The establishment of these camps is often glossed over in modern times without realizing the horrors which occurred within them nor the understanding of how significant an event this was to the Boerevolk whose numbers were greatly reduced as a result.
The following is an excerpt from Hennie Barnard entitled: The Concentration Camps.
- 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.
At Standerton the camp was erected on both banks of the Vaal River. It was on the Highveld, which ensured that it was extremely cold in winter and infested with mosquitoes in summer. The fact that Standerton had turf soil and a high rainfall, ensured that the camp was one big mud bath in summer, even inside the tents.
The same circumstances were experienced in camps such as Brandfort, Springfontein and Orange River. At Pretoria, the Irene Camp was located at the chilly southern side of the town, while the northern side had a much more favourable climate. Balmoral, Middelburg and other camps were also located on the south-eastern hangs of the hills to ensure that the inhabitants were exposed to the icy south easterly winds.
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."
(Hobhouse: Brunt of the War, page 169.)
Dr Kendal Franks reports on the Irene Camp: "In one of the tents there were three families; parents and children, a total of 14 people and all were suffering from measles."
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."
3.4. Let them die of hunger.
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 unshamefully 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.
3.5. No hygiene.
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.
A British physician, Dr Henry Becker, writes: "First, they chose an ill-suited site for the camp. Then they supplied so little water that the people could neither wash themselves nor their clothes. Furthermore, they made no provision for sufficient waste removal. And lastly, they did not provide enough toilets for the overpopulation they had crammed into the camps."
A report on a Ladies' Committee's visit to Bloemfontein camp stated: "They saw how the women tried to wash clothes in small puddles of water and sometimes had to use the water more than once."
3.6. Hospitals of homicide.
Ill and healthy people were crammed together into unventilated areas conducive to the spreading of disease and epidemics. At first there were no medical amenities whatsoever in the camps.
Later doctors were appointed, but too few. In Johannesburg there was one doctor for every 4 000 afflicted patients.
A report on the Irene camp states that, out of a population of 1325 detainees, 154 were ill and 20 had died during the previous week. Still this camp had only one doctor and no hospital.
In some camps matters were even worse. The large Bloemfontein camp did not have a single doctor; only one nurse who could not possibly cope with the conditions. During a visit to Norvalspont camp Emily Hobhouse could not even find a trained nurse.
The later appointment of medical personnel did not improve the conditions. They were appointed for their loyalty towards the British invasion; not for their medical capability. They maltreated the Boere.
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.
Treu, a medical assistant in the Johannesburg concentration camp, stated that patients were bullied and even lashed with a strap.
Ill people who were taken to the camp hospitals were as good as dead. One woman declared: "We fear the hospitals more than death."
The following two reports should give an idea of the inefficiency of the camp hospitals: "Often people suffering from a minor ailment were violently removed from the tents of protesting mothers or family members to be taken to hospital. After a few days they were more often than not carried to the grave."
"Should a child leave the hospital alive, it was simply a miracle."
(Both quotations from Stemme uit die Verlede - a collection of sworn statements by women who were detained in the concentration camps during the Second War of Independence.)
3.7. The highest sacrifice.
In total 27 000 women and children made the highest sacrifice in the British hell camps during the struggle for the freedom of the Boerevolk.
Mrs Helen Harris, who paid a visit to the Potchefstroom concentration camp, stated: "Imagine a one year old baby who receives no milk; who has to drink water or coffee - there is no doubt that this is the cause of the poor health of the children."
Should one take note of the fact that it were the English who killed the Boers' cattle with bayonets, thereby depriving the children of their food sources, then the high fatality rate does not seem to be incidental.
Despite shocking fatality figures in the concentration camps, the English did nothing to improve the situation, and the English public remained deaf to the lamentations in the concentration camps as thousands of people, especially children, were carried to their graves.
The Welshman, Lloyd George, stated: "The fatality rate of our soldiers on the battlefields, who were exposed to all the risks of war, was 52 per thousand per year, while the fatalities of women and children in the camps were 450 per thousand per year. We have no right to put women and children into such a position."
An Irishman, Dillon, said: "I can produce and endless succession of confirmations that the conditions in most of the camps are appalling and brutal. To my opinion the fatality rate is nothing less than cold-blooded murder."
One European had the following comment on England's conduct with the concentration camps: "Great Britain cannot win her battles without resorting to the despicable cowardice of the most loathsome cure on earth - the act of striking at a brave man's heart through his wife's honour and his child's life."
The barbarousness of the English is strongly evidenced by the way in which they unceremoniously threw the corpses of children in heaps on mule carts to be transported to the cemeteries. The mourning mothers had to follow on foot. Due to illness or fatigue many of them could not follow fast enough and had to miss the funerals of their children.
According to PF Bruwer, author of Vir Volk en Vryheid, all the facts point out that the concentration camps, also known as the hell camps, were a calculated and deliberate effort by England to commit a holocaust on the Boerevolk.
The above was an excerpt from The Concentration Camps from Hennie Barnard.
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