Concentration Camp a British Invention
The British, Ethnic Cleansing and Concentration Camps
By Dr. Gary K. Busch 11/11/08 Isee British Battles site
Nov 12, 2008 - 12:34:31 PM
The world is full of commentaries on the termâ€ethnic cleansingâ€; the isolation, removal and disposal of one ethnic group by another. There are many demands for one group or another to be sent for trial for â€˜crimes against humanityâ€ in The Hague. The Balkan Wars saw massive efforts of â€˜cleansingâ€™ by Serbs against Croats; Serbs against Bosnian Muslims; Croats against Serbs; etc. The current clashes in Darfur illustrate the continuation of the practice. It is seen as a horrific and barbaric practice undertaken by villains and war criminals. Indeed, the International Tribunal in The Hague has been busy prosecuting various leaders of the failed Yugoslavia; Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for their egregious acts of ethnic cleansing.
An analogous practice was perfected by the Nazis throughout the European theatre and the Japanese in their Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Scheme where captive populations and those who had been â€˜ethnically cleansedâ€™ were herded into concentration camps which were isolated from the surrounding communities. In these camps the prisoners were mistreated; deprived of food, rights and their lives in a policy of isolation and gross brutality. The Nuremburg Trials had this theme as its leitmotif as did the trials of Japanese War Criminals.
However, the origin of the system of concentration camps was not a German or a Japanese invention. The origin of the system of ethnic cleansing was not invented in Yugoslavia or West and Central Africa. The modern, institutionalised system of ethnic cleansing and concentration camps was a British invention. At the turn of the Twentieth Century the British embarked upon the second Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902). This war was almost inevitable after the Afrikaners, who had been driven north after the First Boer War (1880-81) discovered gold at Witwatersrand in the Transvaal, a territory the British had given them. The British, especially the newly chartered British South Africa Company of Cecil John Rhodes, wanted a share of the gold and wanted to control the mines. Additionally, the British felt gold would make the Afrikaners wealthy and with their potential German allies they could threaten other British territories in southern Africa.
At the start of hostilities the Afrikaners had more troops available, could live off the land; and had a better grasp of how African Wars were fought. The Boer War was a serious jolt for the British Army. At the outbreak of the war British tactics were appropriate for the use of single shot firearms, fired in volleys controlled by company and battalion officers; the troops fighting in close order. The need for tight formations had been emphasised time and again in colonial fighting. In the Zulu and Sudan Wars overwhelming enemy numbers armed principally with stabbing weapons were easily kept at a distance by such tactics; but, as at Isandlwana, would overrun a loosely formed force. These tactics had to be entirely rethought in battle against the Boers armed with modern weapons. These were not colonials or native soldiers.
In the months before hostilities the Boer commandant general, General Joubert, bought 30,000 Mauser magazine rifles and a number of modern field guns and automatic weapons from the German armaments manufacturer Krupp and the French firm Creusot. The commandoes, without formal discipline, welded into a fighting force through a strong sense of community and dislike for the British. Field Cornets led burghers by personal influence not through any military code. The Boers did not adopt military formation in battle, instinctively fighting from whatever cover there might be. The preponderance was countrymen, running their farms from the back of a pony with a rifle in one hand. These rural Boers brought a lifetime of marksmanship to the war, an important edge, further exploited by Joubertâ€™s consignment of magazine rifles. With strong field craft skills and high mobility the Boers were natural mounted infantry. The urban burghers and foreign volunteers readily adopted the fighting methods of the rest of the army.
Other than in the regular uniformed Staats Artillery and police units, the Boers wore their every day civilian clothes on campaign. However, the pressure of constant conflict reduced the Boer numbers. After the first month the Boers lost their numerical superiority, spending the rest of the formal war on the defensive against British forces that regularly outnumbered them.
British tactics, little changed from the Crimea, were incapable of winning battles against entrenched troops armed with modern magazine rifles. Every British commander made the same mistake; Buller; Methuen, Roberts and Kitchener. When General Kelly-Kenny attempted to winkle Cronjeâ€™s commandoes out of their riverside entrenchments at Paardeburg using his artillery, Kitchener intervened and insisted on a battle of infantry assaults; with the same disastrous consequences as Colenso, Modder River, Magersfontein and Spion Kop.
By early 1900 the Afrikaners had beaten the British on four battles and had Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking under siege. A new British command under Roberts and his chief of staff Kitchener decided on a new strategy. They agreed to apply a scorched earth policy so that the Boers and local people had no cover and no food. They burnt down Boer farms; they stole or destroyed their livestock; and they took their women and children as hostages. They herded these into concentration camps. The British set up some 50 concentration camps. These were appalling places with no food, medicine or basic hygiene. More than 26,000 women and children died in these camps.
The British set up concentration camps and applied a scorched earth policy because they couldn't cope with guerrilla warfare. Yet, the British public were kept uninformed of this humanitarian tragedy. British newspapers were full of acres of photographs of successful British troops and those from other parts of the Empire, acting heroically... The spin was as elegant as it is today. The public's whole mindset was tempered with the invincible imperial image. When Mafeking was relieved and the war turned the British way, Salisbury was able to go the country in October 1900 and win another term of government for the Conservatives - they called it the Khaki Election (â€™khakiâ€™ being the name given to the British troops.)
It wasnâ€™t just Boers who were kept in concentration camps. Black South Africans were held in even worse conditions by the British. Removed from farms or other areas, at least 14 000 Black people are believed to have died in these concentration camps--but for nearly a century the ordinary South African was completely unaware of their existence. Unlike the Boer prison camps, the Black prisoners were mostly left to fend for themselves, and were not given any rations at all. They were expected to grow food or find work. In a few instances this actually improved their chances of survival because they were able to get out of the camps which were hellholes of infection and disease.
As Boer farms were destroyed by the British under their "Scorched Earth" policy - including the systematic destruction of crops and slaughtering of livestock, the burning down of homesteads and farms, and the poisoning of wells and salting of fields - to prevent the Boers from resupplying from a home base many tens of thousands of women and children were forcibly moved into the concentration camps.
Eventually, there were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. The vast majority of Boers remaining in the local camps were women and children. Over 26,000 women and children were to perish in these concentration camps.
The camps were poorly administered from the outset and became increasingly overcrowded when Kitchener's troops implemented the internment strategy on a vast scale. Conditions were terrible for the health of the internees, mainly due to neglect, poor hygiene, bad sanitation and food shortages. The food rations were meagre, there was a two tier allocation policy whereby wives and children of men who were still fighting were routinely given smaller rations than others. The inadequate shelter, poor diet, inadequate hygiene and overcrowding led to malnutrition and endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery to which the children were particularly vulnerable. Coupled with a shortage of medical facilities many of the internees died.
These harsh policies were extended to others by the British. The phrase 'ethnic cleansing' had not yet entered the English language, but Ethnic Cleansing certainly took place on the Rand. When Roberts took Johannesburg he had already prepared for immediate action to rid the town of "Jews and other riff-raff." Many Mediterraneans and Central Europeans were arrested and deported on trumped-up charges of plotting to kill Roberts and his entourage. More than 300 were arrested the day after the town had surrendered. Amongst them were two Englishmen! Two days after the town was taken the British issued a gazette re-imposing the Pass Laws of the South African Republic to control its Black inhabitants. Sadly many Blacks had seen the British as liberators and some had even torn up their passes.
By mid-1900 the Boersâ€™ numbers were down through attrition; supplies were limited with the scorched earth policy; and the women and children were dying in large numbers in the concentration camps. By the time of the battles of Val Krantz and Pieters (28th February 1900 at the Tugela River) the British outnumbered the Boers by almost three to one. Despite valiant efforts, the Boers began to lose battles. Finally, beginning in March 1900, the Boers avoided direct battles and engaged protracted hard-fought guerrilla warfare against the British forces. This lasted a further eighteen months, during which the Boers raided targets such as British troop columns, telegraph sites, railways and storage depots. The British retaliated by sending many Prisoners of War overseas to penal colonies they set up. The first overseas (off African mainland) camps were opened in Saint Helena, which ultimately received about 5,000 POWs. About 5,000 POWs were sent to Ceylon. Other POWs were sent to Bermuda and India. Some POWs were even sent outside the British Empire, with 1443 Boers (mostly POWs) sent to Portugal.
The campaign had originally been expected by the British government to be over within months, and the protracted war became increasingly unpopular especially after revelations about the conditions in the concentration camps finally reached the British Isles... The demand for peace led to a settlement of hostilities, and in 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed.
During the course of this war there was much sympathy for the Boers on mainland Europe and in October, President Kruger and members of the Transvaal government left South Africa on the Dutch warship De Gelderland, sent by the Queen of the Netherlands Wilhelmina, who had simply ignored the British naval blockade of South Africa. There was support as well in the United States as the word of British cruelties and colonial excesses were reported .
In all, the war had cost around 75,000 lives; 22,000 British soldiers (7,792 battle casualties, the rest through disease), between 6,000 and 7,000 Boer soldiers, and, mainly in the concentration camps, between 26,000 to 28,000 Boer civilians (mainly women and children) and perhaps 20,000 black Africans (both on the battlefield and in the concentration camps).
It left a legacy of bitterness and oppression that has yet to be diminished. The British, despite apologising to almost everyone else (Maoris, Aborigines; Indians, etc.) have never apologised to the Afrikaners for their excesses. In 2007 the Afrikaans song â€œDelareyâ€ was top of the pops in South Africa, reminding everyone of the role played by General Koos Delarey, in uniting the Boers and leading them to their opposition to the British.
So, if one were seeking a candidate for trial at the International Courts of Justice one would need to go no further than Britain for the developing the first effective program of ethnic cleansing; concentration camps and crimes. It is a little hypocritical for David Milliband, the current Foreign Secretary, to threaten to take Congolese, Zimbabweans, Sudanese and Sierra Leoneans to the ICC for trial when no British Government to date has made an apology or restitution to the Boers for their suffering and the deaths of their wives and children in horrible conditions. It has been airbrushed out of the history books; but the Boers will always remember.