The Holocaust Historiography Project

A Century Ago

The Boer War Remembered

by Mark Weber

The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 was more than the first major military clash of the 20th century. Pitting as it did the might of the globe-girdling British Empire, backed by international finance, against a small pioneering nation of independent-minded farmers, ranchers and merchants in southern African who lived by the Bible and the rifle, its legacy continues to resonate today. The Boers' recourse to irregular warfare, and Britain’s response in herding a hundred thousand women and children into concentration camps foreshadow the horrors of guerilla warfare and mass detention of innocents that have become emblematic of the 20th century.

The Dutch, Huguenot and German ancestors of the Boers first settled the Cape area of South Africa in 1652. After several attempts, Britain took control of it in 1814. Refusing to submit to foreign colonial rule, 10,000 Boers left the Cape area in the Great Trek of 1835-1842. The trekkers moved northwards, first to Natal and then to the interior highlands where they set up two independent republics, the Orange Free State and the South African (Transvaal) Republic. The Boers (Dutch: “farmers") worked hard to build a new life for themselves. But they also had to fight to keep their fledgling republics free of British encroachment and safe from native African attacks.

Their great leader was Paul Kruger, an imposing, passionate and deeply religious man. The bearded, patriarchal figure was beloved by his people, who affectionately referred to him as “Oom Paul” (Uncle Paul). Born into a relatively well-to-do Cape colony farming family in 1825, he took part as a boy in the Great Trek. He married at the age of 17, became a widower at 21, remarried twice, and fathered 16 children. With just a few months of schooling, his reading was confined almost entirely to the Bible. He was an avid hunter, an expert horseman, and an able swimmer and diver.

Over his lifetime, Kruger repeatedly proved his courage and resourcefulness in numerous pitched military engagements. When he was 14 he fought in his first battle, a commando raid against Matabele regiments, and also shot his first lion. While in his twenties he took part in two major battles against native black forces.

Four times he was elected President of the Transvaal republic. His courage, honesty and devotion helped greatly to sustain the morale of his people during the hard years of conflict. A contemporary observer described Kruger as a “natural orator; rugged in speech, lacking in measured phrase and in logical balance; but passionate and convincing in the unaffected pleading of his earnestness."note 1

Gold and Diamonds

The discovery of gold at Witwatersrand in the Transvaal in 1886 ended Boer seclusion, and brought a mortal threat to the young nation’s dream of freedom from alien rule. Like a magnet, the land’s rich gold deposits drew waves of foreign adventurers and speculators, whom the Boers called “uitlanders” ("outlanders"). By 1896 the population of Johannesburg had grown to more than a hundred thousand. Of the 50,000 white residents, only 6,205 were citizens.note 2

As often happens in history, important aspects of the Anglo-Boer conflict came to light only years after the fighting had ended. In a masterful 1979 study, The Boer War, British historian Thomas Pakenham revealed previously unknown details about the conspiracy of British colonial officials and Jewish financiers to plunge South Africa into war. The men who flocked to South Africa in search of wealth included Cecil Rhodes, the renowned English capitalist and imperial visionary, and a collection of ambitious Jews who, together with him, were to play a decisive role in fomenting the Boer war.

Barney Barnato, a dapper, vulgar fellow from London’s East End (born Barnett Isaacs), was one of the first of many Jews who have played a major role in South African affairs. Through pluck and shrewd maneuvering, by 1887 he presided over an enormous South African financial-business empire of diamonds and gold. In 1888 he joined with his chief rival, Cecil Rhodes, who was backed by the Rothschild family of European financiers, in running the De Beers empire, which controlled all South African diamond production, and thereby 90 percent of the world’s diamond output, as well as a large share of the world’s gold production.note 3 (In the 20th century, the De Beers diamond cartel came under the control of a German-Jewish dynasty, the Oppenheimers, who also controlled its gold-mining twin, the Anglo-American Corporation. With its virtual world monopoly on diamond production and distribution, and grip on a large part of the world’s gold production, the billionaire family has ruled a financial empire of unmatched global importance. It also controlled influential newspapers in South Africa. So great was the Oppenheimers' power and influence in South Africa that it rivaled that of the formal government.)note 4

In the 1890s the most powerful South African financial house was Wernher, Beit & Co., which was controlled and run by a Jewish speculator from Germany named Alfred Beit. Rhodes relied heavily on support from Beit, whose close ties to the Rothschilds and the Dresdner Bank made it possible for the ambitious Englishman to acquire and consolidate his great financial-business empire.note 5

As historian Pakenham has noted, the “secret allies” of Alfred Milner, the British High Commissioner for South Africa, were “the London 'gold-bugs' — especially the financiers of the largest of all the Rand mining houses, Wernher-Beit.” Pakenham continued: “Alfred Beit was the giant — a giant who bestrode the world’s gold market like a gnome. He was short, plump and bald, with large, pale, luminous eyes and a nervous way of tugging at his grey moustache."note 6

Beit and Lionel Phillips, a Jewish millionaire from England, together controlled H. Eckstein & Co., the largest South African mining syndicate. Of the six largest mining companies, four were controlled by Jews.note 7

By 1894, Beit and Phillips were conspiring behind the backs of Briton and Boer alike to “improve” the Transvaal Volksraad (parliament) with tens of thousands of pounds in bribe money. In one case, Beit and Phillips spent 25,000 pounds to arrange settlement of an important issue before the assembly.note 8

The Jameson Raid

On December 29, 1895, a band of 500 British adventurers forcibly tried to seize control of the Boer republics in an “unofficial” armed takeover. Rhodes, who was then also prime minister of the British-ruled Cape Colony, organized the venture, which Alfred Beit financed to the tune of 200,000 pounds. Phillips also joined the conspiracy. According to their plan, raiders led by Sir Leander Starr Jameson, a close personal friend of Rhodes, would dash from neighboring British territory into Johannesburg to “defend” the British “outlanders” there who, by secret prior arrangement, would simultaneously seize control of the city in the name of the “oppressed” aliens, and proclaim themselves the new government of Transvaal. In a letter about the plan written four months before the raid, Rhodes confided to Beit: “Johannesburg is ready … [this is] the big idea which makes England dominant in Africa, in fact gives England the African continent."note 9

Rhodes, Beit and Jameson counted on the secret backing in London of the new Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain (father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain). Upon taking office in the administration of Prime Minister Salisbury, Chamberlain proudly proclaimed his arch-imperialist sentiments: “I believe in the British Empire, and I believe in the British race. I believe that the British race is the greatest of governing races that the world has ever seen.” Clandestinely Chamberlain provided the conspirators with rifles, and made available to them a tract of land as a staging area for the attack.note 10

After 21 men lost their lives in the takeover attempt, Jameson and his fellow raiders were captured and put on trial. In Johannesburg, Transvaal authorities arrested Phillips for his part in organizing the raid. They found incriminating secret correspondence between him and co-conspirators Beit and Rhodes, which encouraged Phillips to confess his guilt. A Transvaal court leniently sentenced Jameson to 15 months imprisonment. Phillips was sentenced to death, but this was quickly commuted to a fine of 25,000 pounds. (Later, after returning to Britain, the financier was knighted for his services to the Empire, and during the First World War was given a high post in the Ministry of Munitions.)

Although it proved a fiasco, the Jameson raid convinced the Boers that the British were determined, even at the cost of human lives, to rob them of their hard-won freedom. The blood of those who died in the abortive raid also figuratively baptized the alliance of Jewish finance and British imperialism.note 11

Jan Christiann Smuts, the brilliant young Boer leader who would one day be Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, later reflected: “The Jameson Raid was the real declaration of war in the Great Anglo-Boer conflict … And that is so in spite of the four years truce that followed … [the] aggressors consolidated their alliance … the defenders on the other hand silently and grimly prepared for the inevitable."note 12

Preparing for War

Undaunted by the Jameson Raid disaster, British High Commissioner Milner, with crucial “gold bug” backing, began secretly to foment a full-scale war to drag the Boer lands into the Empire. While publicly preparing to “negotiate” with President Kruger over the status of the “uitlanders,” Milner was secretly confiding his intention to “screw” the Boers. At their May-June 1899 meeting, he demanded of Kruger an “immediate voice” for the flood of foreigners who had poured into the Transvaal republic in recent years. As the talks inevitably broke down, Kruger angrily declared: “It is our country you want!”

Even as the “negotiations” were underway, Wernher, Beit & Co. was secretly financing an “outlander” army of 1,500, which eventually grew to 10,000. As Thomas Pakenham has noted: “The gold-bugs, contrary to the accepted view of later historians, were thus active partners with Milner in the making of the war."note 13

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the illustrious warlord who commanded British forces in South Africa, 1900-1902, later privately acknowledged that a major factor in the conflict was that the Boers were “afraid of getting into the hands of certain Jews who no doubt wield great influence in the country."note 14

For Britain’s leaders, bringing the Boer republics under imperial rule seemed entirely logical and virtually pre-ordained. On the prevailing mind-set in London, historian Pakenham has written:note 15

The independence of a Boer republic, bursting with gold and bristling with imported rifles, threatened Britain’s status as a “paramount” power. British paramountcy (alias supremacy) was not a concept in international law. But most of the British thought it made practical sense … Boer independence seemed worse than absurd; it was dangerous for world peace … The solution seemed to be to wrap the whole of South Africa in the Union Jack, the make the whole country a British dominion …

Most of Britain’s leading newspapers pushed for war. This was especially true of the Jewish-owned or Jewish-controlled press, which included the influential conservative organ, The Daily Telegraph, owned by Lord Burnham (born Edward Levy), Oppenheim’s Daily News, Marks' Evening News, and Steinkopf’s St. James Gazette.note 16

Reflecting the official consensus in London, on August 26, 1899, Chamberlain delivered an uncompromising speech directed against the Boers, and two days later sent a threatening dispatch to Kruger. The British Colonial Secretary was, in effect, asking the Boers to surrender their sovereignty. In preparation for war against the republics, the Salisbury government resolved on September 8 to send an additional 10,000 troops to South Africa. When the Boer leaders learned a short time later that London was preparing a force of 47,000 men to invade the their lands, the two republics jointly began in earnest to ready their own troops and weapons for battle.

With war now imminent, and Boer patience now exhausted, Kruger and his government issued an ultimatum on October 9, 1899. Tantamount to a declaration of war, it demanded the withdrawal of British forces and the arbitration of all points of disagreement. Two days later, after Britain had let the ultimatum expire, the war was on.

A People’s War

Boer men were citizen-soldiers. By law, all males in the two republics between the ages of 16 and 60 were eligible for war service. In the Transvaal, every male burgher was required to have a rifle and ammunition. At a military parade held in Pretoria, the Transvaal capital, on October 10, 1899, in honor of Kruger’s 74th birthday, ranchers from the bushveld, clerks and solicitors from the cities, and other battle-ready citizens rode or marched past their leader. Joining them were foreign volunteer fighters who had rallied to the Boer cause, including a thousand Dutchmen and Germans, and a contingent of a hundred Irishmen (including a youthful John MacBride, who was executed 17 years later for his role in the Dublin Easter Uprising).note 17

Even as they prepared to face the might of the world’s foremost imperial power, the Boers were confident and determined. Although outnumbered, their morale was good. They were fighting for their land, their freedom and their way of life — and on familiar home territory. As British historian Phillip Knightley has written:note 18

The Boer, neither completely civilian nor completely a soldier, alternating between tending his farm and fighting the British, lightly armed with an accurate repeating rifle, mobile, able to live for long periods on strips of dried meat and a little water, drawing on the hidden support of his countrymen, unafraid to flee when the battle was not in his favor, choosing his ground and his time for attack, was more than a match for any regular army, no matter what his strength.

Boers fighters were also chivalrous in combat. A few years after the end of the war, when passions had cooled somewhat, the London Times' history of the war conceded:note 19

In the moment of their triumph the Boers behaved with the same unaffected kindheartedness … which they displayed after most of their victories. Although exultant they were not insulting. They fetched water and blankets for the wounded and treated prisoners with every consideration.

Although the Boers scored some impressive initial battlefield victories, the numerically superior British forces soon gained the upper hand. But even the capture of their main towns and rail lines did not bring the Boers to capitulate. Boer “commandos,” outnumbered about four to one but supported by the people, launched a guerilla campaign against the invaders. Striking without warning, they kept the enemy from totally subjugating the land and its people.

Mounted on horseback, the Boer “commando” fighter didn’t look anything like a typical soldier. Usually with a long beard, he wore rough farming clothes and a wide-brimmed hat, and slung belts of bullets over both shoulders.

'Methods of Barbarism'

Lord Kitchener, the new British commander, adopted tactics to “clean up” a war that many in Britain had considered already won. In waging ruthless war against an entire people, he ordered his troops to destroy livestock and crops, burn down farms, and herd women and children into “camps of refuge.” Reports about these grim internment centers, which were soon called concentration camps, shocked the western world.

Britain’s new style of waging war was summarized in a report made in January 1902 by Jan Smuts, the 31-year-old Boer general (and future South African prime minister):

Lord Kitchener has begun to carry out a policy in both [Boer] republics of unbelievable barbarism and gruesomeness which violates the most elementary principles of the international rules of war.

Almost all farmsteads and villages in both republics have been burned down and destroyed. All crops have been destroyed. All livestock which has fallen into the hands of the enemy has been killed or slaughtered.

The basic principle behind Lord Kitchener’s tactics has been to win, not so much through direct operations against fighting commandos, but rather indirectly by bringing the pressure of war against defenseless women and children.

… This violation of every international law is really very characteristic of the nation which always plays the role of chosen judge over the customs and behavior of all other nations.

Shooting Prisoners

John Dillon, an Irish nationalist Member of Parliament, spoke out against the British policy of shooting Boer prisoners of war. On February 26, 1901, he made public a letter by a British officer in the field:

The orders in this district from Lord Kitchener are to burn and destroy all provisions, forage, etc., and seize cattle, horses, and stock of all sorts wherever found, and to leave no food in the houses of the inhabitants. And the word has been passed round privately that no prisoners are to be taken. That is, all the men found fighting are to be shot. This order was given to me personally by a general, one of the highest in rank in South Africa. So there is no mistake about it. The instructions given to the columns closing round De Wet north of the Orange River are that all men are to be shot so that no tales may be told. Also, the troops are told to loot freely from every house, whether the men belonging to the house are fighting or not.

Dillon read from another letter by a soldier that had been published in the Liverpool Courier: “Lord Kitchener has issued orders that no man has to bring in any Boer prisoners. If he does, he has to give him half his rations for the prisoner’s keep.” Dillon quoted a third letter by a soldier serving with the Royal Welsh Regiment and published in the Wolverhampton Express and Star: “We take no prisoners now … There happened to be a few wounded Boers left. We put them through the mill. Every one was killed.”

On January 20, 1902, John Dillon once again expressed his outrage in the House of Commons against Britain’s “wholesale violation of one of the best recognized usages of modern war, which forbids you to desolate or devastate the country of the enemy and destroy the food supply on such a scale as to reduce non-combatants to starvation.” “What would have been said by civilized mankind,” Dillon asked, “if Germany on her march on Paris [in 1870] had turned the whole country into a howling wilderness and concentrated the French women and children into camps where they died in thousands? All civilized Europe would have rushed in to the rescue."note 20

Arming the Natives

Defying the prevailing racial sensibilities of the period, General Kitchener supplied rifles to native black Africans to fight the white Boers. Eventually the British armed at least 10,000 blacks, although the policy was kept secret for fear of offending white public opinion, especially back home. As it happens, the blacks proved to be poor soldiers, and in many cases they murdered defenseless Boer women and children across the countryside. The fate of the Boer women and children who escaped the hell of the internment camps was therefore often more terrible than that of those who did not.

In his January 1902 report, General Smuts described how the British recruited black Africans:

In the Cape Colony the uncivilized Blacks have been told that if the Boers win, slavery will be brought back in the Cape Colony. They have been promised Boer property and farmsteads if they will join the English; that the Boers will have to work for the Blacks, and that they will be able to marry Boer women.

Arming the blacks, Smuts said, “represents the greatest crime which has ever been perpetrated against the White race in South Africa.” Boer commando leader Jan Kemp similarly complained that the war was being fought “contrary to civilized warfare on account of it being carried on in a great measure with Kaffirs."note 21 The arming of native blacks was a major reason cited by the Boer leaders for finally giving up the struggle:note 22

… The Kaffir tribes, within and without the frontiers of the territories of the two republics, are mostly armed and are taking part in the war against us, and through the committing of murders and all sorts of cruelties have caused and unbearable condition of affairs in many districts of both republics.

Concentration Camps

Britain’s internment centers in South Africa soon became known as concentration camps, a term adapted from the reconcentrado camps that Spanish authorities in Cuba had set up to hold insurgents.note 23

A crusading 41-year-old English spinster, Emily Hobhouse, visited the South Africa camps and, armed with this first-hand knowledge, alerted the world to their horrors. She told of internees “… deprived of clothes … the semi-starvation in the camps … the fever-stricken children lying… upon the bare earth … the appalling mortality.” She also reported seeing open trucks full of women and children, exposed to the icy rain of the plains, sometimes left on railroad siding for days at a time, without food or shelter. “In some camps,” Hobhouse told lecture audiences and newspaper readers back in England, “two and sometimes three different families live in one tent. Ten and even twelve persons are forced into a single tent.” Most had to sleep on the ground. “These people will never ever forget what has happened,” She also declared. “The children have been the hardest hit. They wither in the terrible heat and as a result of insufficient and improper nourishment … To maintain this kind of camp means nothing less than murdering children."note 24

In a report to members of Parliament, Hobhouse described conditions in one camp she had visited:note 25

… A six month old baby [is] gasping its life out on its mother’s knee. Next [tent]: a child recovering from measles sent back from hospital before it could walk, stretched on the ground white and wan. Next a girl of 21 lay dying on a stretcher. The father … kneeling beside her, while his wife was watching a child of six also dying and one of about five drooping. Already this couple had lost three children.

Hobhouse found that none of their hardships would shake the Boer women’s determination, not even seeing their own hungry children die before their eyes. They “never express,” she wrote, “a wish that their men must give way. It must be fought out now, they think, to the bitter end.”

Deadly epidemics — typhoid, dysentery and (for children) measles — broke out in the camps and spread rapidly. During one three week period, an epidemic at the camp at Brandfort killed nearly a tenth of the entire inmate population. In the Mafeking camp, at one point there were 400 deaths a month, most of them caused by typhoid, which worked out to an annual death rate of 173 percent.

Altogether the British held 116,572 Boers in their South African internment camps — that is, about a fourth of the entire Boer population — nearly all of them women and children. After the war, an official government report concluded that 27,927 Boers had died in the camps — victims of disease, undernourishment and exposure. Of these, 26,251 were women and children, of whom 22,074 were children under the age of 16. Among the nearly 115,000 black Africans who were also interned in the British camps, nearly all of whom were tenant workers and servants of the better-off Boers, it is estimated that more than 12,000 died.note 26

After meeting with Hobhouse, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, leader of the Liberal Party opposition (and future Prime Minister), publicly declared: “When is a war not a war? When it is waged by methods of barbarism in South Africa.” This memorable phrase — “methods of barbarism” — quickly became widely quoted, provoking both warm praise and angry condemnation.note 27

Most Englishmen, who supported their government’s war policy, did not wish to hear such talk. Echoing the widespread sentiment in favor of the war, the London Times editorialized that Campbell-Bannerman’s remarks were irresponsible, if not subversive. The influential paper’s reasoning reflected the prevailing “my country, right or wrong” attitude. “When a nation is committed to a serious struggle in which its position in the world is at stake,” the Times told its readers, “it is the duty of every citizen, no matter what his opinion about the political quarrel, to abstain at the very least from hampering and impeding the policy of his country, if he cannot lend his active support."note 28

David Lloyd George, an MP who would later serve as his country’s Prime Minister during the First World War, accused the British authorities of pursuing “a policy of extermination” against women and children. Granted, it was not a direct policy, he said, but it was one that was having that effect. “… The war is an outrage perpetrated in the name of human freedom,” Lloyd George protested. He also expressed concern over the impact of these cruel policies on Britain’s long-term interests:note 29

When children are being treated in this way and dying, we are simply ranging the deepest passions of the human heart against British rule in Africa… It will always be remembered that this is the way British rule started there [in the Boer republics], and this is the method by which it was brought about.

During a speech in Parliament on February 18, 1901, David Lloyd George quoted from a letter by a British officer: “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.” Lloyd George commented: “It is a war not against men, but against women and children."note 30

“The conscience of Britain,” historian Thomas Pakenham later observed, “was stirred by the holocaust in the camps, just as the conscience of America was stirred by the holocaust in Vietnam.” It was largely as a result of public outrage in Britain over conditions in the camps — for which Emily Hobhouse deserves much of the credit — that measures were eventually taken that sharply reduced the death rate.note 31


In this war, as in so many others, propagandists churned out a stream of malicious lies to generate popular backing for the aggression and killing. British newspapers, churchmen and war correspondents invented hundreds of fake atrocity stories that portrayed the Boers as treacherous and arrogant brutes. These included numerous shocking claims alleging that Boer soldiers massacred pro-British civilians, that Boer civilians murdered British soldiers, and that Boers executed fellow-Boers who wanted to surrender. “There was virtually no limit to such invention,” historian Phillip Knightley has noted.

A widely shown newsreel film purported to show Boers attacking a Red Cross tent while British doctors and nurses treat the wounded. Actually this fake had been shot with actors on Hampstead Heath, a suburb of London.note 32

Exposing the War-Makers

In the United States, as in most of Europe, public interest in the conflict was keen. Although public sentiment in these countries was largely pro-Boer and anti-British, the government leaders — fearful of the adverse consequences of defying Britain — were publicly pro-British, or at least studiously neutral.

William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie and many other Americans were embarrassed by the striking parallel between U.S. and British policy of the day: just as Britain was forcibly subduing the Boers in southern Africa, American troops were brutally suppressing native fighters for independence in the newly-acquired Philippines. Echoing a widespread American sentiment of the day, Mark Twain declared: “I think that England sinned when she got herself into a war in South Africa which she could have avoided, just as we have sinned in getting into a similar war in the Philippines.” In spite of such sentiment, the government of President McKinley and the jingoistic newspapers of William Randolph Hearst sided with Britain.note 33

But even in Britain itself, there was considerable opposition to the war. In the House of Commons, Liberal MP Philip Stanhope (later Baron Weardale) introduced a resolution expressing disapproval of Britain’s military campaign against the Boer republics. In tracing the war’s origins, he said:note 34

Accordingly, the [pro-British] South African League was formed, and Mr. Rhodes and his associates — generally of the German Jew extraction — found money in thousands for its propaganda. By this league in [British] South Africa and here [in Britain] they have poisoned the wells of public knowledge. Money has been lavished in the London world and in the press, and the result has been that little by little public opinion has been wrought up and inflamed, and now, instead of finding the English people dealing with this matter in a truly English spirit, we are dealing with it in a spirit which generations to come will condemn …

Opposition in Britain to the war came especially from the political left. The Social Democratic Federation (SDF), led by Henry M. Hyndman, was especially outspoken. Justice, the SDF weekly, had already warned its readers in 1896 that “Beit, Barnato and their fellow-Jews” were aiming for “an Anglo-Hebraic Empire in Africa stretching from Egypt to Cape Colony,” designed to swell their “overgrown fortunes.” Since 1890, the SDF had repeatedly cautioned against the pernicious influence of “capitalist Jews on the London press.” When war broke out in 1899, Justice declared that the “Semitic lords of the press” had successfully propagandized Britain into a “criminal war of aggression."note 35

Opposition to the war was similarly strong in the British labor movement. In September 1900, the Trades Union Congress passed a resolution condemning the Anglo-Boer war as one designed “to secure the gold fields of South Africa for cosmopolitan Jews, most of whom had no patriotism and no country."note 36

No member of the House of Commons spoke out more vigorously against the war than John Burns, Labour MP for Battersea. The former SDF member had gained national prominence as a staunch defender of the British workingman during his leadership of the dockworkers' strike of 1889. “Wherever we examine, there is the financial Jew,” Burns declared in the House on February 6, 1900, “operating, directing, inspiring the agencies that have led to this war.”

“The trail of the financial serpent is over this war from beginning to end.” The British army, Burns said, had traditionally been the “Sir Galahad of History.” But in Africa it had become the “janissary of the Jews."note 37

Burns was a legendary fighter for the rights of the British worker, a tireless champion of environmental reform, women’s rights and improved municipal services. Even Cecil Rhodes had referred to him as “the most eloquent leader of the British democracy.” It was not merely the Jewish role in Capitalism that alarmed Burns. To his diary he once confided that “the undoing of England is within the confines of our afternoon journey amongst the Jews” of East London.note 38

Irish nationalist Members of Parliament had special reason to sympathize with the Boers, whom they regarded — like the people of Ireland — as fellow victims of British duplicity and oppression. One Irish MP, Michael Davitt, even resigned his seat in the House of Commons in “personal and political protest against a war which I believe to be the greatest infamy of the nineteenth century."note 39

One of the most influential campaigners against the “Jew-imperialist design” in South Africa was John A. Hobson (1858-1940), a prominent journalist and economist.note 40 In 1899 the Manchester Guardian sent him to South Africa to report first-hand for its readers on the situation there. During his three month investigation, Hobson became convinced that a small group of Jewish “Randlords” was essentially responsible for the strife and conflict.note 41

In a Guardian article dispatched from Johannesburg just a few weeks before the outbreak of the war, he told readers of the influential liberal daily:note 42

In Johannesburg the Boer population is a mere handful of officials and their families, some five thousand of the population; the rest is about evenly divided between white settlers, mostly from Great Britain, and the [native black] Kaffirs, who are everywhere in White Man’s Africa the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.

The town is in some respects dominantly and even aggressively British, but British with a difference which it takes some little time to understand. That difference is due to the Jewish factor. If one takes the recent figures of the census, there appears to be less than seven thousand Jews in Johannesburg, but the experience of the street rapidly exposes this fallacy of figures. The shop fronts and business houses, the market place, the saloons, the “stoops” of the smart suburban houses and sufficient to convince one of the large presence of the chosen people. If any doubt remains, a walk outside the Exchange, where in the streets, “between the chains,” the financial side of the gold business is transacted, will dispel it.

So far as wealth and power and even numbers are concerned Johannesburg is essentially a Jewish town. Most of these Jews figure as British subjects, though many are in fact German and Russian Jews who have come to Africa after a brief sojourn in England. The rich, rigorous, and energetic financial and commercial families are chiefly English Jews, not a few of whom here, as elsewhere, have Anglicised their names after true parasitic fashion. I lay stress on this fact because, though everyone knows the Jews are strong, their real strength here is much underestimated. Though figures are so misleading, it is worth while to mention that the directory of Johannesburg shows 68 Cohens against 21 Joneses and 53 Browns.

The Jews take little active part in the Outlander agitation; they let others do that sort of work. But since half of the land and nine-tenths of the wealth of the Transvaal claimed for the Outlander are chiefly theirs, they will be chief gainers by an settlement advantageous to the Outlander.

In an influential book published in 1900, The War in South Africa, Hobson warned and admonished his fellow countrymen:note 43

We are fighting in order to place a small international oligarchy of mine-owners and speculators in power at Pretoria. Englishmen will surely do well to recognize that the economic and political destinies of South Africa are, and seem likely to remain, in the hands of men most of whom are foreigners by origin, whose trade is finance, and whose trade interests are not chiefly British.

Anti-imperialist and working-class circles acclaimed Hobson’s widely read work. Commenting on it, the weekly Labour Leader, semi-official organ of the Independent Labour Party, noted: “Modern imperialism is really run by half a dozen financial houses, many of them Jewish, to whom politics is a counter in the game of buying and selling securities."note 44 In a January 1900 essay, Labour Leader editor (and MP) J. Keir Hardie told readers:note 45

The war is a capitalist' war, begotten by capitalists' money, lied into being by a perjured mercenary capitalist press, and fathered by unscrupulous politicians, themselves the merest tools of the capitalists … As Socialists, our sympathies are bound to be with the Boers. Their Republican form of Government bespeaks freedom, and is thus hateful to tyrants …


As the year 1900 drew to a close, British forces held the major Boer towns, including the capitals of the two republics, as well as the main Boer railway lines. Paul Kruger, the man who personified his people’s resistance to alien rule, had been forced into exile. By the end of 1901, the Boers' military forces had been reduced to some 25,000 men in the field, deployed in scattered and largely un-coordinated commando units. The hard-pressed defenders had only a shadow of a central government.

In the spring of 1902, with their land almost entirely under enemy occupation, and their remaining fighters threatened with annihilation and militarily outnumbered six to one, the Boers sued for peace. On May 31, 1902, their leaders concluded 33 months of heroic struggle against greatly superior forces by signing a treaty that recognized King Edward VII as their sovereign. President Kruger learned of the surrender while living in European exile, far from his beloved homeland. After devoting his life to his cherished dream of a self-reliant white people’s republic, he died in 1904 in Switzerland, a blind and broken man.


When the fighting began in October 1899, the British confidently expected their troops to victoriously conclude the conflict by Christmas. But this actually proved to be the longest, costliest, bloodiest and most humiliating war fought by Britain between 1815 and 1914. Even though the military forces mobilized in South Africa by the world’s greatest imperial power outnumbered the Boer fighters by nearly five to one, they required almost three years to completely subdue the tough pioneer people of fewer than half a million.

Britain deployed some 336,000 imperial and 83,000 colonial troops — or 448,000 altogether. Of this force, 22,000 found a grave in South Africa, 14,000 of them succumbing to sickness. For their part, the two Boer republics were able to mobilize 87,360 fighters, a force that included 2,120 foreign volunteers and 13,300 Boer-related Afrikaners from the British-ruled Cape and Natal provinces. In addition to the more than 7,000 Boer fighters who lost their lives, some 28,000 Boers perished in the British concentration camps — nearly all of them women and children.note 46

The war’s non-human costs were similarly appalling. As part of Kitchener’s “scorched-earth” campaign, British troops wrought terrible destruction throughout the rural Boer areas, especially in the Orange Free State. Outside of the largest towns, hardly a building was left intact. Perhaps a tenth of the prewar horses, cows and other farm stock remained. In much of the Boer lands, no crops had been sown for two years.note 47

Even by the standards of the time (and certainly by those of today), British political and military leaders committed frightful war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Boers of South Africa — crimes for which no one was ever brought to account. General Kitchener, for one, was never punished for introducing measures that even a future prime minister called “methods of barbarism.” To the contrary, after concluding his South African service he was named a viscount and a field marshal, and then, at the outbreak of the First World War, was appointed Secretary of War. Upon his death in 1916, he was remembered not as a criminal, but rather idolized as a personification of British virtue and rectitude.note 48

In a sense, the Anglo-Boer conflict was less a war between combatants than a military campaign against civilians. The number of Boer women and children who perished in the concentration camps was four times as large as the number of Boer fighting men who died (of all causes) during the war. In fact, more children under the age of 16 perished in the British camps than men were killed in action on both sides.

The boundless greed of the Jewish “gold bugs” coincided with the imperialistic aims of British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, the dreams of gold and diamond baron Cecil Rhodes, and the political ambitions of Alfred Milner. On the altar of their avarice and ambition, they sacrificed the lives of some 30,000 people who wanted only to live in freedom, as well as 22,000 young men of Britain and her dominions.

At its core, Britain’s leaders were willing to sacrifice the lives of many of her own sons, and to kill men, women and children in a far-away continent, to add to the wealth and power of an already immensely wealthy and powerful worldwide empire. Few wars during the past one hundred years were as avoidable, or as patently crass in motivation as was the South African War of 1899-1902.


  1. M. Davitt, The Boer Fight For Freedom, p. 425. See also: A. Thomas, Rhodes, pp. 143-144; F. Welsh, South Africa: A Narrative History, p. 303; “Kruger, Stephanus Johannes Paulus,” Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago), 1957 edition, vol. 13, pp. 506-507.
  2. F. Welsh, South Africa: A Narrative History, p. 302.
  3. A. Thomas, Rhodes, pp. 172-181; Reader’s Digest Association, Illustrated History of South Africa, p. 174; See also S. Kanfer, The Last Empire, esp. pp. 96, 101-111.
  4. See S. Kanfer, The Last Empire.
  5. J. Flint, Cecil Rhodes, pp. 86-93. See also: P. Emden, Randlords (1935).
  6. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. 86-87.
  7. G. Saron and L. Hotz, eds., The Jews in South Africa, pp. 193-194.
  8. Report of the Select Committee of the Cape of Good Hope House of Assembly on the Jameson Raid (1897), pp. 165, 167.
  9. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. xxv, 87, 121; A. Thomas, Rhodes, p. 284.
  10. A. Thomas, Rhodes, pp. 284-304; S. Kanfer, The Last Empire, pp. 129-131; Chamberlain’s speech of Nov. 11, 1895, is also quoted in: Robin W. Winks, ed., British Imperialism (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), p. 80.
  11. G. Saron & L. Hotz, eds., The Jews in South Africa (1955), pp. 193-194; Second Report from the Select Committee on British South Africa (1897), p. vii.
  12. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, p. 1. Also quoted in: A. Thomas, Rhodes, p. 337.
  13. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, p. 88.
  14. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, p. 518.
  15. T. Pakenham, Scramble, p. 558.
  16. Claire Hirshfield, “The Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Responsibility” (1978), p. 4.
  17. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. 90-92, 103, 104, 107.
  18. P. Knightley, The First Casualty (1976), pp. 77-78.
  19. Quoted in: Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty, p. 75.
  20. W. Ziegler, ed., Ein Dokumentenwerk Über die Englische Humanität (1940), p. 199.
  21. Reader’s Digest Association, Illustrated History of South Africa, p. 246.
  22. Reader’s Digest Association, Illustrated History of South Africa, p. 246.
  23. During the American Civil War, Union forces rounded up large numbers of civilians who were considered hostile to Federal authority and interned them in “posts.” President Truman’s grandmother, with six of her children, was held in one such “post,” which Truman said was really a “concentration camp.” Source: Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (New York: 1974), pp. 78-79. See also: M. Weber “The Civil War Concentration Camps,” The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1981, p. 143. In September 1918, the fledgling Soviet government issued a decree that ordered: “It is essential to protect the Soviet Republic from class enemies by isolating them in concentration camps.” Sources: D. Volkogonov, Lenin: A New Biography (New York: 1994), p. 234; M. Heller & A. Nekrich, Utopia in Power (New York: 1986), p. 66.
  24. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. 533-539; T. Pakenham, Scramble, pp. 578; A rather detailed report by Hobhouse about the camps is in: S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, pp. 198-207.
  25. P. Knightley, The First Casualty, pp. 75-76. Source cited: UK Public Record Office, W.O. 32/8061.
  26. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. 607; T. Pakenham, Scramble, pp. 578-579; Reader’s Digest Association, Illustrated History of South Africa, p. 256.
  27. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, p. 534, 540-541; S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, pp. 216, 238.
  28. S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, pp. 238-239 (note)
  29. P. Knightley, The First Casualty, p. 72; T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. 539-540.
  30. In a speech on Nov. 27, 1899, Lloyd George said that the Uitlanders on whose behalf Britain had presumably gone to war were German Jews. Right or wrong, the Boers were better than the people Britain was defending in South Africa. And in a speech on July 25, 1900, Lloyd George said: “… A war of annexation, however, against a proud people must be a war of extermination, and that is unfortunately what it seems we are committing ourselves to — burning homesteads and turning women and children out of their homes.” Source: Bentley Brinkerhoff Gilbert, David Lloyd George: A Political Life (Ohio State Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 183, 191.
  31. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. 547-548.
  32. P. Knightley, The First Casualty, pp. 72, 73, 75.
  33. Byron Farwell, “Taking Sides in the Boer War,” American Heritage, April 1976, pp. 22, 24, 25.
  34. Speech of October 18, 1899. S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, p. 43.
  35. C. Hirshfield, “The Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Responsibility” (1978), pp. 5, 15; Robert S. Wistrich, Antisemitism (1992), p. 105-106, p. 281 (n. 10, 11). Source cited: C. Hirshfield, “The British Left and the 'Jewish Conspiracy',” Jewish Social Studies, Spring 1981, pp. 105-107.
  36. C. Hirshfield, “The Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Responsibility,” pp. 11, 20; Also quoted in: Robert S. Wistrich, Antisemitism (1992), p. 281 (n. 11). Source cited: C. Hirshfield, “The British Left and the 'Jewish Conspiracy',” Jewish Social Studies, Spring 1981, pp. 106-107.
  37. C. Hirshfield, “The Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Responsibility,” pp. 10, 20. Burns' speech of Feb. 6, 1990, is also quoted in part in S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, pp. 94-95. It is also quoted (although not entirely accurately) in: R. S. Wistrich, Antisemitism (1992), p. 281 (n. 11). Source cited: C. Hirshfield, “The British Left and the 'Jewish Conspiracy',” Jewish Social Studies, Spring 1981, p. 105.
  38. C. Hirshfield, “The Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Responsibility,” pp. 10, 20.
  39. An excerpt of Davitt’s speech of October 17, 1899, is given in: S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, pp. 33-34. Davitt also wrote a book, The Boer Fight For Freedom, published in 1902.
  40. Hobson is perhaps best known as the author of Imperialism: A Study, a classic treatise on the subject first published in 1902.
  41. C. Hirshfield, “The Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Responsibility,” pp. 13, 23; J. A. Hobson, The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects (1900 and 1969), p. 189.
  42. J. A. Hobson, “Johannesburg Today,” Manchester Guardian, Sept. 28, 1899. Reprinted in: S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, pp. 26-27.
  43. J. A. Hobson, The War in South Africa, p. 197.
  44. C. Hirshfield, “The Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Responsibility,” pp. 13, 23.
  45. S. Koss, The Pro-Boers, p. 54.
  46. T. Pakenham, The Boer War, pp. 607-608; T. Pakenham, Scramble, p. 581.
  47. F. Welsh, South Africa: A Narrative History (1999), p. 343.
  48. In his honor, the city of Berlin in Ontario province, Canada, was renamed Kitchener in 1916, a move that reflected the anti-German hysteria of the day.


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About the author:

Mark Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review, was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He was educated at Portland State University, the University of Illinois (Chicago), the University of Munich, and Indiana University (Bloomington). He has been editor of The Journal for Historical Review since April 1992. This essay is a revision and expansion of an essay that was first published in the Fall 1980 Journal.

Bibliographic information
Author: Weber, Mark
Title: The Boer War Remembered
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: May/June 1999
Issue: Volume 18 number 3
Location: Page 14
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.