vaalriver

09 December 1914 – Vaal River

When Christian Frederick Beyers became commandant general of the Citizen Forces of the Union Defence Force of South Africa in 1912, he embarked on a European tour, visiting Great Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany, where the Kaiser reportedly gave him ‘marked attentions.’ Indeed, many ‘bitter enders‘ among the Boers of South Africa are more sympathetic to their German cousins than their British lords, and have risen up in rebellion against Prime Minister Louis Botha’s plan to invade German Southwest Africa (Namibia). But it has not gone well, especially for Beyers.

Since October 27th, he has lost a series of small battles to government forces, with hundreds captured or killed. Two days ago, his commando was attacked and defeated on the Sandspruit River fifteen miles south of Bothaville; the next day, 1,200 of his men surrendered en masse to loyalist General du Toit while Beyers made for the Sandspruit’s junction with the Vaal River with his last thirty companions. At dawn today, Beyers finds himself trapped in a bend of the rain-swollen Vaal, from which the entire Transvaal region gets its name.

Most of his remaining men surrender, but Beyers tries to cross the river under fire (see above). Falling from his horse, Beyers is heard crying for help as he is pulled away by the current. His drowned body will be recovered later today, bringing an inglorious end to the Boer revolts of 1914.

General Beyers during the Second Boer War

General Beyers during the Second Boer War. Via Getty Images

Motor transport is the biggest reason why the Union of South Africa can so easily put down the same generals who gave the British Empire such a tough time in 1902. Where Boer fighters could slip through enemy territory on horseback then, now they are relentlessly pursued by motorized columns that prevent their commandos from linking up into a larger force. Only the seasonal rains, which swell the rivers and muddy the dirt tracks, prove capable of slowing down Botha’s retribution.

Christiaan de Wet, who fancies himself a better general than Botha, started his own insurrection in October after a British judge found him guilty of beating a black boy with a whip and sentenced him to a five shilling fine. Popular with the poor white sharecroppers (bywoners) of the Transvaal, de Wet soon found himself commanding a 3,000-man brigade of the disaffected: malcontents, religious fanatics, vagabonds, and other sorts of men who seldom make good soldiers. As his engagements with loyalist forces have demonstrated, it is hardly a quality army.

De Wet’s son was killed in their first fight at Winburg, when a smaller loyalist force was forced to retreat. Since then, he has been surrounded and nearly destroyed twice, at Marquard on the 12th and at Mushroom Valley on 16th of November. He surrendered at Waterburg without firing another shot on December 1st, down to his last 52 men.

The Vauxhall motor car Louis Botha used during his invasion of German Southwest Africa

The Vauxhall motor car Louis Botha used during his invasion of German Southwest Africa

Josef ‘Jopie’ Fourie, the rebel leader responsible for the most government casualties and whose men fired on the enemy during a truce, is captured on the 16th of December. Because of his his failure to resign his military commission before rebelling, he is shot by a firing squad for treason four days later. At that point, only Manie Maritz, the turncoat of Sandfontein, remains at large with any significant forces.

South Africa is already experiencing an industrial boom. The war has increased domestic and foreign demand for coal and steel, especially in France. Despite the number of men joining the armed forces right now, South African coal mines will bring a record half-million tons to the surface in 1915, reaching new production highs with each year of the war. The resulting low unemployment will produce rapid social change in South Africa, further diluting the former patronage-based power of the patriarchal veldkornets to be replaced with modern bureaucracy. The Afrikaners will never rebel like this again.

Botha’s dreams of an expanded South African Union will not come to pass, however. Although his forces will overrun the whole of Germany Southwest Africa in 1915, South African dominion will never achieve international recognition, and Namibia will finally achieve independence from its ‘protector’ in 1990 after decades of resistance to Pretoria’s rule.

Botha inspects his troops at Lüderitz during the 1915 invasion of German Southwest Africa

Botha inspects his troops at Lüderitz during the 1915 invasion of German Southwest Africa