The British seized the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch in the early 1800s, sparking a conflict between colonists of both powers and native Africans.

During the 1800s, the southern portion of Africa was challenged by a mix of cultural and ethnic diversity along with a number of economic interests. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British Empire seized the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch in 1815. This allowed the Empire to protect its interests in India as ships passed around the Cape. This also gave the British a foothold on an important African colony, much like other European powers. In order to stave off the forces of other nations, Britain would have to act quickly in order to consolidate its power. Portugal controlled East and West Africa, Germany controlled Namibia, Belgium controlled the Congo and France held Equatorial Africa and Madagascar.

Meanwhile, former Dutch colonists, now called Boers, founded the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, pressuring African natives into looking towards the British and Germans for protection. In 1868, the British annexed Basutoland following a request by refugees of the Zulu wars. This was followed by an appeal to annex Bechuanaland in the 1880s as Germany annexed the land in modern Namibia.

Exodus from British Territory

The Boers began to flee from British control, acting on one hand as settlers of untamed land and giving the Empire a way to consolidate its power over its own land. However, during this time, skirmishes between the British and Boers began to mount, along with additional military action against the Zulus and other native African forces.

The economic interest in the region began as early as 1867. 550 miles northeast of Cape Town, near the Vaal River, diamonds were discovered by Boer miners in the interior. The value of diamonds in this era stimulated a “diamond rush” that triggered a mass influx of immigrants from all over the world looking for work and wealth. The town of Kimberley, located on the Vaal River, became the site of the major influx. Within five years, 50,000 people had immigrated and expanded the town to the size of a city.

Final Attempt at Peace

The British Empire saw this as a great opportunity to continue its expansion. It annexed West Griqualand, the territory in which Kimberley was located. This was followed by an attempt by Colonial Secretary Lord Carnarvon to broker a deal with the Orange Free State and the South African Republic. His goal was to establish a federation of British and Boer territories much like existed in Canada between the British and French. The deal failed and the British began to annex a number of other territories, giving the Boers a reason to intervene.


Keith M. Wilson, The International Impact of the Boer War (Palgrave, 2001)

Byron Farwell, The Great Boer War (Wordsworth, 1999)

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