Peace at Last
Melrose House where the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed
By April 1902 the majority of the Boer leaders were of the opinion that they should sue for peace on the basis that they had not been defeated. Kitchener though was determined not to offer such terms. In the event Boer delegates were elected to attend a conference that would meet at Vereeniging to discuss the terms which were offered. These terms were largely those offered at Middleberg the previous year. On 15 May, 60 delegates came together to determine the fate of the republics. There were several days arguing whether the war should be continued or not and whether they had reached the bitter end. De la Rey argued that:
"I think each one must decide for himself. It must be borne in mind that everything-cattle, goods, money, man, woman and child-has been sacrificed. In my division many people go almost naked. There are men and women who wear nothing more than plain skins on the naked body. Is this not the bitter end?"
Rather than discussing the terms of the British government the Boers produced their own terms not wanting to surrender any of their sovereignty but these were rejected out of hand by the British.
On 28 May the Boers were handed the governments terms and there were three days for the Boers to decide whether to accept them or not. They covered the surrender of the Boer forces, the return of those outside the old frontiers, the return of prisoners of war once they had sworn an oath of allegiance, a guarantee of property, an amnesty to surrendered Boers, the teaching of English and Dutch in schools, the return of self government as soon as conditions allowed, the black franchise and a reparations commission. On 31 May, 56 voted for acceptance and six voted against.
Discussions between Boers and the British over a peace treaty
South Africa after the union of 1910
Results of the war
The war was fought to bring the Boer republics under British control and to reduce the influence of the Afrikaner culture in south Africa. It achieved neither of these objectives. The Boers said the war was fought for liberty and the British said the war was about equality. The majority of the inhabitants were not white and did not gain equality or liberty. The war exposed weaknesses in British society and in its institutions and resulted in large scale changes in the army and in foreign policy.
The war cost the British £200,000 and required 450,000 troops. The British lost 22,000 troops of whom two-thirds died not from bullets but from germs. The Boer death toll totalled 24,000 of whom 20,000 were woman and children in camps.
The war exposed weaknesses within the army: weaknesses of leadership which had been indecisive and over-cautious. These were stories of corruption and rape by soldiers whilst the Morant trial had exposed atrocities. A subsequent inquiry revealed that something like seven million pounds had been robbed from the army. As a result, a number of reforms were implemented including a Committee of Imperial Defence. The Territorial Force was introduced by bringing together the Special Reserve, the Yeomanry and the Volunteers. An OTC was established in public schools and universities, an Imperial General Staff was created to produce a common strategy and policy within the empire and a new training and operational manual was produced. To enable a quicker response to a war overseas a new Expeditionary force was created with a peacetime permanent force. it would be this force that was sent to France in August 1914.
Concern about the condition of the soldiers contributed to an ongoing discussion about national efficiency and had a part in bringing about the Liberal reforms of 1906-14. British deaths had amounted to nearly 22,000 and of these over 13,000 were from disease. Coming soon after reports into the condition of the urban working classes it gave concern about the condition of the English race in sharp contrast to the way in which colonial forces from Canada, New Zealand and Australia were perceived. These men seemed much hardier and independent than the stunted Tommies.
Within South Africa the overall aims of 'Milnerism' failed to be realised. A permanent British supremacy in the area was not realised nor was Afrikaans relegated to a second class language. In fact the war helped to strength the Boers' sense of identity. Between 1910 and 1960, when the Union existed, every Prime Minister was an Afrikaner.
The two Boer territories became self governing in 1906 and in 1910 the four colonies formed the Union of South Africa.
The position of the African native was not improved. By postponing the question of the franchise for blacks Britain rubber stamped the disenfranchisement of the majority of the population. Conditions for blacks in the mines improved a little but with self government and control of the political process by the Boers, the system of apartheid that had existed in the Boer republics and was being introduced in the Cape was fully implemented throughout the country after 1948 when Malan's party came to power.
The idea of the Empire as a force for good was questioned by many. There had been opposition to the war by liberals as a war about capitalism and the news about concentration camps only increased the criticism about the purpose of the British Empire. The 1897 Jubilee celebrations had masked the true state of the British empire which now was openly debated again.
The same year as the treaty was signed Britain signed a treaty with Japan thus ending what for many was a period of isolation. Within a few years there followed treaties with France and Russia as Britain entered the Triple Entente.