The Anglo Boer War, fought between the Afrikaaners and English Colonialists in South Africa in 1899 marked, among other things, the first appearance of concentration camps in warfare.
Some HistoryIn 1899, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. The economic prosperity and industrial supremacy would seem to be enough for the British, but Alfred Milner the High Commissioner of Cape Colony in South Africa, wanted to further enhance British dominance in Africa. He wanted gold mines in the Dutch Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He also wanted to create a Cape-to-Cairo confederation of British colonies to dominate the African continent with himself as the proposed ruler
Milner and his generals were characteristically optimistic but they soon learned they were in for a protracted and bloody conflict. Military disasters abounded and 22,000 men were killed in the initial stages. The Anglo-Boer War was a period of sustained violence. For nearly three years the British exercised a scorched-earth policy that left the country in ruins. The Boer republics knew they stood in Britain's way and citing the strategy that 'the key to a good defense is a good offense' struck first. In 1899 a Boer population of less than 100,000 farmers attacked British cities in South Africa and proceeded to hold at bay a British army of 450,000 for a further two years. The Empire was internationally humiliated. One historian describes the war as "Britain's Vietnam."
The Boers invaded Natal and Cape Province and quickly captured the towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. The British abandoned their original plans in an effort to take back these towns. The British finally managed to recapture the capital cities of the two Boer republics in mid 1900.
Some Boer commando units fled into the vast bush country and continued to wage unconventional guerrilla warfare by blowing up trains and ambushing British troops for the next two years. The British proceeded to burn farms and confiscate foodstuffs to prevent them falling into Boer hands. They packed off Boer women and children to concentration camps where many of them died from disease, or went to endure the exposure of commando life. The British literally starved the commandos into submission. African ex-miners and farm laborers were also concentrated in camps, and drawn into labor tasks by the British Army. Boers even raided the African reserves for food while Africans reasserted control over land and livestock previously taken by Boers, and on rare occasions attacked Boer commandos. The last of the Boer commandos, left without food, clothing, ammunition or hope, reluctantly accepted peace terms from the British in May 1902 in the Treaty of Vereeniging.
The Boers certainly won the peace if not the war. The Anglo-Boer War left a legacy of painful memories and mutual hatred. The British incarceration of Boer women and children in concentration camps left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Boers and lessened respect for the British Empire abroad. Though the intent of the British to halt the Boer guerrilla fighters who lived off the land and used their farmsteads as bases was militarily sound, the concentration camp conditions were so poor that almost 28,000 Boers died from starvation and disease. This alone was almost 10 per cent of the total Boer population. Many Afrikaners believed, that the British had embarked on a deliberate policy of genocide. The camps were a national tragedy harboring and enduring animosity and bitterness that lasted well beyond the war itself.