British history in South Africa
Did you know?
Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill and Edgar Wallace were all reporters in the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War).
There are many pockets of British influence on South Africa, and as you drive through the country you’ll pass through what sometimes looks, sounds and tastes just like the United Kingdom.
Take, for instance, the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal: Nottingham Road; Gowrie; Underberg; Richmond; Currie’s Post. Combine those names with green, rolling hills and cottage industries and bucolic little dusty side roads and a hundred Farmer Brown lookalikes and yes, this could be Britain.
Then there’s the Eastern Cape, replete with 1820 Settlers' stock from Somerset East to Lady Grey, Adelaide to Bedford to Cookhouse to the heartland frontier of English South Africa: Grahamstown.
Britain briefly captured the Cape from the Dutch in 1795, gave it back seven years later and then, in 1806, took it once more – keeping it as a British colony for 104 years until 1910.
This is where the African legends were born: British authors John Buchan (Prester John), Percy Fitzpatrick (Jock of the Bushveld), Olive Schreiner (Story of an African Farm) vied with red-blooded adventurers like Cornwallis-Harris, jaunty crooks like Scotty Smith, civil rightists like Emily Hobhouse and moguls like Cecil John Rhodes for a place in the history books.
In the late 19th Century, the Zulus gave Lord Chelmsford’s forces the British Empire’s biggest colonial bloody nose at that time, lost the war later at Ulundi and then watched as Boer and Brit squared up.
The South African War (formerly called the Anglo-Boer War) at the turn of the century saw Britain dispatch 500 000 soldiers against 65 000 Boers, with large numbers of black South Africans being recruited on both sides. Eventually, after a protracted guerilla war, the Boers gave over at Vereeniging in 1902. In 1910, South Africa became a union and later, in 1961, a republic. Today, British numbers make up the majority of offshore tourists who visit South Africa.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Makana (Grahamstown) Tourism
Tel +27 (46) 622 3241
KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields Region Guides
Tel: +27 (0) 72 271 1766
Diamond Visitor Centre (Kimberley)
Tel: +27 53 832 7298
How to get here
A road trip through the Frontier district of the Eastern Cape will bring you in touch with many British colonial traces in little towns like Bedford, Fort Beaufort, Adelaide and Hogsback.
Grahamstown is the heart of all things English in South Africa, and well worth a two-day visit.
Similarly, a journey through the Midlands Meander of KwaZulu-Natal will be like floating through rural England.
In cities like Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, you'll see the British influence in many colonial buildings and monuments, and South Africa's education system draws heavily on the British system.
Best time to visit
Visiting these sites is an all-year-round experience.
Around the area
Also visit Kimberley for South African War memorials, the history of diamond mining, and to learn more about the history of various British characters like Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato.
Tours to do
Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift battlefields are well worth visiting in KwaZulu-Natal. Consider taking a Spirit of the Past tour with Alan Weyer in Grahamstown, and visit Kimberley in the Northern Cape to learn more about the British role in diamond mining and about the Siege of Kimberley during the South African War.
What will it cost
To hire a car and stay in self-catering accommodation in South Africa, budget about R2 000 a day for 2 people sharing.