The guerrilla war in the Cape Colony during the South African War of 1899-1902 : a case study of the republican and rebel commando movement

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation examines the nature and extent of armed conflict in country areas of the Cape Colony, between 1900 and 1902. The relationship between invasion and rebellion is explored, as are the tactics and strategies of the Boer commando movement. Only republican and rebel military activity is examined, not the counterresistance of the imperial army, the colonial state, or of black agrarian communities. A general uprising in the Cape Colony was regarded by many Boer leaders as the key to their success in the South African War. This case study reveals the reasons why this general uprising did not occur during the second Cape invasion. In 1901 a general uprising did take place in certain Cape regions (notably west of the Cape Town-Johannesburg railway) but these regions were either strategically unimportant, in which case events within them could not decisively influence the course of the war, or else they were regions such as the Midlands, where a unique combination of geographical features, Boer command problems, lack of access to the lines of communication, in combination with other factors suppressed the uprising just when it was beginning to exhibit popular and universal features. The Cape guerrilla war was subject to moderating and constraining influences for much of its course, despite being characterized by rebellion and executions. Extremism and moderation were both freely exhibited by the Boers in the conflict. But ultimately it was the moderation and restraint of the senior Boer commanders in the Cape (as elsewhere in South Africa) which emerged as the defining feature of the war there. Features of total war were rarely present, and the peace treaty concluded at Vereeniging represented a defeat for the irreconcilable and extremist elements of the Boer forces.

Bibliography: leaves 190-208.