chapter  4
‘THE WEAKEST LINK IN THE IMPERIAL CHAIN’
Pages 12

Nineteenth-century South African history was shaped by continual tension between the Dutch-speaking Boer or Afrikaner settlers, whose ancestors had arrived in the 1650s, and the more recently established British presence at the Cape. The Boers’ determination to preserve their distinctive identity led them to undertake the ‘Great Trek’ into the interior in 1835-7. The settlements established by these trekkers were to be known as the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Here the Boers nurtured their way of life, based upon pastoral farming, an austere Old Testament religion, a preference for republican government and the denial of political rights to the native black population. Their sense of nationalism developed in reaction to British attempts to incorporate the Transvaal in a South African federation in 1877. A brief military confrontation in 1880-1, known as the first AngloBoer War, culminated in a British defeat at Majuba Hill. This was followed by the restoration of the Transvaal’s independence, subject to British oversight of its foreign policy, in the Pretoria Convention of 1881. Although this unusual arrangement was confirmed by the London Convention three years later, it remained a standing affront to Boer nationalists led by the Transvaal’s fiercely independent President, Paul Kruger. From an opposite perspective, it was also viewed as an unhappy compromise by imperial-minded Britons. They sought full imperial control over the whole of Southern Africa.