South Africa and its history

Almost three years earlier, a sombre Paul Kruger had warned that Britain would find conquering the Boer states no easy matter.  In the sense that they were certainly not gained on the cheap, this was an accurate judgment.  By the end of the war, the British had been obliged to mobilise almost 450 000 imperial solders to defeat Boer forces, which had been able to field roughly 80 000 combatants at most.  Their extended resistance turned London’s South African campaign into the largest and most costly war fought by the British between 1815 and 1914.  This was a colonial war which Britain’s Treasury estimated in September 1899 would require the despatch of at most 75 000 troops and funding of about £10 million for a campaign of two to three months.  By the time the conflict finally ended, that cost had risen to £217 million.  What this balance sheet reflected was the enormous military investment that the British Empire required to defeat two of the world’s smallest agrarian states.

That is from New History of South Africa, by Hermann Giliomee, Bernard Mbenga, and Bill Nasson, a very excellent book.  I found it to be one of the best single-volume histories of any country I have read.  The other South Africa book I found especially helpful was Understanding South Africa, by Carien du Plessis and Martin Plaut.  One of the best things about travel is you understand a country — through books — much better than before you went there.  Everything is more vivid, and you retain much more of it.



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