Re-fighting the 2nd Anglo-Boer War: historians in the trenches

Ian Van der Waag


Some one hundred years ago, South Africa was tom apart by the 2nd Anglo- Boer War (1899-1902). The war was a colossal psychological experience fought at great expense: It cost Britain twenty-two thousand men and £223 million. The social, economic and political cost to South Africa was greater than the statistics immediately indicate: at least ten thousand fighting men in addition to the camp deaths, where a combination of indifference and incompetence resulted in the deaths of 27 927 Boers and at least 14 154 Black South Africans. Yet these numbers belie the consequences. It was easy for the British to 'forget' the pain of the war, which seemed so insignificant after the losses sustained in 1914-18. With a long history of far-off battles and foreign wars, the British casualties of the Anglo-Boer War became increasingly insignificant as opposed to the lesser numbers held in the collective Afrikaner mind. This impact may be stated somewhat more candidly in terms of the war participation ratio for the belligerent populations. After all, not all South Africans fought in uniform. For the Australian colonies these varied between 4½per thousand (New South Wales) to 42.3 per thousand (Tasmania). New Zealand 8 per thousand, Britain 8½ per thousand: and Canada 12.3 per thousand; while in parts of South Africa this was perhaps as high as 900 per thousand. The deaths and high South African participation ratio, together with the unjustness of the war in the eyes of most Afrikaners, introduced bitterness, if not a hatred, which has cast long shadows upon twentieth-century South Africa.


2nd Anglo- Boer War (1899-1902); Britain casualties; Black South Africans; deaths; Afrikaners

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Copyright (c) 2018 Ian Van der Waag

ISSN 2224-0020 (online); ISSN 1022-8136 (print)

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