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Africa during the Scramble: The Jameson Raid

By Charlton Cussans



The later tragedy of Apartheid within a unified South Africa, with its stark (although arbitrary) lines of racial division, would disguise, at least to the outside world, old divisions within the white South African community. Anglo-South Africans and Afrikaner/Boer South Africans might have been united in a commitment (albeit not total) to white supremacy, but there were divisions of language, culture and religion between the two groups that had their origins in the aftermath of the British conquest of the Cape during the Napoleonic Wars. Violent conflict was, if not inevitable, at least made more likely by the utterly different world views of the two white populaces; this in turn created incidents that pushed the two sides apart.


One of these incidents was the infamous Jameson Raid, from 29th of December 1895 to 2nd of January 1896. It is a story of Imperial arrogance, adventurism and blustering incompetence that made headlines around the world when it happened but is often forgotten today. But this late Victorian filibuster deserves to be remembered as it’s consequences, both regional and global, were huge. And the event, its main characters and build-up leave those of us interested in alternate histories with plenty of fodder to chew over. The Raid was named for Leander Starr Jameson, a Scotsman by birth, a doctor by profession and an imperialist by choice. A confidant and friend of Cecil Rhodes, Leander was a high-ranking officer within the British South Africa Company, a charted company created by Rhodes to secure British imperial and his own financial interests north of the Limpopo River. The colony they created therr came to be called Southern Rhodesia-although other names, such as Charter land (Jameson’s own preference) or Zambesia (Rhode’s own) were offered. It is a mark of Cecil Rhodes impact on this period and part of the world that he got an area larger then France named after him. The history of the new colony, and that of South Africa itself, would have been very different in his absence.

Leander Jameson

The same is true of Leander Jameson himself. Had he remained in Scotland or a Doctor and not brought his unique style of adventurism to South Africa, the disaster of the Raid might have been avoided and subsequent Anglo-Boer relations been very different. The exact circumstances by which Southern Rhodesia came under the control of Rhodes’ BSAC are outside the scope of this writing, but it was accomplished by trickery and Maxim Gun enabled violence on the part of Company personal and forces. The brutality of the campaign, particularly that inflicted on black African civilians was noted at the time. Indeed, Leander Starr Jameson made a name for himself for both tactical cunning and immoral cruelty. The new colony was intended to be a “Second Rand”-awash with gold and diamonds, but also entirely under Anglophonic control. Already by this point, commercial factors in Cape Town and London chafed under the restrictions the Transvaal Republic put them under, whilst the non-Afrikaner white miners, the “uitlanders” found themselves without economic rights in the Boer Republic. The Transvaal and neighboring Orange Free State did not profess themselves to be universal republics. Theirs was not the republicanism of the Enlightenment. Rather, the Boer Republics operated under a system of “Burgher Liberty” wherein white Afrikaner men, speaking the Dutch/Afrikaner language and professing membership within the Dutch Reformed Church, were the only ones who had, or could have, rights.


This is contrast to the Cape Qualified Franchise, which sought a kind-of (although not total) colourblind political sphere, or the Anglo-white supremacism which Rhodes wanted to make the mainstay of a united South Africa. There are qualifiers and exceptions and standouts of course, but in Southern Africa at the end of the 19th Century, unqualified, strict Afrikaner-white supremacism as bedrock of a united South Africa was by no means guaranteed. And that is just speaking about white, or at least predominantly white, political ideologies. By 1895, the considerable number of independent black African or mixed-race (Colored, in the official parlance of South Africa then and now) states had been reduced to zero as they were conquered or subsumed by their more powerful white neighbors. The Zulu Kingdom and the Griqua States, to name but a handful, had all been taken apart and annexed. But there was still, at least in some circles, a notion that black Africans and non-whites more generally could and should have a place and a voice within the various components of South Africa-or at least those components which allowed them such rights and liberties.


By 1895, that had shrunk to the Cape. The discriminatory practices of the Boer Republics having previously been discussed. But even the British run Natalia Colony practiced and enforced racial segregation & discrimination as a consequence of the white minority’s fear of losing their economic and political privileges. It is somewhat ironic that the Cape, with it’s larger white and mixed-race populace, was better at granting non-whites rights in politics and economics. The fear and suspicion towards non-whites was much more muted, and it is interesting to contemplate a Cape Colony in a South Africa that remains disunited: would continued white immigration mean this comparatively relaxed system would continue, with the black populace is an integrated and liberated minority? Or would they have suffered more and more discrimination and racialist abuse, as white people came to see them as rivals for land and jobs? It is instructive and disheartening to note that Rhodes, as Premier of the Cape, had enacted policies that in seeking to unite Anglos and Cape Afrikaners (all Boers are Afrikaners, not all Afrikaners are Boers. Not all of them made the Great Trek out of the Cape into eastern South Africa; many were happy and comfortable under the British Empire), had thrown black Africans under the proverbial bus.

Cecil Rhodes

The riches the BSAC in general and Cecil Rhodes in particular had sought in Southern Rhodesia had failed to materialise, with Rhodes’ dream of a second Rand straddling the Zambesia proving, in terms of gold and diamonds, a non-starter. What gold and diamonds there were not in the same quantities and not in the same amounts as those found on the Rand and elsewhere. Mineral wealth would come to Southern Rhodesia, but not in the 1890s, and not of the gold and diamonds Cecil Rhodes had originally sought. Southern Rhodesia would remain, for a long time and for the most part an agricultural economy based around the production of cash crops.


Discussing geographical what-ifs, outside of human influential does take us somewhat out of alternate history and into more pure science fiction. But in all likelihood if gold and diamonds were to be found north of the Limpopo, rather than benefit Rhodes this would have probably brought the territory under the influence of its first European explorers; the Portuguese. They explored the area in OTL, looking to exploit what gold was available, and sponsoring/supporting the conversion of local potentates to Catholicism. But in OTl, without those riches, an alternative source of revenue was required, and so a plan was conducted to invade a “republic of mounted infantrymen” with 511 armed men, the operation being launched on the 29th of December 1895. The plan behind the invasion was simple; the Raiders, in alliance with the politically disenfranchised Uitlanders of the Transvaal Republic, along with reform-minded Afrikaners, would overthrow the conservative government of Paul Kruger. Then they would install a government which would be favourable to the British Empire, enfranchise the Uitlanders, who were by now the majority of the white population of the Transvaal, and, most importantly, enrich Cecil Rhodes and his associates' bank accounts. By a sort of heavily armed daring, the burgers would be brought to heel and the vast mineral wealth of the Transvaal integrated into the Empire, or so the plan went.


But the plan was fatally flawed; the dissident reformers were caught by surprise and were unable to coordinate with the Raiders, the Uitlanders didn’t particularly care, and the Afrikaners loyal to the Republic, or at least loyal to Kruger, rapidly caught up to, and, with few casualties, defeated and apprehended the warband, Jameson included. The documentation discovered with them also prematurely ended Rhodes political career in the Cape. And in its wider geopolitical impact, this act of semi-official imperial piracy poisoned the already murky well of Anglo-Afrikaner relations and helped pave the path to the imminent Second Boer War. It also turned the previously comparatively pro-British Orange Free State towards an alliance with the Transvaal Republic, and shattered Rhodes' dream of a united South Africa with the Anglo-South African community in the driving seat; at least until years after the trauma and brutality of the 2nd Boer War.

Frank Dodd's portrayal of the Second Matabele War

Moreover, the absence of so many Company troops from the new colony inspired an uprising from the only recently conquered Africans; the Second Matabele War (the 1st War was fought during the initial conquest of the territory) or, as it is known in modern Zimbabwe, the First Chimurenga. The war caused many casualties and it took months and the deployment of many troops for the British Empire to emerge victorious, in what amounted to a Proto-Iraq or Afghanistan conflict on the African veldt. There are many opportunities and paths for a Raid with a different outcome to affect the War.


If it succeeds, perhaps the uprising still occurs, but this time the British Empire is distracted by having to occupy the Transvaal and resources are not in place to deal with it? If the Raid fails worse, and BSAC forces are destroyed by the Commandos of the Transvaal, might British rule of Southern Rhodesia end then and there, perhaps with the support of the Boers, now more concerned with fighting the British Empire then anything else? A successful, even temporarily, rebellion leaves Northern Rhodesia and the other new British colonies isolated and afraid-the potential for regional disturbances as the shockwaves spread are endless. As for our newly re-free Black Africans of the (former) Southern Rhodesia, the question must be-what next?


If the raid is successful and the rebellion happens as a consequence of a distracted British Empire, then absorption into another nearby European Empire is possible-Portugal is likely, although the new German Empire had more resources. Considering the brutality and genocide German imperial forces inflicted in German South-West Africa (Namibia), them dealing with and pacifying the area presents the possibilities of further horrors. As for the raid failing even harder, and the prospect of a 2nd Boer War ahead of schedule, the prospects of some-sort of (albeit limited) black African self-government north of the Limpopo become more likely. Maybe Mlimo, the spiritual leader of the rebellion, is able to negotiate some-sort of Protectorate in the area; with the new territory becoming a counterpart to Botswana, the Bechuanaland Protectorate as it was at the time. A Southern Africa divided between a more egalitarian Cape Colony, the Boer Republics, the (admittedly more conservative) Natalia and black-African protectorates strikes as a happier option, or at the very least an environment with the option for a happier, freer future, then one dominated by a united, segregationist South Africa. As for South Africa itself, different outcomes for the Raid generally leave disunity, rather then union as the most likely result. The Cape didn’t want it, and the British generally had enough trouble dealing with Natalia. The rights of non-Boer whites in the Transvaal (and less so but still present in the Orange Free State) were always points of contention, but the possibility of war had to be driven, rather than being reached organically. The Boer Republics themselves being in the British sphere of influence is without question, but the rapidly changing international situation would have given them more room to manoeuvre. The irony is that unity between the various colonies and republics in OTL did lead to a white-supremacist state with an economy built around resource extraction and sale, but it was one dominated by Afrikaners.


The Jameson Raid, and the 2nd Boer War driven by Rhodes and his ilk brought a profoundly Anglophobic unity to the Afrikaners. It was at this time that Boers and Cape Afrikaners became, if not one people, at least people who regarded themselves as part of the same national mythos. Ultimately then, an avoided Jameson Raid might lead to South Africa (as both a geopolitical region and wider geographic are) remaining disunited, but more culturally and politically British. It’d almost certainly be better for the black Africans themselves-dependent on circumstances of course. A successful raid might lead to a more positive outcome still, but Rhodes remaining Premier of the Cape is not a happy situation for the non-whites of that Colony. A happy, liberal and egalitarian future as a consequence of an alternate Jameson Raid is possible and plausible to envision. But it’d be hard to turn into a reality.


And the united white-supremacist state that emerged instead did not only include Afrikaaners, Anglos and Black Africans. It would also come to absorb German South-West Africa. That colony is the subject of the next article in this series.

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