A Military History of South Africa
From the Dutch-Khoi Wars to the End of Apartheid
by Timothy J. Stapleton
April 2010, 229pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-36589-8
$95, £74, 83€, A131
eBook Available: 978-0-313-36590-4
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Africa is rapidly taking on new importance in global geopolitical thinking on a number of fronts, in particular the military dimension and the role of the continental “superpower,” the Republic of South Africa, in African affairs. Yet, apart from what may have been gleaned from films and novels, the nation’s military history remains remarkably unfamiliar to most outsiders.

This work offers the first one-volume comprehensive military history of modern South Africa.

A Military History of South Africa: From the Dutch-Khoi Wars to the End of Apartheid represents the first comprehensive military history of South Africa from the beginning of European colonization in the Cape during the 1650s to the current postapartheid republic. With particular emphasis on the last 200 years, this balanced analysis stresses the historical importance of warfare and military structures in the shaping of modern South African society. Important themes include military adaptation during the process of colonial conquest and African resistance, the growth of South Africa as a regional military power from the early 20th century, and South African involvement in conflicts of the decolonization era.

Organized chronologically, each chapter reviews the major conflicts, policies, and military issues of a specific period in South African history. Coverage includes the wars of colonial conquest (1830-69), the diamond wars (1869-81), the gold wars (1886-1910), World Wars I and II (1910-45), and the apartheid wars (1948-94).


  • A comprehensive chronology overviews South African military history with particular emphasis on the last 200 years
  • Maps are included with each chapter
Timothy J. Stapleton is professor of African history at Trent University, Ontario, Canada, and has taught at Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. His published works include Maqoma: Xhosa Resistance to Colonial Advance 1798-1873, Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c.1780-1867), and No Insignificant Part: The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East Africa Campaign of the First World War.


"The publication of A Military History of South Africa: From the Dutch-Khoi Wars to the End of Apartheid is most definitely going to be exciting for scholars and students of African military history because it arguably marks one of the few times that a comprehensive military history of an African country from the earliest time possible to the present has been published. . . . Stapleton thus successfully provides his readers with an illuminating study of warfare and military structures in the evolution of the South African society from the seventeenth century to the end of apartheid."—Canadian Journal of African Studies, September 1, 2011

"In all, this is a book written by someone who greatly enjoys his subject. Although explicitly a military history, this fluidly written work is more than merely military history and will appeal to a broad range of readers interested in African and South African history. With its chronologically ordered, compact and well balanced chapters, the book is ideally suited for teaching and will form a welcome addition to any reading list on South African history."—Journal of Military History, July 1, 2011

"Essential for large libraries in South Africa. Summing Up: Recommended. Academic and larger public libraries with African studies collections. Undergraduates and general readers."—Choice, February 1, 2011

"Many historians have specialized in studying specific South African military campaigns, but until now they have understandably flinched from the daunting task of bringing the extensive literature together in a single, comprehensive overview of South Africa at war. Tim Stapleton has risen admirably to the challenge. In his assured and commendably dispassionate synthesis (and this is a field where partisan passions rise high) he adeptly weaves his crisp but authoritative accounts of more than 300 years of military operations into the complex technological, political, economic and social contexts that give them significance. Thoroughly up-to-date and informed, this book provides the ideal introduction to the bloodied recorded history of South Africa that begins with armed clashes between European colonizers and African societies, and culminates in the armed struggle between the apartheid state and the forces of the liberation struggle."—John Laband, Professor of History, Wilfrid Laurier University

"In A Military History of South Africa, Tim Stapleton provides a rich overview of more than three hundred years of conflict, from the Khoisan guerilla struggles against Dutch settler expansion and the Xhosa wars on the Eastern frontier to early nineteenth- century Zulu state formation and the 'Diamond' and 'Gold' Wars of the later century, to South Africa’s participation in the world wars, and its role in the liberation struggles of independent Africa. He also examines the Boer commando structure, the creation of the South African Defence Force, the military struggles of the armed wings of the ANC and PAC, and the difficult transition of the armed forces in post-Apartheid South Africa. A Military History of South Africa is an important contribution by one of the field’s most respected scholars." —Stephen M. Miller, author of Volunteers on the Veld and Lord Methuen and the British Army

"A superb review of warfare in South African history during the last three hundred and fifty years, Tim Stapleton's book strikes an important theme which no historian has hitherto systematically presented in this manner. Diverse and contradictory historical interpretations are critically analyzed and brilliantly synthesized. Stapleton is correct to argue that warfare in Southern Africa shaped South Africa's identities overtime and the identities of many other countries in Southern Africa. Memory of warfare inspired different nationalisms and struggles. In the end, it was understanding the potential destruction of continued warfare that justified negotiations and reconciliations in South Africa."—Ackson M. Kanduza, Department of History, University of Botswana, Gaborone

"The critical role played by armed force in the forging of South Africa will be obvious to the most casual observer, yet up to now it has never gotten the kind of concentrated attention Tim Stapleton gives to it in this book. This is a book very much in the vein of the 'new military history,' with its emphasis on the intersection between war and society. But the greatest virtue of Stapleton’s work is that it doesn’t stop with the 'heroic' period of South African warfare, with the Zulu and Boer wars, but goes on to demonstrate in great detail the importance of armed force to the maintenance of the apartheid regime in the late twentieth century and to the movements that resisted it."—Bruce Vandervort, Editor, The Journal of Military History
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