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The Maritz Rebellion or the Boer Revolt or the Five Shilling Rebellion , occurred in South Africa in 1914 at the start of World War I, in which men who supported the recreation of the old Boer republics rose up against the government of the Union of South Africa. Many members of the government were themselves former Boers who had fought with the Maritz rebels against the British in the Second Boer War, which had ended twelve years earlier. The rebellion failed, and the ringleaders received heavy fines and terms of imprisonment.


At the end of the Boer War twelve years earlier, all Boer soldiers had been asked to sign an undertaking that they would abide by the peace terms. Some, like Deneys Reitz, refused and were exiled from South Africa. Over the following decade many returned home, and not all of them signed the undertaking upon returning. At the end of the Boer War those Boers who had fought to the bitter end were known as "bittereinders" (bitter enders); by the time of the rebellion, those who had not taken the oath and wanted to start a new war had also become known as the "bitter enders".

A German journalist who interviewed the former Boer general J.B.M. Hertzog for the Tägliche Rundschau wrote:
"Hertzog believes that the fruit of the three-year struggle by the Boers is that their freedom, in the form of a general South African Republic, will fall into their laps as soon as England is involved in a war with a Continental power."
Paraphrasing the Irish Nationalists' "England's misfortune is the bitter enders' opportunity", the "bitter enders" and their supporters saw the start of World War I as an opportunity, particularly since England's enemy, Germany, was their old supporter.

The First World War starts

The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in August 1914 had long been anticipated, and the government of the Union of South Africa was well aware of the significance of the common border South Africa shared with the German colony of South-West Africa. Prime Minister Louis Botha informed London that South Africa could defend itself and that the imperial garrison could depart for Francemarker; when the British government asked Botha whether his forces would invade German South-West Africa, the reply was that they could and would.

South African troops were mobilised along the border between the two countries under the command of General Henry Lukin and Lieutenant Colonel Manie Maritz early in September 1914. Shortly afterwards, another force occupied the German port of Lüderitzmarker.

The rebellion

When the South African government had offered to invade the German colonies, the commander-in-chief of the Union Defence Force General Christiaan Beyers resigned, writing "It is sad that the war is being waged against the 'barbarism' of the Germans. We have forgiven but not forgotten all the barbarities committed in our own country during the South African War", referring to the atrocities committed by the British during the Boer War. A nominated senator, General Koos de la Rey, who had refused to support the government in parliament over this issue, visited Beyers. On 15 September they set off together to visit Major JCG Kemp in Potchefstroommarker, who had a large armoury and a force of 2,000 men who had just finished training, many of whom were thought to be sympathetic to the rebels' ideas.

Although it is not known what the purpose of their visit was, the South African government believed it to be an attempt to instigate a rebellion, as stated in the Government Blue Book on the rebellion. According to General Beyers it was to discuss plans for the simultaneous resignation of leading army officers as protest against the government's actions, similar to what had happened in Britain two years earlier in the Curragh incident over the Irish Home Rule Bill. On the way to the meeting de la Rey was accidentally shot by a policeman at a road block set up to look for the Foster gang. At his funeral, however, many Nationalist Afrikaners believed and perpetuated the rumour that it was a government assassination, which added fuel to the fire; this was even further inflamed by Siener van Rensburg and his controversial prophecies. The theory of a government assassination holds sway to this day.

General Maritz, who was head of a commando of Union forces on the border of German South-West Africa, allied himself with the Germans and issued a proclamation on behalf of a provisional government which stated that "the former South African Republic and Orange Free State as well as the Cape Province and Natal are proclaimed free from British control and independent, and every White inhabitant of the mentioned areas, of whatever nationality, are hereby called upon to take their weapons in their hands and realize the long-cherished ideal of a Free and Independent South Africa." It was announced that Generals Beyers, De Wet, Maritz, Kemp and Bezuidenhout were to be the first leaders of this provisional government. Maritz's forces occupied Keimoes in the Upington area. The Lydenburgmarker commando under General De Wet took possession of the town of Heilbronmarker, held up a train and captured government stores and ammunition. Some of the prominent citizens of the area joined him, and by the end of the week he had a force of 3,000 men. Beyers also gathered a force in the Magaliesberg; in all, about 12,000 rebels rallied to the cause. The irony was that General Louis Botha had around 32 000 troops to counter the rebels and of the 32 000 troops about 20 000 of them were Afrikaners.

The government declared martial law on 14 October 1914, and forces loyal to the government under the command of General Louis Botha and Jan Smuts proceeded to destroy the rebellion. General Maritz was defeated on 24 October and took refuge with the Germans. The Beyers commando was attacked and dispersed at Commissioners Drift on 28 October, after which Beyers joined forces with Kemp, but drowned in the Vaal Rivermarker on 8 December. General De Wet was captured in Bechuanaland, and General Kemp, having taken his commando across the Kalahari desertmarker, losing 300 out of 800 men and most of their horses on the 1,100 kilometre month-long trek, joined Maritz in German South-West Africa, but returned after about a week and surrendered on 4 February 1915.


After the Maritz rebellion was suppressed, the South African army continued their operations into German South-West Africa and conquered it by July 1915 (see the South-West Africa Campaign for details).

Compared to the fate of leading Irish rebels of the Easter Rising in 1916, the leading Boer rebels got off relatively lightly with terms of imprisonment of six and seven years and heavy fines. Two years later, they were released from prison, as Louis Botha recognised the value of reconciliation. After this, the "bitter enders" concentrated on working within the constitutional system and built up the National Party which would come to dominate the politics of South Africa from the late 1940s until the early 1990s, when the apartheid system they had constructed also fell.

See also


Further reading

  • "Agter Die Skerms met Die Rebelle" by C. F. McDonald, (1949)
'"Coenrath Frederik McDonald's inimitable 5 volume account of his adventures on the South African frontier, between 1895 and 1915, has acquired cult status. Collectively, his account is probably the finest & most informative frontier memoir ever to appear in South Africa. It covers experiences in the Boer War, on the Orange River among the trekboers, the Nama–German war, 1914 Rebellion and aftermath. This volume is an insider account of Maritz's Rebellion in the North-West, the alliance with the Germans, the clashes on the Orange River (including the little-known Battle of Kakamas), and the arrival of Kemp's commando. Much also on Siener van Rensburg and his prophecies."

  • Report on the Outbreak of the Rebellion and the Policy of the Government With Regard to its Suppression, HMSO, 1915, Cd.7874


  1. General De Wet publicly unfurled the rebel banner in October, when he entered the town of Reitz at the head of an armed commando. He summoned all the town and demanded that the court shorthand writer take down every word he said, among which he complained: "I was charged before [the Magistrate of Reitz] for beating a native boy. I only did it with a small shepherd's whip, and for that I was fined 5/–". On hearing the contents of the speech, General Smuts christened the rising as "the Five Shilling Rebellion". (Sol Plaatje References)
  2. The "Blue Book" was issued by the Union of South Africa government on 26 February 1915, entitled "[The] Report on the Outbreak of the Rebellion and the Policy of the Government with regard to its Suppression".( J.G. Orford References)

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