to s-africa and they had my faher and more children whom all lived there eventually travelling for special ocasions the alves nunes family,i do like to learn more as what i know its 1883 boers Alferes artur de paiva and chefe of colonie jacobus fredeich botha,boer djanuario jacobus and coronel boer nuno matta and priest espiritano duparqet 1882 .

Jenny - April 22, 2013

Thank you for visiting. I hope someone more knowledgeable than I can add more about the connection between the Portuguese population in “Portuguese West Africa” (Angola) and the Boers. Since Ben Bouwer’s family moved from “German South West” (Namibia) to the north and settled in Mossamedes for a while, I would guess other Boers lived there too. (I think Mossamedes has a different name now.) One thing you can say for sure about the Boers, they turned up in all sorts of places around the world!

14. Nikita - December 26, 2013

Interesting post, I need to come back and read all these comments. I agree, when reading about you mentioning: ‘It is not part of a project to support a racist program of Afrikaner nostalgia’ – I thought by myself, …. oh my word, this person doesn’t know what he/she is talking about! lol… anyway, will come back in the next day or so. Keep up the great stuff. The world is really having a distorted view about our history – due to many things [some very obvious] of the past. 🙂

Jenny - December 26, 2013

Thanks for visiting. I’m in the unusual position of a non-South African who has taken a deep interest in this phase of South African history. Some ignorant folks have thought that anyone interested in this history from the Boer perspective must have a racist agenda. That is why I put in that remark. Those people would have their eyes opened if they met the Afrikaners that I spent time with on my two trips to South Africa. They are people who have a strong interest in their own heritage but at the same time are dedicated to an inclusive society.

Nikita - December 26, 2013

It’s FAB to know that other people have an interest. You seem to have studied this topic intensively, from my reading. I would love to read your book [s?] sometime. I have a very strong interest as it as well – have some information gathered over a few years on my blog – but little time at the moment. I have a ‘special’ connection to the Boer War via my great granddad. My great granddad’s dad was the ‘most wanted’ by the British- at some point. I was looking for some info on the Boers that trekked to Mexico after the peace treaty signed, I know about the Argentina group, but never knew about the other group to S-America, when I found your blog.

Jenny - December 26, 2013

Ben Viljoen started a settlement of Boers in El Paso, Texas, and was also active across the border in Mexico. I have a book about Boers in the American Southwest. I’m traveling now but when I get back home I’ll add the title and author of the book.

Nikita - December 26, 2013

Thank you for the info. I’ve already come across some info via google search, will search more. Thanks, would love the title of your book. Hope you travel safely and have a good journey.

15. Santiago - June 14, 2014

Where can we get a copy of your book?

Jenny - June 14, 2014

Thanks for your interest. I never found a publisher interested in a book about the war written by an American woman, but now I am thinking about self-publishing. If I do that, I will let people know on this blog. Writing the book led to many wonderful connections with people in SA and was very worthwhile for me.

16. Gerald - February 7, 2016

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

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