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THE BOERS AND THE ANGLO-BOER WAR (1899–1902) IN THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY MORAL IMAGINARY

  • M. van Wyk Smith (a1)

Extract

N 1891 LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL, father of the more famous Winston, visited South Africa and the soon-to-be Rhodesia on a trip that was intended to combine big-game hunting with the even more exciting prospects of entering the gold mining business. During the eight months of the visit, Churchill contributed a series of letters to the Daily Graphic on his thoughts and experiences, in one of which he had this to say about the Boers: The Boer farmer personifies useless idleness. Occupying a farm of from six thousand to ten thousand acres, he contents himself with raising a herd of a few hundred head of cattle, which are left almost entirely to the care of the natives whom he employs. It may be asserted, generally with truth, that he never plants a tree, never digs a well, never makes a road, never grows a blade of corn…. He passes his day doing absolutely nothing beyond smoking and drinking coffee. He is perfectly uneducated. With the exception of the Bible, every word of which in its most literal interpretation he believes with fanatical credulity, he never opens a book, he never even reads a newspaper. His simple ignorance is unfathomable, and this in stolid composure he shares with his wife, his sons, his daughters, being proud that his children should grow up as ignorant, as uncultivated, as hopelessly unprogressive as himself. In the winter time he moves with his herd of cattle into the better pastures and milder climate of the low country veldt, and lives as idly and uselessly in his waggon as he does in his farmhouse. The summer sees him returning home, and so on [sic], year after year, generation after generation, the Boer farmer drags out the most ignoble existence ever experienced by a race with any pretensions to civilization. (94–95) The piece caused an outcry, and when a year later Churchill republished the letters as Men, Mines and Animals in South Africa (1892), he attempted to exonerate himself by claiming that these views were intended “to be exclusively confined to…the Dutch population of the Transvaal,” not “generally to the Dutch in South Africa” and went on: “The Dutch settlers in Cape Colony are as worthy of praise as their relatives, the Transvaal Boers, are of blame. The former, loyal, thrifty, industrious, hospitable, liberal are and will, I trust, remain the back-bone of our great colony at the Cape of Good Hope” (v–vi).

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THE BOERS AND THE ANGLO-BOER WAR (1899–1902) IN THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY MORAL IMAGINARY

  • M. van Wyk Smith (a1)

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