Women’s Day, which will be celebrated nationally tomorrow, must also focus on the more than 34 000 women and children who died in the concentration camps during the Anglo Boer War, the Solidarity Movement said today. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the end of the war that waged between Britain and the Boer republics from 1899 to 1902.
According to Ilze Nieuwoudt, spokesperson for the Solidarity Movement, the Boer women and children of the war must be commemorated. “Women’s Day does not only belong to the women who protested against the pass laws in 1956. This day should be celebrated in a more inclusive manner. We not only have the right, but also the duty to pay tribute to the women and children of the war on Women’s Day. This part of our history simply cannot be ignored, because it is inextricably linked to our country’s history. The anguish and suffering that they endured is almost unparalleled in the history of modern warfare. These women, who were determined and filled with hope, joined the fight for freedom in this bitter war, as it were. They were true heroines and still serve as an example to today’s women,” she said.
The period over August and September was, in many ways, a prominent time in the war. In July and August, British forces started to burn down farmhouses. The destitute women and children were sent to the Boer soldiers in the veld by cattle cart.
According to Kraal-Uitgewers’ latest book, Onthou! Kronieke van vroue- en kinderlyding, 1899-1902, written by Prof. Andries Raath and Elria Wessels, September 1900 marked the turning point for the camps. Research shows that from September 1900, the camps not only housed fugitives who had laid down arms voluntarily, but also people who had been carried away from their homes and farms against their will or apprehended in the veld after they had fled.
The scorched earth policy implemented by the British eventually led to the establishment of more than 40 concentration camps for Boer women and children and by September 1901, there were more than 110 000 women, children and elderly men in the camps.
Since the establishment of the camps up to the end of the war in May 1902, more than 34 000 people died in and en route to the camps. The conditions inside the camps were so dire that between 20% and 25% of the total camp population died between May and December 1901.
Onthou! was released in May this year and pays homage to the suffering of women and children of the war. It is the fifth book in Kraal-Uitgewers’ Erwe van ons vaad’re series. The book has three main parts. The prologue focuses on the origin of Britain’s scorched earth policy, which included the erection of concentration camps, and the role of the Pro-Boer Movement in Britain. It is followed by 20 chapters containing, among other things, the recorded stories of more than 30 women who lived in the camps. The third part of the book contains an insightful history of the National Women’s Monument in Bloemfontein that will be 100 years old in 2013. Onthou! is available from Kraal-Uitgewers at R520 (excluding postage). To order a copy, SMS “Onthou” to 34388.