The colonisation of South Africa is in many ways unique. European occupation began much earlier than elsewhere—the Dutch settling in the Cape in the sixteenth century and the British securing it during the Napoleonic wars. South Africa was climatically well suited for European settlement and unlike the rest of Africa it had fabulous mineral wealth in the form of diamonds and gold. It became a major theatre of conflict between the Dutch Boers and the English, especially when the Transvaal with its mineral wealth eclipsed the power of the British Cape Colony. It was also the home of the Zulus, one of the most formidable African military nations, and the Zulu War of 1879 was to prove a major shock to British military complacency when several army columns were heavily defeated. Over all these features looms the outsized figure of Cecil Rhodes who, having ‘made it big’ on the Rand goldfields in the Transvaal, developed an extravagant vision of the British African Empire (extract 7d) and of a swathe of British territory from the Cape to Cairo welded together with a grandiose railway scheme running through the continent. Nor was he a mere dreamer; he cleverly and often unscrupulously pursued a startling career of ‘private enterprise’ imperialism bringing in his train the not always enthusiastic participation of the British government. Extract 7b captures this reluctance very well.
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