Friday, December 12, 2008
SCORCHED EARTH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS - Killings of almost genocidal proportions.
My mother and her sister. Imprisoned as young children, in the Johannesburg Fort.
[PLEASE NOTE:When this blog was first published, I sincerely believed that Queen Elizabeth11 had made a full, formal apology to the people of South Africa in 1999. However, it now appears that I was sadly mistaken, and I am indebted to the many readers who have sent me links to reliable sources, disproving my statements. All point to the fact that she made some vague apology but stopped short of actually apologizing for the concentration camps. An example, from The World Today Archive - Thursday, 11 November, 1999: Reporter Ben Wilson quotes JOHN HIGHFIELD: .....”Queen Elizabeth has stopped short of saying sorry for the death and hurt caused to the Afrikaners in the Anglo-Boer war.” http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/stories/s65787.htm, and Marcelle L writes: “So it seems she did but she didn't.”]
Even more tragic than a war waged against a people whose only transgression was the fact that gold had been discovered in their small republic, was the cruel condemnation of its people and the total ignorance of the causes. The fire was fuelled by the media of the day - together with individuals who then (as many still are) were ignorant of the true circumstances which led up to what I can now only describe as a holocaust. In the days when 'the sun never set on the British Empire' it stands to reason that propaganda aimed at whipping up 'patriotism' succeeded in every part of that Empire - from Australia to Canada - and it was not long before men were marching, bands playing, and women waving banners as their menfolk answered the call to go and 'deal with those Boers!'
No war is ever fought without loss of life, but the greatest tragedy of the Second Boer War (1900-1902) was the internment of women and children in concentration camps, which led to massive loss of life. Approximately 25 percent of the interned died, including 50 percent (or half) of the children. In addition, 30,000 farmhouses and 21 villages were destroyed. Among the burgers (or Boers) 3,990 were killed and 1,081 died of disease or accidents in the veld. If these figures are measured against the total number of Boers, and as the entire Boer population in both republics was just over 200,000, the mortality rate meant that nearly 15 percent of the entire Boer population was wiped out!. That is why it is safe to declare that the death rate was indeed of 'genocidal proportions'.
Twelve percent of the Boer deaths were battle related; six percent died from other causes while on commando; 17 percent were adults in the camps, and 65 percent were children under the age of 16 years. To put this in perspective, among the 27,927 Boers who died in the camps, 4177 were adult women, and 22,074 were children under the age of 16. It was nothing short of diabolical that by October 1901, the number of inmates in the 45 camps had increased to 118,000 Whites and 43, 000 non-Whites. The death rate was 344 per thousand amongst the Whites and at one stage, in the Kroonstad camp, the death rate was 878 per thousand.. - Among them were people from whom I am descended.
I never knew my grandmother or my great-grandmother. As I have written in my profile, the latter died in one of the British concentration camps, and, in that same camp, my grandmother's health was compromised to the extent that she lived for only five years after having been freed. She was only thirty-three at the time of her death.
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Actually, from the time my forebears - Dutch and French - had come to South Africa, they, especially the French, had never really had an easy time of it. Granted the Dutch had not been forced to flee their homeland as the French Huguenots were driven to do, but the mandate they had been given was pretty stiff...
It had all started with the wreck, in 1647, of a Dutch East India Company ship called the Haarlem, which was destined to play a profound part in the history of South Africa. While not anticipating a good outcome to a rescue mission, another ship — with a young ships-surgeon by the name of JAN VAN RIEBEECK, on board — was sent to try and find survivors.
Surprising evidence of the ability of the shipwrecked Dutch sailors to survive there, now seemed to suggest that the place was habitable; and, if fresh supplies could there be made available to vessels en route to the Far East, and back, it was possible that the curse of the dread disease, Scurvy, could be held at bay. Within four years, in 1651, the Chamber of XVII in Amsterdam was ordering that the ships, the Dromedaris, the Goede Hoop and the Reiger be fitted out for the proposed journey to the Cape of Good Hope.
So it happened that the first major, permanent White settlement in Africa came about in 1652, when a Dutch trading company known as the Dutch East India Company sent one of its officials, (Jan van Riebeeck), to what is now called Cape Town, where he was to build a re-supply station for company ships traveling to and from Asia. It was thus the Dutch who realized the strategic and economic importance of the Cape and that is how it came about that, acting on a commission from the Dutch-East India Trading Company, Jan van Riebeeck anchored in what is now known as Table Bay at the foot of the Table Mountain on April 6, 1652. Ironically, although the Dutch never intended to establish a proper colony, and it was only to be a re-supply facility, it was around this station that the first White settlement spread. It was where they met the first non-Whites — tribes of Hottentots and Bushmen who were happy to trade cattle with the new settlers.
In commissioning Jan Anthoniszoon van Riebeeck to establish the proposed refreshment station, the Dutch East India Company had made a wise choice. After joining the organization as an assistant surgeon, he had, in April 1639, sailed to Batavia (now Jakarta). From there he had gone to Japan, and in 1645 had taken charge of the company trading station at Tongking (Tonkin; now in Vietnam) and they had at their disposal a man accustomed to living in foreign places, who was both a physician and a merchant. He was a man eminently suitable for the task ahead.
History makes it clear, however, that life was not always easy, and also that there were no black people at the Cape at that time. Late in 1652, Jan van Riebeeck and his companions had been instructed to establish a strong base to provide the Company’s ships with fresh groceries - mainly meat and vegetables - on the long journey from Europe to Asia, and it had also soon become obvious that a fort would have to be built but, after his first winter at the Cape, when twenty of the eighty-two men and eight women who had accompanied him, died, he realized that the task of maintaining the refreshment station was too formidable for the remnant to carry out. Slaves were thus brought to help; many of them politically banned people imported from Java and Sumatra.
The Landing at the Cape
Because the ‘European’ settlement in South Africa started in Cape Town, it is called the ‘Mother City’ to this day. As has already been said, the Dutch East India Company had originally intended only to establish a refreshment station for the benefit of the crews of their merchant ships, en route to India, and back — until, Maria, wife of the first commander, Jan van Riebeeck, bore a child there; and subsequent births among other families wrought the desire for a more permanent state of affairs. The people longed to be able to put down roots; to be 'settled' there and not merely ‘stationed’. Thus, in time, the ‘refreshment station’ would become a settlement, the settlement a colony, and those who had left the service of the Company to farm on their own, would be known as 'Free Burghers’.
During the regime of an excellent Governor, Simon van der Stel, the colony spread north and east and flourished. In succeeding him, however, his greedy son did not exhibit any of the traits which had made Simon a good governor. Personal avarice moved Willem Adriaan to much treachery; not least among his wrongdoings, neglect of his official duties and the obsession with his own extensive estates.
Among other things, he dealt the young agricultural industry a crushing blow by proclaiming that no Free Burgher could trade with passing vessels until he and his cronies had been given the opportunity to sell their own produce. Before long, the colonists were desperate to be rid of the young tyrant.
I take the liberty of quoting here from my book, Storm Water:
“Driven by desperation, man called Henning Huising, aided by another burgher by the name of Adam Tas, took the lead in drawing up two petitions, which were sent to Holland and Batavia, but it was not long before the Free-Burghers were taken into custody and tried before an irregular court, in an attempt to induce them to withdraw their signatures. Many who did so, were still not freed, but were left to languish in the dungeons of the Castle. Huising and three other men were deported.
“It was not long before they were made aware of the counter-petition which Governor Willem Adriaan had been preparing, and received the news that Van der Stel had dispatched his document with the fleet which had sailed on the previous day, knowing that the burghers had sent their latest petition to Holland by the same ship."
If I might be permitted to use another quote: "The speaker then went on to list how the Governor utilized materials, officials, gardeners and slaves of the Company to work the farm of which he had become the owner by dishonest means; how he neglected his official duties because of the weeks he spent on this farm while he was reported to be about his business at the Castle.
"Presently he referred to the regulation of 1688, which prohibited officials of the Company from farming. Van der Stel had not long abided by this – he was saying – because, but seventeen years later, the Governor and his friends were already in a position to supply the greatest part of the Company’s requirements in corn, wine and meat.
"There was a dramatic pause during which the man shrugged his shoulders eloquently. Originally it had not been so serious, he continued in a monotonous, plaintive voice, because the Company only received these supplies through the middleman, or contractor, who held the monopoly to supply the refreshment station with such things. Speedily, however, the Governor had taken the obvious step which gave him control of the contractors, so that they would be obliged to purchase, first, the produce of his farm and that of his friends.
....."An atmosphere of suspense hung over the entire settlement. Wherever people went, it seemed, the chief subjects of discussion were inevitably the two conflicting documents which were travelling simultaneously to Europe.
“What incenses me,” Paul Roux said as they sat down to dinner,” is that so many people were forced to sign the Governor’s damnable counter petition. Heaven only knows how many unsuspecting people were prevailed upon to add their signatures at the banquet, and it would not surprise me in the least to learn that there are many additional names which appear on the document without the knowledge or permission of the people concerned!”
And again from the book, the happy outcome:
“Our petition was originally given to a man by the name of Bogaert – as you no doubt recall, Madame la Comtesse – who was to have carried it to Holland for us,” Barend explained, almost breathless with suppressed excitement. “But when - fortuitously - he chanced to encounter the banished Huising on the same ship, he handed the document to him. Henning Huising was then able to lay it personally before the Council of Seventeen – who better to do so? – and took the opportunity of pleading our cause at the same time. That is, of course, the reason for the unprecedented victory we have attained over the tyrants. If Willem Adriaan had only known! When, having banished him, he sent Huising home by the same fleet as our petition, he had already, metaphorically, cut his own throat!”
ARRIVAL OF THE FRENCH
They prospered, those early Dutch settlers, to be joined in time by the French, who brought with them the cuttings for planting vineyards from which a vast winemaking industry would develop and become famous all over the world. The Dutch welcomed immigration, but behind the arrival of the new colonists lay one of the most tragic stories of religious persecution in history.