1902 Encyclopedia > Transvaal


TRANSVAAL, or SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC, a country in South Africa, northernmost of the European states, lying between 22° 15' and 28º S. lat., and 25º and 32º 10' E. long., is bounded N. and N.W. by the Limpopo, separating it from the Makalaka and Bamangwato countries. W. partly by the Marico and the Hart, partly by an irregular line between these streams, separating it from the new British protectorate of Bechuanaland ; S. by the Vaal and the Buffalo, separating it from the Orange Free State and Natal; E. by the Libomba Mountains, separating it from Zululand and the Portuguese East African possessions. [Footnote 517-1] Transvaal thus forms a compact inland territory nearly as broad as long, not more than 45 or 50 miles from the Indian Ocean at Delagoa Bay, but otherwise lying completely within the outer rim of the vast South African tableland. A line drawn from the south-west extremity, where it touches Griqualand West, north-eastwards to the Limpopo-Shasha confluence, gives an extreme length of 500 miles, the distance from the same confluence southwards to the Natal frontier being 425, and the greatest length east and west between the Zulu and Bechuana frontiers about 400 miles. In the absence of accurate surveys, the total area has been variously estimated at from 110,000 to 120,000 square miles, with a population (including aborigines) roughly calculated at from 750,000 to 800,000.

Physical Features.—Physically Transvaal forms a well-marked section of the great South African plateau, an elevated shallow basin with a mean altitude of over 3000 feet, whose conformation has been compared to that of a saucer. On the south and east this basin is separated from the coast by a lofty inner and less elevated outer rim, the former from 6000 to 10,000, the latter about 2000 feet high, sweeping round in curves concentric with that of the seaboard, from Cape Colony through Natal and the east side of Transvaal northwards to the equatorial regions. The inner rim, whose various sections in the extreme south are known as the Roggeveld, Nieuweveld, and Quathlamba ranges, takes in Natal and Transvaal the general name of the Drakenberg Mountains. From the Natal frontier to the Lipalule (Olifant) tributary of the Limpopo, the Drakenberg maintains the aspect of a more or less continuous range 5000 to 7000 feet high, culminating in the Mauchberg (8725), the highest point in Transvaal. A little to the east is the Spitskop (5637), and further south the Klipstad (6020) and Holnek (5600). This section, whose several ridges are known as the Verzamelberg, Randberg, Slangapiesberg, and Komatiberg, falls everywhere precipitously eastwards towards the Libomba range, or outer rim of the plateau, which maintains a mean elevation of 2000 feet along the eastern border of Transvaal. Beyond the Lipalule, the Drakenberg loses the character of a well-defined mountain system, broadening out into uplands moderately elevated above the surrounding plateau, and breaking into ridges, such as the Murchison and Zoutpansberg ranges, which run east and west between the Lipalule and Limpopo. The whole system slopes gently westwards to the central tableland, which is itself intersected by several broken ranges, such as the Maquassieberg, Gat Rand, Witwater Rand, and Magaliesberg in the south, the Dwarsberg, Marikele, Hanglip, Waterberg, and Blauberg in the north, all mostly trending in the direction from east to west. But few of these ridges rise much above 4000 feet, and, as the plateau has a mean altitude of considerably over 3000 feet, they detract little from the aspect of a vast level or slightly rolling upland plain, almost everywhere presented by Transvaal west of the Drakcnberg orographic system.

The numerous fossil remains of aquatic life, together with extensive sandy tracts and the presence in several places of water-worn shingle, give to the central tableland the appearance of an upheaved lacustrine basin, whose waters escaped at one time through the Limpopo to the Indian Ocean, at another through the Vaal to the Orange river, and thence to the Atlantic. The Vaal and Limpopo are still the two great fissures in the plateau, which carry off most of the surface waters to the surrounding marine basins. The water-parting between these two river systems lies, not in the Drakenberg, itself pierced by the Lipalule and several of its affluents, but in the Witwater Rand towards the south-west of the state. From this point the Limpopo, or Crocodile, sweeps round first to the west, then to the north-east, describing a semicircle of about 1000 miles to the Limvuba (Pafuri) confluence, where it leaves Transvaal, flowing thence for nearly 340 miles through Portuguese territory south-east to the Indian Ocean. Captain G. A. Chaddock has shown (1884) that it is navigable for steamers to this confluence, above which it is obstructed by the Tolo Azime and other rapids. Throughout its whole course it receives numerous affluents on both sides, such as the Shasha and Nuanetsi from the north, the Marico, Nyl, Limvuba, Lipalule, and others from Transvaal, of which region it drains fully 95,000 square miles. With the exception of a few tracts watered by the headstreams of the Buffalo (Tugela), Mvolozi, Usutu, and Umcomati (King George), flowing in independent channels eastwards to the Indian Ocean, all the rest of Transvaal is drained by the Vaal westwards to the Orange and Atlantic. The Vaal has its easternmost, sources in the Wakkerstroom district on the west slope of the Drakenberg, whence it flows for about 450 miles, partly within, but mainly along, the southern frontier of Transvaal, of which, with the Hart and other tributaries on its right bank, it drains about 20,000 square miles altogether. Besides these perennial streams, there are numerous shallow lagoons or saltpans scattered over the western and northern districts, as well as thermal and mineral waters, such as the Warmbad in the Nyl valley. But the only lake properly so called is Lake Chrissie, a sheet of water nearly 40 miles round, and in parts very deep, which lies on the, west side of the Drakenberg, 5755 feet above sea-level.

Climate.—Although lying on the border of and partly within the tropics, Transvaal, thanks to its great elevation above the sea, and to the absence of extensive marshy tracts, enjoys on the whole a healthy invigorating climate, well suited to the European constitution. Owing to the dryness of the air, due to the proximity of the Kalahari desert, the western and central districts are specially favourable to persons suffering from consumption and other chest complaints. But some of the low-lying moist tracts along the Limpopo and other river valleys, close to or within the torrid zone, are extremely insalubrious, fever of the general African type being here endemic, and its prevalence usually marked by the presence of the destructive tsetse fly. The route from Delagoa Bay to the interior also traverses a fever stricken coast district between the sea and the Libomba escarpment, dangerous especially in the rainy summer season. The rains generally begin about October, sometimes a little before or after, and last intermittently till April. But the rainfall is very unequally distributed, most of the moisture-bearing clouds from the Indian Ocean being arrested by the great barrier of the Drakenberg, or counteracted by the dry west winds from the Kalahari desert. Thus, while there is abundance of rain in the east, the country gradually becomes drier as it approaches Bechuanaland. During the dry winter season (April to September) keen frosty winds blow from the south, sweeping freely over the central plains and carrying the moisture to be precipitated as snow along the eastern highlands. Nevertheless, according to the careful meteorological observations made by Mr Lys at Prestoria between 1877 and 1880, the mean annual temperature is considerably over 68° F., falling to about 40º in June and rising to 90º and occasionally even 95º in January. The rainfall in the same central district seldom reaches 30 inches, which is probably a fair average for the whole of Transvaal, falling to 12 towards the western and rising to 60 on the eastern frontier.

Mineral Resources.—Transvaal yields to no other African region in the abundance of its mineral resources, while it is altogether unrivalled in their extraordinary variety. These include, besides the precious metals and diamonds, iron, copper, lead, cobalt, sulphur, saltpetre, and coal, this last with gold copper, and iron being probably the most abundant and widely distributed. Gold, largely diffused throughout the Drakenberg and in the northern Zoutpansberg and Waterberg districts and in the Rustenburg and Marico districts in the extreme west, as well as in the highlands between Transvaal and the Zambesi, has hitherto been worked chiefly in the rich auriferous region of Lydenburg about Mount Mauchberg and Mount Spitskop in the central parts of the Drakenberg range, and farther south in the Johannesburg and Lower Kaap (Sheba) district, Middelburg. The Lydenburg deposits, discovered in 1873, lie at an elevation of 4500 to 5000 feet 40 miles south of the Lipalule river and 125 north-west of Lorenzo Marques on Delagoa Bay, the chief diggings being at Pilgrim’s Rest and Mac Mac close to the Spitskop. In the Middelburg district the chief centres of mining operations are the recently founded towns of Barberton and Johannesburg. In some years the Lydenburg, Marabastad, and other diggings have jointly yielded over £300,000, obtained by washing and without any quartz-crushing. Iron ores are also widely distributed, and the Yzerberg ("Iron Mountain") near Marabastad (24° S., 30° E.) consists of an enormous mass of rich iron ore, which the natives have worked for ages. Diamonds are chiefly confined to the Bloemhoff district on the Vaal above the great diamantiferous region of Kimberley in Griqualand West. Coal abounds in the south-eastern districts (Wakkerstroom, Utrecht), and also farther north in Middelburg (Nazareth) and Lydenburg. In some places seams 7 or 8 feet thick lie so near the surface that they are quarried and the coal carted away by the natives. The prevailing formations where this great mineral wealth is embedded are quartz, porphyry, granites, clay slates, greenstone, Lower Devonian strata, conglomerates, and limestones.

Flora.—In Transvaal, as in most of the continent, an herbaceous flora prevails largely over forest growths, which are here confined chiefly to the deep kloofs (gorges) of the mountain ranges, and to the courses of the larger streams. Bush, including mimosas, thorn thickets, and creepers, covers extensive tracts on the northern and southern plains, and the Wakkerstroom and Utrecht districts towards Natal are well wooded. But elsewhere the characteristic features are grasslands, downs, hill slopes, flats, and even many parts of the higher uplands being covered with savannahs generally affording good pasturage and fodder for cattle. In the woodlands the prevailing species are three varieties of yellow wood (Podo-carpus), often growing to an enormous size, the Cape beech (Myrsine), several varieties of the wild pear (Olinia) and of stinkwood (Oreodaphne), ironwood, and ebony. The Boers and other settlers have hitherto occupied themselves chiefly with stock-breeding (sheep, cattle, and horses), but there can be no doubt that much of the country is eminently suited for the cultivation of cereals, yielding two annual crops and producing some of the finest wheat in the world. Tobacco, the vine, and most European fruits and vegetables also thrive well, while semi-tropical products, such as cotton, sugar, and coffee, might be raised in the warmer northern districts.

Fauna.—By the early settlers Transvaal was described as the "paradise of hunters," [Footnote 518-1] abounding in the characteristic large animals, such as the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, zebra, quagga, several varieties of antelope, and the ostrich, which roam over the continent from Soudan to the Cape. All these animals still exist, but in greatly reduced numbers, being now largely replaced by the domestic animals—cattle, sheep, and horses—introduced by the white settlers. All the large rivers are inhabited by the hippopotamus and crocodile, the latter giving an alternative name to the Limpopo; the buffalo, gnu, eland, springbok, wildbeeste, baboon, and several other members of the ape family are also frequently met with. The country is occasionally swept by destructive flights of locusts; but the greatest enemy of the stock-breeder is the tsetse fly, which infests the coastlands and many of the riverine tracts, but shows a tendency to disappear with the large game, retreating with the advance of the plough. A tsetse belt 40 miles wide along the whole course of the Limpopo still bars the spread of European settlements beyond Transvaal in the direction of the Zambesi.

Inhabitants.—Of the population not more than 50,000 are whites, mostly Boers (descendants of the early Dutch, French, and German immigrants to the Cape), with a large and increasing percentage of British settlers, attracted in recent years especially to the Lydenburg and other mining districts. All the rest are natives, belonging mainly to the Basuto and Bechuana branches of the Bantu family, and consequently allied in speech and to a large extent in physique to their Zulu-Kaffre neighbours. A considerable number of these natives have abandoned the tribal state and taken service, cither freely or by compulsion, with the whites as farm labourers in the rural districts, and as domestic servants in the towns, and are now also largely employed in mining operations. The great bulk of the rest, who retain their national usages and recognize the authority of more or less independent tribal chiefs, are concentrated in the northern and eastern provinces of Zoutpansberg (364,000), Waterberg (174.000), and Lydenburg (123,000). There are also about 40,000 in Bloemhoff (extreme south-west), and the same number in the western provinces of Rustenburg and Marico, but only a few scattered groups in all the rest of the country. These western and south-western tribes (Barolongs, Batlapins, Bakwenas, Bakhatlas, &c.) are all Bechuanas; the others mainly Makatis, as the Basutos are here collectively called. It may be stated in a general way that the whole country south of the Lipalule is now free of native claims and open to European colonization, while the northern region between that river and the Limpopo is still to a large extent occupied by unreduced or unbroken Basuto communities.

Natural and Political Divisions.—Transvaal has been divided into three more or less distinct natural regions, determined chiefly by the relief of the land, and its climatic and economic conditions. These are—(1) the Hooge veld, or uplands, comprising the southern districts drained by the Vaal and the Drakenberg highlands as far north as the Lipalule, about 35,000 square miles altogether, with an altitude ranging from 4000 to 7000 feet; (2) the Banken veld, or terrace lands, comprising the low eastern zone between the Drakenberg and Libomba ranges, falling in many places down to a level of 2000 feet, with an area of 15,000 to 20,000 square miles; (3) the Bosch veld, or bush country, comprising all the rest of the land, with an altitude of 3000 to 4000 feet and an area of 60,000 square miles. For administrative purposes the country is again divided into thirteen provinces:—Zoutpansberg and Waterberg in the north; Lydenburg, Middelburg (formerly Nazareth), Pretoria, Rustenburg, and Marico in the centre; Utrecht, Londina, Wakkerstroom, Heidelberg, Potchefstroom, and Bloemhoff in the south. In the southern part of Lydenburg lies the somewhat detached district of New Scotland, comprising some 500,000 acres selected by the late Mr M’Corkindale as a Scotch pastoral and agricultural settlement. It is a healthy prosperous country, lying on the slopes of the Drakenberg, within 310 miles of Durban, Natal. But the most thickly settled province is Potchefstroom, a fertile tract, 3500 to 5000 feet high, abundantly watered by the Mooi, Schoen, and other streams flowing to the Vaal, and well suited for tillage and pasturage. Its capital of like name (derived from elements in those of Potgieter, Scherf, and Stockenstroom, three popular Boer leaders during the early migrations) is the most settled and one of the largest towns in Transvaal. The only other places deserving the name of town are Pretoria, capital of the province of like name and of the state, occupying a somewhat central position 100 miles north-east of Potchefstroom, 980 from Cape Town, 820 from Port Elizabeth, and 400 from Durban ; Barberton, in the Lower Kaap mining district, 150 miles by road from Delagoa Bay, only three years old, but already by far the largest place in the state, with a population (1887) of 15,000; and Johannesburg, centre of the gold-holds of the same name, 30 miles south-east of Pretoria, and 72 east of Potchefstroom, founded in 1886, but already larger than Pretoria, with a population of over 4000.

Administration and Statistics.—Transvaal enjoys representative institutions, with a volksraad or parliament of forty-four members elected for four years, one-half retiring every two years, the executive being entrusted to a president elected for five years by the whole body of electors, assisted by a council of four, the ex-officio vice-president and the state secretary, with two others appointed by the volksraad. The revenue, derived chiefly from land sales, quit rents, stamps, hut-tax, and customs, balanced the expenditure in 1885, and exceeded it by £15,000 in 1886, the respective sums being £260,000 and £245,000. In 1884 the public debt was £396,000, the exports (gold, ivory, corn, wool. hides, cattle. ostrich feathers, &c.) about £600,000, and the imports probably over £1,000,000. The long projected railway, intended to afford an outlet to the coast at Delagoa Bay, was completed in 1887 from Lorenzo Marques, the seaward terminus, to the Transvaal frontier, a distance of 50 miles. Transvaal is in telegraphic communication with the Cape and the rest of the world through the Orange Free State.

History.—The historic life of Transvaal begins with the "Great Trek," or general exodus of the Cape Colony Boers, who, being dissatisfied, especially with the liberal policy of the British Government towards the natives, removed northwards in large numbers between the years 1833 and 1837. By 1836 some thousands had already crossed the Vaal, that is, had reached the "Trans-Vaal" country. which at that time was mostly under the sway of the powerful refugee Zulu chief Moselekatze, whose principal kraal was at Mosega in the present Marico district on the west frontier. To avenge the massacre of some emigrant bands, the Boers under Maritz and Potgieter attacked and utterly defeated Moselekatze at this place in 1837. Next year the Zulu chief withdrew beyond the Limpopo, where he founded the present Matebele state between that river and the Zambesi, thus leaving the region between the Vaal and Limpopo virtually in the Lands of the Trekkers. But their position was rendered insecure on the east side by the military despotism of the fierce Zulu chief Dingaan, who, after the murder of his brother Chaka, had asserted his authority over the whole of Zululand and most of the present Natal. The situation was rendered almost desperate by the complete rout and wholesale massacre (1838) of the right division of the emigrant Boers, who had ventured to cross the Buffalo under Pieter Retief, and who were defeated by Dingaan, first at Umkongloof ("Aceldama"). then at Weenen ("Weeping"), and again soon after under Uys, Maritz, and Potgieter, when as many as 800 fell before the irresistible onslaught of the disciplined Zulu warriors. At this critical juncture the Trekkers were saved from utter extermination by Andries Pretorius of Graaff Reinet, by whom Dingaan met with a first check before the close of 1838, followed in January 1840 by a still more crushing defeat. Dingaan having been soon after murdered, the friendly Panda was set up in his place, and Natal proclaimed a Boer republic. But the British occupation of that territory in 1843 induced the Boers to retire in two bands across the Drakenberg, the southern division settling in the present Orange Free State, the northern again passing into Transvaal. But, owing to internal dissensions, and the perpetual bickerings of the two most prominent personalities, Pretorius and Potgieter, all attempts at establishing an organized system of government throughout Transvaal ended in failure, till Pretorius induced the British Government to sign the Sand River convention (January 17, 1852), which virtually established the political independence of that region. The death both of Pretorius and Potgieter in 1853 prepared the way for a period of internal peace under Pretorius’s eldest son Marthinus Wessels Pretorius, first president of the "Dutch African Republic," whose title was afterwards altered (1858) to that of the "South African Republic." But a fatal element of weakness lay in the persistent refusal of the Boers to treat the natives on a footing of equality, or even with common justice. The murder of Hermann Potgieter and family (1854), avenged by Pretorius at Makapan’s Cave, was followed (1856) by the "Apprentice Law," establishing a system of disguised slavery, which was further strengthened by the sanction (1858) of the Growl wet, or "Fundamental Law," declaring that the "people will admit of no equality of persons of colour with the white inhabitants either in state or church." Owing to this policy opposition was constantly shown both to the English traders, disposed to deal fairly with all, and to the missionaries, preachers of universal equality, as illustrated by the plunder of Livingstone’s house by the commando sent against the native chief Secheli in 1852. A brief chronicle must here suffice of subsequent events down to the present time:—

1857. Invasion of the Orange Free State by Pretorius; dispute settled without bloodshed by the treaty of June 1.

1859. Pretorius elected president of the Free State; fails to effect the union of the two states.

1863. Return of Pretorius, during whose absence affairs had fallen into confusion ; continued troubles with the natives ; quarrels with the Batlapins, Barolongs, and Griquas in the west; in the east with Ketchywayo, king of Zululand, about the Boers’ right to the Wakkerstroom and Utrecht districts.

1867. Discovery of diamonds, and Mauch’s announcement of gold-fields in the interior.

1868. Pretorius’s proclamation extending the boundaries of the stale west to Lake Ngami, east to Delagoa Bay, whence disputes and negotiations with England and Portugal, Delagoa Bay being ultimately awarded (July 1875) to Portugal by the French president, Marshal MacMahon, to whose decision the matter had been referred.

1871. Boundary disputes towards the south-west settled by the award of Lieutenant-Governor Keate of Natal, leading to the resignation of Pretorius and appointment of President Burgers.

1875. The Fundamental Law forces Burgers to measures leading to the war with Sikokuni, chief of the Bapedi, south of the Olifant river, who claimed large part of Lydenburg and even of Pretoria; Burgers’s visit to Europe in connexion with the Delagoa Railway scheme; on his return he finds everything in the greatest contusion; Boers dispirited by repeated reverses in the Sikokuni war; an empty treasury; broken credit; the state practically bankrupt and exposed to imminent danger of invasion by Bapedis and Zulus. Hence

1876-77. Intervention of England, and Sir Theophilus Shepstone’s proclamation (April 12, 1877) annexing Transvaal, followed by the appointment of Sir W. Owen Lanyon as British administrator.

1880-81. Revolt of the discontented Boers, who, being successful in a few contests with British troops, induced the British Government to restore the republic under the "suzerainty" of the queen, by the treaty of peace of March 21, 1881, a British resident being appointed, with the functions of a consul-general

1883. S. J. Paul Krüger elected president.

1884. Convention of London (February 27, ratified by the volksraad, August 8) recognizing the state as the South African Republic, and considerably restricting the British suzerainty.

1885. Proclamation (March 23) of the British protectorate over Bechuanaland, thereby arresting the westward advance of the Boers into the Bamangwato, Bakwena, Bangwaketsi, and Barolong territories, and keeping open the great trade route from Cape Colony through Hopetown and Shoshong to the Zambesi.

1886. Fresh discoveries of rich auriferous deposits especially in the Middelburg province, followed by a great influx of English-speaking populations, threatening to swamp the Boer element.

1886. Projected South African confederation, opposed by Krüger, but supported by the Orange State, Cape Colony, and a majority of the Transvaal Boers. Connected with this scheme is the proposal of a uniform tariff and the immediate construction of a through railway from Cape Town to Delagoa Bay. (A. H. K.)


517-1 The boundaries of Transvaal, long a subject of dispute with Great Britain and the other conterminous states, were at last precisely defined by the convention of February 27, 1884.

518-1 On the route between the Orange and Vaal (1835-37) the "voor-trekkers" are said to have killed as many as 200 lions.

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