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THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR 1899-1902 TOPIC 5: CAUSES OF THE WAR
Possible Essay Questions
What significance should historians attribute to the issue of Uitlander grievances in explaining why war came to South Africa in 1899?
In what senses and to what extent was the South African War about gold?
? The discovery of gold in the Transvaal threatened the dominance of the British Empire as it provide the region with an opportunity to become geo-strategically empowered and, subsequently, an independent Republic
? Discovery of the world's largest deposit of gold-bearing ore in 1886 on a large cliff known as the 'Witwatersrand' had radical implications as it "turned the Transvaal's Witwatersrand into the economic hub of the entire subcontinent"
? 1898 ? 27% of world's entire output of gold produced in Transvaal
? 'Mineral revolution' prompted a gold rush of foreign investors from around the world and from other British colonies to the region to seek their fortune e.g. Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Beit
? In order to retain control of gold, it was important to create a labour supply, from within the region as well as from the other British South African colonies, and channel it to the mining centres
? The requirement for labour attracted a large amount of skilled, mostly European, Uitlanders from overseas
? These Uitlanders, who numbered over 100,000 (some 75,000 of them British) had no legitimate claim to citizenship because Kruger feared that if they were enfranchised then they could "tilt the balance of power towards...
English profiteers" ARGUMENTS RELATING TO GOLD
- Marxist argument - J. A. Hobson & Marks and Trapido
- Economic Argument - Cain and Hopkins
- Imperialist Argument - A. Porter & P. Henshaw Marxist Argument
- J. A. Hobson - radical liberal - the South African War was about gold because it created a 'Capitalist War'
THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR 1899-1902--whereby British politicians co-operated with the cosmopolitan capitalists, who were making profits from gold developments, and attempted to overthrow the Kruger government Argues that the Transvaal gold prompted a war waged by sectional interests; it was ultimately a perversion of the Capitalist system Hobson ? mining capitalists in the Transvaal 'have found the need for controlling politics and legislation' due to their desire for 'the control of a large, cheap, regular, submissive, supply of labour' (1900) Marks and Trapido ? corroborated Hobson - argued that the South African War epitomized the way the capitalist system worked. o Argue that the system could not be reformed and so war was almost inevitable Aftermath of Jameson Raid 1895 - soon became clear that the mining capitalists secured the connivance of Chamberlain in their attempt to overthrow the Transvaal government. o Hobson ? since the mining capitalists were planning to overthrow the Transvaal government in 1895, then they must have been behind war in 1899 PRIMARY SOURCE - The English Newspaper Editor, W. T. Stead supports this notion - in an extract from his article The Truth about the War (1899), Stead explains how Kruger, President of the Transvaal, was fully aware of Chamberlain's role behind the Jameson Raid Thus, Hobson and other Marxist historians argued that gold created the mining sector which then, as it did in 1895, conspired with key political individuals in London, and, due to the nature of Capitalism, prompted the South African War
Critique of the Marxist argument
- Iain Smith ? disputed this notion that the mineowners played a major role in prompting war o Argued that Hobson's explanation for the South African War lacks evidence, particularly because at the time of writing he did not have access to the records of either the government or the mining companies o "Once historians were able to test this hypothesis against the evidence, the 'Hobson theses' about the origins of the war...had to be abandoned.'"
- Andrew Porter ? acknowledges the fact "that historically capitalist activity and war are intimately associated" but he urges historians to look at British policy in South Africa in a broader context
THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR 1899-1902Both Porter and Smith argue that there is a lack of evidence to suggest that because the mining capitalists in South Africa were behind the Jameson Raid in 1895, that they caused the war in 1899
- End of 1890s ? "the Rand had become the largest single producer of gold, being responsible for over one-quarter of world output"
- PRIMARY SOURCE ? Paul Kruger - in his memoirs - writes, "It is quite certain that, had no gold been found in the Transvaal, there would have been no war." He continues to state "The British Government would not have lifted a finger...had it not been tempted by the wealth of the country." o However, must treat this source with caution as Kruger was President of the Transvaal and thus by default hostile to Britain and suspicious of their motives
- Cain and Hopkins ? agree with Kruger in emphasizing the importance of gold in economic terms o Argued that following the Transvaal's newfound wealth, British policymakers felt it necessary to protect their economic interests in South Africa o This is because "it accounted for two-thirds of that continent's total foreign trade and investment" o Britain feared that their position on the international trading system would be threatened if they did not have access to these South African ore reserves, particularly "at a time of anticipated shortages." Critique
- Britain was impelled by the wealth generated by the ore deposits in the Transvaal, BUT this argument must be viewed in conjunction with how this wealth impacted Britain's wider imperial interests
- Jean Jacques van Helten ? "Neither Treasury minutes nor Bank of England correspondence ever hint that the solution to Britain's apparent shortage of gold supply should be sought...by obtaining physical control over the Transvaal gold mining industry."
- The notion that Britain needed to be in political control over South Africa in order to have access to the gold is a misunderstanding of how finance works. o Britain was able to buy all the gold that it wanted on the open market and countries such as Australia and Canada were key to British investment and trade during this period
THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR 1899-1902Bill Nasson ? "Britain's end was not the gold supply as such, but the imposition of its political will over the Transvaal." o It is this which lies at the heart of the South African War o The consequences of gold strengthened the geostrategic position of the Transvaal, which had previously been so dependent on Britain. o It was not the ore deposits that Britain wanted to assert their control over, but the powerful effects that it generated o This aligns with the argument of J. S. Marais which places British supremacy rather than economic interests centre-stage
- Andrew Porter - revisionist - focuses attention on Britain's wider strategic concerns in Southern Africa
- Peter Henshaw ? "the chief fear of the British government...was that the wealth of the mines...would enable the Transvaal to dominate the region economically and, eventually, politically."
- Strengthening strategic position of the Transvaal owes its success to the impact of gold
- It enabled the Boers to build artillery, new roads and railways.
- The most significant development was the opening of the Delagoa Bay railway line in 1895, which created a link between the Transvaal Republic and the Delagoa Bay o This fundamentally transformed the balance of power in the region as it granted the Transvaal access to a nearby port outside of British control o The Delagoa Bay was geographically placed in a way that could threaten British ships using the Cape route
- PRIMARY SOURCE - Selbourne, the son-in-law of Salisbury, expressed the British concern over the Delagoa Bay o In his memorandum on 26 March 1896, he expressed that the ideal scenario for Britain was the establishment of a British South African Dominion, which would legislate itself but exist within the framework of the Empire o Selbourne wrote to Chamberlain: "It is a matter of vital importance to us to prevent the Delagoa Bay railway passing into the control of any power whatever except the Portuguese or British Governments" as "If...the control of this railway passed to the Transvaal, or to a Foreign Power
THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR 1899-1902-working with the Transvaal against British interests, the results would be very serious." FOREIGN POWERS o Britain already fearful of the impact of Germany due to her approval of greater republican independent and due to the telegram that the Kaiser had sent to President Kruger following the Jameson Raid o Germany had also assisted the formation of a South African Republic National Bank in 1894 o Despite the 1898 Anglo-German agreement whereby Britain's control over the Transvaal was agreed, business development of the port fell into the hands of a company backed by Germany o This fuelled British fears about the future flow of gold back to England Peter Henshaw ? "The opening up of the Delagoa Bay, economic growth in the Transvaal, and the continued interest of rival powers in the region was a disastrous combination for Britain" o The wealth prompted by gold in the Transvaal is what enabled it to create the railway link to the Delagoa Bay o This is what fuelled rival European interests in the area as Germany and France could now "menace the vital Cape route as well as bolt the door on inland British trade." Britain feared that "Southern Africa would not unite as a dominion within the British empire but as a republic antagonistic to Britain..." Thus, Britain's desire to retain imperial primacy in the region, something that was threatened due to the discovery of gold, was of upmost importance in prompting the South African War
PRIMARY SOURCES supporting the Imperialist factor
- Chamberlain's public speech to the House of Commons on 8 May 1896 o "It is an essential feature in our policy that the authority and influence of this country should be predominant in South Africa" o Also references the grievances of the Uitlanders, arguing that they had been denied a "share in the control of their public affairs." o However, it does seem that Chamberlain and, to a larger extent, Milner used the issue of the Uitlanders in order to conceal their ulterior motive of political dominance
- Kruger's memoirs
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