South African Republic

The South African Republic was an independent and internationally recognised state located in what is now South Africa, from 1852 to 1902.
The republic defeated the British Empire in what is often referred to as the First Boer War and remained independent until the end of the Second Boer War on 31 May 1902, when it was forced to surrender to the British after Lord Kitchener authorised the use of a scorched earth policy and concentration camps to hold captured Boer women and children. More than 27,000 of these civilians died as result. After the war the territory of the ZAR became the Transvaal Colony. During World War I, there was an attempt at resurrecting the republic in the Maritz rebellion.
The land area that was once the ZAR now comprises all or most of the provinces of Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and North West in the northeastern portion of modern-day Republic of South Africa.

Name and etymology

Constitutionally the name of the country was the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. The ZAR was also commonly referred to as Transvaal in reference to the area over the Vaal River, including by the British and European press. The British objected to the use of the name Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. After the end of the First Boer War, the ZAR became a British Suzerainty and in the Pretoria Convention of 3 August 1881, the British insisted on the use of the name Transvaal State over Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. This convention was renegotiated in the London Convention dated 27 February 1884, a subsequent treaty between Britain and the ZAR, and Britain acquiesced and the ZAR reverted to the use of the previous name.
The name of the South African Republic was of such political significance that on 1 September 1900, the British declared by special proclamation that the name of the country be changed from Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek to the Transvaal. This proclamation was issued during the British occupation of the region in the Second Boer War and while the ZAR was still nominally an independent country.
On 31 May 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed with the government of the South African Republic, the Orange Free State government, and the British government, ending the war, and converted the ZAR into the Transvaal Colony. Following the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the Transvaal Colony became Transvaal Province. The name Transvaal was finally changed in 1994, when the South African government broke up the province into four provinces and renamed the core region to Gauteng.



The South African Republic came into existence on 17 January 1852, when the British signed the Sand River Convention treaty with about 40,000 Boer people, recognising their independence in the region to the north of the Vaal River.
The first president of the ZAR was Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, elected in 1857, son of Boer leader Andries Pretorius, who commanded the Boers to victory at the Battle of Blood River. The capital was established at Potchefstroom and later moved to Pretoria. The parliament was called the Volksraad and had 24 members.

British annexation

The unpopular presidency of Thomas F. Burgers came to a head with his campaign against the Bapedi under Sekukuni. The republic close to bankruptcy and his siege of Sekukuni’s stronghold failed because commando members objected to Burgers's theology, calling him a heretic, and abandoned the siege in droves. Burgers, having failed to eliminate the threat off the Bapedi, resigned and left the country. A. N. Pelzer writes: "Although made overtures for peace, he was not defeated and this fact, together with the shaky financial position, gave Sir Theophilus Shepstone the pretext he required to annex the republic on 12 April 1877."
Sir Garnet Wolseley, High Commissioner for South East Africa, declared war on Sekukuni, and with the aid of British troops and allied troops – including the Swazis who had supported Burgers – and in 1879 defeated him and imprisoned him in Pretoria. With the threat of Sekukuni removed, the burghers were no longer so amenable to British rule.
On 13 December 1880, the members of the last Volksraad were summoned to a meeting at Paardekraal, where authority was placed in the hands of a triumvirate comprising Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and Marthinus W. Pretorius. They declared Heidelberg their seat of government and hoisted the Vierkleur there on 16 December. The war – not officially declared to the occupying British troops – opened with an irregular attack on a British regiment on the march at Bronkhorstspruit. The British garrisons in the Transvaal were besieged, but only one fell to the republicans.
The British suffered defeat at Laing’s Nek and Ingogo, and on 27 February 1881, at Majuba, where General Sir George Pomeroy Colley fell at the head of his troops. While the British would in other circumstances have sent more troops and defeated the rebels, Prime Minister William Gladstone chose to make peace. Drawing up of the detailed peace treaty was left in the hands of a royal commission comprising Sir Hercules Robinson, General Sir Evelyn Wood and Justice John de Villiers of the Cape Colony. Britain now referred to the territory as the Transvaal State, but the Volksraad regarded the old South African Republic as having been restored.


The ZAR became fully independent on 27 February 1884, when the London Convention was signed. The country independently also entered into various agreements with other foreign countries after that date. On 3 November 1884 the country signed a postal convention with the government of the Cape Colony and later a similar convention with the Orange Free State.
In November 1859, the independent Republics of Lijdenburg and Utrecht merged with the ZAR. On 9 May 1887, burghers from the territories of Stellaland and Goosen were granted rights to the ZAR franchise. On 25 July 1895 the burghers that took part in the battle at Zoutpansberg, were granted citizenship of the ZAR.

Constitution and laws

The constitution of the ZAR was legally interesting for its time. It contained provisions for the division between the political leadership and office bearers in government administration. The legal system consisted of higher and lower courts and had adopted a jury system. Laws were enforced by the South African Republic Police which were divided into Mounted Police and Foot Police.
On 10 April 1902, the Magistrates Court powers were extended to increase the civil ceiling amounts and to expand criminal jurisdiction to include all criminal cases not punishable by death or banishment. Also established were municipal government, the Witwatersrand District Court and the High Court of Transvaal.


Initially, the state and church were not separated in the constitution; citizens of the ZAR had to be members of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk – a breakaway of the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1858, these clauses were altered in the constitution to allow for the Volksraad to approve other Dutch Christian churches. The Reformed Church was approved by the Volksraad in 1858, which had the effect of allowing Paul Kruger, of the Gereformeerde Kerk to remain a citizen of the ZAR. The Bible itself was also often used to interpret the intention of legal documents. The Bible was also used to interpret a prisoner exchange agreement, reached in terms of the Sand River Convention, between a commando of the ZAR, led by Kruger, and a Commando of the Orange Free State.
President Jacobus Nicolaas Boshof had issued a death sentence over two ZAR citizens, for treason. Kruger argued with President Boshof that the Bible said punishment does not mean a death sentence and at the prisoner exchange, it was agreed that the accused would be punished if found guilty. After double-checking Commandant Kruger’s Bible, President Boshof commuted the sentences to lashes with a sjambok.


Citizenship of the ZAR was legislated by the constitution as well as Law No 7 of 1882, as amended on 23 June 1890. Citizenship was gained by being born in the republic or by naturalisation. The voting age was 16 years. Persons not born in the republic could become citizens by taking the prescribed oath and procuring the letters of naturalisation. The oath involved abandoning, discarding and renouncing all allegiance and subjugation towards foreign sovereignties and in particular their previous citizenship.
Foreigners had to have been residing in the Republic for a period of two years, be of good character and have been accepted as member of the Dutch Reformed or Reformed Church. On 20 September 1893 the ZAR Constitution was amended so that two-thirds of the Volksraad would have to agree to changes to the citizenship law. This proclamation, No 224, also changed Law No 7 with regard to voting.
All citizens who were born in the ZAR or had obtained their franchise prior to 23 June 1890 would have the right to vote for both the first and second Volksraad and in all other elections. Citizens who obtained their franchise through naturalization after 23 June 1890 would be able to vote in all elections, except those for the first Volksraad. The total population of the republic in 1890 was an estimated 120,000 people.


The constitution promoted racism as it treated European people differently from native people. Although slavery was illegal in the constitution and foreigners were discriminated against, black foreigners had fewer rights than their white counterparts. Black and Asian foreigners could never become citizens of the ZAR; at this time in history, this was very similar to many European countries as well as some states in the New World.


The language spoken and written by the citizens of the ZAR was a variant of Dutch, locally referred to as Hooghollands. On 3 October 1884. the Volksraad stated that they had reason to believe that in certain schools impure Dutch was being used. The Volksraad issued Proclamation 207 and compelled the Superintendent of Education to apply the language law enforcing the exclusive use of Dutch. On 30 July 1888, Dutch language was declared the sole official language, in court as well as education, trade and general use. All other languages were declared "foreign".
These changes to the ZAR laws made the use of all other foreign languages illegal in the ZAR. On 1 October 1895 Alfred Fernandez Harington was appointed English master at the Staats Model School in Pretoria. Use of any foreign language was subject to criminal penalty and fine of £20 for each offence. The British similarly had declared English to be the only language spoken in the Cape Colony some decades earlier to outlaw the Dutch language. The discovery of gold in 1885 led to a major influx of foreigners. By 1896, the language of government and citizens remained Dutch but in many market places, shops and homes the English language was spoken.

Military history

War with Mapela and Makapaan, 1854

was elected at the assembly of 1849 as commandant general for life and it became necessary, to avoid strife, to appoint three commandants general all possessing equal powers. Commandant General Andries Pretorius became commandant general of the Potchefstroom and Rustenburg districts. On 16 December 1852, Commandant General Potgieter died and his son, Piet, was appointed in his stead as commandant general of the Lydenburg and Zoutpansberg districts.
There were some disputes over cattle which Mapela was raising on behalf of Potgieter and earlier Commandant Scholtz had confiscated a large number of rifles and amounts of ammunition, rifle repair equipment and materials of war from the home of English missionary, The Rev Mr Livingstone. Livingstone admitted to storing these for Secheli and by this he was acting in breach of the Sand River Convention of 1852, which prescribed that neither arms nor ammunition should be supplied to the natives.
In 1853, Herman Potgieter was called to Mapela to come and cull the elephant population.
When Herman arrived, Maphela took Herman, his son, his groom and a few other burghers to show them where the elephants were. On the way, Mapela and hundreds of natives attacked the Potgieter party. They killed Herman's son, Andries, and then dragged Herman up a hill, where they proceeded to skin him alive. They stopped once they had torn the entrails from his body. At the same time of these events, the Ndebele chief Magobane attacked and killed an entire convoy of women and children traveling to Pretoria. The two chiefs had concluded an agreement to murder all the Europeans in their respective districts and to keep the cattle that they were raising for the Europeans.
General Piet Potgieter set out with 100 men from Zoutpansberg and Commandant General Pretorius left Pretoria with 200 men. After the commandos met up, they first attacked Magobane and the natives were driven back to their caves in the mountains where they lived before. The Boers held them at siege in their caves and eventually hundreds of women and children came out.
Orphan children of the native tribes were booked in strictly controlled by legal process, at appointed Boer families to look after them until they came of age. The administration was similar to the system of indentured workers, which was simply another form of slavery, with the exception that children so registered had to be released at age 16. The commando would return all such children to the nearest landdrost district, for registration and allocation to a Boer family.
As there were slavers and other criminals dealing in children, any burgher found in possession of an unregistered minor child was guilty of a criminal offence. These children were also often called "oorlams" in reference to being overly used to the Dutch culture, and in reference to a hand-raised orphan sheep, or "hanslam". These children, even after their 16th birthday, and being free to come and go as they please, never re-connected with their own culture and own language and except for surviving and being cared for in terms of food and shelter, were basically forcefully divorced from their native tribe forever.
Among the casualties of this war was Commandant General Potgieter. The natives were armed with rifles and were good shots. The general was killed by native sniper on the ridge of a trench and his body recovered by then commandant Paul Kruger whilst under heavy fire from the natives. What remained of the joint commando, now under command of General Pretorius focussed their attention on Mapela. By the time the commando had reached Mapela, the natives had fled. A few wagons, bloody clothes, chests and other goods were discovered at a kop near Mapela’s town. Mapela and his soldiers escaped and with their rifles and ammunition intact and Mapela was only captured much later, in 1858.

Civil War, 1861–1864

Commandant-General Stephanus Schoeman did not accept the Volksraad proclamation of 20 September 1858, under which members of the Reformed Churches of South Africa would be entitled to citizenship of the ZAR. Consequently, Paul Kruger was not accepted as a citizen and disallowed from political intercourse. Acting President van Rensburg called a special meeting of the general council of the Dutch Reformed Church, which then voted in a special resolution to allow members of the Reformed Church access to the franchise.

Sekhukune War, 1876

In 1876, a war between the ZAR and the Bapedi broke out over cattle theft and land encroachment. The Volksraad declared war on the Pedi leader, Sekhukune, on 16 May 1876. The war only began in July 1876. The president of the ZAR, Burgers led an army of 2000 burghers and was joined by a strong force of Swazi warriors. The Swazis joined the war to aid Mampuru, who was ousted from his position of chieftain by Sekhukune.
One of the early battles occurred at Botsabelo Mission Station on 13 July 1876, against Johannes Dinkwanyane, who was Sekhukune’s brother. The Boer forces were led by Commandant Coetzee and accompanied by Swazi warriors. The Swazi warriors launched a surprise and successful attack while the Boers held back. Seeing this, the Swazis refused to hand over to the Boers any spoils from the battle, thereafter leaving and returning to Swaziland. Dinkwanyane’s followers also surrendered after this campaign.

First Boer War, 1880–1881

On 12 April 1877, the British issued the "Annexation of the S. A. Republic to the British Empire." In it, the British stated that the country was "unstable, ungovernable, bankrupt and facing civil war", though in reality they wished to annex it merely for its strategic position, using the skirmishes merely as a poor excuse to justify this. The unsuccessful annexation apparently would not suspend self-government, but nonetheless attempted to convert the ZAR into a colony of the British Empire.
The ZAR recognised this proclamation as an act of aggression, and resisted. Instead of declaring war, the country decided to send a delegation to the United Kingdom and the United States, to protest. This unfortunately did not have any effect, and the First Boer War formally broke out on 20 December 1880. The First Boer War was the first conflict since the American Revolution in which the British had been decisively defeated and forced to sign a peace treaty under unfavourable terms.
It would see the introduction of the khaki uniform, marking the beginning of the end of the famous Redcoat. The Battle of Laing's Nek would be the last occasion on which a British regiment carried its official regimental colours into battle. The Pretoria Convention of 1881 was signed on 3 August 1881 and ratified on 25 October 1881 by the ZAR, where the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek is referred to by the name "Transvaal Territory". The Pretoria Convention of 1881 was superseded in 1884 by the London Convention, and in which the British suzerainty over the South African Republic, was relinquished.
The British Government, in the London Convention, accepted the name of the country as the South African Republic. The convention was signed in duplicate in London on 27 February 1884, by Hercules Robinson, Paul Kruger, Stephanus Jacobus du Toit and Nicolaas Smit, and later ratified by the South African Republic Volksraad. In 1885, rich gold reefs were discovered. ZAR burghers were farmers and not miners and much of the mining fell to immigrants. The immigrants were also referred to as "outlanders". By 1897, immigrants had invested over 300,000,000 British Pounds in the ZAR goldfields.

Malaboch War, 1894

The Malaboch War was between Chief Malaboch of the Bahananwa people and the South African Republic Government led by Commandant-General Piet Joubert. Malboch refused to pay taxes to the Transvaal after it was given back to the Boers in 1881 by the British, which resulted in a military drive against him by the South African Republic.

Second Boer War, 1899–1902

The British first attacked the ZAR with the December 1895 Jameson Raid, which ended in failure. British forces started building up troops and resources at the borders, followed by a demand for voting rights for the ZAR's 60,000 foreign nationals—of whom 50,000 British. Kruger rejected the British demand and called for the withdrawal of British troops from the ZAR's borders. When the British refused, Kruger declared war against Britain, Britain received assistance from its possessions Australia, and Canada, as well as Natal and the Cape Colony.
The Second Boer War was a watershed for the British Army in particular and for the British Empire as a whole. The British used concentration camps where women and children were held without adequate food or medical care. The abhorrent conditions in these camps caused the death of 4,177 women and 22,074 children under 16; death rates were between 344 and 700 per 1000 per year.
The Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 May 1902. The treaty ended the existence of the ZAR and the Orange Free State as independent Boer republics and placed them within the British Empire. On 20 May 1903, an Inter Colonial Council was established to manage the colonies of the British Government. The Boers were promised eventual limited self-government and this was granted in 1906 and 1907. The Union of South Africa was established in 1910.

Maritz Rebellion, 1914–1915

The Maritz rebellion was an armed insurrection which occurred in South Africa in 1914 at the start of World War I. It was led by Boers who created a provisional government and sought to reestablish the South African Republic in the Transvaal. Many members of the South African government were themselves former Boers who had fought with the Maritz rebels against the British in the Second Boer War. The rebel republic allied with Germany, with whom Britain and South Africa were at war. Boer Commandos operated in and out of bordering German South West Africa. By 1915, the rebellion had failed, and the ringleaders received heavy fines and terms of imprisonment.

Economy and transport

The discovery of gold during the Witwatersrand Gold Rush in 1886 changed the economic fortunes of the formerly impoverished ZAR. The city of Johannesburg was founded as a gold mining town in the same year. Within 10 years it would be the largest city in the entire Southern Africa, surpassing Cape Town.
The discovery of gold allowed the construction of a railway network in the ZAR. The east-west railways in the ZAR, and notably the line from Pretoria to Lourenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa, were constructed by the Netherlands-South African Railway Company. The construction of the Pretoria-Lourenço Marques line allowed the ZAR access to harbour facilities not controlled by the British Empire, a key policy of Paul Kruger who deemed it vital to the country’s long-term survival.


The flag of the South African Republic featured three horizontal stripes of red, white and blue with a vertical green stripe at the hoist, and was known as the Vierkleur. While the only legislation describing the flag required that the green panel be inscribed "Eendracht maakt macht", this was in fact rarely seen, and instead the motto was displayed with the republic’s coat of arms. The Vierkleur was later incorporated into flag of South Africa between 1928 and 1994.