Colonial War

Over the years, many people have written to me asking about early South Africa, and more specifically about the Boer War (or, as the Boers called it, the Vryheidsoorlog, or [Second] War of Freedom) from 1899-1902.

A few days ago, I found an old 1992 documentary on BoobTube, and it’s not bad — only just a tad over an hour — and it covers the period quite well, and impartially.  So that’s your weekend viewing assignment.  (There will be a test.)  If any questions of history remain, write to me and I’ll put the answers up in a follow-up post next weekend, when I’ll talk about my family’s relationship to the war.

There are three books I’ve always recommended on the topic:  Rags of Glory by Stuart Cloete, and the book it’s partially based on, a campaign journal called Kommando  written by Deneys Reitz, a wartime Bitter-Ender (you’ll get that explained in the video above) who went on to become the Deputy Prime Minister of the unified South Africa.  Both are absolutely brilliant — Cloete’s book also incorporates a view of the Boer War from the British perspective, and it’s both accurate and illuminating.

The third — an actual history book — is The Boer War  by Thomas Pakenham, generally regarded as the sine qua non  of historical sources for the conflict.  Written during the late 1980s, it’s devoid of any hint of the political correctness which infests later works on the topic.



  1. Kommando is a fascinating read.
    Also recommend The Defense of Duffer’s Drift by Ernest Dunlop Swinton – both available on Kindle.

  2. Interesting stuff. If you ever get time, I’d love to hear about the future of South Africa. My BIL was asked to replicate a factory he has in Sudan in South Africa. After 24 hours in country, took a hard pass and the first flight back to the Punjab. If a guy from Pakistan who made a factory work in Sudan says he can’t do it in SA, you can’t like the future prospects.

    I catch a little here and there about little old lady flower growers and farmers getting murdered, but never any “I got out and here’s why.”

    I had port call with the Fleet Surgeon in Durban back in the late ’00s and aside from a courtesy visit to the Military Hospital there, never left the base, nor did anyone else on the ship, except the CO and the intelligence officer.

    I would love to hear the Kim du Toit perspective.

  3. I started learning about South Africa back in junior high when I began to read the books of Wilber Smith, especially the “When the Lion Feeds” trilogy. A great mix of storytelling and history. He had a way of giving you a real sense of what the land and people were like. And now that I’ve mentioned them, I probably need to go back and re-read them for the first time in forty years.

  4. Kim,

    Although not solicited, I appreciate the Pakenham recommendation. My Afrikaaner in laws have never been able to recommend a decent history of the second war.

    Have you got a similar recommendation for the border war?

  5. from the ‘war by other means’ department…
    This should brighten your day!

    Slow-motion eval of the January 6th 2021 ‘murder’ of CrisisActor ‘ashli babbitt’:
    Title — Everything Wrong With The Capitol Shooting

  6. I recently read “Hero of the Empire” by Candice Millard. It was an interesting read, and while I was interested in Churchill’s escape, all my sympathies lay with the Boers.

  7. I’ll try to get to all that. But I watched Breaker Morant recently and wonder what you think of that side of the story please?

  8. I read “The Boer Wars”. Excellent, and I just watched the video Kim provided, which was very good. Many parallels to the old wild west in this country.

  9. Kim,
    Not as a slight to the history of Se’ffrica, which is where I feel we may be today~ish in the US, but I would like to ask your thoughts on Rhodesia and it’s troubles, as I worry that may be where we are headed.
    While in the ME I worked with a few folks that were “Rhodesian”, who held British passports and refused to refer to that area of land as Zimbabwe. As we would say in the US South, ‘I didn’t have a dog in that fight’, but I’m interested in your perspective on it (Farmer at War, et al) and how it might apply to the US (with culture replacing ethnicity as a baseline).

Comments are closed.