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The Jameson Raid, December 1895

South Africa December 1895

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The Jameson Raid was an ineffective attempt to overthrow President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic in December 1895.

There are several reasons why the Jameson Raid took place.

  • Tens of thousand of uitlanders had settled in the Transvaal following the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886. The influx threatened the political independence of the recently formed republic (negotiated at the 1884 London Convention, three years after the 1st Anglo-Boer War). Transvaal relied on revenue generated by the gold mines, but the government refused to grant the uitlanders the franchise, and kept upping the period required to qualify for citizenship.
  • The Transvaal government was considered to be excessively conservative over economic and industrial policy, and the various non-Afrikaner mining magnates in the region desired a greater political voice.
  • There was a significant level of distrust between the Cape Colony government and that of the Transvaal republic over Kruger's attempt to claim control of Bechuanaland in contravention of the 1884 London Convention. The region was subsequently declared a British protectorate.

Leander Starr Jameson, who lead the raid, had first arrived in Southern Africa in 1878, lured by the discovery of diamonds near Kimberley. Jameson was a qualified medical doctor, known to his friends (including Cecil Rhodes, one of the founders of the De Beers Mining Company who became premier of Cape Colony in 1890) as Dr Jim.

In 1889 Cecil Rhodes formed the British South Africa (BSA) Company, which was given a Royal Charter, and with Jameson acting as emissary, sent a 'Pioneer Column' across the Limpopo River into Mashonaland (what is now the northern part of Zimbabwe) and then into Matabeleland (now south-west Zimbabwe and parts of Botswana). Jameson was given the post of administrator for both regions.

In 1895 Jameson was commissioned by Rhodes (now prime minister of Cape Colony) to lead a small mounted force (around 600 men) into the Transvaal to support an expected uitlander uprising in Johannesburg. They departed from Pitsani, on the Bechuanaland (now Botswana) border on 29 December. 400 Men came from the Matabeleland Mounted Police, the rest were volunteers. They had six Maxim guns and three light artillery pieces.

The uitlander uprising failed to materialize. Jameson's force made first contact with a small contingent of Transvaal soldiers on 1 January, who had blocked the road to Johannesburg. Withdrawing during the night, Jameson's men tried to outflank the Boers, but were finally forced to surrender on 2 January 1896 at Doornkop, approximately 20km west of Johannesburg.

Jameson and various uitlander leaders were handed over to British authorities in the Cape and sent back to the UK for trial in London. Initially they were convicted of treason and sentenced to death for their part in the plan, but the sentences were commuted to heavy fines and token prison stays - Jameson served only four months of a 15 month sentence. The British South Africa Company was required to pay nearly £1 million in compensation to the Transvaal government.

President Kruger gained much international sympathy (the Transvaal's David verses the Goliath of the British empire), and bolstered his political standing at home (he won the 1896 presidential election against a strong rival Piet Joubert) because of the raid. Cecil Rhodes was forced to retire as prime minister of the Cape Colony, and never truly regained his prominence, although he negotiated a peace with various Matabele indunas in his fiefdom of Rhodesia.

Leander Starr Jameson returned to South Africa in 1900, and after the death of Cecil Rhodes in 1902 took over leadership of the Progressive Party. He was elected prime minister of the Cape Colony in 1904 and lead the Unionist Party after the Union of South Africa in 1910. Jameson retired from politics in 1914 and died in 1917.

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