Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The War in South Africa

Go To

The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct is a non-fictional work by Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes and Lost World fame, exposing the conduct of the British Army during the Boer War.

Sympathetic to the British POV, it's a historical account of the events leading to and resulting from said war, and also an attempt to divert both factual and invented accusations of humans rights abuses against his country. The most remarkable fact in the book is that, while trying to analyse accusation against his country, Doyle provides a detailed description of the Tropes played by the accusers for trying undo them, not much differently from how his most famous character solved crimes or Dr. Challenger tried to find scientific explanations for the supernatural events going around him.

This work provides examples of:

  • Amoral Afrikaner: The description of Boer actions borders on this (and Worthy Opponent) depending on which specific action Doyle is describing.
  • The Chessmaster: Kruger. Steyn. And arguably, Rhodes.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Because some blacks entered British service or briefly collaborated with British troops, the Boers started terror campaigns against black settlements and individual blacks living in white ones.
    • In fact the British are alleged to have punished Boer families from whom male members were still fighting, with halved rations in the internment camps. Doyle says that this was just briefly applied, and abandoned when the camp doctors saw this as not very humane.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Doyle himself couldn't see this trope play out, but Britain's victory in this war wouldn't prevent the institution of Apartheid in 1948, just secure that all whites should be formally equal.
  • End of an Era: The book ends with Doyle resenting German moral support for the Boers. It's hinted that the Dutch also gave some undercover help and intelligence in the European situation and both Germany and France are stated to have sold high technology weapons for the Boers. But Germany doing it for more than the money marked the end of congenial relations between Germany and Britain.
  • Evil Colonialist: The Boer tries to describe the British as this, a point which Doyle also tries to discuss.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Zig-zagged. Despite giving rise to a respectable internal opposition, the Boer Republics manage to have a real chance of overrunning all of South Africa. On the other hand, they end up succumbing to Britain's superior resources and organization.
  • The Federation:
    • The Boer Republics both are this and claim to be that trope in relation to Great Britain, and Great Britain, having already given home rule to territories like Australia and Canada, somewhat qualifies.
    • One of Doyle's claims is that, being British-ruled, South Africa can really become a Federation of different races and beliefs living in harmony. That didn't happen.
  • Greedy Jew: Another Boer accusation discussed by Doyle.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Doyle exposes and tries to deny Boer allegations that people like Cecil Rhodes were manipulating the South African political landscape in their own favour and were directly responsible for the war, while also exposing that specific Boer politicians forced events in such a way as to make war, if not avoidable, inevitable and more brutal. The book also hints that the Dutch and the Germans had some interest in a Boer victory. The factual truth is a bit more complex.
  • Noble Demon: More or less what Doyle thinks of some Boer leaders, especially Mr. Kruger.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: Doyle argued that despite being republics in name, by the fact of oppressing different ethnic groups (especially blacks), engaging in gun dealing and international conspiracies, and having a President for Life as one of the leaders, the Boer states were not in fact democracies.
  • Private Military Contractors: Employed in some scale by the Boers. Although not stated in the book, at least one American fought for the British, though as a full-on British official.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Britain had NO interest in the gold and diamond mines of Transvaal. Sure.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Zigzagged. Doyle both tries to deny accusations of Britain being manipulated by greedy financiers, and states that one of the main purposes of the Boer's war is extracting profit from the gold and diamond mines without paying a just share to the people who brought complex machinery, capital and specialized labour for them, not to mention working the local Africans to death in their own country.
  • Western Terrorists: What some of the described actions of the Boers border on.
  • Worthy Opponent: Doyle respects the Boers to a degree, and is somewhat sympathetic to the reasons why they rebelled. But he is clearly disgusted by their contempt for democracy and civil rights, and their perceived disregard for the proper customs of warfare.
  • Xanatos Gambit: How Doyle describes the Boer Republics' political situation before the war. The rising number of non-Boer residents asking for citizenship would cause the election of a great number of pro-British politicians, who would promote British annexation of the Republics and get it either through referendum, or by giving British troops and employees unrestricted transit. If they were refused, they could claim they were treated as second-class citizens, cause a civil war that would require British intervention to solve, and the Boers would be perceived as the guilty party.

    The Boers then forced their own Gambit on the British. After dismantling a Staged Populist Uprising ordered by Cecil Rhodes, they started purchasing weapons and intelligence in Europe. This meant they either forced Britain to make a preemptive-strike and paint the Empire as the aggressors, or make Britain avoid visible military preparation for the sake of their international reputation, and then attack the rest of South Africa before Britain could bring reinforcements from elsewhere.

    Strangely enough, both gambits failed and succeeded : the mistreatment of non-Boers and blacks both alienated people and motivated the enemies of the Boer Republics, which contributed to their ultimate downfall and suppression as a result of the war, and Britain couldn't bring all their force against the Boers even with the growing tensions in South Africa, until the Boers tried an all-out attack that were barely resisted.