The Creation of the Boer Republics - British Empire 1815-1914

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The Creation of the Boer Republics

The Trekboers heading into Natal in the 1830s managed to avoid the Xhosa people but came face to face with the powerful Zulu nation led at the time by Dingaan. The Boer leader, Piet Retief, managed to negotiate a land settlement but at the celebration of the signing on February 8th 1838, Retief and his men were murdered. Dingaan then sent his men to the Boer camp where 281 men, women and children, and 200 coloured servants were all butchered.

The Boers were determined to get their revenge and so mustered a commando of 530 Boer marksmen and 60 armed blacks. They gathered on the edge of the Ncome River and formed a circle of wagons. Sarel Cilliers climbed onto a gun carriage and his words became part of the history of the Afrikaner nation.

' this moment we stand before the holy god of heaven and earth to make a promise, if he will be with us and protect us and deliver the enemy into our hands so that we may triumph over him, that we shall observe the day and the date as an anniversary in each year and a day of thanksgiving like the Sabbath, in his honour..'

On the morning of 16 December1838 10,000 Zulu warriors attacked the circle of wagons. At the end of the attack just three Boers had been injured and around the wagons lay 3,000 Zulus dead-testament that God had favoured the Afrikaners. The river ran red with Zulu blood and this battle of Blood River became part of the Afrikaner story and a defining moment in the development of the Boer nation as a chosen people.

'Of the event Manie Maritz said: I think that the Afrikaner was born at the Battle of Blood River...It was a miracle of god that that battle could have been won'
The battle of Blood River
The Boer presence in Natal was short lived though for the British wanted the vital sea port of Durban and so in 1842 annexed Natal.  The Boers moved inland to  what became the Orange Free State and Transvaal and there was an uneasy truce between the British and the Boers until in the 1850s the British came to accept the position of the Boers and decided to leave then to their own devices - just so long as they did not destabilise the area.
At this time the Boers were often disunited and a number of different republics existed (Vryheid, Zoutpansberg and Lydenburg). There was a feeling that the Boer republics might tear themselves apart and the number of British settlers had not been numerous. In 1852 the Sand River Convention recognised the independence of the 15,000 Transvaalers and two years later the Bloemfontein Conference acknowledged the sovereignty of the Orange Free State. As part of the treaties the Boer Republics agreed to fixed northern frontiers so as not to provoke any further clashed with African tribes. Given time the British believed the small Boer republics would simply tear themselves apart and so there was no need to adopt a more forward policy. Indeed in 1857 forces from the Transvaal led by Marthinus Pretorius actually invaded the OFS in an unsuccessful attempt to unite the two republics.
The Orange Free State, Natal and Zululand in the mid-c19th
These 1852, 1854 treaties marked a willingness on the part of the British to leave the Boers to get on with their lives as long as they did not threaten British interests in Africa. This was at a time when neither British capital nor settlers were drawn to the area which at the time was exporting little. The environment was harsh with frequent droughts, an impoverished soil and much cattle disease. Cape Town had not been developed as a trading port and so the area had little to attract settlers or capitalists.  In 1854 a new parliament met at Cape Town with both houses elected by members of both white and black races (although there was a financial qualification which limited black participation) and when Natal acquired a parliament it followed the same pattern.
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