Anglo-Boer War 1: Boers defeat the British at the Battle of Majuba

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Sunday, 27 February 1881

The poverty and vulnerability of the South African Republic (Transvaal) prompted Disraeli's Conservative government to annex it in 1877. This was an important step in achieving the federation of the South African colonies. However, Britain underestimated the fierce independence of Afrikaners in the Transvaal. An Afrikaner revolt in December 1880, led by Paul Kruger, prompted the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881).

There were 4 decisive battles and several sieges during the first Anglo-Boer War, including the Battle of Majuba and 3 others: Bronkhorstspruit, Laingsnek and Schuinshoogte. The numerous sieges took place at Potchefstroom, Pretoria, Marabastad, Lydenburg, Rustenburg, Standerton and Wakkerstroom.

On 27 February 1881, the Boers defeated the British at Majuba Hill. Sources differ as to the exact amount of casualties, but approximately 200 British soldiers were killed, and only 2 Boers suffered casualties.

The British defeat at Majuba brought about the end of the First Anglo-Boer War and provided temporary peace. Gladstone's Liberal government abandoned the previous government's federation policy, and signed the Pretoria Convention in August 1881.

This convention granted the Transvaal 'complete self-government, subject to the suzerainty of Her Majesty Queen Victoria'. However, many British were assured of the innate power of their imperial status, and continued to regard the Boer commandos as inferior adversaries.

The British therefore regarded the Majuba Hill disaster as a 'freak' victory, and vowed retribution. The Transvaal War (also known as the First Boer War or the First War of Independence) was a 'curtain-raiser' to the far more ruthless Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. "Remember Majuba!" therefore became a battle-cry for the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

References:
• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.)
• News 24,
"Boers defeat British troops"From: News 24, [online]. Available at: news24.com [Accessed on the 19 february 2009]

Last updated : 22-Jan-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011