South African Military History Society

Newsletter No 290 NATAL BRANCH May 1999

PAST EVENTS: Continuing on our Anglo-Boer War Centenary theme, our May meeting covered two very significant aspects. First, as our DDH Memorial talk, we had a short biographical sketch of one of the Boer Generals at the start of the conflict and then, as the main talk, we had the aftermath of the War.
Past chairman and fellow-member, Ken Gillings, presented us with a self-made video, which covered the life of Commandant General Piet Joubert, who commanded the Boer forces in Northern Natal at the start of the Anglo-Boer War. The video was a magnificent effort and well up to the standard of the Metro-Goldwyn-Hall Productions of bygone years. Darrell would truly have been impressed as were the rest of us. Briefly, General Petrus Jacobus Joubert, better known as "Slim Piet", was born near Prince Albert in the Cape Colony in 1831 and in 1838 he accompanied his parents on the Great Trek with Piet Retief's group. The Joubert family settled below Boesmansrand and was among the founders of Pietermaritzburg where his father died in 1843. The family then moved back to the Transvaal and settled near Gatsrand in the vicinity of Frederickstad. In 1851 he married Hendrina Botha and they settled near Wakkerstreom where they had 8 children and where they were to have a decisive influence on the area in later years. In 1868 he was elected to the Volksraad and in 1875 he was appointed as Acting State President of the ZAR.

Of his military career, he led several campaigns against various Black tribes including the deposing of Chief Mpephu of the Zoutpansberg shortly before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. However it was against the British that he was to achieve his fame. After the annexation of the Transvaal by the British in 1877, he accompanied Kruger to London as his 2i/c to protest their independence to the British Government. Matters came to a head when Shepstone was removed from office and the Transvaal burgers rose up to fight Britain for their independence. Joubert was appointed Commandant General and led his men to victory when he finally defeated General Colley's troops at Majuba on the 27 February 1881.

During the period from 1881 to the start of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, Joubert tried to oust Kruger from the Presideney with his progressive policies. But after the Jameson Raid, he was ordered to update the arms and weapons of the Boer forces which he did very efficiently, but against his better judgement. However, after the declaration of War, he threw his weight behind Kruger, but his defensive rather than offensive policies, resulted in even more acrimony between the two men. This defensive policy is best illustrated by his strategy during the opening phases of the war. For example, initially, he held back in his advance into Natal, fearing a trap at Langs Nek - he just could not believe that the British had not mined the area. Likewise at the so-called Battle of Ladysmith on Mournful Monday, he allowed the British to withdraw unmolested when he could have inflicted a devastating defeat. His besieging of Ladysmith was in itself a tactical blunder in that it tied up thousands of his men who would have been better employed going on an all-out offensive into Natal. Also he sanctioned the establishment of Intombi Camp outside Ladysmith where the town's sick and wounded could recover away from the confines of the Siege, thereby relieving the pressure on the defenders. On 24 November 1899, while on a sortie into Natal, he was thrown from his horse, suffering serious internal injuries. Demoralized by the driving rain, the flooded rivers and the realization that Boers could not hold back the might of the British Army, he ordered a general withdrawal to the Thukela River and then handed over command to General Louis Botha. Before being invalided back to Pretoria he urged Kruger to make peace with the British. He died from his internal injuries on 27 March 1900 and is buried with his wife on his old farm at Rustfontein near Majuba. As our speaker said during his introduction, Joubert, like Buller, was past his prime in a war he did not want to be involved in anyway.

Our main speaker for the evening was fellow-member, Major John Buchan, and he chose as his subject, "From Vereeniging to the 1914 Rebellion". It is a period little researched, especially in military history circles, but profoundly interesting. For well over an hour, our speaker held us in rapt attention as he, in his typical fireside-chat style described by means of anecdotes and overhead projection slides various well-known personalities and little known events that were to have an influence on the future of this country. He started off with the Treaty of Vereeniging and the signing thereof. Of how Edgar Wallace who was then war correspondent for the London Daily Mail was able to scoop the news so that people in Britain could read about the signing of the Treaty a day before it was officially announced in South Africa. He then went on to describe the reconstruction that took place in South Africa at that time. First there was the transformation from the military to the civil rule. On the military side, he described how General Lyttleton succeeded Kitchener and how the military government was scaled down to an Imperial General Staff in 1904 and how Lord Methuen took over from Lyttelton in 1907.

Our speaker then focussed on political progress and how it was achieved in a mere 8 years and not 30 as had been predicted by Lord Salisbury in 1902. It was Lord Milner who was the driving force and together with his 'Kindergarten' made many of the fundamental contributions. Milner set up his HQ in Henry Jennings house "Sunnyside" which is now a wing of the Sunnyside Park Hotel in Johannesburg. Some of the men of his famous Kindergarten included Lionel Curtis, Herbert Baker, John Buchan and Patrick Duncan. Lord Selborne, who was also a very able adininistrator, succeeded Milner in 1905 and continued his part as High Commissioner until Union when he was appointed Governor-General.
He then went on to describe how the former Boer Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts succeeded in obtaining self-government for the Transvaal by 1907. And how the Union of South Africa was achieved in 1910 and how that genius, Smuts had drawn up the Union Constitution at the National Convention. In 1911 there was a merger of all the Boer political parties to form the South African Party, but in typical Boer fashion, divisions soon occurred. In 1914 the National Party was formed to foster Afrikaner ideals with extreme elements looking for any opportunity to throw off the British yoke. It is to be noted that when the Rebellion took place most of the rebels were from the Nationalist Party, but none from the SAP.
At this stage our speaker went on to describe the Rebellion. The main causes were that Botha and Smuts were so committed to the terms of the Treaty of Vereeniging that South Africa was now an ally of Britain who was fighting against Germany whom many Boers regarded as sympathetic to their cause. These factors were aggravated by the long droughts that had followed the War and the fact that most of the huge reparations that had been paid into this country by Britain had been used to build up the railways and not to assist the destitute farmers.

General Smuts had been appointed Minister of Defence in the first Union Parliament and to promote reconciliation, he had appointed General Lukin as head of the Permanent Force (Mounted Rifle Battalions) and General Beyers as head of the Active Citizen Force and Volunteer Reserve. However, as the Rebellion was essentially a Boer issue, Botha tried as far as possible to use Boers against Boers.
At the start of the Great War in 1914, Botha told Britain that South Africa could defend itself and that the Imperial Garrison could be withdrawn for service in Europe. This offer was accepted by the British Government who then asked that South African forces enter German SWA and neutralize the powerful radio transmitters at Windhoek, as they were a threat to shipping. The Union Cabinet concurred, but De la Rey was not in agreement. He called a meeting and a plan was formulated whereby Kemp would summon the Army to Potchefstroom where De la Rey and Beyers would raise the Vierkleur. They would then spread the rebellion throughout the Western Transvaal, sealing off the railway line and occupying Krugersdorp before marching on Roberts Heights in Pretoria. De Wet would take control of the Free State while Maritz from his base in Upington would liaise with the Germans. Unfortunately for the rebels, De la Rey was accidentally shot dead at a roadblock. This caused a serious setback to their plans in the Transvaal, but nevertheless the Lydenburg commando rebelled, holding up trains and commandeering supplies. Maritz, in collaboration with the Germans, rose in open rebellion in the Upington area, but only Keimos was occupied. Beyers also gathered a force in the Magaliesberg and finally Botha and Smuts were forced to take action. Botha took command in the field and Smuts took over the administration. The Beyers commando was attacked and dispersed at Commissioners Drift on 28 October 1914 after which Beyers joined forces with Kemp who, with a commando of 800 men went to German SWA to collect guns and ammunition. This heroic trek of some 1100 kms took just over a month, but only 500 men survived and of those, most had lost their horses. Unfortunately for the rebels, Beyers was drowned while trying to cross the Vaal River, resulting in the Rebellion in the Transvaal fizzling out. However, resistance by Japie Fourie, an UDF officer, who had not resigned his commission continued near Nooitgedacht and after a furious battle he was captured on 15 December 1914, court-martialed and shot on 20 December 1914. In the meantime the campaign in the Free State continued under De Wet, but most of his force was captured after a forced night march by General Botha and General Lukin caught them napping. De Wet managed to slip through the cordon and headed for the Kalahari where, after a hot pursuit by Col. Brits who was using motor cars, he was captured on 2 December. Mopping up operations continued and Reitz was taken prisoner on December 8 at which stage Wessels and his 1000 men also surrendered.
As mentioned Kemp had trekked through the Kalahari to German SWA and by late December his group had recovered from their arduous journey. On 15 January 1915 they crossed the Orange River and invaded South Africa capturing Lutzburg only 80 Kms from Upington, but it was quite demoralizing in that they were able to read in the newspapers that the Rebellion had collapsed. They then surrendered to Jacob van Deventer who was the OC at Upington. Kemp and De Wet were tried and given sentences of 7 and 6 years respectively, but these were later commuted to 21 months each. And so ended the Rebellion of 1914/15. Our Chairman, Paul Kilmartin took the honour of conveying a vote of thanks to both our speakers for their obviously exhaustive researeh and their unique presentations which had brought life into both their talks.

Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 21 3983

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