King's College London
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I speak of Africa

Union of South Africa

The long rivalry between South Africa’s British colonies and the Boer republics finally came to a head in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, a bitter conflict largely precipitated by the British, who wished to absorb the Boer territories into a greater South Africa and so have unfettered control of the Transvaal goldfields. The appointment in 1897 of Sir Alfred Milner as Cape governor signalled a policy of increasing interference in the affairs of the Transvaal. In the end this provocation led, as it was bound to do, to an armed response by the two Boer republics, whose forces attacked Natal in October 1899.

A statement of allegiance to Edward VII by the president and speaker of the Transvaal parliament from Addresses to His Majesty the King in connection with the establishment of the Union of South Africa. 1909-10 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. KTL2101 ADD]A statement of allegiance to Edward VII by the president and speaker of the Transvaal parliament from Addresses to His Majesty the King in connection with the establishment of the Union of South Africa. 1909-10 [FCO Historical Collection FOL. KTL2101 ADD]The resulting war was far longer and bloodier than the British government had expected and was characterised by atrocities on both sides. While the concentration camps into which the British herded Boer women and children have become notorious, Africans also suffered imprisonment and death in British camps and indiscriminate violence at the hands of the Boers. A British army of approaching a million men was held at bay for three years by no more than 65,000 Boers, whose guerrilla tactics wreaked havoc. In the end, though, superior numbers began to tell and the inevitable defeat of the Boers came in May 1902.

South Africa was slow to recover from the war and the negotiations regarding the government of the defeated Boer territories were protracted. It was not until the creation in 1909 of the Union of South Africa as a self-governing dominion that the future direction of the country became clear. The Transvaal and the Orange Free State had been awarded self-governance in 1906 and 1907, respectively, and had also succeeded in withholding the franchise from their non-white inhabitants. This meant that when it came to negotiating terms for the constitution of the Union, only the Cape, with its long tradition of voting rights for all races, accorded the franchise to its non-white peoples, and throughout the Union only those ‘of European descent’ could sit in parliament.

On display is a copy of the draft South Africa Act of 1909, prefaced by a statement of allegiance to Edward VII by the president and speaker of the Transvaal parliament.

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