Transvaal: History

The Sotho and Venda peoples (both Bantu-speaking peoples) are thought to have settled in the Transvaal as early as the 8th cent. In the mid-1830s Afrikaner farmers (Boers), mainly from the Cape Colony (see Cape Province), came to the region (see Trek, Great). They scattered over the huge territory but were unable to form a strong government. In the Sand River Convention (1852) Great Britain, which at the time also held Cape Colony and Natal (see KwaZulu-Natal), recognized the right of the Boers beyond the Vaal River to administer their own affairs.

In 1857 the South African Republic was inaugurated in the SW Transvaal but claimed sovereignty over the whole territory. Martin Pretorius, son of the Boer leader Andries Pretorius, was its first president. In the 1860s and 70s the South African Republic expanded in size, and there were isolated finds of gold, diamonds, and copper. However, by the late 1870s the republic was bankrupt.

In 1877, Britain annexed the South African Republic after only a mild formal protest by its president, T. F. Burgers. In late 1880, however, the Boers began an armed revolt against the British and proclaimed a new republic. After defeats at Laing's Nek, Ingogo, and Majuba Hill (all in Feb., 1881), Britain granted the South African Republic independence.

In 1883, S. J. P. Kruger (Oom Paul Kruger) became the new republic's first president. In 1886 large gold deposits were discovered on what later came to be called the Witwatersrand, and many foreigners, especially Britons and Germans, entered the republic. The foreigners, called Uitlanders, threatened to overwhelm the Boers, whom they soon outnumbered by more than two to one. The Boers denied political rights to the foreigners and taxed them heavily. In Dec., 1895, Leander Starr Jameson staged a raid into the Transvaal that was intended to trigger an uprising by foreigners against President Kruger. However, only a minor revolt materialized, and Jameson was captured.

Tension between Boers and Britons in S Africa increased after the Jameson Raid, and in 1899 the South African War broke out. The Transvaal was annexed by Britain in 1900, but guerrilla fighting continued. The Treaty of Vereeniging (1902) ended the war and made the Transvaal (as well as the Orange Free State) a crown colony of the British Empire. The Transvaal, led by Jan Christiaan Smuts and Louis Botha, was granted self-government in 1907 and in 1910 became a founding province of the Union of South Africa. In 1961, the Transvaal became a province of the Republic of South Africa.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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