Russia and South Africa Before the Soviet Era

39 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2013

See all articles by Apollon Davidson

Apollon Davidson

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Date Written: April 18, 2013


This article is devoted to relations between Russia and South Africa from the mid-17th to the early 19th century. It covers first attempts at sending Russian expeditions around the Cape of Good Hope by Peter the Great and Catherine II and describes how the first Russians reached the Cape from the other end, from Kamchatka. It goes on to describe the trips to the Cape by Russian naval officers and other Russians, some of whom spent a long time in South Africa and left interesting descriptions of the Cape. A unique testimony to the fact that black South Africans knew about Russia is presented in the letter of a Pondo chief to the Russian tsar. The most significant part of Russia’s relations with South Africa was its preoccupation with South African affairs during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1900, when Russian volunteers went to fight for the Boers and two medical detachments were sent to treat their wounded. At that time Russia even established diplomatic relations with Transvaal. Mutual interest in the mining sphere is also analysed, and relations between some Russian and South African intellectuals are mentioned. Immigration of Russian Jews to South Africa is also described.

Keywords: South Africa, Transvaal, Anglo–Boer War, Peter the Great, Witsen, Cathrine the Great, Beniovsky, Golovnin, Goncharov, van Riebeeck, Nicholas II, Grand Duke Alexei, Pondo, Olive Schreiner, Leipoldt, Maximov, Russian Jews

JEL Classification: N97

Suggested Citation

Davidson, Apollon, Russia and South Africa Before the Soviet Era (April 18, 2013). Higher School of Economics Research Paper No. WP BRP 21/HUM/2013, Available at SSRN: or

Apollon Davidson (Contact Author)

National Research University Higher School of Economics ( email )

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