A case study of four South African War (1899-1902) Black concentration camps
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On 11 October 1899, the South African War commenced between the British Empire and the South African Republic and Orange Free State Republic. This conflict saw the targeting of civilians by all sides throughout the conflict and a harbinger of 20th century “Total War”, when civilians and their resources were harnessed to support military objectives. Set against the prior use of concentration camps in Cuba and the Philippines, the war was followed by a genocidal campaign undertaken by Imperial Germany against the Herero people in German South West Africa in 1906. Although civilian internment in South Africa was not genocidal by design and purpose, it caused a high loss of life and lasting bitterness amongst Boer descendants. Black concentration camps, however, were far more lethal to their internees and designed along a completely different model. Their role was to coerce labour while supporting the British war effort in defeating the Republican forces. Through a work or starve policy, combined with withholding food, medical support and shelter, many perished from systemic neglect. Yet the memory of this experience of the black concentration camps has entered historical discourse only recently, in the last three decades. The area of study, examined by this article, is those black concentration camps established during 1901 to 1902, at Klip River Station, Witkop, Meyerton and Vereeniging, in the former South African Republic (ZAR). Contemporary tangible evidence of these camps remains fleeting. However, this article identifies where these camps existed and how they were integrated into the British military’s counter-guerrilla warfare strategy. This in turn enables further research into these camps that may conclusively establish their historic locations.