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The South African Republic (Dutch: Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek; ZAR), also referred to as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent and internationally recognised state located in what is now South Africa, from 1852 to 1902. The ZAR 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 the war the territory of the ZAR became the Transvaal Colony.

South African Republic

Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek
1852–1877, 1881–1902
Location of South African Republic
Official languageDutch
Common languages
English, Sepedi, Ndebele, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Zulu
Dutch Reformed Church
Executive council 
• 1857–1860
Marthinus Pretorius
• 1862–1864
Willem van Rensburg
• 1864–1866
Marthinus Pretorius
State president 
• 1866–1871
Marthinus Pretorius[a]
• 1872–1877
Thomas Burgers
• 1883–1902
Paul Kruger
17 January 1852
12 April 1877
20 December 1880
3 August 1881
27 February 1884
11 October 1899
31 May 1902
• Total
191,789 km2 (74,050 sq mi)
• 1870
CurrencySouth African pound
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Klein Vrystaat
Nieuwe Republiek
Transvaal Colony
Today part ofSouth Africa
  1. ^ Also state president of the Orange Free State.

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 etymologyEdit

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 (or trans) the Vaal River,[1] 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 Suzerain and in the Pretoria Convention of 3 August 1881,[2] the British insisted on the use of the name Transvaal over Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek.[3] This convention was renegotiated in the London Convention dated 27 February 1884,[4] a subsequent treaty between Britain and the ZAR, and Britain acquiesced and the ZAR reverted to the use of the previous name.[5]

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.[6] 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.


Early historyEdit

In paleolithic times, between 2.2 and 3.3 million years ago, hominids lived within the geographic area of the ZAR. The earliest hominid bones, between 2.2 and 3.3 million years old, were discovered at Sterkfontein in 1994. In 1938 Paranthropus robustus bones were found at Kromdraai, and during 1947 several more examples of Australopithecus africanus were uncovered in Sterkfontein.


The South African Republic came into existence on 17 January 1852,[7] 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 annexationEdit

The unpopular presidency of T F Burgers came to a head with his campaign against the Bapedi under Sekhukhune. His siege of Sekhukhune’s stronghold failed because commando members objected to Burgers’s theology 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 Sekhukhune 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 Transvaal Republic as a British colony on 12 April 1877.”[8] Sir Garnet Wolseley, High Commissioner for South East Africa, declared war on Sekhukhune, 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 Sekhukhune 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 (site of the present-day town of Krugersdorp), where authority was placed in the hands of a triumvirate comprising Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and M 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, and that by treachery. 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 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 Mr Justice J H de Villiers of the Cape Colony. Britain now referred to the territory as the Transvaal State, but the Volksraad regarded the old Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek as having been restored.


The ZAR became fully independent on the 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.[9]

In November 1859,[10] the independent Republics of Lijdenburg and Utrecht merged with the ZAR. On 9 May 1887, burghers from the territories of Stellaland and Goosen (sometimes referred to as "Goshen") were granted rights to the ZAR franchise.[11] On 25 July 1895 the burghers that took part in the battle at Zoutpansberg,[12] were granted citizenship of the ZAR.

Constitution and lawsEdit

Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, first ZAR president

The constitution of the South African Republic has been referred to as 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 (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek Politie or ZARP) which were divided into Mounted Police (Rijdende Politie) 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 was a municipal government, the Witwatersrand District court and the High Court of Transvaal.[13]


Initially the State and Church were not separated in the constitution of the ZAR, citizens of the ZAR had to be members of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk (a breakaway from the Dutch Reformed Church). In 1858 these clauses were altered in the constitution to allow for the Volksraad to approve other Dutch Christian churches.[14] 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 Paul Kruger and a Commando of the Orange Free State.

President Jacobus Nicolaas Boshof had issued a death sentence over two ZAR citizens, for treason. Paul Kruger argued with President Boshoff 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 Paul Kruger's Bible, President Boshof commuted the sentences to lashes with a sjambok.[15]


Coat of arms of the South African Republic displayed on Kruger's wagon

Citizenship of the ZAR was legislated by the constitution as well as Law no 7 of 1882, as amended on 23 June 1890.[16] Citizenship was gained by being born in the republic or by naturalization. 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 naturalization. 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, number 224, also changed Law no 7 with regards to voting.[17]

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.[18]


The constitution promoted racialism as it treated European (white) people differently from Native (black) people. Although slavery was illegal in the constitution and foreigners (white and black) were both 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 other European countries as well as some states in the New World.[citation needed]

Discrimination on the basis of race was prevalent in the ZAR and black British subjects were forced to reside in ghettos outside cities with Asians and blacks, whilst whites were free to live anywhere. One of the justifications often used by the ZAR Government for its institutional racism was that sanitation and regard to public health necessitated that measure of segregation.[19]


The language spoken and written by the citizens of the ZAR was a variant of High Dutch, locally referred to as Hooghollands.[20][21] 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[22] enforcing the exclusive use of Dutch.[9] On 30 July 1888, Dutch language was declared the sole official language, in court as well as education, trade and general use.[23] All other languages were declared "foreign".[24]

These changes to the ZAR laws made the use of all other foreign languages illegal in the ZAR. Use of any foreign language was subject to criminal penalty and fine of 20 ZAR pound for each offense.[25] The British similarly had declared English to be the only language spoken in the Cape Colony some decades earlier to outlaw[26] 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.[27]

Military historyEdit

War with Mapela and Makapaan, 1854Edit

Hendrik Potgieter 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.[15]:41 Commandant General A.W.J. Pretorius became Commandant General of the Potchefstroom and Rustenburg districts. On 16 December 1852, Commandant General Potgieter died and his son, Piet Potgieter, was appointed in his stead as Commandant General of the Lydenburg and Zoutpansberg districts of the ZAR.

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, Reverend 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.[15]:40 In 1853, the brother of Hendrik Potgieter, Herman Potgieter was called to Mapela to come and cull the elephant population.[15]:42

When Potgieter arrived, Maphela took Potgieter, 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 Andries Potgieter, the son of Herman Potgieter and then dragged Potgieter up a hill, where they proceeded to skin him alive. They stopped once they had torn the entrails from his body.[15]:43 At the same time of these events, Makapaan 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[15]:44 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 Makapaan 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 "ingeboekt" at "autorisatie voor den landrost" or translated into English, "booked in" strictly controlled by legal process, at appointed Boer families to look after them until they came of age.[15]:47 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 landrost 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 offense. 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.[15]:46 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, 1861–1864Edit

Commandant-General Schoeman did not accept the 20 September 1858 proclamation by the Volksraad, where the members of the Christelijk Gereformeerde Church, 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.

Sekhukhune war, 1876Edit

In 1876, a war between the ZAR and the Bapedi broke out over cattle theft and land encroachment.[28] The Volksraad declared war on the Pedi leader, Sekhukhune 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 Sekhukhune.[28]

One of the early battles occurred at Botsabelo Mission Station on 13 July 1876, against Johannes Dinkwanyane, who was Sekhukhune'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.[28] 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.[28]

First Boer war, 1880–1881Edit

President Paul Kruger in 1898

On 12 April 1877, the British issued a proclamation called: "Annexation of the S.A. Republic to the British empire."[29] In the proclamation, the British claimed that the country was unstable, ungovernable, bankrupt and facing civil war. The unsuccessful annexation did not suspend self-government and attempted to convert the ZAR into a colony of the British Empire.[30]

The Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek viewed this proclamation as an act of aggression,[31] and resisted. Instead of declaring war, the country decided to send a delegation to United Kingdom and the United States, to protest. This 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 where 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 Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (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,[32] and in which the British suzerainty over the South African Republic, was relinquished.[33]

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, S.JP. Kruger, S.J. Du Toit and N.J. Smit, and later ratified by the South African Republic (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) Volksraad.

In 1885 extremely rich gold reefs were discovered in the ZAR. The South African Republic burghers were farmers and not miners and much of the mining fell to immigrants. The immigrants were also referred to as "outlanders" (uitlanders). By 1897 the immigrants had invested over 300,000,000 British Pounds in the ZAR goldfields.

Malaboch war, 1894Edit

The Malaboch War was between Chief Malaboch (Mmaleboho, Mmaleboxo) of the Bahananwa (Xananwa) people and the South African Republic (ZAR) 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 (ZAR).

Second Boer war, 1899–1902Edit

Piet Cronjé's followers delivering up their rifles

The UK first attacked the South African Republic in December 1895, the Jameson Raid. After that failed attack the British started building up massive numbers of troops and amounts of resources at the borders of the ZAR. Then they demanded voting rights for the 50,000 British nationals and the 10,000 other nationals in the ZAR, even though none of these nationals were at that time citizens of the ZAR.

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 Australia,[34] Canada,[35] and New Zealand[36] as well as forces and citizens of colonies like the Colony of 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.[37] 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.[38]

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.[39] 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.

Economy and transportEdit

Nearly all railways were constructed by the Netherlands–South African Railway Company

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 ten 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. Most railroads in the ZAR, including 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 national flag of Transvaal featured three horizontal stripes of red, white, and blue (mirroring the flag of the Netherlands), with a vertical green stripe at the hoist, and was known as the Vierkleur. The former national flag, from 1927 to 1994, had, as part of a feature contained within its central white bar, a horizontal flag of the Transvaal Republic.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Tamarkin, M. (1996). Cecil Rhodes and the Cape Afrikaners. London: Psychology Press. pp. 249–250. ISBN 9780714646275.
  2. ^ Eybers (1917). Select constitutional documents illustrating South African history, 1795–1910. pp. 455–463.
  3. ^ Irish University Press Series: British Parliamentary Papers Colonies Africa, (BPPCA Transvaal Vol 37 (1971) No 41 at 267)
  4. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 469–474.
  5. ^ Giliomee, H. (2011). The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. London: C. Hurst and Co. pp. 234–235. ISBN 9781850657149.
  6. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 514.
  7. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 357–359.
  8. ^ Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Nasou.
  9. ^ a b Eybers 1917, p. 477.
  10. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 420–422.
  11. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 479.
  12. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 505.
  13. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 515.
  14. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 358–359.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Kruger, P. (1902). Memoirs of Paul Kruger. Toronto: Morang and Co. p. 59.
  16. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 495.
  17. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 501.
  18. ^ Mackay, A. (1870). Manual of Modern Geography. 2. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons. p. 484. OCLC 913570496.
  19. ^ "Origin of the Anglo-Boer War Revealed – C. H. Thomas (originally published in 1899 by Hodder & Stoughton)".
  20. ^ Jansen, E. (2017). "Afrikaans: A Language on the Move". In Gosselink, M.; et al. (eds.). Good Hope: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600. Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis. pp. 341–341. ISBN 9789460043130.
  21. ^ Coetzee, A. J. (1948). Standaard Afrikaans (PDF). Afrikaner Pers. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  22. ^ Law number 1, Article 7 of 1882, Locale Wetten der Z.A Rep. I, 1071.
  23. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 481–482.
  24. ^ Law articles 1017/1025 dd. 13 Juli 1888 & article 1026/1027, dd. 14 Juli 1888 & article 1030, dd. 16 Juli 1888.
  25. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 483.
  26. ^ Kachru, B.; et al. (2009). The Handbook of World Englishes. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 160–161. ISBN 1-40518831-6.
  27. ^ De Villiers, J. (1896). The Transvaal. London: Chatto & Windus. p. 14.
  28. ^ a b c d Kinsey, H. W. (June 1973). "The Sekukuni wars". Military History Journal. The South African Military History Society. 2 (5). Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  29. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 448–449.
  30. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 448–453.
  31. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 454–455.
  32. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 456–457.
  33. ^ Eybers 1917, pp. 469–470.
  34. ^ "Australian Military Statistics". Australian War Memorial. 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  35. ^ Marshall, R. "Boer War Remembered". Maclean's.
  36. ^ "Brief history – New Zealand in the South African ('Boer') War". New Zealand History Online. 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  37. ^ Hobhouse, E. (1902). The Brunt of the War. Methuen & Co.
  38. ^ Totten, S.; Bartrop, P. R. (2008). "Concentration Camps, South African War". Dictionary of Genocide. Westport: Greenwood Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 9780313346415.
  39. ^ Eybers 1917, p. 516.

External linksEdit