George Townsend Warner.

The geography of British South Africa online

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In this book I have tried to describe in a simple
way the main geographical features of British
South Africa. In doing so it is impossible to
avoid altogether the history of past quarrels, but
in mentioning them I have endeavoured to be fair,
and to keep clear of political controversies which
are still hot. I have not thought it wise to go
into any statistics. These pass out of date almost
as speedily as they slip from the memory. But
the physical features of the land, its climate and
resources, the character of its inhabitants, its flora
and fauna, its industries and occupations are more
or less abiding. To these I have given most

It remains for me to express my gratitude to
those who have assisted me: first to those writers
on South Africa who have allowed me to quote
extracts from their books; secondly to Mr. James
Smith and Mr. James Eodger, both of Cape Town,




the former for reading the MS. and offering many
valuable hints and suggestions, the latter for re-
vising the proofs with minute care; and last to
a friend, well acquainted with South Africa, whose
help has been of the greatest possible value to me.

G. T. W.


Chap. Page

Introduction. The Gate of South Africa .... 7

1. Settlement in South Africa - - - - - - - 13

2. Surface Features of South Africa 17

3. The Climate of South Africa - 20

4. The Rivers of South Africa 24

5. South African Plant-Life 29

6. Wild Beasts of South Africa 33

7. The Destruction of Game in South Africa - - - - 36

8. South African Natives 39

9. The Zulus - 42

10. The Switzerland of South Africa 47

11. The Farmer's Plagues 52

12. Cape Colony 59

13. Cape Town and its Surroundings 63

14. The Railways of South Africa 69

15. Kimberley and the Diamond Mines 77

16. Port Elizabeth and its Trade 82

17. Ostriches 87

18. Natal: Its History 92

19. The Climate and Country 95

20. Durban 99

21. Pietermaritzburg 105

22. The Orange River Colony and Bloemfontein - 106

23. The Transvaal : Borders and History 110

24. The Transvaal 115

25. The Gold-Mines at Johannesburg 119

26. Pretoria 128

27. Trekking in an Ox-Wagon 130

28. Mafeking to Bulawayo 136

29. Rhodesia— The Natives 139

30. The Resources of Rhodesia 145



Chap. Page

31. The Resources of Rhodesia — Soil, Climate, and Crops - - 148

32. Rubber 153

33. Bulawayo and Salisbury 155

34. Rhodesia North of the Zambesi 160

35. British Central Africa 167

36. Conclusion - - - - - - - - - - 176

Summary - - - - - - - - - - 179



South Africa : Relief Map - - ) ^ 77

... / follow page 8

do. Political Divisions - J

do. Physical Features - J fMw> ^ ^

do. Rainfall ... J

Cape Colony ....... facing page 64

British South Africa: Railways (Southern)
do. ao. (Northern)
Rhodesia facing page 81

\ follow page 72





The Gate of South Africa

South of the equator the shape of Africa is
like a tongue — a blunt tongue that narrows gradu-
ally and has a rounded end. When in 1814 the
Dutch finally gave up to us the colony which we
had conquered from them in 1806, what we got
was the tip of the tongue. Very little was known
at that time about anything in South Africa ex-
cept the coast, and we hardly understood the value
of the Cape. We thought it useful as a stopping-
place for our ships on the way to India, since in
those days there was no Suez Canal, and all the
India ships had to go round the Cape, instead of
going through the canal and the Red Sea as many
of them do now.

But the tip of the tongue turned out to be the
most useful part of South Africa, because it opened
the only easy way into the interior. The tip of
the tongue is healthy: the sides of the tongue are
very unhealthy. A trader who wishes to go up
country, and lands either on the west or on the
east (the sides of the tongue), has to make his


way through hot and sometimes marshy districts,
full of fever, and often plagued with tsetse -flies,
whose bite kills horses and oxen. Thus he risks
his life before he gets through this dangerous belt.
But the coast strip at the tip of the tongue is not
unhealthy: there are no fevers and no tsetse -flies.
From it the white man can make his way safely
up the country.

Thus Cape Colony and Natal have been the
gates of South Africa. The sides of the tongue
are of small value: the tip is important.

Cape Colony came into British hands as a result
of the long war with Napoleon. This is curious,
as Napoleon had nothing actually to do with the
colony, and probably hardly ever gave it a thought
in all his restless life. But Britain was at war
with the French, and the Dutch were allies of
the French; that is to say, Napoleon had overrun
Holland and had put one of his brothers on the
throne of it. So in the great war from 1803 to
1815 the British navy was busy in taking Dutch
colonies as well as French ones. To Portugal,
however, Britain was friendly — even helping it to
drive out the French — and therefore the British
did not touch the Portuguese colonies.

Supposing that it had been the other way, sup-
posing that what came into British hands had
been the eastern or western side of South Africa,
and not the south, it would have been much less






Cape Town


(Political Divisions.)

Natural Scale. 1:28,500,000.

English Miles

o 50 100 200 300 400


useful. Britain would then have got an unhealthy
side of the tongue, instead of the healthy tip. It
would have been hard to work inland. The Por-


' (Br.)




Natural Scale. 1:84,000,000.

English Miles

o 500 1000

tuguese have never pushed inland, nor has their
colony done well, because white men cannot live
in it safely.

Having got hold of the tip of the tongue, British


power has gradually pushed inland and north-
wards; but as it went north, it got farther from
the coast -line at the sides. For as British went
up the centre of the tongue the sides, sloping out-
wards, became more and more distant. Roughly
speaking, British territory in South Africa, north
of Cape Colony and Natal, is a strip running up
the middle. The sides do not belong to Britain.
The eastern coast has for a long time belonged to
Portugal. Rather less than twenty years ago the
west coast was seized by Germany, and farther
north again lies another strip of Portuguese ter-

This huge tract of country now belonging to
Britain includes a number of divisions. On the
coast in the south lies Cape Colony, with Natal
on its eastern border. The northern part of the
Cape Colony, which was known as British Bechu-
analand until it was annexed to the colony in
1895, and Rhodesia (formerly known as the
Bechuanaland Protectorate), which lies to the
north of British Bechuanaland, have German
South-west Africa lying between them and the
Atlantic; and the Orange River Colony and the
Transvaal bound them on the east: while further
north Portuguese East Africa lies between Rho-
desia and the Indian Ocean. Rhodesia is a vast
country extending beyond the river Zambesi, and
the British Central African Protectorate continues


the band of British territory as far as the southern
end of Lake Tanganyika.

The best way to divide Africa in our minds is
by the rivers, their " river basins ", the land which
they drain. If we leave out the Sahara and the
north-western coast, and also leave out short
rivers, we notice these four great districts, each
depending on a great river and its branches:
(1) Nigeria, drained by the Niger; (2) Egypt and
the Soudan, drained by the Nile; (3) the Congo
State and French Congo, drained by the Congo;
and (4) the country drained by the Zambesi.

The northern limit of British South Africa goes
indeed a little beyond the Zambesi basin, for part
of Northern Rhodesia is drained by streams whose
waters flow into the Congo. But except for
Northern Rhodesia, British South Africa is the
Zambesi basin and the basins of the rivers lying
south of it.


i. Settlement in South Africa

At the south end of Africa is the Cape of Good
Hope, a name so familiar to sailors that they have
come to call it " the Cape ", as if there were no
other cape in the world worth mentioning beside
it. On the map, indeed, you will see that the
most southerly point is really Cape Agulhas.
(Needles), lying farther to the south-east. You
will also notice that the tongue of land which ends
in the Cape of Good Hope looks much sharper,
more "needly" than Cape Agulhas.

The Portuguese were the first European visitors
to this part of the world. About the time that
America was discovered, a bold Portuguese navi-
gator, Bartholomew Diaz, discovered that Africa
seemed to end in a cape, which at first he called
the "Cape of Storms", but which afterwards was
called the " Cape of Good Hope " by the Portu-
guese king. The Cape of Good Hope became an
important half-way station on voyages to the East,
and for a long time was known only as possessing
a harbour.



The Dutch were the first to make a colony
there; and from the middle of the seventeenth
century their farms began to spread over the
interior. They were joined by a number of
Huguenots, or French Protestants, driven out of
France on account of their religion. In the great
war with Napoleon, a century ago, a British
garrison was sent to hold the Cape and keep open
for Britain the road to India. When these wars
were over, the Cape Colony, like other possessions,
remained in the hands of Britain, whose fleet had
made her mistress of the seas while Napoleon was
conquering all the mainland of Europe. British
colonists then began to mix with the original
Dutch settlers, all living together under British

But the two peoples did not always get on well
with each other. The Boers — that is, the Dutch
farmers — had been accustomed to make the natives
work for them as slaves. Englishmen had held
slaves too in their colonies, but many of them felt
this to be wrong; and about seventy years ago
the British parliament made a law that there
should be no more slavery under the British flag.
Money was to be paid to the owners of the slaves.
The Boers, however, complained that they were
not paid enough, and that the payments were not
made in money, but in drafts payable in London,
so that the farmer had to sell the drafts at a loss


to agents who advanced the money. Their dis-
content over this and other matters was so great
that thousands of them trekked, with all their
goods and cattle, to the wild country lying to the
north, where they might live free from British
rule; and they founded the Orange Free State, and
afterwards the South African Eepublic, or Trans-
vaal. For a time it seemed as if they had indeed
got beyond British rule altogether.

Many of them settled in Natal, the seaboard
country to the east; but this, too, was taken under
the British flag about sixty years ago, at first as
part of Cape Colony, though it soon was made
a separate colony. Then by degrees British power
spread inland. Britain took under its protection
Bechuanaland, lying to the west of the Dutch
states; then the Basutos, who lie to the south-east
of the Orange River Colony, fearing to be over-
come by the Boers, asked to be allowed to live
"under the large folds of the flag of England",
and their wish was granted.

In 1879 the British overcame the Zulus, and by
the annexation of Amatongaland (the country
stretching north-eastward along the coast to the
Portuguese territory) prevented the Boers of the
Transvaal from getting to the sea and having a
seaport from which they could communicate with
other nations freely, instead of being hedged in
by British and Portuguese lands. As Germany


had occupied a strip of the west coast, it became
most important to the British colony to secure
an open road to the north before the Germans,
spreading east, and the Boers, spreading west,
closed the way northwards. Indeed, the Boers
were already overflowing over their frontier, and
British troops under Sir Charles Warren were sent
to head them back.

Then the Chartered Company, directed by Mr.
Cecil Rhodes, settled for ever the question whether
the British colonies were to be hedged in, or
whether they were to have a free road to the
north. Very rapidly British power was spread
beyond the Kalahari Desert, into Matabeleland
and Mashonaland, completely surrounding the
Transvaal, reaching to the Zambesi River and even
beyond it. This great district of Ehodesia secures
a continuous strip of country under the British flag
more than 1800 miles in length, from Cape Town
to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika.

The Boer states, thus shut in by Britain's
growing colonies, did not prove friendly neigh-
bours. The end of Britain's quarrels with them
was the long and costly war which began in 1899,
and resulted in Britain's taking both the republics,
under the names of the Orange River Colony and
the Transvaal.



2. Surface Features of South Africa

The south end of the continent, more temperate
than those parts lying nearer the equator, is for
the most part a high-lying land with green plains,
grand mountains, rushing rivers, fine waterfalls,
and, now and then, fine forests. On the north and
west sides of Cape Colony, real sandy deserts can
be found; and all over it there are great patches
of barren heath. But, especially along the coast
and throughout the eastern parts, much of the
country is fertile and beautiful.

From the sea this region rises to the interior by
terraces, like gigantic steps, on which the higher
one goes the cooler the climate becomes. Inland
are several mountain ridges shutting in large flat
plains called karroos, which form a remarkable
feature of the scenery. These are stretches of flat
country, covered with thirsty and thorny shrubs
that wither up in dry weather, when the ground is
baked hard as a brick, and the only water found
is in shallow salt lakelets, crusted with a white
scum, except where some green patch shows that
a well has been sunk by settlers.

The plain called the Great Karroo stands as high
as an English mountain, and is bounded on the
north by ridges reaching to the height of 8000
feet above the sea-level. Beyond the mountains

(B83) b


again extend huge treeless plains towards the
desert of Kalahari. The highest of the ranges, on
the east side, is the Drakensberg, or " Dragon
Mountains", which rise to over 10,000 feet.

Karroo is a native name ; but most of the words
used here to express natural features are Dutch,
and as Dutch is a sort of cousin of English, these
words differ from English words only in spelling
and a little in pronunciation. Thus " berg ", which
is seen in iceberg, denotes a rugged mountain like
Table Mountain, or in its Dutch name " Tafel-
berg", the first striking feature of South Africa
that catches the eye of a visitor to Cape Town.
Scattered over the country lie "kopjes" (pro-
nounced "koppies"), in shape like Table Moun-
tain, that is to say with flat top and steep sides,
but much smaller. The name is connected with
the English word "cap". "Kloof" is a cleft, or
gap in the mountains, such as Lancashire folk also
called a dough ; and "klip" (cliff) is a rock. The
open country is spoken of as the "veld" (field),
which again is distinguished as " sweet veld " and
"sour veld", according to the pasture it grows,
while the name "bush veld" describes the way in
which much of it is covered by dense shrubs.

We must remember, then, that South Africa rises
in a set of terraces. If we could see a slice of the
country, going northwards from the south coast,
we should find it a series of steps : first the flattish


strip, often very narrow, near the coast; then the
step up the Langeberg, which takes us on to the
fiat Little Karroo; up another step (the Zwarte
Berg) to the Great Karroo; up a third step (the
Nieuwveld) to the higher plains, which lead on
over the north of Cape Colony to the Orange
River Colony, and thence to the Transvaal. It is
hard to believe that such flat plains are in some
cases higher than the top of the highest British

Thus, when the traveller is looking inland, and
uphill, he thinks much of South Africa to be a
rugged mountainous land. If he is looking sea-
wards, and downhill, the mountains seem quite
small, because the ground itself is so high.

But there is another thing to notice about the
mountains. Starting from Cape Town, where they
are close to the sea, the ranges run eastwards, al-
ways coming closer together, and becoming higher.
By the time they turn north-eastwards towards
Natal they are very high. Some of the peaks
of the Drakensberg, or Quathlamba, Mountains, as
the range is here called, are nearly 11,000 feet in
height — as high as the Pyrenees. But still they
keep not far from the sea, as they run north-east-
wards. From the coast it is a tremendous climb
up. But, once up, there is no very long descent,
because the land at the back lies so high. Thus,
from Durban to Van Reenen's Pass, in Natal, you


climb 5500 feet, but when you come out on the
side of the Orange River Colony, you have only a
few hundred feet to come down.

3. The Climate of South Africa

It is this arrangement of the mountains that
settles the climate of South Africa. Climate de-
pends partly on latitude (that is to say, the distance
north or south of the equator), partly on the height
of the country, and partly on the direction in
which the wind blows. Where, in the tropics, or
in what are called low latitudes, 1 the sun at noon
rises very high in the sky it is likely to be hot,
because the sun shines with great power. Again,
a high land is cooler than a low-lying one; and if
rain is to come, it conies with the wind.

If wind is to bring rain, it must have passed
over the sea, or some very damp region whence it
can absorb water; but all winds, even if they blow
over the sea, will not bring the same amount of
rain. Hot air can hold a great deal of moisture,
cold air very little. Now, west winds are not
common in South Africa; but even if they were,
they would not bring much rain, for the current

1 Lines of latitude are numbered from the equator, which is number 0,
to the pole, numbered 90. Therefore low latitudes are latitudes close to
the equator, whose number is small.


on the west coast of Africa is cold, and the wind
from it brings little moisture. The prevailing-
winds come from the east and south-east. They
blow over the hot Indian Ocean, and they get
filled with moisture. But as soon as they strike
South Africa they meet these eastern-lying moun-
tains. In order to cross these mountains the air
has to rise; as it rises it gets cooler; when it gets
cooler it cannot hold so much water; and what it
can no longer hold falls as rain. But when the
winds have passed the mountains they are dry;
they have no more rain to give.

Thus, the wet part of South Africa is near the
coast, especially in the south-east. Here, in the
wet season of the year (the months November to
January), come tremendous rain-storms and violent
thunder-storms, hail-storms with hailstones at times
as big as pigeons' eggs, falling with enough force
even to kill cattle or break holes in a corrugated
iron roof. The rivers rise in furious flood. A
brook that you could wade easily across in the
morning may in the afternoon be twenty feet deep,
a roaring torrent hurrying east or south to the sea.

But as soon as you go away from the coast and
the mountains in the east, the country gets drier
and drier. The coast strip and the land lying east
of the railway which runs from East London
through Bloemfontein to Pretoria gets quite a fair
amount of rain, though it falls in one season and


not all through the year as it does in England.
The western half of the Orange River Colony and
the Transvaal get about half the amount. Bechu-
analand gets less than a quarter. In the Kalahari
Desert rain hardly ever falls. The winds there
are very dry, and there are no hills to catch what
moisture there is.

On the rain depends the fertility of the country.
In the southern and eastern coast strip it is hot
and damp, hot-country plants grow, such as the
bamboo and the banana, and crops such as rice
and sugar. Farther inland it is higher, drier, and
less hot, and the vine does well, with crops of
wheat and other cereals. The very dry land of the
interior is of little use except for pasture. When,
by means of water stored in ponds and dams, the
fields can be watered, crops grow, but most of the
soil is too much burnt for crops.

When, however, we travel north, beyond the
Transvaal, into Matabeleland and Mashonaland,
we get into a better-watered country. Parts of
Khodesia near the Limpopo or Crocodile Eiver,
and also the part near the Zambesi, are compara-
tively low-lying. The land slopes down gradually
to these rivers. But part of Mashonaland is very
high, and yet well watered. That is because there
is no range of high mountains to the east of it
to catch the rain before it gets there. On the
contrary, Mashonaland itself acts as the rain- trap.


Thus, while Bechuanaland is bare, Khodesia is a
grassy land, where there are streams, and trees, and
shrubs, and plenty of pasture.

But the climate is healthy even in the dry dis-
tricts where the hot wind blows, driving along
clouds of red dust before it, where, in the dazzling
sunshine, the traveller is deceived by what seems
a silvery lake, but only turns out to be a " salt
pan ", or a deceitful " mirage " making the barren
plain look like water. Drought burns the land,
but this dry air and country is really far more
healthy than the moist districts below. A plain
twenty miles across looks as if one could stroll
over it in an hour, and mountains a day's journey
off seem but three or four miles away. This
is the country that suits white men best.

It is not heat that makes a climate unhealthy:
it is heat and moisture. We feel choked in a
greenhouse, where it is damp; but out in the
summer sun, where it is dry, we feel strong and
vigorous, although it may be much hotter than
the stuffy greenhouse.

The healthiness of the veld air may be
judged by the clearness of it. On the high
veld the air feels delightfully fresh, and often
gives back health to men whose lungs are weak.
They may perhaps recover by spending a single
winter on the warm yet bracing heights of South
Africa. Winter time on the north side of the


equator is, of course, summer to the south of it;
but the winter does not make so much differ-
ence as it does in England, though in the moun-
tains ice and snow can sometimes be found. Even
when the warmth of the days makes men glad to
take off their coats, the nights are often tryingly
cold on the uplands.

But it is these cold nights that prove so re-
freshing. While in the heat of midsummer in
New York, and sometimes even in London, a
blanket is too hot at night, the traveller in Rho-
desia, although he is within the tropics, is always
glad of a woollen covering after the sun is down ;
and he rises fresh and restored instead of being
worn out by restlessly tossing in a stifling air.

4. The Rivers of South Africa

Once more we must look at the mountain ranges
of South Africa, for on them depend the rivers of
the country.

At a first glance on the map we should be
inclined to think South Africa well provided with
rivers. Along the south and east coast we see
a number of streams, the Breede, the Gouritz,
the Gamtoos, Sundays River, the Great Fish River,

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Online LibraryGeorge Townsend WarnerThe geography of British South Africa → online text (page 1 of 10)