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My ondervinding in die Konsentrasiekamp gedurende die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog van 1899 -1902.

 

My experiences in the concentration camps during the Second War of Liberation(1) of 1899 – 1902.

     
Deur C.M van der Hever
(ongeveer 1917)
By C.M. van der Hever
(around 1917)
  1  
Ek sal miskien te omslagtig wees, maar om die feite almal mooi in verband met mekaar te bring, moet ek met die gebeurtenisse begin nog voor die konsentrasiekampe in die lewe geroep is. Ek was destyds nog maar jonk en was ook nie by my ma nie. Ons het in die dae in die Vrystaat gewoon, maar ek was toe in die Transvaal by my skoonsuster wat met haar pa alleen tuis was. My broer het toe reeds sy lewe opgeoffer en dus was my ma se verlange dat ek nie van my skoonsuster af moes weggaan nie. Ek het my broer baie lief gehad en wou toe alte graag sy vrou tot hulp en troos wees, omdat hy daar nie meer was nie.   Perhaps my account will be too long-winded, but to bring all the facts in accordance I must begin with the events preceding the establishment of the concentration camps(2). I was still very young in those days, although not living with my mother. Our family home was in the Free State(3), but I had gone to the Transvaal to be with my sister-in-law, who was alone there with her father. My brother had sacrificed his life in the war, and my mother did not wish his wife to be abandoned. I had loved my brother dearly, and was only too pleased to be of help and comfort to his widow.
  2  
Maandagoggend, 3 Desember 1900 het ons gesien dat die Engelse die plaas bestorm. Net waar ons gekyk het, was daar kakies en ons was natuurlik baie bang, aangesien ons reeds daar in die verte kon sien hoedat die koring- en hawermiedens aan die brand was. In groot getalle het hulle die huis binnegestorm. Die offisier onder wie se bevel hulle gestaan het, het met 'n groot lawaai die huis binnegekom en gelas dat dit aan die brand gesteek moet word. Ons het gemeen dat hulle dit nooit sou doen nie, aangesien my skoonsuster se vader al baie oud was en daarby was hy ook ernstig siek. Hy kon amper nie meer uit sy bed kom nie en was ook baie ontsteld.   On Monday morning, December 3, 1900, we watched the English storm the farm. Everywhere we looked there were Khakis, and we were, of course, terrified, as we could see in the distance that the wheat and oat stacks were already on fire. Many of them charged into the house. The commanding officer entered, making a great commotion, and ordered the house to be burned down. We did not really think they would go this far as my sister-in-law’s father was very old and seriously ill. He could scarcely move from his bed, and he was extremely upset.

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  3  
Maar hoe ons ook al gesmeek het, is ons parmantig gelas om ons klaar te maak om met hulle mee te gaan - en dit moes net gou gaan! Ons het nie eens tyd gekry om klere te neem nie, net 'n paar stukke beddegoed. Ek was baie skrikkerig vir die ou vuil troepe.   But no matter how we pleaded, we were rudely commanded to prepare to accompany them - and to hurry up about it too! We did not even have time to take our clothes, just a few pieces of bedding. I was terrified of those filthy troops.
  4  
Ek wou nog een en ander kleinigheid saamneem, maar toe het hulle al klaar die hawer wat op die solder was, afgegooi en die huis aan die brand gesteek. Die hawer wat op die stoep gelê het, was ook aan die brand sodat ek deur die vlamme moes hardloop om uit die huis te kom.   I still wanted to take a few items, but they had already tossed down the hay that was in the loft, and set the house ablaze. The oats that had been lying on the stoep were also on fire, and I had to run through the flames to get out the house.
  5  
Daarvandaan het hulle ons na Potchefstroom gebring - natuurlik met ons eie waens en osse; ook het hulle alles by die huis weggeneem. Ek glo nie daar het 'n lewendige hoender agtergebly nie, want hulle was te wreed en het alles doodgemaak. Ons was tot die Donderdagaand in die laer. Vrydagoggend toe die son opkom is ons gelas om op die stasie te wees.   From there they took us to Potchefstroom, with our own wagons and oxen, of course. They also removed everything from the homestead. I don't think a single live chicken remained, because they were so cruel and they killed everything. We were interned in the camp until Thursday evening. On Friday morning at sunrise we were ordered to the station.
  6  
Op die stasie is ons toe in kooltrokke gelaai en na Johannesburg gebring, waar ons die aand teen sononder eers op die stasie aangekom het. Die hele nag moes ons so op die kaal trokke bly en ons het geen kos, tee, koffie of water gekry nie, behalwe die wat deur medelydendes aan ons gebring is. Maar aangesien daar 'n paar honderd siele was, het die helfte niks gekry nie en ons het tog so dors gehad, want dit was 'n baie warm Desemberdag. Ons moes egter net so in die warm son sit - daar was geen genade nie. Ons het die nag van onrus en angs op die kaal kooltrokke deurgebring, bewaak deur polisie. Hulle het eiereg gebruik om in die nag op die trokke rond te klouter en elke nou en dan kon jy een hoor skreeu.   At the station we were loaded onto coal trucks and taken to Johannesburg, only arriving there at sundown that evening. We had to remain on the trucks all night, and received no food, tea, coffee, or water, save for that brought by our fellow sufferers. But as our company was made up of a few hundred souls, half of us received nothing at all, and so we suffered great thirst, it being a hot December day. We had to remain there in the hot sun - there was no mercy. We spent this night of discomfort and anxiety on the bare coal trucks, guarded by police. By night they took the law into their own hands, clambering around the trucks, and every so often you could hear one yelling.

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  7  
Die Saterdagoggend het ons nog nie kos gekry of iets om te drink nie. Hulle het ons toe met trolliewaens na die renbaan vervoer - ons beddegoed het agtergebly. Daar op die renbaan het hulle ons toe in die stalle afgelaai sonder iets om te eet en sonder komberse. Die aand toe dit donker was, het ons nog steeds niks te ete gehad nie. Sonder beddegoed en sonder kos moes ons so die nag in angs deurbring.   That Saturday morning we stayed on there without any food or drink. Then they transported us in porters’ trolleys to the racecourse – leaving our bedding behind. At the racetrack they piled us into stalls, providing neither food nor blankets. That night, too, we had nothing to eat. Lacking bedding and sustenance, we passed another night of agony.
  8  
Die Sondagoggend het ons vir die eerste keer kos gekry, maar ons kon daar nie van gebruik maak nie, want ons het geen vuur gehad om dit gaar te maak nie. Ons kon nie eens koffie maak nie, aangesien ons in die perdestalle was. Dieselfde aand het vriende ons daar uitgeneem en na Orphirton gebring, waar ons omtrent twee maande gebly het. In die tyd het hulle die kamp met genoeg tente daarin gereed gemaak en so het hulle ons toe weer met sak en pak en vir goed na die renbaan vervoer. Wat 'n aaklige gesig was dit nie vir my daardie aand nie.   On the Sunday morning we were given food for the first time, but could make little use of it because we had no fire for cooking. We could not even brew coffee as we were still confined to the stables. That same evening some friends took us out of there and moved us to Orphirton, where we stayed for about two months. In those days there were sufficient tents in the camp, and so they dispatched us, bag and baggage, and for good, to the racetrack. What a ghastly sight met me that night.

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  9  
Vir die eerste keer sien ek toe soveel honderde tente in die hoe gras opgeslaan. Ons moes daardie nag nog maar so op die gras slaap. Die volgende more het ons eers begin skoffel, want so kon ons tog nie in die ronde huisies lewe nie. Daar moes ons een keer per week ons kos ontvang, wanneer daar gewoonlik so baie mense was dat 'n mens byna doodgedruk daaruit gekom het. Daar het ek ook baie na die aaklige hospitaal sien gaan, waarvandaan hulle baie spoedig na die dodehuis gebring is om die volgende dag saam met talle ander kissies na die begraafplaas gedra te word.   Here I witnessed for the first time the hundreds of tents pitched in the high grass. That night we had to sleep right there, on the grass. The next morning we began hoeing without delay, as we could not live in such a manner in the round houses. Once a week we received food, but so many people gathered for it that one was almost crushed to death emerging from the crowd. I also saw many going to that dreadful hospital, from where they rapidly ended up in the morgue, and were taken from thence the next day, along with all the other coffins, to the graveyard.
  10  
Ons kos was uiters treurig. Baie dae het ons sonder kos gebly omdat dit oneetbaar was. Die vleis was so maer dat, al het 'n mens dit ook van die vroëe môre tot die aand donker gekook, daar nie eens 'n ogie vet op was nie; ja, 'n mens kon nie eens daarvan sop maak nie. Baie dae het ons die welbekende "cornbeef” in plaas van vleis gekry, maar dit was nog nie die ergste nie - ons kon nie eens 'n bietjie groente, mieliemeel of meel kry nie. Die koffie was so rooi soos bloed as 'n mens dit gemaak het. Die suiker was baie sleg en vol blou steentjies, en partymaal het dit gelyk net soos iets waarop daar bloed was. Van alles het ons maar baie min gekly. In die kamp moes ons meer as 'n jaar bly.   The food was simply dreadful: we often left it because it was quite inedible. The meat was so lean that there was not a speck of fat to be found on it, even if it was cooked from morning to night;(4) truly, you could not even make soup from it. Many days we were given the famous "corned beef" instead of meat, but that wasn't the worst of it - we were denied even small portions of vegetables, mealie meal or flour. When brewed, the coffee was red as blood. The sugar was really bad, full of little blue pebbles, and sometimes it even looked bloodstained. We only got a little of those things. And in this camp we remained for over a year.

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  11  
Smarte, ja ontelbare smarte, het ons daar deurgemaak. My skoonsuster se enigste kindjie, 'n seuntjie van 18 maande, het toe ook nog siek geword aan die koors, en hoe ons hulle ook al gesmeek het, tog het hulle hom na die hospitaal geneem, waar hy omtrent drie weke siek was. Ons kon hom eers gaan besoek het, maar later is ons verbied omdat hy so bitterlik gehuil het wanneer ons weer loop. Ons kon toe net tot voor die deur kom om daar te verneem hoe dit met hom gaan. Sy moeder was geheelenal belet om te kom - net ek alleen, en dan kon ek ook maar net kom tot voor die deur. So het die arme moeder en kind die smartlike weke deurgebring. Uiteindelik het hy maer, bleek en uitgeteer tog weer herstel sodat hy aan ons teruggegee kon word.   Sorrows, countless sorrows, we endured there. My sister-in-law’s only child, a little boy of 18 months, came down with fever, and after our repeated pleas they finally took him to the hospital, where he lay sick for three weeks. At first we went to visit him, but later on we were forbidden to because he wept so bitterly when we left. Thereafter we could only just stand at the doorway to see how he was. His mother was prohibited to come - just me alone, and I was only allowed to stand at the door. And so the poor mother and child endured weeks of sorrow. At last, emaciated, pale and worn out, he recovered sufficiently to be returned to us.(5)
  12  
Op ons eie versoek is ons toe na die kamp op Vereeniging gestuur. Daar was die ellende 'n bietjie minder en daar was ook nie so baie sterfgevalle nie. Daar het ek toe weer versoek om na die kamp op Vredefortweg gestuur te word, aangesien my drie susters daar was. My drie susters was na my gevang en eers toe ek daar aangekom het, het ek die treurige tyding verneem dat die dierbare oudste suster reeds agt dae gelede gesterf het. In die kamp het daar groot ellende geheers. Baie mense het daar gesterwe, ek dink die meeste het van die honger omgekom, want daar moes 'n mens maar altyd jou maag vasbind. Ek was nog nie lank daar nie toe hulle die name opgeneem het van die vroue en meisies wat nog mans, pa's of broers in die veld gehad het. Diegene moes weer weggestuur word en ons was toe onder die gelukkiges wat weggestuur is.   At our own request we were transferred to the camp at Vereeniging. There the suffering was a little less, and there were fewer fatalities. And from there I requested to be sent to the camp at Vredefort, as my three sisters had been placed there. My sisters had been captured after me, and it was only after my arrival that I learned the tragic news that my beloved eldest sister had died just eight days before. Misery reigned in that camp. Many people died there, most, I think, succumbed to hunger, because in that camp one had to bind one’s stomach tight. I had not been there long before they took the names of the women and girls who still had husbands, fathers or brothers in the field. These individuals were duly removed from the camp, and we were among the fortunate ones dispatched.

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  13  
Ons is almal in beestrokke gestop wat almal so vol gelaai was dat elkeen nouliks plek gehad het om te sit om van die ander ellende nie eens te praat nie. Die hele ent van die stasie af moes ons te voet loop en dit was baie ver. Dit was egter beter as om in die kamp opgesluit te sit. Toe moes ons egter weer in die kamp opgesluit word tussen die hoe en digte bosse, waar 'n mens net die blou hemel bo jou kop kon sien. Hier het alles darem beter gegaan. Kos en groente was daar genoeg, en die behandeling was nie te sleg nie, ofskoon ons vaders en broers hulle nog goed op hul baadjies gegee het in die veld. Hier het ons gebly tot die onvergeetlike dag toe vrede aangebreek het. Dit het ons in die diepste smarte gedompel - die onverstaanbare vrede wat niemand van ons kon verstaan nie en waarvoor so baie dierbares hul lewes opgeoffer het. En tog was alles te vergeefs!   We were all squashed onto cattle trucks, so fully loaded that we had scarcely room to sit, to say nothing of the other miseries we endured. We had to walk the entire distance from the station and it was a lengthy journey. Still, it was better than our confinement in the previous camp. Then again, we were boxed in this new camp by high and thick bushes, from which we could only glimpse the blue heavens above. Nevertheless, things were somewhat better here. There was sufficient food and vegetables, and the treatment was not too bad, even though our fathers and brothers were whipping the enemy in the field. Here we remained until the unforgettable day of freedom came. This plunged us into the deepest despair - this incomprehensible peace that none of us could fathom, and for which so many of our loved ones had given their lives. And all in vain!
  14  
Ek eindig egter nou met die vaste vertroue dat, ofskoon ons al die tyd so swaar moes ly, daar tog nou weer 'n lig vir ons aangebreek het.   I conclude my account now with the firm belief that although we had to suffer so terribly back then, the time will come when a new light will dawn again for us.
English Translation © 2005 by Leigh Thorsen
Footnotes:      

1. The South African Republic (ZAR), also known as the Transvaal, was established in 1852, but annexed by Britain in 1877. President Kruger led two missions to London to demand restoration of Boer independence. When these failed the Boers took to the field in 1881. This conflict constituted the First War of Liberation, or the first Anglo-Boer War. After defeats at Laing’s Neck and Majuba, London was forced to restore independence to the ZAR.

2. By 1901 the Second Anglo-Boer War was costing the British taxpayer around $2.5 million a month. To end the conflict Lord Kitchener implemented a scorched earth policy, resulting in the torching of 30,000 Boer farmhouses, and the near or complete destruction of over 40 towns. Boer families and African workers were removed to concentration camps. As this account testifies, occupants were given little or no time to retrieve valuables or materials from their homes.

 

3. The Orange Free State Republic, the second independent Boer republic, was founded in 1854. With its ally, the ZAR, it was dissolved at the war’s end, and incorporated into the Union of South Africa, together with the former Cape and Natal Colonies.

4. Meat was commonly withheld from women whose men were still fighting. There were few fresh vegetables and no milk for babies or children.

5. This child was fortunate to survive. Malnutrition, overcrowding, and chronic shortage of medical staff and facilities entailed the rapid spread of disease in the camps. In total, 26,730 women and children succumbed to whooping cough, typhoid, measles, diarhhoea, dystentry and diptheria: 81% of the victims were children. An estimated 115,000 African farm workers, domestic workers and ex-miners were interned in separate camps; an estimated 14,154 died in equally deplorable conditions; again, 81% of the deaths were children.