New Zealand's First Military Adventure: Revisiting the Anglo-Boer War


New Zealand contributed troops and materiel to the South African War way beyond what was expected from such a comparatively small colony. But what did these troops go to do? Why did they think it was important? Who were they fighting against? And what were their motives for taking on the might of the British Empire?

This course looks the causes of the war and how it was fought. It also offers the opportunity to reflect on the nature of this war and its ultimate outcomes.

Pre-course activity:
You will be emailed readings and links to internet sources before the course, to help you with in-class discussion during session 1.

Target audience:
This course is for anyone interested in military history, South African history and how humans perceive and achieve their own best interests.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • explored the causes of the South African War as seen by both sides in the struggle
  • traced the development of the war in terms of military strategy and how fixed-piece battles gave way to guerrilla warfare
  • noted the use made of a scorched-earth policy by General Kitchener and the longer term consequences for the politics of post-bellum South Africa
  • investigated the perceptions of some of the major personalities who influenced the war and its outcomes
  • mapped selected events that influenced the way the South African nation has evolved since the Act of Union in 1910.

Course outline:
The course involves a mix of interactive lecture presentations and in-class discussions that look at the issues that dominated the evolution of South African politics and policies throughout the 20th century. Session topics include the following.

Session 1: South Africa before the war – causes of the war
Session 2: The self-image of Britain and her colonies at the time of the Anglo–Boer War
Session 3: The opening strategies and battles – Boer and British
Session 4: Prominent personalities – Rhodes, Milner, Kruger, Botha, Smuts, de Wet, Ghandi, Buller, Roberts, Kitchener, Haig, French
Session 5: The guerrilla phase and Kitchener’s scorched-earth policy – events leading to the Treaty of Vereeniging
Session 6: How the war and its aftermath dominated 20th century South African politics and policies

A short break is held halfway through each session, and you are welcome to bring refreshments if you wish.

Tony Hooper was a senior lecturer at the School of Information Management at Victoria University from 2002–16. Formerly the University Librarian at the University of Cape Town (1980–98), Tony has also been a research biologist, commissioned infantry officer, tour guide and published author. His interest in the human phenomenon of warfare flows from lifelong reading about the Zulu and Anglo–Boer wars and many visits to the sites of major battles in South Africa, Europe and the United States.

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.