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To what extent do the origins of the South African War (1899 - 1902) lie in Metropolitan British politics?

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Introduction

To what extent do the origins of the South African War (1899 - 1902) lie in Metropolitan British politics? The Boer War had many possible origins from British self defense to capitalist driven expansion. There remain profound differences of opinion about the war's origins. Some emphasise Britain's economic interests in the Southern African periphery, principally the production and supply of gold and the consequent necessity of removing the administratively backward and economically obstructionist regime of Paul Kruger. However others have stressed the concerns of the British government decision makers at the center. These concerns include British power and prestige and the necessity of maintaining British paramountcy in South Africa and about safeguarding the strategically vital Cape Colony. Furthermore, it was not only 'British politics' in general that caused the war but also those arguments that give a more central role to key individuals such as Sir Alfred Milner or Joseph Chamberlain. While none of these possibilities alone can explain the Boer War, it can be seen the Boer War did have multiple causes, however economic forces and the role of key individuals in shaping events can be seen as the strongest influential causes. . Before discussing the causes of the war, it is necessary to understand the line of events leading up to the war. In the late seventeenth century the Dutch East India Company had set up a small trading station near the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of South Africa (Cape Colony). ...read more.

Middle

It appears that the major mineowners did support the Uitlanders claims for voting rights, primarily it seems because they believed that it would be difficult to attract British and European skilled workers to an area in which they were denied basic civil rights. The stubbornness the Transvaal government showed towards the Uitlanders was viewed as a severe handicap in the continuing effort to attract labour and investment, both of which were vital for long term expansion. Therefore, the 'Rand millionaires' felt they stood to profit from an extension of voting rights to the Uitlanders. Indeed, J. A Hobson claimed that the war was caused by a "conspiracy of financiers" for whom the Uitlander issue was a cloak to hide a desire for private profit. In order to consider who or what caused the war it is necessary to decide which two of the parties initiated the conflict. Since it is clear that the British were on the military offensive the question is whether the war was fought in British self-defense? At the time of the conflict, a common argument was that the Transvaal routinely crushed Uitlander freedoms. It must be stressed that this argument was initiated as a wartime justification. However the historical consensus has been to reject the self defense interpretation. J. A Hobson criticises protectionism as a cause for the Boer War. Instead for him, British capitalism encouraged a misallocation of wealth which led investors to seek higher investment returns in developing foreign markets. ...read more.

Conclusion

For instance the idea that the war was honestly fought over Uitlander grievances were shown to be more propaganda than the real truth and the self defense interpretation has subsequently become unpopular. Hobson's argument that a capitalist minority motivated the war has remained resilient since its formation nearly a century ago. While parts of the foundation based on accepting Rhodes as the mastermind behind the Jameson Raid have been somewhat eroded by the introduction of newly revealed documents, the overall structure remains standing. The significance of the Boer War marks the dividing line between the passionate imperialism of late Victorian England and the loss of confidence in Britain about its future. This loss of confidence may not have been completely warranted but it was widely felt all the same. After the Boer War, the British never believed as strongly as they had before it that the British Empire was one on which the sun would never set. There were many who expressed pessimism about the future. This shows how much the bungled attempt to teach the Boers a lesson had permeated the British view of its long-term relations with the people of its Empire. Finally there was a growth of anti-imperialism. Before the war the worst motive attributed to supporters of imperialism was excessive patriotism. Imperialism could even be seen as a positive mission designed to bring civilization to underdeveloped countries. After the war this was no longer the case. Imperialism became synonymous with maverick politicians, capitalist cliques and methods of barbarism. History of Britain & Commonwealth Sharnjit Sandhar ...read more.

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