Counter-Insurgency in the Cape Colony, 1872 - 1882

  • J.S. Kotze
Keywords: Cape Colony, Rebellion in Basotholand (1880-1882), the Cape-Xhosa or Ninth Eastern Frontier War (1877-1878), The Northern Frontier War (1878-1879), the Baphuhti Rebellion (1879), the Transkeian Rebellion (1880-1881), the Rebellion in Basotholand


The acceptance of responsible government in 1872 entailed that the Cape Colony had to provide its own security arrangements. The two British regiments that were still deployed at the Cape were reserved solely for imperial purposes. Moreover, the Cape Government now had to assist the High Commissioner with the maintenance of law and order in the adjacent tribal territories of the Transkei and Basotholand. Unrest and internal conflict were almost endemic in the Cape Colony's area of interest during the period 1872 to 1882. Besides a number of conflict situations of a smaller nature, the colonial forces were involved in five major insurgencies, namely the Cape-Xhosa or Ninth Eastern Frontier War (1877-1878), The Northern Frontier War (1878-1879), the Baphuhti Rebellion (1879), the Transkeian Rebellion (1880-1881) and the Rebellion in Basotholand (1880-1882). This paper traces the development of policy and doctrine, administrative and military, by the Cape Government to pacify the Eastern Cape frontier region. Special attention is given to security and defence policy, the policy of direct control of the adjacent tribal territories as well as the disarmament policy. Furthermore the reactions of the indigenous communities to these policies as well as the demands placed on the colonial military system are investigated. It is concluded that the policies of the successive Cape governments were either impracticable or resulted in the erosion of the traditional power structures among the black communities to the extent that from 1877 onwards, internal conflict became the order of the day. Perceived to be "mere instruments of political will", the colonial forces were synonymous with the reprehensible colonial control and found it impossible to deter public violence or prevent the escalation of the conflicts. The colonial government expected unrealistic strategic results from the colonial armed forces. Military reforms were mostly reactive and too little was done too late. The Molteno as well as the Sprigg ministry eventually paid the highest political price for the failure of their respective defence schemes not least of which was the failure of their counter-insurgency strategies.
How to Cite
Kotze, J. (2012). Counter-Insurgency in the Cape Colony, 1872 - 1882. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 31(2).