It is said, that the British Commander-in-Chief, Lord Roberts, was influenced by his wife to carry out his “Scorched-Earth-Policy”. This coming after the tragic death of his son, Lieutenant Freddy Roberts, at the Battle of Colenso.

Roberts officially sanctions the concentration camp policy by orders to his generals on 14th and 27th September 1900:

“this will bring endless suffering to the burghers and their families. The longer the guerrilla warfare continues the more vigorously will they be forced by any means in my power to bring such irregular warfare to an early conclusion.”

“clear the whole Free State of supplies and inform the burghers that if they choose to listen to de Wet and carry on a guerilla warfare against us, they and their families will be starved.”

A clear breach of Article 42 of the Hague Convention of 1899.

But it was Viscount Kitchener who, after his appointment as Commander-in-Chief, expanded the concentration camp system and perfected the murder on women and children.

Approx 30.000 farms were destroyed, millions of cattle, sheep, horses killed and millions of tons of crops burnt.

Boer women and children on their way to the Concentration Camp

Although they should have learnt from their numerous defeats since the battle of Congella in 1842, the British understimated the strong will and the military skills of the Boers. Thus leading them to break the will of a proud people by killing their women and children in concentration camps.

Where the first concentration camps already introduced in August 1900 (Bloemfontein and Pietermaritzburg), their use only reached their culmination between June 1901 and May 1902. Some of the camps were in use until March 1903 - ten months after the war came to an end.

Today visitors of the (British run) Talana Museum in Dundee, KwaZulu Natal, are still being informed by the displays, that the concentration camps´ sole purpose was to give shelter to poor Boer families who have lost their homes. No mention of the hardship and the 27.927 deaths that occurred under British shelter.

It was between January and April 1901 that the English Lady Miss Emily Hobhouse visited the Free State camps and brought word about their appalling conditions to the outside world. In England a storm of protests was helpful in appointing the Fawcett Commission, which was instrumental in bringing about significant reforms for the camps in South Africa.

Miss Emily Hobhouse

her struggle for better conditions in the concentration camps saved many Boers from certain death.

All in all the British operated 65 concentration camps for whites in South Africa. Some of them under more harsh conditions than others. It is claimed that in some of the camps Boers were being poisoned, but there is no evidence that this really happened.

Diseases due to poor camp administration was the main cause for the high death rate. The quality of the food was extremely poor and most of the inmates did not receive their full rations. Sanitation was virtually non-excisting and medical support was inadequate and inefficient.

 22.000 children under the age of 16 died in just 10 months

The Death Toll

Children under 16


Women over 16


Men over 16


Total deaths


A family in the Johannesburg camp

Johannesburg Concentration Camp

The British also operated 64 camps for blacks - some of them in conjunction with white camps. Also here, the mortality rate was high. As with the white camps, the majority of deaths occurred amongst children (approx. 81 per cent). Although the official figures are incomplete, it is expected that at least 14.154 blacks died in British concentration camps. By the end of the war in May 1902 115.700 blacks were being held in custody.

At the “Women and Children Monument”, next to the “War Museum of the Boer Republics” in Bloemfontein, every concentration camp has received its own stone of rememberance - in an alley leading towards the main monument and the graves of Boer heros, one of them being General Christiaan de Wet.

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