The Boer War

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Boer commandos

Boer Commandos


Conflicts between the Boers and the British over the huge gold reserves discovered in The Transvaal increased.

The war began when the Boers gave an ultimatum to the British to cease reinforcement of the British garrison in South Africa. This happened because The South African Republic had refused to grant political rights to the Uitlander (foreigners, mostly English) in the mining areas, and the English were aggressively persistent about it. On Oct. 11, 1899, the fighting began.

The British eventually had over 400,000 men in South Africa. The Boers, at their peak had 52,000, using boys as young as 9. In addition, the Boers were mostly untrained farmers, fighting what was perhaps the greatest power in the world. So the match was uneven from the start. However the Boers were fighting on their home ground and used unconventional guerilla tactics to good advantage. They achieved some early victories over the British.

The Boer commandos lived off the land and off the help that they got from sympathetic homesteads. The British responded by removing this advantage. They burned farms and created the first "concentration camps" as a place to put the women and children they cleared off the farms. The camps were inadequate and dirty and disease spread through them quickly. Around 25,000 women and children died from epidemics of dysentery, measles, and enteric fever. International opinion began to turn against the British and there were outspoken critics at home as well.


Lloyd George future Prime Minister commented in practical terms in 1901:

"When children are treated in this way and dying, we are simply ranging the deepest passions of the human heart against British rule in Africa..."



Due to lack of supplies and concern over their families, the Boer Republics finally surrendered their independence in 1902. In return they got assurances that the question of African rights would be put on hold. The war was over and all of the colonies of South Africa were under the control of the British. In May of 1910, a new country was created, the Union of South Africa, ruled by the British inhabitants.

The Concentration Camp - sculpture from the National Women's Memorial -1913
Dedicated "To Our Heroines and Beloved"

This is part of the Bitter Union: The Story of South Africa Exhibit

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