Did you know?
The first shot of the South African War was fired by Boer gunner Jaap van Deventer.
Among the most bitter conflicts of pre-1994 South African history was that between Boer and Briton, which spiralled into the South African War (formerly known as the Anglo-Boer War) of 1899-1902. There are many well-maintained battlefields from the first phase of the war, especially those around the siege towns of Kimberley and Ladysmith.
The second South African War began on 11 October 1899 when the Boers took the offensive on four fronts. The following day the Boers suffered their first defeat at Elandslaagte in Natal.
In the first five months of the South African War, however, that setback was a rarity. They besieged Mafeking and Kimberley on 14 October and Ladysmith two weeks later and, in the field, inflicted a series of embarrassments on the British that culminated in the calamitous disasters at Stormberg (10 December), Magersfontein (11 December) and Colenso (15 December) that came to be known in Britain as ‘black week'.
In desperation Britain sent her two top soldiers, Lord ‘Bobs' Roberts and his Chief-of-Staff, Lord Kitchener, to halt the devastation. No sooner had they arrived than General Louis Botha captured Spioenkop in Natal on 24 January 1900.
The tide, however, turned in favour of the British as their forces reached full strength. On 15 February Kimberley was relieved, on the 27th General Cronje surrendered at Paardeberg and on 1 March Ladysmith was relieved. Soon after the relief of Mafeking on 17 May, the Orange Free State, then the Transvaal, were annexed to the Crown.
All the siege towns have monuments and museums dedicated to the South African War, with well-organised tours of the battlefields. Especially impressive is Magersfontein, which has an interactive centre, lookout points and a restaurant.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
League of Researchers of South African Battlefields
Tel: +27 (0) 12 355 6405
How to get here
The South African War battlefields are spread across South Africa, mostly in the Gauteng, Free State, North West and Northern Cape provinces.
Best time to visit
Any time of year.
You can do a self-drive as there are maps and brochures widely available.
Length of stay
This varies depending on area, but give yourself at least a week if you really want to explore.
What to pack
Comfortable clothes and walking shoes. In summer it is very hot so dress lightly. Winters can be cold, so warm clothes. Always carry a hat, sunscreen and bottled water.
Where to stay
There are numerous charming and quality guesthouses and B&Bs available across the country.