Tuesday 11th of February 2003 06:44 AM 
Concentration Camps

The mother sat on her little trunk with the child across her knee. She had nothing to give it and the child was sinking fast. We watched the child draw its last breath in reverent silence. The mother neither moved nor wept. Dry-eyed but deathly white she sat there... in the depths of grief beyond all tears.
Emily Hobhouse

In our country...December was a month of pleasure, but now it opened instead with sorrow. For it was this day, the 1st of December, that old Tant' Hannie died...It was hard to believe that she had gone from amongst us, for whom she had filled so large a place...I never thought with my eyes to see so much misery...tents emptied by death. I went one day to the hospital and there lay a child of nine years to wrestle alone with death. I asked...where I could find the child's mother. The answer was that the mother died a week before, the father is in Ceylon, that very morning her sister of 11 died. I pitied the poor little sufferer as I looked upon her...There was not even a tear in my own eyes, for weep I could no more. I stood beside her and watched until a stupefying grief overwhelmed my soul...
Diary of Alie Badenhorst
1st December 1901.

These camps were places where African and Boer women and children and Boer men unfit for service were herded together by the British army during the War. Many of these people had become homeless as a result of the destructive tactics which the British army adopted in the Transvaal and Orange Free State after the last months of 1900 in order to deprive the Boer commandos of the means of subsistence and thus force their surrender. Attempts had been first made to burden the combatants with these dependents in the hope of breaking the morale of the commandos. When this proved unsuccessful, it was decided to house the non-combatants in camps.
The first two of these were established, as a result of a military notice of 22 September, 1900, to protect the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily. As the families of combatant burghers were also driven into these camps, they ceased to be 'refugee' camps and acquired the 'concentration' camp designation, as did other camps established later in the War. Eventually there were 50 camps, in which about 136 000 people were interned. So inefficiently were they organised and managed that they soon became notorious throughout the world. The families were conveyed to the camps by ox-wagon, trolley or railway train - usually in open coal- or cattle trucks without any sanitary arrangements - or they even marched on foot. They were swept together 'higgledy-piggledy' to use Milner's terms. No proper provision had been made for their housing. Numbers of them had at first to make shift in the open until tents - many almost useless - were provided, or were held in hutments in the camps. Those who did not receive tents were, according to the report of the British commission of inquiry, placed,

in every conceivable kind of dwelling, from a church vestry, hotel and store to a blacksmith's forge.

In the opinion of the Commission some of the places were hardly suitable for pigs. As there were insufficient blankets, clothes and other means of protection, and sometimes not even beds or mattresses, the internees were exposed, especially on the Highveld of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, to extreme privations which undermined their strength, more especially in the case of the large numbers of small children.

The food supplies in the camps, which were often established on badly chosen sites and were dangerously overcrowded from the start, was wretched. Not only was the food inadequate, but the quality, especially of the meat, sugar and flour, was at first very poor, while vegetables, fruit and other essential foodstuffs were not supplied at all; consequently, many of the inmates, especially children, wasted away to living skeletons within a few months. One British camp doctor felt compelled to report that,

Emaciated Child - Krugersdorp Camp

on account of the deficiency in diet the children especially become emaciated and have very little resisting power to disease.

The sanitation, too, was very inefficient. No adequate provision was made for the disposal of garbage, and the latrines were so primitive that they became breeding-grounds for germs and areas of infection. So disease, particularly measles, broke out in the camps during 1901 and, as there were not enough doctors or other medical care, the death-rate became appallingly high. The climax was in October, 1901, when the figure was 326 per 1 000 per year for the Transvaal camps and 401 per 1 000 per year for those in the Orange Free State. The reports of camp superintendents as well as those of Emily Hobhouse showed that this was due to the bad conditions, and there was an outcry from the whole world, including England itself. This forced the British government to order a full investigation by a committee of prominent women, and sweeping changes were made in accordance with their recommendations.
As a result of these changes, introduced toward the close of 1901, and which included great improvements in housing, sanitation, food-supply, medical attention, and protection against cold, the death-rate immediately dropped and by March 1902, was back to 'normal'.

In total, approximately 27 927 persons died in the camps - 1 676 mainly elderly men, 4 177 women and 22 074 children under 16.

The terrible prospect...that the continuation of the war would in that manner eradicate our whole generation,
was one of the main reasons why the Boers ceased fighting and acknowledged defeat. It left a deeper impression on the Afrikaner's mind than perhaps any other event in their history, and seemed more than anything else to strengthen their determination to strive for national self-preservation and the recovery of political independence.

The following concentration camps were established (by region):


Barberton, Heidelburg, Johannesburg, Irene (near Pretoria), Klerksdorp, Krugersdorp, Mafeking, Potchefstroom, Standerton and Vereeniging.

Balmoral, Belfast, De Jager's Drift (in Natal), Middleburg, Nylstroom, Pietersburg, Van der Hoven's Drift (Pretoria), Volksrust and Vryburg (in the Cape Colony)

Meintjeskop (Pretoria), established for 'families of burghers serving us as scouts' - the only true 'refugee' camp.

Orange Free State

African women on washing day in an African concentration camp 1900
Bloemfontein, Heilbron, Kroonstad, Norval's Pont and Vredefort Road.

Aliwal North, Bethulie, Brandfort, Harrismith, Kromellenboog, Kimberley, Ladybrand, Orange River, Springfontein and Winburg.



Howick, Isipingo and Merebank (near Durban).

Colenso, Eshowe, Jacobs and Wentworth (Durban), Ladysmith, Mooi River and Pinetown.

Cape Colony

Port Elizabeth

East London, Kubusi and Uitenhage.

Women in train going to camp Women abd children detrain at a camp Women and Children - Pietermaritzburg Camp at East London
Women in a train going to a concentration camp. Women detraining at or near a concentration camp. Women and children file past the camera as they are driven to the Pitermaritzburg concentration camp. One of the better camps at East London.
Children looking at camera while women wash in the background Photograph of school attendees at Merebank camp Mother and children having tea at Doornbult camp - staged photo Doornbult concentration camp
Children stare at the camera at an unidentified camp while women wash in the background. Portrait taken at a concentration camp school at Merebank camp. A staged photo of a mother and her family having 'tea' at Doornbult camp. Doornbult concentration camp hospital.
Lize van Zijl
An unidentified camp Women and children peer at the camera, at an unidentified camp. An emaciated child [Lize van Zijl] in a concentration camp. Scenes like this were commonplace. Child in a casket awaiting burial.
Emaciated child in concentration camp    
An emaciated child. Women and children (and nurses?) surrounded by their belongings.    





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Further Reading

Commission of Ladies Report on the Concentration Camps in South Africa. London: HMSO, 1902. DT937G68. Emmett, W.A.C. "Reminiscences of a Boer Prisoner of War at Bermuda," Africana Notes and News, 28, 1, 1988, pp.16-28.
(Emmett was the Brother-in-law of Louis Botha, Commandant-General of the Transvaal army)

Hobhouse, Emily. The Brunt of the War and Where it Fell. London: Methuen, 1902. DT937H62.

Martin, A. C. The Concentration Camps, 1900-1902 : Facts, Figures, and Fables. Cape Town: Timmins, [1957?].

Pretorius, J.Celestine, Ferreira, O.J.O. "'n Dag in die lewe van 'n Boerekrygsgevangene op die Bermuda Eilande tydens die Anglo-Boereoorlog (1899-1902), beskryf deur H.G.Thiel," South African Journal of Cultural History vol. 10, 1996, pp.87-114.

Reports on the Working of the Refugee Camps in the Transvaal, Orange River Colony, Cape Colony, and Natal. London: HMSO, 1901. DT937G73.

Raath, Prof. A.W.G. Konsentrasiekamp Gedenkreeks. Bloemfontein: Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke (Military Museum of the Boer Republics), 1991-?
[Series covering the Concentration Camps one-by-one]

Return of Numbers of Persons in the Concentration Camps in South Africa, June 1901. London: HMSO, 1901. DT937G7.

Schiel, Adolf. 23 Jahre Jahre Sturm und Sonnenschein in Sudafrika. Leipzig 1903, pp.553ff.

Thomson, S.J. The Transvaal Burgher Camps in South Africa. Allahabad: Pioneer, 1904. UM115T5.