Boer War - Concentration Camps

During the second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), when the Boers refused to surrender to the Anglos, the British rounded-up thousands of Afrikaners (Boers) - mostly (but not all) women and children - and placed them in "concentration camps." 

They did the same with Africans who were displaced because of the fighting. 

The UK National Archives provides the following description of the camps:

'Concentration' camps were established by the British in South Africa for Boer families who had been expelled from areas being swept clear of Boer commandos (or guerillas) by British troops, as well as for Africans who had been displaced by the war. In both black and white camps many died from disease, due in part to insanitary conditions and overcrowding. The Liberal politician Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman openly condemned what he called 'methods of barbarism'.

Thousands died from unspeakably bad conditions and disease.  As stated in the UK Archives:

It has been estimated that between 20,000 and 28,000 white civilians died of disease in these camps. There were also 14,154 recorded deaths of black people from disease in the camps (over one in ten of the black camp population) and such deaths were under recorded.

While the policy may have succeeded in military terms [forcing the Boers, it is believed, to surrender - thereby ending the war], it was a political disaster, earning the British a level of unpopularity on an international scale comparable to that of the USA during the Vietnam war. One contemporary critic even used the term 'holocaust'. Public criticism was, however, centred on the white camps; those for Africans, where provision was usually even poorer, were hardly mentioned in the debate.

Emily Hobson, a young British woman, reported what she observed at the various concentration camps.  In this clip, from a two-part documentary on the Boer War by Welsh actor and documentarian Kenneth Griffith (a Boar-War specialist), we learn more about the appalling situation.

The following are excerpts from Emily Hobson's narrative, "Report of a Visit to the Camps of Women and Children in the Cape and Orange River Colonies," which was delivered to the British government during June of 1901:

In some camps, two, and even three sets of people, occupy one tent and 10, and even 12, persons are frequently herded together in tents of which the cubic capacity is about 500 c.f. [cubic feet].

I call this camp system a wholesale cruelty … To keep these Camps going is murder to the children..

It can never be wiped out of the memories of the people. It presses hardest on the children. They droop in the terrible heat, and with the insufficient unsuitable food; whatever you do, whatever the authorities do, and they are, I believe, doing their best with very limited means, it is all only a miserable patch on a great ill.

Thousands, physically unfit, are placed in conditions of life which they have not strength to endure. In front of them is blank ruin … If only the British people would try to exercise a little imagination – picture the whole miserable scene. Entire villages rooted up and dumped in a strange bare place.

One can readily tell why Emily Hobson, and her report, were not appreciate by people in authority at the time.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Sep 19, 2019

Media Credits

Clip from The Boer War, Part 2, by the BBC - hosted by Kenneth Griffith.  Online, via BBC. Copyright, BBC, all rights reserved. Provided here as fair use for educational purposes.

Quoted passages from the UK National Archives, online in "Events of 1901."

Quoted passages from "Report of a Visit to the Camps of Women and Children in the Cape and Orange River Colonies," by Emily Hobson.


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"Boer War - Concentration Camps" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Sep 19, 2019.
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