History Notes > Bristol University History Notes > The South African War (Second Boer War) 1899-1902 Notes
Black And Coloured Participation Notes
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Black And Coloured Participation Revision
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TOPIC 3: BLACK AND COLOURED PARTICIPATION
Possible Essay Questions
How useful is it to think of Black participation in the South African War in terms of an alliance between British and African forces?
The South African War of 1899-1902 was essentially a 'White mans' war fought to determine which white authority had real power in South Africa but other population groups like the Zulu, Xhosa and Swazis, were also involved. Although there was an unwritten agreement between the Boers and the British that Blacks would not be armed in the war, neither side adhered to this agreement. Why were Black and coloured people not initially wanted in the SAW?
Commonly believed by both sides that military methods of Black people were more brutal than those of white people o White women & children would not be shown mercy by Black soldiers.
There is a fear of unleashing a situation in which White supremacy is fundamentally challenged in Southern Africa o Although British Imperial government dedicated to maintaining colour blind franchise, they are no more willing to overturn white supremacy in South Africa than the Boers are Why did Blacks want to enter the South African War?
Black poverty was a major spur to enlistment in the British army
- For many Black families, the war had disastrous consequences as it disrupted the migrant labour system, a development that deprived them of an income used to buy grain, and pay taxes and rent
- In the Transvaal and the Orange Free State Britain's scorched earth campaign destroyed the livelihoods of many thousands of Blacks
1901 separate concentration camps for Blacks were established to accommodate those who were uprooted from the land
No adequate food & no proper medical care many deaths.
Death toll at end of war in Black concentration camps
Why do Africans want to fight on the side of the British?
- Settle scores against Boers who have taken their land and subjected them to unequal treatment
- Substantial economic benefits of collaboration o Working with the British can be very lucrative o Can command significantly higher wages as there is a market for black labour and there is an army who is willing to pay regular rates o Many black Africans also have the opportunity to sell food at vastly inflated prices Why do Africans participate in Boer commandos?
- More surprising element of black participation
- Estimated that perhaps 10,000 Africans served with the Boers fighting against the British Black People and the South African War 1899-1902
- Throughout the SAW the British and the Boers persistently accused each other of using blacks and coloureds in military operations
- 20 November 1899 President Steyn of the Orange Free State wrote to W. P. Schreiner to protest against the use by colonial forces of armed Coloureds in the northwestern Cape.
- Accusations of one side against the other continued throughout war
How far were the accusations of the British and the Boers justified?
o For defence the British army enlisted the active support of a number of blacks during the difficult months of the war o Between the years 1899-1900, 4000 Africans were raised to guard the borders of Transkei o Khama mobilized between 800 and 1000 men to defend the border between the Ngwato reserve and the South African Republic. o It is estimated that throughout the war, the British armed up to 30,000 Africans and used almost 100,000 in supporting roles such as being messengers, scouts and gathering intelligence about the disposition of Boers.
From the beginning of the war the British depended upon black people for non-combatant duties. o Transport riding with the military almost exclusively Coloured and African occupation. o Estimated that at least 14,000 black transport drivers were in British military employment at any one time during the war.
During the guerilla stage of the war the British army also became dependent upon the active involvement of blacks o Blacks seized Boer livestock and brought the animals into the garrison towns in return for a share of the stock delivered. o Black people participated in the destruction of farmsteads and crops, and in bringing into the concentration camps Boer women and children removed from the countryside.
Writing Black History The subject of black participation was 20 years ago barely considered in the historiography. A lot of older works on South African War hardly mention black and coloured participation and certainly do not talk about individual Africans or see Africans as active agents in the shaping of the South African War. How does black participation alter our understanding of what kind of war this was?
- A war of British imperial supremacy - one way of looking at the war
- However, Bill Nasson, in his article Abraham Esau, hints at the question as to whether this war is actually a CIVIL WAR
- Is it a RACE WAR between Africans and then the Boers?
Key Theme: Agency in History - who has power to shape their affairs?
- Writing about the South African War has been influenced by broader changes in how South African historians think about agency
- Up to the 60s and 70s, Africans were not granted much agency
- they were in many ways victims of history and not ACTIVE AGENTS
- One of the main thrusts of particularly left-wing historians in South Africa from the 1970s onwards is to write the agency of Africans back into South African history
Good example of how SOCIAL HISTORY shapes South African History o History should be about ordinary people o E.g. E. P. Thompson - just because we don't necessarily have direct testimony from the oppressed does not mean that they should be excluded from history This is also a similar idea to the SUBALTERN PERSPECTIVE o Argued that Indian history is written BY the elite and FOR the elite o Broader pattern of which South African history is now a part of - trying to bring in those amongst the masses and from below Good case to link to social and cultural history o One of the legacies of Apartheid is that there are few South Africans who go to university, become historians and write influential works o Most South African history written by white historians o BILL NASSON - coloured himself but most of the other historians who are writing about black participation in the war are white o The sort of perspectives you therefore get and how politics shapes the perspective is very clear in the reading o Relationship between power and the writing of history
19th century British colonial rule in general - colourblind franchise
- In theory, British subjects are equal regardless of race
- In theory, in British colonies, the franchise is colourblind
- Nothing about race in what, legally, gives you the vote in the Cape Colony
- In South Africa, the Cape coloured buy into this and increasingly identify themselves as Black Englishmen. Many of them aspire to the vote, work in artisanal settings and in towns across the cape, who go to mission schools and who worship Anglican churches
- Cape coloureds buy into the cultured Britishness and take the advantages that the colourblind franchise gives them
- The colour blind franchise and the promise of equality also means that many Africans look to the British as PROTECTORS against the Boers.
- Idea that racism comes from the frontier The British Army and African Participation
- Decision to lead a White Man's War - in the early stages of the war, the British army does not arm Africans
- The colonial authorities across the Cape and Natal are also extremely reluctant to arm Africans
o Don't want to start the process towards a war fought on racial lines Nevertheless, in the course of the war, the British army does end up arming up to 30,000 Africans and uses up to 100,000 Africans in supporting roles Many of the support workers carried out tasks like providing basic labour work to support the British army e.g. acting as messengers, scouts, gathering intelligence about the disposition of Boer forces These roles turn into Combatant roles and increasingly the British began to arm people with those roles.
Why did the British want to arm Africans during the SAW?
1. Partly a matter of expense - sending out British troops and supplying them is incredibly expensive o Recruiting Africans locally, who can do a lot of the jobs that British soldiers aren't really trained to do = cheaper way of fighting the war
2. Knowledge and information - Africans have access to local knowledge, local Boer commandos, the ground and supply routes are important sources of intelligence o The British army ends up arming substantial numbers of Black troops, training them and forming them into military contingents
E.g. 1899-1900 - 4000 black troops raised to guard borders of Transkei How did the Boers treat those Africans who were collaborating with the British?
- Early stages in the war - white prisoners captured by the Boers are pretty well treated by the Boers
- Black prisoners ARE NOT o Cases of them being beaten and executed by Boer commandoes o Cases of off duty black guards being abducted, beaten and executed
- Escalating conflict between Africans and Boers
- July 1901 Boer General Kritzinger announced that all Africans working with the British would be executed whether armed or not o This makes things much simpler for British commanders o Just arm all Africans - makes sense to give your messengers guns if they are going to be killed anyway o Leads to a much more systematic arming of blacks Chapter from Bill Nasson's book on Abraham Esau's War:
- History of an ordinary person
- Article less about the South African War but about race politics in South Africa after the South African War
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