The South African Republic (Dutch: Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, or ZAR), often informally known as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent Boer-ruled country in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century. Not to be confused with the present-day Republic of South Africa, it occupied the area later known as the South African province of Transvaal. The ZAR was established in 1852, and was independent from 1856 to 1877, then again from 1881 to 1900 after the First Boer War, in which the Boers regained their independence from the British Empire.
In 1900 the ZAR was annexed by the United Kingdom during the Second Boer War although the official surrender of the territory only took place at the end of the war, on 31 May 1902. In 1910 it became the Transvaal Province of the Union of South Africa. The first president of the South African Republic was Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, elected in 1857, son of the famous Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, who commanded the Boers to Victory at the Battle of Blood River.
As Ndebele moved into Transvaal, the remnants of the Bavenda retreated north to the Waterberg and Zoutpansberg, while Mzilikazi made his chief kraal north of the Magaliesberg mountains near present day Pretoria, with an important military outpost to guard trade routes to the north at Mosega, not far from the site of the modern town of Zeerust. As the Ndebele conquered the Transvaal they absorbed many members of the conquered Sotho-Tswana and other tribes and established a military despotism. From about 1827 until about 1836, Mzilikazi dominated the southwestern Transvaal. Before that time the region between the Vaal and Limpopo was scarcely known to Europeans, but in 1829, Mzilikazi was visited at Mosega by Robert Moffat, and between that date and 1836 a few British traders and explorers visited the country and made known its principal features.
In the 1830s and the 1840s, descendants of Dutch and other settlers, collectively known as Boers (farmers) or Voortrekkers (pioneers), left the British Cape Colony, in what was to be called the Great Trek. With their military technology, they overcame the local forces with relative ease, and formed several small Boer republics in areas beyond British control, without a central government.
From 1835 until 1838, Boer settlers started to cross the Vaal and they had several skirmishes with the Ndebele. On 16 October 1836, a Boer laager (or fortified circle of wagons) led by Andries Hendrik Potgieter, was attacked by an Ndebele force of about 5,000, who looted all of Potgieter's livestock, but were unable to defeat the laager. One of the Sotho-Tswana chiefs, Chief Moroko of the Barolong people, who had earlier fled the Difaqane to the south to create the settlement of Thaba Nchu, sent fresh livestock to Potgieter to draw his party's wagons back to the safety of the Rolong stronghold of Thaba Nchu, where the Sotho-Tswana chief offered the Boers food and protection. By January 1837, an alliance of 107 Boers, sixty Rolong, and forty Coloured men, organized as a commando under the leadership of Potgieter and Gert Maritz, attacked Mzilikazi's settlement at Mosega, which suffered heavy losses, and early in 1838 Mzilikazi fled north beyond the Limpopo (to current day Zimbabwe), never to return to Tranvaal. Andries Hendrik Potgieter, after the flight of the Ndebele, issued a proclamation in which he declared the country which Mzilikazi had abandoned and forfeited to the emigrant farmers, but also denying land rights to the Sotho-Tswana who had saved him and assisted in the defeat of the Mzilikazi and the Ndebele. After the Ndebele and Sotho-Tswana claims to the territory had been suppressed by the Boer political leadership, many Boer farmers trekked across the Vaal and occupied parts of the Transvaal, often near Sotho-Tswana villages, dividing the population up as forced laborers. Into these areas, still partly populated by remnants of the Ndebele and Sotho-Tswana, there was also a considerable immigration of members of the various Sotho-Tswana chiefdoms who had fled during the Difaqane.
The first permanent European settlement north of the Vaal was made by a party under Potgieter's leadership. That commandant had in March 1838 gone to Natal, and had endeavoured to avenge the massacre of Piet Retief and his comrades by the Zulus. Jealous, however, of the preference shown by the Dutch farmers in Natal to another commandant, Gert Maritz, Potgieter speedily recrossed the Drakensberg, and in November 1838 he and his followers settled by the banks of the Mooi river, founding a town named Potchefstroom in honour of Potgieter. This party instituted an elementary form of government, and in 1840 entered into a loose confederation with the Natalia Republic Boer, and also with the Boers south of the Vaal, whose headquarters were at Winburg. In 1842, however, Potgieter's party declined to go to the help of the Natal Boers, then involved in conflict with the British. Up to 1845 Potgieter continued to exercise authority over the Boer communities on both sides of the Vaal. A determination to keep clear of the British and to obtain access to the outer world through an independent channel led Potgieter and a considerable number of the Potchefstroom and Winburg burghers in 1845 to migrate towards Delagoa Bay. Potgieter settled in the Zoutpansberg, while other farmers chose as headquarters a place on the inner slopes of the Drakensberg, where they founded a village called Andries Ohrigstad. It proved fever-ridden and was abandoned, a new village being laid out on higher ground and named Lydenburg in memory of their sufferings at the abandoned settlement. Meanwhile, the southern districts abandoned by Potgieter and his comrades were occupied by other Boers. These were joined in 1848 by Andries W. J. Pretorius, who became commandant of the Potchefstroom settlers.
On 17 January 1852, the United Kingdom signed the Sand River Convention treaty with 5,000 or so of the Boer families (about 40,000 white people), recognizing their independence in the region to the north of the Vaal River, or the Transvaal. The Orange Free State, a sister Boer republic, was granted independence around the same time. But while they had obtained independence, they were far from being a united people. When Pretorius conducted the negotiations which led to the signing of the Sand River Convention he did so without consulting the volksraad, and Potgieter's party accused him of usurping power and aiming at domination over the whole country. However, the volksraad, at a meeting held at Rustenburg on 16 March 1852, ratified the convention, Potgieter and Pretorius having been publicly reconciled on the morning of the same day. Both leaders were near the end of their careers; Potgieter died in March and Pretorius in July 1853.
On the death of Andries Pretorius his son Marthinus W. Pretorius (q.v.) had been appointed his successor, and to the younger Pretorius was due the first efforts to end the discord and confusion which prevailed among the burghers - a discord heightened by ecclesiastical strife, the points at issue being questions not of faith but of church government. In 1856 a series of public meetings, summoned by Pretorius, was held at different districts in the Transvaal for the purpose of discussing and deciding whether the time had not arrived for substituting a strong central government in place of the petty district governments which had hitherto existed. The result was that a representative assembly of delegates was elected, empowered to draft a constitution.
Further to strengthen their position, Pretorius and his party unsuccessfully endeavoured to bring about a union with the Orange Free State. Peaceful overtures having failed, Pretorius and Paul Kruger placed themselves at the head of a commando which crossed the Vaal with the object of enforcing union, but the Free State compelled their withdrawal. Within the Transvaal the forces making for union gained strength notwithstanding these events, and by 1860 Zoutpansberg and Lydenburg had become incorporated with the republic. Pretoria, newly founded, and named in honour of the elder Pretorius, was made the seat of government and capital of the country. The ecclesiastical efforts at unity had not been equally successful. The Separatist Reformed Church of Holland had sent out a young expositor of its doctrines named Postma, who, in November 1858, became minister of Rustenburg. In the following year a general church assembly endeavoured to unite all the congregations in a common government, but Postma's consistory rejected these overtures, and from that date the Separatist (or Dopper) Church has had an independent existence. Paul Kruger, who lived near Rustenburg, became a strong adherent of the new church.
Pretorius, while still president of the Transvaal, had been elected, through the efforts of his partisans, president of the Orange Free State. He thereupon (in February 1860) obtained six months' leave of absence and repaired to Bloemfontein, in the hope of peacefully bringing about a union between the two republics. He had no sooner left the Transvaal than the -old Lydenburg party, headed by Cornelis Potgieter, landdrost of Lydenburg, protested that the union would be much more beneficial to the Free State than to the people of Lydenburg, and followed this up with the contention that it was illegal for any one to be president of the South African Republic and the Free State at the same time. At the end of the six months Pretorius, after a stormy meeting of the volksraad, apparently in disgust at the whole situation, resigned the presidency of the Transvaal. J. H. Grobelaar, who had been appointed president during the temporary absence of Pretorius, was requested to remain in office. The immediate followers of Pretorius now became extremely incensed at the action of the Lydenburg party, and a mass meeting was held at Potchefstroom (October 1860), where it was resolved that: (a) the volksraad no longer enjoyed its confidence; (b) that Pretorius should remain president of the South African Republic, and have a year's leave of absence to bring about union with the Free State; (c) that Schoeman should act as president during the absence of Pretorius; (d) that before the return of Pretorius to resume his duties a new volksraad should be elected.
In 1865 an empty exchequer called for drastic measures, and the volksraad determined to endeavour to meet their liabilities and provide for further contingencies by the issue of notes. Paper money was thus introduced, and in a very short time fell to a considerable discount. In this same year the farmers of the Zoutpansberg district were driven into laagers by a native rising which they were unable to suppress. Schoemansdal, a village at the foot of the Zoutpansberg, was the most important settlement of the district, and the most advanced outpost in European occupation at that time in South Africa. It was just within the tropics, and was situated in a well-watered and beautiful country. It was used as a base by hunters and traders with the interior, and in its vicinity there gathered a number of settlers of European origin, many of them outcasts from Europe or Cape Colony. They earned the reputation of being the most lawless white inhabitants in the whole of South Africa. When called upon to go to the aid of this settlement, which in 1865–1866 was sore pressed by one of the mountain Bantu tribes known as the Baramapulana, the burghers of the southern Transvaal objected that the white inhabitants of that region were too lawless and reckless a body to merit their assistance. In 1867 Schoemansdal and a considerable portion of the district were abandoned on the advice of Commandant-general Paul Kruger, and Schoemansdal finally was burnt to ashes by a party of natives. It was not until 1869 that peace was patched up, and the settlement arrived at left the mountain tribes in practical independence. Meanwhile the public credit and finances of the Transvaal went from bad to worse. The paper notes already issued had been constituted by law legal tender for all debts, but in 1868 their power of actual purchase was only 30% compared with that of gold, and by 1870 it had fallen as low as 25%. Civil servants, who were paid in this depreciated scrip, suffered considerable distress. The revenue for 1869 was stated as £31,511; the expenditure at 30,836.
The discovery of gold at Tati led President Pretorius in April 1868 to issue a proclamation extending his territories on the west and north so as to embrace the goldfield and portion of Bechuanaland. The same proclamation extended Transvaal territory on the east so as to include part of Delagoa Bay. The eastern extension claimed by Pretorius was the sequel to endeavours made shortly before, on the initiative of a Scotsman, to develop trade along the rivers leading to Delagoa Bay. It was also in accord with the desire of the Transvaal Boers to obtain a seaport, a desire which had led them as early as 1860 to treat with the Zulus for the possession of St Lucia Bay. That effort had, however, failed. And now the proclamation of Pretorius was followed by protests on the part of the British high commissioner, Sir Philip Wodehouse, as well as on the part of the consul-general for Portugal in South Africa. The boundary on the east was settled by a treaty with Portugal in 1869, the Boers abandoning their claim to Delagoa Bay; that on the west was dealt with in 1871.
In 1877, before the 1886 Witwatersrand Gold Rush, Britain annexed the Transvaal. The Boers viewed this as an act of aggression, and protested. In 16 December 1880 the independence of the republic was proclaimed again, leading to the First Boer War. The Pretoria Convention of 1881 gave the Boers self-rule in the Transvaal, under British oversight, and the republic was restored with full independence in 1884 with the London Convention, but not for long. The Gold rush also brought an influx of non-Boer European settlers (called uitlanders, outlanders, by the Boers), leading to a destabilization of the republic.
In 1895, Cape Premier Cecil Rhodes planned to support an uitlander coup d'etat against the Transvaal government. Leander Starr Jameson carried out this plan, without British authorization, in December of that year — in the ill-fated Jameson Raid. After the failed raid, there were rumors that Germany offered protection to the Boer republic, something which alarmed the British. In 1899 British forces were gathering on the borders of the Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State and fearing Britain's imminent annexation, the Boers launched a preemptive strike against the nearby British colonies in 1899, a strike which became the Second Boer War.
The Second Boer War was a watershed for the British Army in particular and for the British Empire as a whole. It was here that the British first used concentration camps in a war setting (the first general use being by the Spanish during the Cuban insurrections of the 1890s).
By May 1902, to prevent further bloodshed the last of the Boer troops surrendered mourning the deaths of 26,000 mainly women and children who died in British concentration camps. The independent Boer republic in the Transvaal was no more - the region became part of the British Empire. In 1910 the Transvaal became a province of the newly created Union of South Africa, a British Dominion.