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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Concentration camps.

Concentration camps.

Auschwitz? No British concentration camps in South Africa 1900 – 1902.

This photo of Lizzy van Zyl, was taken just before she died.

Unknown. Did he survive, I wouldn't think so.

This little girls mother had obviously combed her hair so she would look "good" for the photo.

In August 1899 the Anglo Boer War, (1899 - 1902) broke out between the mighty British Empire and two small South African Republics, the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, (Transvaal) and the Free State Republic. This war also known as the South African War was started by Britain ostensibly to protect the rights of the thousands of foreign mines workers, but in reality it was to gain complete control of the mineral wealth, (gold & diamonds).

South Africa. The blue is British Cape colony and the red, Natal colony. Orange, the Free State Republic, also known as the Model Republic because it was so well run. The green part the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, also know as the Traansvaal. The British had no argument with the Free State, they had stolen the Free State diamond fields a decade earlier, but the Free State'rs decide to side with their kin across the Vaal River.

The armed forces of both Republics never exceeded 50,000 and during the guerrilla fase was down to less than 20,000. The British forces, (eventually totaling more than 300,000) after some severe setbacks soon completed their invasion and occupied both capitals and other major centers. Occupy a country’s capital and the war is over right? Wrong, it had only started.

The Boer forces were highly mobile mounted Kommando’s, each man supplied his own horse and supplies, the Mauser rifles and ammunition were supplied by the Government. Uniform? Well uniform was whatever you were wearing when you left home.  Every burgher, (citizen) was a natural horseman, (almost born in the saddle you could say) and a crack shot with a rifle, miss, there was no such thing.

Out in the veld the Boers led the British a merry dance, attack suddenly and disappear. Ambush, and before the Brits could wipe out their eyes, the Boers disappeared like mist before the sun. When they needed food and clothing they just stopped at the nearest farm, where the women and children were looking after the home front. Arms and ammunition they took from the British, when theirs ran out.

Boers at war. The man in the middle is General Peter de Wet. Note the old grey beard on the left, boys from the age of 16 to old men of 70 plus, went to war. The General would have had no "Military academy" training. All officer were elected by their men, and if they were useless just as easily demoted back to the ranks.

For the British this was an untenable situation, a war against some Hilly Billy, peasant farmers, which should have been over in a few weeks, (home by Christmas) was dragging on and on and costing millions of pounds a month, and thousands of lives. Lord Kitchner, (he of the famous poster, above), came up with the idea, deprive the Boer forces of their source of supply, ie, the farms and families of the Boer fighters. Thus was born his scorched earth policy. More than 30,000 farms and 40 towns were destroyed, 90% of all livestock destroyed and all crops burned. My great grandfather, Andries Eksteen’s, (he was POW in Ceylon at the time) farm was one of those slated for destruction. Fortunately for him, the black farm workers, had herded all the livestock into the hills. The British troops set fire to the house and rode off to the next farm. The Sotho workers put the fire out and hid all the family’s possessions in caves. (many of these workers died in British concentration camps which were set up for blacks. Estimates of black deaths in these camps vary from between 40,000 to 100,000). When my great grandfather returned from prisoner of war camp, in Ceylon, he found a basically working farm, most of the other POW’s returned to poverty and destitution.

Burning farm house, strange how people must record their sins. After the war the British parliament voted a three million pound reconstruction package, about as much as it cost to wage the war for a month.

(Horatio Kitchner, 1st Earl Kitchner. Butcher of South Africa and butcher of Omdurman, (1889)(30,000+ Fuzzy Wuzzyz killed, 15,000 killed outright and 15,000 left to die of their wounds on the battle field. British casualties? 48. British hero. The epitome of Victorian manhood.)

The homeless women and children? Concentrate them in special camps, hence the term “Concentration camps.” Conditions in these camps were horrendous, inadequate food and shelter and very little medical care. Typhoid, measles, whooping cough, and other infectious diseases were rife.  The food supplied was barely enough to survive on, never mind fight off infections. My grandmother was a baby of about one year old when she entered one of these camps, and survived, but ended up completely deaf due to contracting a whole host of the above  mentioned diseases.

British propaganda photo. New arrivals in camp having tea. 

The death toll eventually reached almost 28,000, most of these were women and children. You might say “but compared to what happened later in the 20th Century  that hardly counts”. True, but when you consider that this was 10% of the total Boer population, it counts.

Result:  An extremely paranoid Afrikaner nation, (the only people on the continent of Africa who call themselves “African” as their national/tribal name) and eventually “Apartheid”. They were never going to allow others to rule them again. 

The bitterness left by the war lasted well into the 70's of the 20th Century, and here's me more than a hundred years later and I still remember it.


OneStonedCrow said...

Interesting post Phillip - I recently discovered that, as a young girl, my Great Grandmother (who died shortly after her hundredth birthday), had been interred in one of the concentration camps with her siblings - she lost two brothers and a sister there ...

Gorges Smythe said...

I doubt if even Rome had as much blood on it's hands as does the British Monarchy.

Pumice said...

Not a pleasant read but needed. Evil lurks in our hearts. I knew there was a Boer War but I had never heard of the atrocities.

Grace and peace.

Joyful said...

This an interesting, albeit disturbing bit of history. It is so terrible what humans do to other humans.

Anonymous said...

Let us take a moment to remind ourselves of the atrocities committed by the Afrikaners during apartheid toward black and coloured South Africans. Not everyone is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Concentration camps and townships seem pretty similar to me.