Volksrust’s Involvement in the British Concentration Camps of the South African War 1900-1902

Volksrust camp was beautifully situated, in the shadow of Majuba mountain, on the border of Natal, where the Boers had defeated the British some twenty years before, reminding them of ‘the most glorious episode in their history’, as Dr Kendal Franks noted. But Elizabeth Neethling described the place as one of the most miserable in the Transvaal. For her, this was a bleak spot, enclosed by high barbed wire fences, with monotonous rows of bell tents. ‘Nothing bright, nothing pleasant, strikes the eye’. Even J.J. Carter, the first superintendent, shared her opinion. ‘Owing to the altitude of the place, and the unprotected nature of the situation, the cold is intense at night, and when a breeze is blowing the days are also very keen’, he wrote. This ‘bracing’ climate might be beneficial for the healthy but it affected the aged and very young severely, and it was hard on the families who came from the milder districts of Vryheid, Utrecht and Piet Retief.1

It is not clear when Volksrust camp was formed but in May 1901 there were already nearly 5,000 inmates. At first the Boers in this camp seemed less impoverished than those in some of the other camps. Even later arrivals were described as ‘fairly well clothed’, possessing the ‘wherewithal for tent life’. By September 1901, however, the new inmates were considered ‘of a very low class’ and badly provided for. Another group, from the Ermelo, Utrecht and Wakkerstroom districts, were ‘in a very filthy and destitute condition, and altogether a most undesirable lot’. The Ladies Committee also noted that 500 who came in November were ‘in a very destitute condition’. This steady influx of impoverished arrivals may have been one reason why the health of the camp deteriorated towards the end of the year, although Volksrust village was also sickly. Cold, heavy rain and the increase in numbers meant that tents were in short supply and worn.2

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Source Link: University of Cape Town