Black Concentration Camps
According to Professor Andre Wessels of the Department of History at the University of the Free State (UFS), 130 000 black civilians (farm labourers in Boer farms) were captured and put into concentration camps, as the British feared that black people would assist the Boers during the war.
During early 1901, black concentration camps were initially set up to accommodate white refugees. However, in June 1901, the British government established a Native Refugee Department in the Transvaal under the command of Major G.F. de Lotbinier, a Canadian officer serving with the Royal Engineers. He took over the black inmates in the Orange Free State in August that year and a separate department for blacks was created.
Entire townships and even mission stations were transferred into concentration camps. The men were forced into labour service and by the end of the war there were some 115 000 Blacks in 66 camps around the country.
The black camps differed from the Boers in that they contained large number of males. This was a cause for concern and meant the camps were located by railway lines where the men could provide a ready supply of local labour. Work was paid.
The horrific conditions were superseded only by the abhorrent treatment, which often resulted in severe illness and death.
Location of Camps
Of the 65/66 camps, 24 were in the Orange River Colony, 4 in the Cape Colony and 36, in the Transvaal. There was a single concentration camp in Natal. This was located at Witzieshoek and was home to approximately 6,000 people. Some of the camps were for permanent habitation and others were of a temporary nature intended for the blacks in transit.
Transvaal Colony: Balmoral; Belfast; Heidelberg; Irene; Klerksdorp; Krugersdorp; Middelburg; Standerton; Vereeniging; Volksrust; Bantjes; Bezuidenhout's Valley; Boksburg; Brakpan; Bronkhorstspruit; Brugspruit; Elandshoek; Elandsrivier; Frederikstad; Greylingstad; Groot Olifants River; Koekemoer; Klipriviersberg; Klip River; Meyerton; Natalspruit; Nelspruit; Nigel; Olifantsfontein; Paardekop; Platrand; Rietfontein West; Springs; Van der Merwe Station; Witkop; Wilgerivier.
Free State: Allemans Siding; America Siding; Boschrand; Eensgevonden; Geneva; Harrismith; Heilbron; Holfontein; Honingspruit; Houtenbek; Koppies; Rooiwal; Rietspruit; Smaldeel; Serfontein; Thaba 'Nchu; Taaibosch; Vet River; Virginia; Ventersburg Road; Vredefort Road; Welgelegen; Winburg; Wolwehoek.
Cape Colony and British Bechuanaland. (Administered by the O.R.C): Kimberley; Orange River; Taungs; Dryharts
Brandfort Native Concentration Camp
- Date open (general): By 1/3/1901
- Date closed: 15/2/1901:
- Rations: For native refugees: Natives over 12 years of age: Daily: 1½ lbs either mealies, K/corn, unsifted meal or mealie meal; ¼ oz salt; Weekly: 1 lb fresh or tinned meat; ½ coffee; 2 oz sugar - all but the corn to cost 4½d per ration.
- Notes:26/2/1901; Superintendent notes that he has no paid officials in the Native RC, but he has an excellent native headman, Peter, who speaks English fluently and whom he recommends for an appropriate post.
- Jacobus Meintjes (Staff)
- Occupation:camp superintendent
- Unique ID:1016
- Notes:18/5/1901: I found Mr Meintjes, the native supt, living in the white camp. I sent him to the native camp.
- Not on GENI
- N'too, Petrus (Date departure:20/3/1901 Reason departure:return to Basutoland
- Notes:20/3/1901: party of 1 man, 6 children
- Date departure:20/5/1901
- Reason departure:return to Basutoland
- Notes:20/3/1901: party consists of 1 man, 2 women, 8 children
21 December, The inaugural meeting of the Burgher Peace Committee is held in Pretoria. Lord Kitchener discusses his concentration camp policies with this group, mentioning that stock and Blacks would also be brought in.
22 January, At the Boschhoek concentration camp for Blacks, about 1 700 inmates, mostly Basuto, hold a protest meeting. They state that when they have been brought into the camps they have been promised that they will be paid for all their stock taken by the British, for all grain destroyed and that they will be fed and looked after. They are also unhappy because "... they receive no rations while the Boers who are the cause of the war are fed in the refugee camps free of charge ... they who are the 'Children of the Government' are made to pay'. 23 January, Two inmates of the Heuningspruit concentration camp for Blacks, Daniel Marome and G.J. Oliphant, complain to Goold-Adams: "We have to work hard all day long but the only food we can get is mealies and mealie meal, and this is not supplied to us free, but we have to purchase same with our own money. "We humbly request Your Honour to do something for us otherwise we will all perish of hunger for we have no money to keep on buying food." 30 January, The population for the Black camps is 85 114 and 2 312 deaths are recorded for the month. 31 January, The population of Blacks in camps is 75 950 and 1 327 deaths are recorded for the month. 4 May, The first gold mine on the Rand re-opens, after all mines have been closed in October 1899, a few days before war was declared. The Minister for Native Affairs permits the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association to recruit mining labour from the concentration camps. Simultaneous to the resumption of economic activity is the establishment of the Department of Native Refugees (DNR) under direct British military command. 15 June, The British authority establishes the Department of Native Refugees in the 'Transvaal Colony'. The Transvaal camps are brought under the control of the newly formed department. 30 June, The official camp population of the Black camps is 32 360 and the deaths are not shown in official returns. 31 July, The camp population in Black camps is 37 472 and 256 have died in the Free State camps during the month, while in Transvaal deaths are not yet recorded. 31 August, The Free State camps are also brought under the control of the Department of Native Refugees 31 August, The camp population in Black camps is 53 154 and 575 deaths are recorded for August. 30 September, The camp population in Black camps is 65 589 and 728 deaths are recorded. 31 December, The population in Black camps is 89 407, while the deaths peak during December at 2 831.
18 January, Major De Lorbiniere, in charge of the Native Refugee Department, writes that supplying workers to the army 'formed the basis on which our system was founded'. The department's mobilisation of Black labour is very successful - not really surprising, considering the incentives offered: those in service and their families can buy mealies at a halfpence per lb, or 7/6 a bag, while those who do not accept employment have to pay double, or 1d per lb and 18/- or more per bag. By the end of 1901, when the death rate peaks, more than 6 000 accept employment in the British army. This figure grows to more than 13 000 in April 1902. The labourers are largely housed in Black concentration camps, situated close to military garrisons and towns, mines and railways sidings. 31 January, The population of Black camps is 97 986 and 2 534 deaths are recorded. 28 February, The population in Black camps is 101 344 and 1466 deaths are recorded. 24 March, Mr H.R. Fox, Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, after being made aware by Emily Hobhouse of the fact that the Ladies Commission (Fawcett Commission) ignored the plight of Blacks in the concentration camps, writes to Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary. He requests that such inquiries should be instituted by the British government "as should secure for the natives who are detained no less care and humanity than are now prescribed for the Boer refugees". On this request Sir Montagu Ommaney, the permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, is later to record that it seems undesirable "to trouble Lord Milner ... merely to satisfy this busybody". 31 March, The population of the Black camps is 101 299 and 972 deaths are recorded. 30 April, The population of the Black camps is 108 386 and 630 deaths are recorded. 31 May, Black concentration camp population in the 66 Black camps (some sources give the number as 80) reach 115 700, of which 60 000 are in the Free State camps and 55 969 in the ZAR (South African Republic/Transvaal). 523 deaths are recorded for the month. 31 May, The final peace conditions, The Treaty of Vereeniging, is signed by both the Burghers and the British at 23:05 at Melrose House, Pretoria.
The total Black deaths in camps are officially calculated at a minimum of 14 154 (more than 1 in 10), though G. Benneyworth estimates it as at least 20 000, after examining actual graveyards. According to him incomplete and in many cases non-existent British records and the fact that many civilians died outside of the camps, caused the final death toll to be higher . The average official death rate, caused by medical neglect, exposure, infectious diseases and malnutrition inside the camps was 350 per thousand per annum, peaking at 436 per thousand per annum in certain Free State camps. Eighty-one percent of the fatalities were children