The end of the first modern war

31 May 2002

It was an event tinged with sadness, yet relief. It was the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging by the Boers and the British in a marquee in the small rural town of Vereeniging, 60 kilometres south-west of Johannesburg, on 31 May 1902. It marked the end of the three-year Anglo Boer War, one of the bitterest wars in colonial history. That was 100 years ago on 31 May 2002.

Saturday, 1 June, saw a centenary commemoration to the many who died in the War: 22 000 British soldiers, 7 000 Boers, 24 000 black men, women and children, and 22 000 white women and children, many of whom died in almost 200 concentration camps.

Speaker in the City of Johannesburg chamber, Councillor Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, welcomed dignitaries and guests led by Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Minister Ben Ngubane to the Rand Regiments Memorial, in the grounds of the South African Military History Museum in Saxonwold, Johannesburg. Australia and Britain were represented by Major General P Leahy and Lt-General Sir T Granville-Chapman respectively at a wreath-laying ceremony. The Boer forces were represented by General Constand Viljoen, former general of the South African Defence Force.

The formalities were given pomp by The Highland Band of the Scottish Division, from the United Kingdom. The National Ceremonial Guard – the President’s guard – took to the parade ground along with a mixed contingent from Australia. A number of Johannesburg regiments were also present, including the Wits Rifles, the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, the Light Horse Regiment, the Roodepoort Commando and the South African-Irish Regiment.

The Anglo Boer War is considered the first “modern war”. Guerrilla tactics, camouflage uniforms, concentration camps and attacks on civilian targets, all of these the ugly signatures of 20th century warfare, were first used in that campaign.

A 'Long Tom' cannon in position outside Mafikeng
A ‘Long Tom’ cannon in position outside Mafikeng. (Photo: Anglo Boer War Museum)

Concentration camps were scattered around the Free State and the Transvaal. The biggest camp in Johannesburg was at the Turffontein Race Course, which housed around 5 000 people, of whom 700 died. They are today buried on a farm called Kliprivier Berg in Winchester Hills, south of Johannesburg.

A reporter, quoted in Thomas Pakenham’s history The Boer War, said on the day 100 years ago: “I saw the lips quiver of men who had never trembled before a foe. I saw tears brimming in eyes that had been dry when they had seen their dearest laid in the grave.”

There were a few wet cheeks on Saturday in commemoration of one of the most bitter wars in South Africa, which left deep scars on Afrikaners for several generations. A controversial memorial The Rand Regiments Memorial, designed by notable British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, has a controversial history.

Described by Clive Chipkin in his Johannesburg style, architecture and society as Lutyens’ “great arc de triomphe”, the Memorial is a 20-metre tall stone four-arched building, with a large bronze angel of peace positioned on the top.

Shortly after the war, Randlord Lionel Philips and others suggested a memorial to commemorate the British soldiers who had died. The town council expressed little interest, indicating that a memorial should commemorate all those who fell in the war. Around 200 acres of land was originally given to the city to be used as a park, now Zoo Lake and the Zoo, and which included the old Sachsenwald, a forest planted with trees to use as props for the mines, just below the Parktown ridge.

Philips’ company, H Eckstein & Co, bought 40 acres of the park and donated it for the construction of the Memorial. The Rand Regiments Memorial was built, but because of its one-sided dedication, was largely neglected. It was gradually encroached upon by the neighbouring Zoo.

The five vistas leading to the monument have largely been engulfed, and the only one that is still obvious is the avenue looking west from the Memorial down into the Zoo. In 1999 it was decided that the Memorial needed to consider all those who died in the war. The site was re-dedicated on 10 October of that year to “the memory of the men, women and children of all races and all nations who lost their lives in the Anglo Boer War, 1899-1902”.

On Saturday, a Stone of Remembrance designed by Lutyens, taking the form of a sarcophagus, was to have been laid, but the funds for the Stone have not been forthcoming. Instead, a wooden structure resembling Lutyens’ stone was erected as a temporary measure, and around it various plaques were placed, in particular one from Australia. When the Stone of Remembrance is finally ready, it will bear this wording:

This Memorial is dedicated to all those who lost their lives in the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902. To the combatants: Boer and Briton, black and white South Africans and other nationals. To the noncombatants: men, women and children who died as a result of the fighting, or during the sieges or in the concentration camps.

On the step approaching the Stone the following will be engraved:

We shall remember them

On the south face of the Stone the following inscription will appear:

In remembrance of those black South Africans whose role has hitherto been unacknowledged. The estimated ten thousand black combatants who fought with the British army. The estimated one hundred thousand black men who served in the Boer and British armies as non-combatants. The more than twenty thousand black men, women and children who died in British concentration camps. The unknown number of black civilians who lost their lives in the conflict, particularly those who died in the sieges of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafikeng.

And on the north face of the Stone, the following:

And also to: the volunteers of all races from Natal and the Cape Colony who served with the Boer and British forces. The men of the Transvaal who died in the service of the South Africa Republic. The men of the Orange Free State who died in the service of their country. The estimated twenty-eight thousand Boer women and children who died in the British concentration camps. The burghers who died while serving with the National Scouts and the Orange River Colony volunteers who lost their lives while serving with the British.

At the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging, acting President Schalk Burger said: “We must be ready to forgive and forget …”

Source: City of Johannesburg web site

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