According to shanskraal,

[Thomas Burgers, president of the Transvaal Republic] considered a railway link with the non-British port of Delagoa Bay (Maputo) as essential for the economic survival of the country.

This was in the mid-1870s when the Transvaal was on good terms with Britain and the Cape Colony. Later, in the early 1890s when relations had greatly deteriorated, the Transvaal under the hardline Paul Kruger explicitly sought a railway link to a port not controlled by the British, for strategic reasons. But I am surprised they would be thinking along those lines already in the mid-1870s under the moderate and progressive Thomas Burgers.

Was the Transvaal in fact already thinking about the strategic advantages of a link to the sea that didn't pass through British territory?

Or were there geographical reasons for preferring to go east instead of taking the apparently more economically useful route south through the Orange Free State and the Cape Colony?

  • 1
    Maputo certainly looks closer to Pretoria than heading south. If the goal is to get goods in and out of the Transvaal it looks like the harbor to head towards regardouf you like the folks to the south or not.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 2 '20 at 17:50
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    Lesotho is an enclaved country surrounded by South Africa. Their economic survival largely depends on maintaining good relations with SA since their access to the outside world depends on the goodwill of their neighbour. Being completely surrounded by SA, Lesotho doesn't have a choice. The Transvaal was in essentially the same position in the mid 1870s. It wasn't that relations between the Transvaal & the British colonies were bad at that time, just that any deterioration in those relations in the future could threaten the economic survival of the Transvaal. Their alternative was Delagoa Bay Oct 2 '20 at 23:25
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    Of course, the Darkensberg mountains also posed a logistical challenge, although, as the railways constructed by the Natal government in the 1890s demonstrated, not an insurmountable one. Oct 2 '20 at 23:37
  • @rwallace Out of sheer curiosity, are you Wallaces related?
    – Jos
    Oct 4 '20 at 2:07
  • 1
    @Jos Not that I know of!
    – rwallace
    Oct 5 '20 at 6:10

... when the Transvaal was on good terms with Britain ...

That's very relatively speaking. The Boers in general did not like the British very much, to put it mildly. The Transvaal Republic was founded about 20 years after the Great Trek. The British recognized it, for lack of better options. At its founding, Transvaal wasn't worth marching a battalion of British soldiers, let alone die for it. It was too poor for that. That changed when gold was discovered, but that was in the future.

Building a train line to the west to connect with Portuguese Angola was impossible. Down south was possible, but controlled by the British. Boers were clever enough to understand that this was strategically not a good idea. The only option left over was to build a line east, to connect with Portuguese Mozambique.

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