The British Empire

Countdown to War in October 1899

Milner chose to make the issue of the franchise the big question that would force the issue with Kruger. He knew that this would be a time bomb for Kruger as it could  mean the end of the Boer republic if the 'uitlanders' were given the vote. By this time the 'uitlanders' were paying 5/6th of the country's taxation and were the majority of the population but had no representation.

By May Milner had persuaded  the Cabinet of the need to give British support to intervention( peaceful at first). Two weeks later the Cape PM, Schreiner and Hofmeyr, leader of the Cape Afrikaners, proposed to Milner that he should meet with Kruger to try and settle matters and so on May 30th Milner found himself steaming north to Bloemfontein to a conference with Kruger. He was determined that it should not succeed.

The Bloemfontein Conference

At the Bloemfontein Conference, Milner pushed for a 5 year franchise, retrospective, which Kruger resisted until the last day when he agreed but with conditions. Kruger wanted in return negotiations on the Raid indemnity, Boer control of Swaziland and arbitration on rival interpretations on the London Agreement of 1884. The extra conditions was all that Milner needed to end the proceedings. Kruger's comment on the failure of Bloemfontein that what Milner wanted was not the franchise but his country.

In England the new popular press whipped up a war fever. Improvements in technology and the need for capital investment required a mass market. With the decline in illiteracy and more leisure time the working class had the time and money to buy newspapers. The Daily Mail launched in 1896 and selling for a below cost half penny broke new ground and was closely followed by the Daily Express in 1900.

A month after the failed conference at Bloemfontein, Chamberlain and Milner were discussing the form of an ultimatum to the Transvaal. In July Kruger made the substantial concession of offering the Uitlanders a seven year retrospective franchise. His offer was rejected. This only added to the feelings by many Boers that war was their only option and that a repeat of Majuba was required to force the British to accept Boer conditions.

Kruger agrees to a five year qualification period for the vote

In August clutching at straws, the Boers offered a 5 year franchise but still with some conditions including the non-interference by Britain in their internal affairs. Rejection in Britain convinced Pretoria that franchise was not the issue and that both sides were on a road that led to war. By this time Milner had convinced Chamberlain (and Salisbury in turn) that war was  the only course. All that needed to be done was to ensure that the Boers were  the aggressors so as to bring the British public on side. Attempts were made behind the scenes to avert war, particularly by Cape Colony politicians like Merrimand and Schreiner and Progressives in Pretoria. But by August both the Colonial and War Office were preparing for war.

10,000 troops despatched from India to South Africa

On 8 September the cabinet authorised the despatch of  10,000 troops to Natal. War fever began to grip the country and in the Transvaal the country began to mobilise. Boers  commandos began to report for duty carrying their gun, bandolero of ammunition and dry rations of biltong, and people saw artillery being dawn through the streets of Pretoria. 'Uitlanders' began to leave the country by train and the exodus became a panic. In Pretoria there was wild excitement at seeing the men go off to fight and in Parliament tried to reassure people by saying 'God hath spoken in his wisdom; he will rejoice'. Outside the towns the veld was burnt to encourage its growth.

The 10,000  troops that had been sent to South Africa arrived were thought to be adequate to deal with the Boers. General Penn Symons, Commander in Charge of the Natal Force believed thjat 5,000 troops would be sufficient to withstand any Boer incursion into Natal although  soon after the rejection of Kruger's October 9th ultimatum another 50,000 were on their way.

Kruger ,like Chamberlain, had decided that war was inevitable - the Boers had the numerical advantage of 40,000 to 15,000. By throwing all their troops against Natal, they could capture Durban before the first ships brought reinforcements, and this would encourage the Cape Afrikaners to rise up. On 28 September the Transvaal mobilised followed by the OFS on 2 October.

On 9th October Kruger sent the British government an ultimatum demanding that the British withdraw their forces from the Transvaal border and send back forces on the way (8,000). When this ultimatum expired on 11th October the two sides were at war. Joubert, who had established a camp near Volksrust, was in a position to move on Natal with 21,000 men(15,000 Transvaalers and 6,000 from the OFS. On the morning of 12th October Joubert's forces began to move south.

The Table  used during the Bloemfontein Conference, now in Bloemfontein’s museum on the Boer War.

British troops arrive in Durban, South Africa