British Concentration Camps
Just over a century ago during the Boer War, the British were responsible for about 27,000 deaths of innocent women and children who were rounded up and placed in British concentration camps after burning them out of their own farms and settlements in (now) South Africa.
The Second War of Independence was fought from 1899 to 1902 when England laid her hands on the mineral riches of (Transvaal) under the false pretense of protecting the rights of the foreigners who swarmed to the Transvaal gold fields.
On the battlefield England failed to get the better of the Boers (Dutch-descendants), and then decided to stoop to a full-scale war against the Boer women and children, employing a holocaust to force the burghers to surrender.
Under the command of Kitchener, Milner and Roberts, more than homesteads and farms belonging to Boer people were plundered and burned down. Animals belonging to the Boers were killed in the cruelest ways possible while the women, whose men were on the battlefield, had to watch helplessly. The motive behind this action was the destruction of the farms in order to prevent the fighting burghers from obtaining food, and to demoralize the Boers by leaving their women and children homeless on the open field.
However, England misjudged the steel of the Boer people. Despite their desperate circumstances, the women and children managed to survive fairly well in the open and their men continued their fight against the [foreign] invader.
More severe measures had to be taken. The English hoarded the Boer women and children into open cattle trucks or drove them on foot to concentration camps. To the world, England pretended to act very humanely by caring for the fighting Boers’ women and children in “refugee camps”.
The Cape Argus of 21 June 1900 clearly states that the destitution of these women and children was the result of the English’s plundering of farms: “Within 10 miles we (the English) burned not less than six farm homesteads. Between 30 and 40 homesteads were burned and totally destroyed between Bloemfontein and Boshoff. Many others were also burned down. With their houses destroyed, the women and children were left in the bitter South African winter in the open.” The British history text book says nothing about this.
Awfully generous of the English to care for those whose houses they destroyed!
Breytenbach writes in Danie Theron: “The destruction was undertaken in a diabolic way and even Mrs Prinsloo, a 22 year old lady who gave birth to a baby only 24 hours ago in the house of Van Niekerk, was not spared. A group of rude tommies (British soldiers), amongst whom a so-called English doctor, forced their way into her room, and after making a pretence of examining her, they drove her out of the house. With the aid of her sister, she managed to don a few articles of clothing and left the house. Her mother brought a blanket to protect her against the cold. The soldiers robustly jerked the blanket out of her mother’s hands and after having looted whatever they wanted to, put the house to fire. Afterwards the old man was driven on foot to Kroonstad by mounted kakies (British soldiers), while his wife and daughter (Mrs Prinsloo) were left destitute on the scorched farm.”
England’s claim of caring for the Boer women reminds one of somebody who boasts to have saved the life of someone he himself has pushed into the water. However, there is one vital difference: The holocaust on the Boer women and children began in all earnest once they had been forced into the concentration camps under the “care” of the British!
Despite the English claims that the concentration camps were “voluntary refugee camps” the following questions must be asked:
- From whom did the refugees flee? Certainly not from their own husbands and sons!
- How can the fact that the “voluntary” women and children had to be dragged to the concentration camps by force be explained?
- Why should the “voluntary refugee camps” be enclosed by barbed wire fences and the inmates be overseen by armed wardens? Kimberley camp had a five meter high barbed wire fence and some camps even had two or three fences!
- Why would one of the camp commanders make the following statement quoted by Emily Hobhouse: “The wardens were under orders not to interfere with the inmates, unless they should try to escape.”? What kind of “voluntary refugee” would want to escape?
Perhaps the words of the Welsh William Redmond are closer to the truth: “The way in which these wretched, unfortunate and poor women and children are treated in South Africa is barbarous, outrageous, scandalous and disgraceful.”
The English claim of decent actions towards the Boer women and children are further contradicted by the location of the concentration camps. The military authorities, who often had to plan and erect camps for their soldiers, would certainly have been well aware of the essential requirements for such camps. Yet the concentration camps were established in the most unsuitable locations possible. Merebank camp was located in a swamp where there was an abundance of various kinds of insects. Water oozed out of the ground, ensuring that everything was constantly wet and slimy.
By October 1900 there were already 58,883 people in concentration camps in Transvaal and 45,306 in the Free State.
The amenities in the camps were clearly planned to kill as many of the women and children as possible. They were accommodated in tattered reject tents which offered no protection against the elements.
Emily Hobhouse, the Cornish lady who campaigned for better conditions for the Boer women, wrote: “Throughout the night there was a downpour. Puddles of water were everywhere. They tried to get themselves and their possessions dry on the soaked ground.”
In Springfontein camp, 19 to 20 people where crammed into one tent. There were neither beds nor mattresses and nearly the whole camp population had to sleep on the bare ground, which was damp most of the time.
One person wrote the following plea for aid to the New York Herald: “In the name of small children who have to sleep in open tents without fire, with barely any clothes, I plea for help.”
According to a British journalist, WT Stead, the concentration camps were nothing more than a cruel torture machine. He writes: “Every one of these children who died as a result of the halving of their rations, thereby exerting pressure onto their family still on the battle-field, was purposefully murdered. The system of half-rations stands exposed and stark and un-shameful as a cold-blooded deed of state policy employed with the purpose of ensuring the surrender of people whom we were not able to defeat on the battlefield.”
The detainees received no fruit or vegetables; not even milk for the babies. The meat and flour issued were crawling with maggots. Emily Hobhouse writes: “I have in my possession coffee and sugar which were described as follows by a London analyst: In the case of the first, 66% imitation, and in the case of the second, sweepings from a warehouse.”
In her book, Met die Boere in die Veld (With the Boers in the field), Sara Raal states that “there were poisonous sulphate of copper, grounded glass, fishhooks, and razor blades in the rations.” The evidence given on this fact is so overwhelming that it must be regarded as a historical fact.
The outbreak of disease and epidemics in the camps were further promoted by, inter alia, the lack of sanitary conveniences. Bloemfontein camp had only 13 toilets for more than 3 500 people. Aliwal North camp had one toilet for every 170 people.
Lizzie van Zyl
Emily Hobhouse tells the story of the young Lizzie van Zyl who died in the Bloemfontein concentration camp: “She was a frail, weak little child in desperate need of good care. Yet, because her mother was one of the ‘undesirables’ due to the fact that her father neither surrendered nor betrayed his people, Lizzie was placed on the lowest rations and so perished with hunger that, after a month in the camp, she was transferred to the new small hospital. Here she was treated harshly. The English disposed doctor and his nurses did not understand her language and, as she could not speak English, labelled her an idiot although she was mentally fit and normal. One day she dejectedly started calling: Mother! Mother! I want to go to my mother! One Mrs Botha walked over to her to console her. She was just telling the child that she would soon see her mother again, when she was brusquely interrupted by one of the nurses who told her not to interfere with the child as she was a nuisance.” Shortly afterwards, Lizzie van Zyl died.
In total 27,000 women and children made the highest sacrifice (died) in the British hell camps during the struggle for the freedom of the Boerevolk.
“Their only crime was that they stood between England and the GOLD of Transvaal.”