The Cape Rebel of the South African War, 1899-1902
Thesis (DPhil (History))—University of Stellenbosch, 2005.
This dissertation investigates the role of a group of Cape colonists who rose in rebellion against the colonial government and allied themselves to the Boer Republics during the South African War of 1899-1902. The decision of the Griqualand West colonists to join the Republican forces took place against a background of severe deprivation in the agricultural sector due to the losses sustained in the rinderpest pandemic of 1896/1897. It also coincided with the invasion of Griqualand West by Transvaal forces. The failure of the Schreiner Government to defend its borders encouraged rebellion, as there were no armed forces to oppose either the invasion or the rebellion. While some of the Cape rebels fought on the side of the Republicans during major battles along the Modder River, others were commandeered to gather and transport supplies to the laagers. Four months after the surrender of Gen P Cronje at Paardeberg the majority of these rebels had laid down arms except for those under Gen Piet de Villiers who fought on in the Transvaal. After a second rebellion in 1901, far fewer rebels fought a war of attrition north of the Orange River; eventually about 700 men leaving the Cape Colony to avoid laying down arms. South of the Orange River Free State forces commandeered the disaffected colonists of the Stormberg and Colesberg regions in November 1899. Because the Republicans had not occupied these regions earlier in the war, British reinforcements and the Colonial Division took to the field against them almost immediately. The victory gained at Stormberg in December 1899 by the Boer forces was not followed up. Olivier failed to integrate his forces; unlike those at Colesberg where the Boers were far better led and scored some notable successes. The Republican burghers withdrew from the Cape Colony in March 1901, which in turn led to a mass surrender ofrebels. Those that were captured under arms were sent as POWs to Ceylon and India, while those that surrendered were held in colonial gaols until they were bailed or given passes. Only a few hundred continued to wage war in the Boer Republics for the remainder of 1900. The second invasion by Free State forces into the Cape Colony consisted of mobile commandos that criss-crossed the interior. For the first few months they sowed havoc, but after June 1901 the military used mass tactics against those who were forced into the isolated northwest Cape. In 1902, unknown to them, the Boer republics signed the Treaty of Vereeniging and ceased to exist as sovereign states. The Cape rebels were not signatories to the treaty. According to an agreement between the Boer leaders and the Colonial Office, if a rebel surrendered and pleaded guilty to High Treason under Proclamation 100 of 1902 he would receive a partial amnesty and be disfranchised. However rebel officers were charged in court and fines and prison sentences would be handed down. After the first invasion rebels who were captured or surrendered were tried under the Indemnity and Special Tribunals Act that was in force for six months until April 1901. Martial Law was then again in vogue from 22 April until Peace at the end of May 1902, and under this act 44 Cape colonists, Republicans and aliens were executed, and hundreds .of others, whose death sentences were commuted to penal servitude for life, were shipped to POW camps on Bermuda and St Helena. The surrenders 00,442 rebels were accepted under Proclamation 100 of 1902. Rebel officers or those facing serious charges were tried under the Indemnity and Special Tribunals Act in Special High Treason Courts. The general amnesty announced in 1905 brought to an end the prosecutions for High Treason ofCape rebels. In 1906 the names of disfranchised colonists were. replaced on the Voters' Roll. The final official return of Cape rebels for 1903 is 12,205 or 0.5% of the total population, while the return according to the database is 16,198 rebels or 0.7%. Strategically the rebellions played a limited role in the overall Republican war effort despite the individual rebel's self-sacrifice to the cause. However, although small in numbers, the rebellion had an enormous impact on colonial life (especially in 1901) as it led to a thinly disguised civil war and enmity between the Afrikaner and English colonists, which took years to disappear.