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Monday, 4 April 2011

Concentration camp

Herman Charles Bosman did not only write humorous things.

The term concentration camp was coined during the Anglo/Boer War, 1899-1902. By the mid 1900 the Boer forces had resorted to guerrilla warfare in the face of the overwhelming numbers of British troops, 350,000 vs. 75000. The Boer split up into small groups of well mounted men. These Komando's  struck with lightning speed and disappeared just as quickly. Their source of supply were their farms.

The British High Command in South Africa decided to destroy the farms and concentrate the women and children in camps, a scorched earth policy was implemented. These camps were poorly planned and catered for and the inmates died by the thousands, of cholera, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and other infectious diseases. Estimates of how many died vary but most agree that at least 26,000 women and children died, that out of a population of about 300,000. The  black African workers on the farms were also placed in camps where conditions were even worse, where between 40,000 and a 100,000 died, no one is sure of the numbers because no records were kept.

My great grandfathers workers managed to escape with most of his livestock into the mountains. His daughters were not so lucky, and were rounded up. My grandmother emerged from the camps deaf and dumb.

Here's an extract from Bosman's short story "The Rooinek". Rooinek or Redneck was a derogatory term for an Englishman, Their necks always burnt red from the Africa sun.

"I was in the veld until they made peace. Then we laid down our rifles and went home. What I knew my farm by, was the hole under the kopie where I quarried slate-stones for the threshing  floor. That was about all that remained as I left it. Everything else was gone. My home was burnt down. My lands were laid waste. My cattle and sheep slaughtered. Even the stones I had piled for the kraals were pulled down. My wife came out of the concentration camp and we went together to look at our old farm. My wife had gone into the concentration camp with our two children, but she came out alone. And  when I saw her again and noticed the way she had changed, I knew that I, who had been through all the fighting, had not seen the Boer War."

This legacy of the concentration camps left the Afrikaners very bitter, it lead to rabid Afrikaaner nationalism, which eventually lead to Apartdheid . Always strange to me how people who were oppressed forget so quickly and become opressors.


Gaelyn said...

A sad story that seems to reoccur all over the world.

Gorges Smythe said...

It certainly explains the hatred some have for the British.