Ending the war
By March 1901, the South African War was costing the British
£2.5 million a month and General Kitchener was under
increasing pressure to bring it to a speedy conclusion.
He instituted a new policy that involved systematically
clearing South Africa of Boer guerillas by establishing
chains of blockhouses and barbed wire fences; burning farms
and destroying livestock inside these areas; and then combing
them out using mobile columns and irregular troops.
'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'.
| 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, 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.
||In June 1901, the campaigner Emily Hobhouse published her
Report of a Visit to the Camps of Women and Children in
the Cape and Orange River Colonies. In it she condemned
the camp system as 'wholesale cruelty. It can never be wiped
out of the memories of the people. It presses hardest on the
children.' In Parliament, the policy was attacked by Liberal
MPs, such as David Lloyd George and C.P. Scott. It was they
who first used the term 'concentration camps', after the reconcentrado
camps used by the Spanish against Cuban guerillas at the end
of the 19th century. (Such camps were also used by the United
States in the Philippines between 1900 and 1906). War Office
officials preferred to call them refugee camps.
By 1902, the death rates in the camps had dropped considerably,
and the policy of bringing families into them had been abandoned.
In its final stages the war became increasingly brutal,
and atrocities were committed on both sides. Captured Boers
might be executed for wearing British military uniform,
for using expanding bullets and for train wrecking. They
were accused of pretending to surrender and then opening
fire and shooting wounded prisoners. Africans working for
the British could be summarily executed if found by the
Watch film of a fake
This film, The Dispatch Rider, shows a British soldier
giving a Boer a drink of water and then being shot in the
back. It is an anti-Boer propaganda film from about 1900
and the action in it is faked.
On the other side, British forces were also accused of committing
atrocities, the most famous of all being the Breaker Morant
case, the subject of an Australian film in 1980. Morant
was an officer serving with an irregular cavalry unit, the
Bushveldt Carbineers. In August 1901, he ordered the shooting
of a number of Boer prisoners of war in the northern Transvaal
and, although he claimed that he was obeying orders, was
later executed. One of his co-accused, George Witton, however,
went on to write a book called Scapegoats of the Empire
in which he claimed that:
"It was customary in outlying districts during
the latter stages of the war to shoot as many of the enemy
as possible. Vaguely-worded orders were issued that "All
officers should strive to the utmost to bring the war to
a speedy termination"
These orders were interpreted
in only one way by the officers, and that was "No quarter,