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History, The Establishment of the Afrikaner Republics

battle of Majuba, Sir Harry Smith, Battle of Blood River, Voortrekkers, Zulu kingdom

In Natal the Afrikaners who had migrated during the Great Trek were confronted with the Zulu kingdom. On December 16, 1838, an important battle between the Afrikaners and the Zulu, the Battle of Blood River, led to the defeat of the Zulu and the establishment of the Republic of Natalia by 1840. The battle remains of symbolic importance to many Afrikaners because their ancestors were said to have made a covenant with God for victory.

After the British declared the coastal region of Natal a crown colony in 1843 and annexed it to the Cape Colony in 1845, most of the Afrikaners left and headed west and north where they joined other Voortrekkers (Afrikaans for “pioneers”). They settled inland, north of the Orange River, and further north in the Transvaal region (north of the Vaal River). The governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Harry Smith, gained control of the region between the Orange and Vaal rivers in 1848, and the territory was renamed the Orange River Sovereignty. Smith’s move was overturned by the British government, however. The British government recognized the independence of the Transvaal territories in 1852 at the Sand River Convention, and recognized the former Orange River Sovereignty as the Orange Free State in 1854 at the Bloemfontein Convention. By the late 1850s the Transvaal territories beyond the Vaal River had coalesced into the South African Republic. Although attempts to unite the two Afrikaner republics were unsuccessful, they maintained a close relationship in the following years. They shared policies that separated blacks and whites and allowed no equality between the races.

The Afrikaners in the Orange Free State encountered the Basotho king Moshoeshoe, who was ruling a loose group of chieftaincies from the mountain of Thaba Bosiu (in present-day west central Lesotho). From the 1830s when Afrikaners and British began settling the surrounding territory, Moshoeshoe demonstrated great skill in protecting his land and subjects by playing one group of white settlers against the other. After the Orange Free State was established in 1854, the Afrikaners and the Basotho fought extensively over the boundaries of their territories. Although the Basotho had also fought with the British in the late 1840s and early 1850s, Moshoeshoe asked the British to incorporate Basotho lands into a protectorate to prevent further attacks by Afrikaners. The protectorate of Basutoland was created in 1868. This area ultimately became the independent nation of Lesotho.

In 1856 Natal was split from the Cape Colony and reestablished as a separate colony, with representative government. In 1872 the Cape Colony received self-government from Britain, which meant the government was independent except in foreign and economic affairs. After the discovery of diamonds in 1867 in Griqualand West, an area claimed by the South African Republic, Britain renewed its expansionist policy into Afrikaner territory, annexing Griqualand West in 1871 and the nearly bankrupt, politically unstable South African Republic in 1877.

The British were unresponsive to Afrikaner needs and there were fundamental differences over taxes. The Transvaal Afrikaners decided to fight for independence. The British were defeated at the battle of Majuba in February 1881, which led to the British decision to restore self-government. In 1883 Afrikaner leader Paul Kruger was elected president of the republic.

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Article key phrases:

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