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The Bitter Legacy of the Boer War

In a society characterised by continuous strife, the Anglo- Boer War represents a period of sustained violence. A devastating war, fought mainly by white protagonists, ravaged South Africa for nearly three years. The British scorched-earth policy during the latter part of the conflict reduced the country almost to a wasteland. The Anglo-Boer War was the closest that South Africans came to total war Yet the war did not involve the total mobilisation of national resources not the complete annihilation of the enemy It was, however, a harbinger of the more encompassing and unlimited wars to be fought later in the twentieth- century.

Not surprisingly, the Anglo-Boer War left in its wake a legacy of bitter memories and mutual recriminations Of all the various facets of war, none was more controversial than the British incarceration of Boer women and children in concentration camps It was a strategy employed by the British high command in an effort to curtail the activities of Boer guerrilla fighters who lived off the land and used their farmsteads as bases. The administration of the concentration camps left much to be desired, and through neglect and incompetence 27,927 Boers died from disease. Given the relatively small population of Afrikanerdom at the time, this was approximately 10 per cent of the total Boer population. Many Afrikaners believed, though it was not the case in fact, that the British had embarked on a deliberate policy of genocide. The deaths in the concentration camps gave Afrikaners common victims to mourn and common grievances to nurture. As such the camps constituted a shared national tragedy, destined to have an enduring effect well beyond the war itself.

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