The Anglo-Boer War
Emily Hobhouse. © Anglo-Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein
It took the British Empire nearly three years, 1899-1902, to seize control of the South African Boer republics. The British system of waging war was summarised in a report made in January 1902 by Boer General J.C. Smuts, later Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa:
"Lord Kitchener has begun to carry out a policy in both (Boer) republics of unbelievable barbarism and gruesomeness which violates the most elementary principles of the international rules of war".
"Almost all farmsteads and villages in both republics have been burned down and destroyed. All crops have been destroyed. All livestock, which had fallen into the hands of the enemy, has been killed or slaughtered".
"The basic principle behind Lord Kitchener's tactics had been to win, not so much through direct operations against fighting commandos, but rather indirectly by bringing the pressure of war against defenceless women and children".
"... This violation of every international law is really very characteristic of the nation which always plays the role of chosen judge over the customs and behaviour of all other nations."
Even in Britain, prominent voices began speaking out against the slaughter. Lloyd George, who later served as Prime Minister during the First World War, vehemently denounced the carnage. During a speech in Parliament on February 18, 1901, he quoted from a letter by a British officer: "We move from valley to valley, lifting cattle and sheep, burning and looting, and turning out women and children to weep in despair beside the ruin of their once beautiful homesteads."
Lloyd George commented: "It is a war not against men, but against women and children." The Boer women and children, as well as the black farm workers were forced off their land, many of them were taken to concentration camps. Many black communities were also displaced from their land.
A crusading English lady, Emily Hobhouse, alerted the world to the horrors of the camps. " In some camps ," she reported, " two and sometimes three different families live in one tent". "The children have been the hardest hit. They wither in the terrible heat and as a result of insufficient and improper nourishment… To maintain this kind of camp means nothing less than murdering children."
The British held 116,572 persons in their white concentration camps, almost all of them women and children. That was about a fourth of the entire Boer population. After the war, an official government report concluded that 27,927 Boers had died in the camps of starvation, typhus and exposure. That included 26,251 women and children, of whom 22,074 were children under the age of 16.
Emily Hobhouse found that none of their hardships, not even seeing their own hungry children die before their eyes, would shake the Boer women's determination. They " never express , Hobhouse wrote, "a wish that their men must give way. It must be fought out now, they think, to the bitter end ".
After the war thousands of people were displaced. This forced these people to move to the cities, were they were absorbed into the urban-industrial work force, and in many cases a life of poverty.
African women on route to a concentration camp in the Orange Free State. British military policy discouraged Black civilians from bringing foodstuffs into the concentration camps to create a situation of desperation, thus inducing the inmates to work for rations. These women carried their only belongings and foodstuffs on their heads and are being ‘shadowed' by a mounted soldier visible on the skyline. Women and children undertook most of the agricultural labour in the concentration camps, later run by the Department of Native Refugees. Circa 1902. © Image provided by Garth Benneyworth.