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Realizing Greater Britain

The South African Constabulary and the Imperial Imposition of the Modern State, 1900−1914


Scott C. Spencer

In anticipation of victory over the two Boer republics in the South African War (1899–1902), British imperial policymakers formed the South African Constabulary (SAC, 1900–1908) to lead reconstruction efforts. Uniquely, policymakers injected two goals of imperial management into the force and its 10,000 men, recruited from the British Isles and settler colonies: integrate the conquered territories into the British Empire and foster an imperial-national adherence to a Greater Britain. Following the war, offi cers and constables attracted the Boers to the empire by suppressing Africans more thoroughly, consistently and systematically than their prior regimes ever had. While some SAC men remained in South Africa following their service, most carried their enhanced white, imperial-national allegiances to the Isles, empire and beyond.

Combining traditional archival with innovative digital research, this book narrates global integration and imperial governance through individuals, from Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell and imperialist Alfred Milner to Canadian Mountie Sam Steele, Irish doctor Edward Garraway and, foremost, thousands of SAC men. The author argues that opportunistic British agents carried the apparatus of the coercive, legible and bureaucratic modern state across the British Isles, the empire and the world, leaving challenging legacies for successor governments and former subjects to confront.

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Introduction: Securing the Empire-State



Securing the Empire-State

On 6 May 1903 Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, recently returned from a four-month-long trip to Africa, stood up from the front benches of the House of Commons to defend his Unionist government’s loan to the new South African colonies, annexed during the recent war. After discussing the needs of the colonies and their expected contributions, he spoke at length about ‘the security for the loan.’

I attached the utmost importance to the South African Constabulary as a great civilizing, uniting influence … We regard them not as a garrison, but as the protectors and the friends of the people … How can you bring under a central Government and in personal touch isolated farmers hundreds of miles away across a trackless veld[t]? It is impossible. Their grievances, if they exist, could never come in ordinary circumstances to the knowledge of the authorities. There is no close sympathy between the Government and the individual members of the community whom it has to control. The South African Constabulary already has made its position. Again and again I found on entering into conversation with the [Boer] farmers that the men were learning the language of the country, were becoming the friends of the people, were welcomed at every farmhouse, doing little jobs for the inhabitants, carrying their letters and parcels, giving information, settling their petty disputes … That is what is happening, and it will happen if only the spirit which prevails among officers and...

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