This history of what is today South Africa begins with the discovery of diamonds on the banks of the Orange River in 1866 and ends with the establishment of the Union of South Africa, made up of the previously separate colonies of the Cape, Natal, Transvaal, and the Orange River, in 1910. In between, Meredith follows the rise of the British financier Cecil Rhodes through the diamond and then the gold boom and describes the decline of relations between the British government and the Afrikaners, of Dutch origin, who had been the first European settlers in the region. The British government had no interest in formal colonization of the area until its vast natural-resource wealth became clear. Then, egged on by its own jingoism as well as by the local pro-British business class, at the head of which sat Rhodes in Cape Town, the British government manufactured a series of political crises, culminating in the Second Boer War in 1899. The hard-fought British military victory proved pyrrhic, since the war unified the colonies and helped advance Afrikaner nationalism. Meredith tells the story well, in short snappy chapters that favor vignettes about individuals and events over discussion of institutions and structural forces.
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