The Memories and Mythologies of South Africa’s Great War

Nasson, Bill (2009-06)

The original publication is available at


For those who start them, wars are almost always an illusion, in the sense that the conflict with which they end up is rarely the contest which they had imagined at the beginning. In forcing war upon South Africa’s Boer Republics in 1899, Britain’s War Office envisaged a short little colonial war, easy on the purse and light on casualties. Instead, in its bid to crush settler republicanism and thereby complete the imperial conquest of southern Africa, London got rather more than it had bargained for. The British found themselves lumbered with a draining, costly and controversial military campaign which did them little credit. Likewise, the Boers, too, discovered that they had bitten off more than they could chew. Running down to the wire, they had to wage a desperate and tormented ‘people’s war’ for existence.

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