ANGLO-BOER WAR CONCENTRATION CAMP IN PORT ELIZABETH

Concentration camps were first implemented in South Africa by the British during the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902). The first to be established was in Port Elizabeth, which was functional between December 1900 and November 1902. Its existence came about shortly after the British invasion of the Free State, which is why most of the internees, Boer women and children, came from the Jagersfontein and Fauresmith districts. They had been removed as there was concern that they might ‘aid the enemy’. Although originally sited on the racecourse, by March 1901 the concentration camp had been moved to Lennox Road in Glendinningvale, close to the Kemsley Park Police Sports Ground and Old Grey Sports Club.

The memorial is surrounded by a symbolic barbed wire fence.

The camp housed about 200 children and 86 women in zinc and iron huts surrounded by a 1.5-m high fence, with approximately 32 men accommodated in a separate camp nearby. Among the notable internees were the mother, wife, three sisters-in-law, and children of General J. B. M. Hertzog, who was later to become the Prime Minister of South Africa. Fourteen people died at the concentration camp between November 1900 and April 1902. Seven-year-old Charles Neethling Hertzog died of measles shortly after his arrival in the camp.

Few families could afford a gravestone such as the one above and so the rest of the dead were buried in paupers’ graves in the North End Cemetery, where this memorial has been erected in their memory.

The names, ages, and date of death of those who died have been engraved on a marble memorial with the words Ons vir jou Suid Afrika (from the national anthem) inscribed above them.

The incarceration of women and children garnered adverse publicity in England, leading to Emily Hobhouse visiting the Port Elizabeth concentration camp first on her arrival in this country. Unlike the conditions she was to encounter in other concentration camps, she reported that these families had been made as comfortable as possible.

Despite early opposition to the establishment of a memorial on the site of this concentration camp, the Summerstrand branch of Dames Aktueel, supported by the Rapportryers, oversaw the erection of the monument which was unveiled on 29th October 1983.

SUSPENSION FOOT BRIDGE: THEN AND NOW

It was in 1979 that friends visited the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park – as it was called then [it is now part of the Garden Route National Park] – and sent us a post card depicting this view of the Suspension Foot Bridge over the Storms River. The card has faded over time, yet shows the spectacular view of the bridge from the path that winds through the forest.

We had not yet visited the area and were taken by their description of it: We are enjoying this very beautiful place and are sure you would too. Even in rainy weather it is a lovely place to be. We were living in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal at the time and it wasn’t until we were living in Mmabatho several years later that we made our way down there – and fell in love with the place! So much so that we have returned many times – most recently in October last year.

Although this photograph is not taken from the original perspective, you can see how the area has been developed over the past 41 years – especially the footbridge. The original one is still there, but has been augmented by others.

Our friends continued: Unfortunately the Otter Trail is fully booked but we are enjoying the shorter walks. Great bird life!

How right they were too. There are a number of interesting walks along the coastline and through the natural forest that hugs the steep slopes of the mountains. Every time we visit there I am astounded by the number and variety of birds we see – even around the open camp sites. I have written elsewhere about walking the Otter Trail, which I did a couple of years after moving to Grahamstown.

As an aside: the postage stamp on this postcard is 3c. During the intervening years postage has increased to R5,34. Given how dysfunctional our postal service is, I wonder if people bother to send post cards anymore!

FIBRE IS COMING TO TOWN

We might have potholes you can almost swim in; we might have dry taps now and then; we are often sans electricity; we have cattle and donkeys roaming through the town … streets are breaking up; sewage bubbles to the surface in places; and clean water pours down the streets at times. This beautiful town is creaking at the seams and yet … fibre is coming to town.

Trench diggers have been working for months, from one side of town to the other, readying the ground for the laying of fibre. They reached our area last week – the netting along our pavement is hiding the open trenches, which were covered over only a day later.

Some people have complained about the constant digging, the sound of machinery, and (quite rightly) the litter that gets left behind as the workmen make their way through the suburb. The time will come though when this will all be forgotten and they, in their turn, will connect to fibre so that their internet speed and capacity can improve. The picture below shows the section next to our drive that has been cordoned off before a moling machine was used to tunnel under it to feed the fibre through without damaging the driveway.

Yes, our town is fraying like a piece of old cloth. Despite all its problems, it is still a beautiful place to live. Now, the town is seamed with a fibre network filled with potential. Time will tell

IN DEFENCE OF THEIR TOWN IN 1901

There was a time during the Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902) when the Boers adopted guerrilla tactics to harass the British forces. As the advancing commandos of Generals Jan Smuts and P. H. Kritzinger had attacked towns in the Eastern Cape, Grahamstown called upon cadets from local schools to assist with defending the town. Trenches were dug around the perimeter of the town.

This happened during March 1901. For about ten days these trenches or schanze were manned by school cadets from St. Andrew’s College, Kingswood College and Graeme College. Unmarked remnants of these trenches can still be seen if one has a careful eye.

None of these boys saw any action and not much information is readily available about their contribution to the defence of the town. What we do know is that the St. Andrew’s College cadets (Detachment No 4) manned their post on the fringes of the old golf course for ten days before standing down. It transpires that Kritzinger’s forces only reached as far as Carlisle Bridge, about 127Km away. In 1997 the school erected a marble tablet to commemorate this event.

Those St. Andrew’s College cadets voluntarily forfeited their soldiers’ pay, having voted to put it towards the building of what is now known as the Drill Hall.  This memorial can be located at 33°17’51.90”S; 26°30’14.60”E. The trenches they dug, though overgrown, are still visible.

A rich source of information about St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown can be found in Marguerite Poland’s magnificent book, The Boy in You: a biography of St. Andrew’s College, 1855-2005.

FENCES

Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) was favoured for making sturdy fence-posts and even railway sleepers in the Eastern Cape from very early on as this hardwood is well known for its durability. Below is an example of a fence no longer in use, yet the sneezewood fence-post continues to carry out its duty.

There are many such abandoned fences in this part of the world. The following photograph shows a suburban fence made up of a collection of sneezewood fence-posts.

While they might look old and bent at different angles, these posts did their job very well and are still as strong as they were when they were first erected during the 1800s. The holes in them have not been bored by insects, but show where the fencing wires were threaded through them. In sharp contrast is a section of a modern fence, common in these parts where a number of game farms or private game reserves have sprung up.

These tall, multi-stranded fences are high enough to keep most wild animals from roaming – yet a kudu can sail over them with ease should it wish to!