By Hélène Opperman Lewis author of 'Apartheid – Britain’s Bastard Child' (2017)

What follows is another take on British Tory MP Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg’s utterances about the ABW in a BBC interview on 14 Feb 2019.



Context is crucial in interpreting actions. In fact, it may totally change conclusions drawn.

The question addressed here is: Why did this war happen at all and could it have been avoided?

The short answer is that it was indeed avoidable – if the British government, the Tories at the time, had any conscience and wanted to. Yet lacking it, and being the world’s biggest empire at the time, they would demand and take even if it was not theirs for the taking – in this case a small independent republic’s gold. It was a bit like a mid-western movie, only worse.

To be able to justify it, they had to find a raison d’être. So with the jingoes – rich Randlords with smart offices in London – reasons were created, the main one concerning the Uitlanders (foreign mineworkers), among other feeble excuses. All issues could have been solved through negotiation. Instead they sabotaged any attempt at finding a solution and instead launched the world’s first propaganda war – spinning awful perceptions about the Boer people and President Paul Kruger.

In hindsight, this was South Africa’s first ‘Gupta’ capture. The jingoes and their frontmen, Lord Milner and Uitlander Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, made sure there would be a war.

After many futile attempts to find a way out, but ultimately left with only a gun against their heads, the Boers decided to fight – rather than die like ‘rats in a hole.’ It was a fight for their dignity to the very end in which the Boers paid the ultimate price and yet Britain claimed its gold.

To this day an apology has not been forthcoming.



Before going into detail about the above, let me first get the following off my chest.

Martin Luther King Jnr once said: ‘Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’

These words apply to Conservative MP Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg’s utterances regarding deaths

in the concentration camps during the ABW. Erroneously claiming it to be same as deaths in Glasgow at the time. The same goes for his cheering audience, the thrilled presenter, and all the British and English who till this day maintain their innocence in this tragedy.

At the bottom of the Rees-Mogg presentation on their website, the BBC states ironically under the heading ‘Why You Can Trust BBC News’: ‘The BBC is recognized by audiences in the UK and around the world as a provider of news that you can trust. Our website, like our TV and also radio services, strives for journalism that is accurate, impartial, independent and fair (…) Research shows that, compared to other broadcasters, newspapers and online sites, the BBC is seen as by far the most trusted and impartial news provider in the UK.’ Well it certainly is NOT in this case.

In his compassionate response to these deluded utterances British historian Robert Saunders tweeted: ‘Scary that #bbcqt allowed this to go unchallenged from the chair (…) and that Jacob Rees-Mogg actually got applauded for his garbage – by his supporters and type. The audience is of course handpicked by the BBC.’

Well if it is true that the audience is handpicked, the saga is even more abhorrent.


Really, how much longer do these English types expect us Afrikaners to tolerate their arrogance and stupidity? Who do they think they are? They come across as shameless, which also indicates a lack of conscience.

However, this does not apply to the liberal English who, from the outset, were outraged about a war against the Boers. For that they were insulted, even attacked.


Reasons for the Anglo-Boer War

So, let’s have a brief look at why this atrocity happened in the first place – because this makes the gruesome death toll even more serious and unforgiveable.


The bottom-line is, it was all about gold for Her Majesty’s near-empty state coffers. There is agreement about this among prominent historians, even British historians such as Thomas Pakenham whose The Boer War is suggested reading.

Historian Bill Nasson wrote in The War for South Africa (2010): ‘The South African Republic asked only to be left alone, but from the 1870s onwards, the British lion began to paw at the young country. Its immense gold deposits were

turning it into the economic hub of the entire Southern African region…’


At the time the South African goldmines in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR, commonly known as the Transvaal Republic) were the world’s richest goldmines. But of course, that’s not how the story is being told to those who are ignorant about history. As always there’s a twist in the lion’s tail.

It all started with Cecil John Rhodes and the Jameson Raid in 1896, his gang’s failed illegal invasion of the ZAR. It was a grotesque blunder, pretending to ‘rescue’ the Uitlanders. The Uitlanders, mostly British mineworkers who outnumbered the Boers, demanded voting rights within a shorter period than allowed. What an interesting heist it would have been had they pulled it off, but of course they failed – the Boers were waiting for them in the koppies outside Pretoria.

On top of it, the majority of Uitlanders were not interested in voting rights or ZAR citizenship. They just wanted to make a lot of money on the gold mines before returning home. But that’s not what Rhodes & Co fed the British yellow press. They were oppressed was the war cry. Total nonsense of course.

Even now it would be an outrageous, if not laughable demand. Many people work in foreign countries; imagine them arrogantly demanding voting rights from their host country, just because they have the luck and privilege to earn a good income there, while they would have near starved being back home?

South African anthropologist Gertrude Millin states in The South Africans (1926): ‘The Dutch had attached themselves to the soil because they wanted to live there, and the English sought it for what they could get out of it.’

So to enable the Tories in Britain to get their jingoist hands on the gold, the British government started the first global propaganda war ever – directed at the ZAR, an independent Boer republic, and its people, the Afrikaners. In the British press, Boers were called: brigands, dacoits, marauders, ruffians, filibusters, banditti, mobs of desperadoes, midnight marauders, squads of caterans, pig-dealers, orangutans, oxen, devilish.

Capt. JJ McCord, refers to it in his book, South African Struggle (1952) as follows: ‘The propaganda, powerfully and skilfully conducted, succeeded in foisting on the world one of the

greatest and most successful frauds of history.’ (Author’s emphasis.)

The propaganda was aimed at mobilising support among the British public for the war so it could be financed.

With this backing and self-justification (or rather self-deception) a raison d’être was thus created for a devastating war, in which the highest price was paid by thousands of Afrikaner and black children, who died in the concentration camps. From a psychological perspective, a child’s death, is one of the worst thing that any parent can experience. Worse, if it is due to an injustice, as was the case here. They never get over it.

In England plays were written and performed, while poems and songs dedicated to the war were scripted. The foul propaganda succeeded – the pandemic of scorn spread over the globe to all the little Island’s colonies. Like a virus.

Pakenham states in his magnificent The Boer War (1997), that when Alfred Milner departed for London in 1898 to finalise and gather his secret support for a war in South Africa, Sir William Butler (then the recently appointed military commander in South Africa and temporarily acting as high commissioner in Milner’s absence) was quite surprised and shocked by what he came to learn during Milner’s absence. He quickly realised the Rhodes-Beit press goal: ‘nearly all information sent from Cape Town to England, is now being worked by … a colossal syndicate for the spread of systematic misrepresentations’. With time, he said, ‘more and more the conviction grows on me that the small and noisy group of men who have got all the telegraphic and most of the press power in their hands are steadily intent upon the production of friction, and nothing but friction, in the country …backed by enormous means and quite without conscience … to produce a war in South Africa for selfish ends’.

So do it the British way: create an enemy, turn it into the devil through propaganda, then justify your war as a moral endeavour. Clever? No wonder Mr Rees-Mogg, a Tory too, is still in denial. It is a lot to swallow, meneer.


Boers tried to avert war

A little-known truth is that the Boers desperately and to the point of exhaustion tried to prevent war – while still maintaining some dignity, as they were a proud people.

First in line was Fitzpatrick (of Jock of the Bushveld fame) who leaked to the press confidential negotiation proposals between the conflicting parties, called the Great Deal, an attempt to resolve their differences. Fitzpatrick was a friend of Rhodes and Milner and part of their inner circle, with the jingoes.

Before the Bloemfontein Conference of 31 May-5 June 1899 between Milner and the Kruger government, Jan Smuts mulled the possibility of the event being a sham, arranged by Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain to hoodwink ‘audiences at home and in the colonies’.

As Pakenham explains, anticipating the conference in Bloemfontein, a distressed young Smuts contemplated: ‘[D]id Chamberlain really intend to try to re-annex the Transvaal, quite regardless of public opinion? … Suppose the whole conference was to be a sham, a piece of political theatre arranged by Chamberlain for the benefit of audiences at home and in the colonies? If that was the case, why humiliate themselves by making concessions?’

Smuts’s feelings boiled over, says Pakenham. ‘Our volk [Afrikaners] throughout South Africa must be baptised by blood and fire before they can be admitted among the great peoples of the world … Either we shall be exterminated or we shall fight our way out … and when I think of the great fighting qualities that our people possess, I cannot see why we should be exterminated.’

When Smuts said, ‘I cannot see why we should be exterminated’, the despondency, but also the determination to survive of the Afrikaner once again manifested itself. Confronted by a greedy and bullying Empire, these must have been some of the darkest hours for the Afrikaner.

The Bloemfontein Conference was another Milner charade – and it failed. Now we know why: Milner received a cable from Lord Selborne’s office in London, marked ‘Confidential’, dated 31 May 1889, stating: ‘The crisis has come, and we are not going to fail you. Thank God we have you as High Commissioner.’

Milner had succeeded in creating a crisis, and London was satisfied. However, on 14 June, Milner became concerned and wrote to Chamberlain: ‘I think I was wrong in breaking off the conference quite as quickly as I did.’ (Don’t read any sincerity in this statement – it was all about impressions made.)

And the Boers? Upon their return to Pretoria, Kruger and Smuts at once drafted a friendly letter on 9 June 1899 to the British government, proposing how future differences between the two governments could be arbitrated. The regulations and procedure for such arbitration was similar to those agreed by the Institute of International Law in The Hague in 1875. The letter ended with Kruger’s ‘earnest hope that Her Majesty’s Government would accept the proposal, which would put an end to the permanent feeling of anxiety from which South Africa was suffering’.

But London was bent on war.

Pakenham explains how, meanwhile, Milner urgently requested that Chamberlain accept ‘Milner’s empty & repeated claim [falsely] that there would be no war, if they showed firmness by sending out troops’.

No sooner than the first British Colonial troops arrived at the ZAR’s borders!


Here is the timeline:

On 17 September 1899, the republic asked the British high commissioner for an explanation regarding the concentration of its colonial troops on the Transvaal’s borders. To this, the commissioner replied that ‘the troops were there to defend British interests and in order to be prepared for possibilities’, says Pakenham.

On 22 September 1899, England announced its mobilisation of troops for South Africa and that they would leave without delay.

Realising that war was imminent, President MT Steyn of the Orange Free State made a personal last effort to prevent war, while British troops were also moved to the Orange Free State borders. On 27 September 1899, Steyn adopted a resolution informing the British that no cause for war existed, and, should there be a war, it would morally be a war against all the white population of South Africa. However, he said, come what may, if such a war were to arise, the Orange Free State would honestly and faithfully assist in supporting the ZAR.

Still waiting for a reply of his communiqué on 27 September 1899, on 2 October 1899, Steyn commandeered up the Boers.

On 3 October 1899, Steyn wrote a letter to Her Majesty’s government that ‘ascribed the failure to arrive at a resolution of existing differences to the bitter and hostile tone of utterances made both by responsible men and by the English

press in South Africa and England, bristling with misrepresentations and menace to the Transvaal, accompanied by ever-increasing military preparations, not only in South Africa, but throughout the British Empire, which were openly stated to be directed against the Transvaal’.

On 7 October 1899, a royal proclamation appeared in England, summoning parliament to call up all reserves and mobilising the British Army corps of South Africa. It was two days before the Boers’ ‘ultimatum’. British troops began to pour in from all over the world.



As consequence, on 9 October 1899, the ZAR sent its ultimatum to the British government: In this document, it was once again stated that England had no right to interfere in the republic’s internal affairs, that the republic had yet to find an occasion to discuss in a friendly fashion the franchise and the representation of the people with Her Majesty’s government, how the British government had taken on an increasingly threatening attitude and finally broken off correspondence on the subject, and that the republic was still waiting for the proposal promised by Britain, who had meanwhile sent its military forces to the frontiers of the republics.

When the Boers issued the ultimatum, it was their only option, as the British Empire had already mobilised its army. The alternative was to die ‘like rats in a hole’, says Pakenham.

The ultimatum expired on Wednesday, 11 October 1899.


In London, Pakenham states, Moberley Bell, manager of The Times, ‘slapped his sides with laughter’. Bell exclaimed that ‘[t]he ultimatum was excellent in every way … An official document is seldom both eminently amusing and useful, but this was both’.

Lord Salisbury declared ‘defiance so audacious … liberated us from the necessity of explaining … why we are at war’. Lord Lansdowne, the Minister of War, congratulated Chamberlain who, on receiving the ultimatum, exclaimed jubilantly: ‘‘They’ve done it!’’

Britain had already drawn up its own ultimatum, which was safely locked away in the files of the CO, ready to be delivered if the Boers did not get hooked into issuing theirs first.

On 11 October 1899, war was officially declared. The British expected the entire business to be a quick walkover – ‘this was to be the tea-time war’, the Britons jubilantly cried, says Pakenham.

But many liberals asked: ‘What is it we are going to war about?’


And so, says Pakenham, ‘In 1899, they [the British] had sent out the biggest overseas expedition in British history to subdue one of the world’s smallest nations.’



In the words of the great Afrikaner poet NP van Wyk Louw, if the Afrikaners did not take a stand against British aggression ‘sou die Afrikaans volksgevoel van slapheid en feitlik van skaamte’ sou sterf. (the Afrikaner’s sense of a nation would have died due to cowardice and shame.)


Scorched Earth

On 18 February 1901 in a speech in the British parliament, Lloyd George read the following letter from a British officer returning from the Anglo-Boer War: ‘We move from valley to valley, lifting cattle and sheep, burning and looting, and turning out women and children to weep in despair beside the ruin of their once-beautiful homesteads.’ To this, Lloyd George added, ‘It is a war not against men, but against women and children.’

Despite these facts being made known to the British public, the British masses refused to accept the news and called it ‘pure exaggeration’, dismissing it as instigating ‘race hatred’. In 2009, British historian Niall Ferguson, in his book, War of The World: History’s Age of Hatred (2006), restated how war atrocities during the Anglo-Boer War were misrepresented in the British press at the time. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘was a very British measure of success, a profit and loss account from the battlefield. However, the methods the British had by this time adopted to defeat their foes were harsh in the extreme, though The Times made no mention of it.’

Pakenham says that, with a few exceptions like Captain March-Phillips, most British officers favoured farm burning. Pakenham further notes that ‘several million cattle, horses and sheep, that had comprised the [Boers’] chief capital, had been killed or looted’.


Just as blood is more visible on white gloves, so horror is more apparent when it is also civilised.

– Andre Comte-Sponville, French philosopher


Historians Bill Nasson and Albert Grundlingh state in The War at Home (2013) that, after Britain’s initial defeats before 1900, Chamberlain asked that a force be sent through the Orange Free State, emulating Sherman’s march through Georgia – saying, ‘[t]he war office declared that international law for European or civilized nations could not be applied to the Boers, as they were worse than inferior Africans’. This, the authors say, means that ‘retribution through devastation’ was considered long before the Boers turned to guerrilla warfare.


Britain cannot win the battle without resorting to the last despicable cowardice of the most loathsome cur on earth – the act of striking at a brave man’s heart through his wife’s honour and his child’s life.

– Rev. Charles Aked, Baptist minister in     Liverpool, Sunday, 22 December 1901 –


Eric Stockenström author of Geskiedenis van Suid-Afrika 1700-1914, alludes to the many women who survived the mutiny in India in 1857 and the 80-year conflict between the Netherlands and Spain. However, he says that ‘the jesting, insulting and abuse as well as the terrible danger that the defenceless Boer women had to endure at the hands of the cruel gangs during the Anglo-Boer War is unequalled in history.’


Concentration Camps

British physician Dr Henry Becker, who served as medical doctor during the war, writes: ‘First they chose an ill-suited site for the camp. Then they supplied so little water that the people could neither wash themselves nor their clothes. Furthermore, they made no provision for sufficient waste removal. And lastly, they did not provide enough toilets for the overpopulation they had crammed into the camps.’

Emeritus professor of history Burridge Spies writes in his book Methods of Barbarism? (1994): ‘The concentration camp system of Roberts and Kitchener can be regarded as having been a violation of the spirit of The Hague Convention as well as, more specifically, of Article 46: ‘Family honors and rights, individual lives and private property … must be respected.’


The Death Toll

By 1899 the estimated total population of Afrikaners in Southern Africa was 479 000. In the two republics at war with Britain, 71 000 (15%) resided in the OFS with 148 000 (31%) in the ZAR. In the two adjacent British colonies there were 10 000 (2%) in Natal, and 250 000 (52%) in the Cape Colony. The Boer population of 219 000 in the two republics was thus less than half that of the total population of Boers in Southern Africa.

The death statistics presented here are those of Elizabeth CC Reynolds’s genealogical research compiled for her master’s degree in 2007 at North-West University. The title of her thesis is Die ontwikkeling van ’n elektroniese genealogiese databasis van burgerlike sterftes gedurende die ABO – 1899-1902. (The development of an electronic genealogical data basis of civilian deaths during the ABW – 1899-1902). (These updated figures are slightly higher than figures mostly quoted.)

There were 116 572 white camp inmates, 30% (34 430) of whom died. Of the total deaths in the white camps, 80% (27 381) were children, of which 14 431 were under the age of 2 years. In other words four out of every five deaths - were children.

Of the women with children who fled into the veld to escape the camps, historian, professor Fransjohan Pretorius cites a figure of 14 000 who remained there at the end of the war. The death toll among these individuals is estimated at about 2 400.

There were 775 000 black people in the ZAR, and 130 000 in the Orange Free State, totalling 905 000 in both areas at the outbreak of the war. About 115 000 black people were put into around 64-66 camps, as they, too, were starving due to the scorched-earth policy. They were correctly designated as refugees. Many served as labourers for British officers in the camps. Incomplete official records of black people who died, makes it difficult to determine the exact figure of deaths among them. Recent figures indicate that 15 423 (on record) to 18 003 black people died (about 750 of them in white camps). Most were children too.

The ABW only lasted about two-and-a-half years, from Oct 1899 to May 1902, and claimed a total death toll of 61 022. This is out of a population in the two republics of a mere 219 000 whites, 905 000 blacks.

(Camps;  whites 34 019, Blacks 18 003 , those fleeing 2400, men dying on the battlefield 5 071, deaths in exile 1 118.)

To put these figures in perspective, compare this death toll of 61 022 to the 58 000 American soldiers, mostly young men, who died in the 20+year Vietnam War. The United States had a population of 216 million in 1975, the year America finally withdrew from Vietnam. And those Americans who returned home after the war, found their homes and families unscathed. A normal world awaiting  them.

In the case of the Boers - their livestock (cattle, sheep, horses etc) had been killed. Farms and homes as well as many towns were burned down. Those who survived and returned ‘home’ returned to total devastation. Ashes. And grief. It’s just unthinkable how that must have been. How do you go on?

After returning from the devastation of the Second World War, Jan Smuts said:


No part of Europe was so devastated, root and branch, as the Transvaal and Orange

Free State in the South African War. From the battlefield, our people returned to a

country in ruins – devastated and burned until only nature remained. (The Star, 18 June 1948)


Looking back on history’s road, one can clearly see how the Anglo-Boer War left Afrikaners with lasting fears of survival, a fatal survival imperative that was the psychological root of apartheid in 1948.


The late professor Sampie Terreblanche, quoting Herfried Münkler in 2007, wrote in his book Western Empires (2014):

 One may doubt whether the British would have been able to maintain such a [cruel] policy

for much longer after the emergence of the global audio-visual media in the 1960s and

1970s. Pictures of suffering and death [in the concentration camps in South Africa] would

have triggered massive protests in the imperial centre [of London].


And yet, in 2019 – the BBC continues with the misrepresentation(s).

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