I was recently made aware of a typically self-pitying and ill-researched article which appeared in an Afrikaans newspaper way back in 1999. Written by the spectacularly ignorant (and now departed) Leopold Scholtz – a typically blinkered Defender of the Myth, and the man who penned 2005’s hilariously God-awful ‘Why the Boers Lost the War’ – the article was such a tissue of nonsense that it is astounding it was accepted for publication:
The English translation of this abject drivel is:
War a Crime
Boer struggle against the British justified
The near apology that Mr Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, recently acknowledged for his country’s action in the Anglo Boer War, is now coupled with a violent public debate over apartheid as a crime against humanity and the conclusion that anyone who fought against it, fought a justified war.
Well, the debate over apartheid is already underway in some detail and will undoubtedly continue. This is something that we can return to another time. Nonetheless, by virtue of the internationally accepted definitions established as a consequence of the wars in Bosnia and Rwanda, the British in 1899-1902 made themselves thoroughly guilty of crime against humanity.
And thus the Boers at that time fought a justified war against the British. For a start the British pretended that the uitlanders franchise was justification. The real reasons were threefold, in terms of the maintenance of the Cape sea route in British possession, to demonstrate to the world, in a period of relative British economic decay, that they were still a factor to be reckoned with and no less greedy to get their hands on the gold mines. In this process, the British almost completely devastated the two republics, the Transvaal and the Free State.
On 7 August 1901 General Jan Smuts, under way through the Free State to invade the Cape Colony, wrote in English in his diary:
“Dams everywhere full of rotting animals, water undrinkable. Veld covered with slaughtered herds of sheep and goats, cattle and horses. The horror passes description. But the saddest sight of all is the large number of little lambs, staggering from hunger and thirst round the corpses of their dead and mangled mothers.
“I have never seen anything more heartrending or heard anything more piteous than their bleating in this war of horrors’.
And Dominee J.D. Kestell writes how he, President M.T. Steyn and General Christiaan de Wet moved in March 1902 from the eastern to the western Free State through ‘a totally devastated region’. And ‘we did not come into contact with a single person on the farms. Every house that we came across was burned down and destroyed’. ‘There were no horses, cattle or sheep to be seen… This was a wilderness that we travelled through, the ruins of the farms were the only signs of previous human habitation’.
In fact all farm premises were burnt down, all food was destroyed, towns nearly levelled to the ground.
But the worst was the crimes against people.
Numerous sworn declarations concerning how the British dealt with women and children, were smuggled out to Europe during the war. Among these the following extract is based: ‘A mother whose child had died was, notwithstanding her pleas, was taken away.
‘Along the Vaal River was a woman who refused to go with the English soldiers; she was dragged a long distance away by the soldiers…
‘On the Witwatersrand was another awful attempt at rape. In the struggle the woman’s neck was twisted in such a way that she would never recover.
‘Her daughter rushed to help but the barbarian drew his sabre and slashed her chest open’.
This is but one of untold examples.
Altogether 27,927 white Afrikaners among whom 26,251 women and children under 16 and 1421 aged men died as a result of the appalling hygienic, cleanliness and feeding situation in the concentration camps.
In the camps for black people conditions were just as serious, but there the figures are incomplete: the figure for June 1901 until May 1902 is 13,315 people. Compare that with the nearly 4,000 burgers who died on the battlefield. There can be no other possible conclusion: the British are guilty of war crimes, a crime against humanity. Even Mr Ronnie Kasrils of the ANC last year in a debate acknowledged the Boers fought a justified war against the British.
Why is this all brought up again? Oh, it is part of the history. The hundredth commemoration of the Anglo Boer War is close. And Blair raised the controversy again.
There is also another side. Some Boers were morally corrupted by the three-year long violence that they themselves were guilty of war crimes. Heroes and villains do not exist only in fairy tales; in reality there is something of a hero in every villain and something of a villain in every hero.
In what is the standard operating procedure of a True Believer, Mr Scholtz simply left out the inconvenient, undeniable fact that the war was sparked by the Boers invading British territory; something which any open-minded reader might consider important. It would be like moaning about the devastation of Berlin in 1945 – or some dead German sheep – without pausing to think that the German leadership was responsible for this, as they – just like the Boers Mr Scholtz was so desperate to exonerate – made the stupid decision to invade their neighbours, and annex their land.
Instead, with shameless deceit, Scholtz frantically attempted to portray Kruger’s aggression as a ‘struggle’ against the British. That would be rather like pretending that Germany fought a valiant and justifiable ‘struggle’ against the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945. I must confess, I have never heard the German attempt to invade the USSR described in such terms.
Studiously ignoring Kruger’s crackpot dreams of building an Empire from ‘the Zambesi to Simon’s Town’, or the fact that he had been pushing the Orange Free State to join him in an attack on the British from as early as 1887[i], instead Scholtz desperately attempted to pin the whole thing on the wicked British Empire: ie. the party that was attacked and invaded.
Presumably – unless he was an unspeakable hypocrite – Mr Scholtz also blamed Poland for being invaded in 1939?
Scholtz – demonstrating absolutely zero knowledge of the war and abject ignorance of the concept of democracy – then airily dismissed the desire of the Uitlanders to obtain a fair franchise. Again, we are left to wonder if Mr Scholtz was equally dismissive of the desire of South African black people to gain the vote; apparently none other than the self-declared ‘Chosen People’ are worthy of democratic representation.
He then, demonstrating he had as little understanding of geography as he did of history, also claimed that the dastardly British were to blame as they wanted to retain control of the sea route to India. Apparently Mr Scholtz was blissfully unaware that Cape Town, Simon’s Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and all the other ports of today’s South Africa were already in British territory at the time of the Boer War. Therefore, all the British were ‘guilty’ of was being resolute in defending their strategic position, and there was no way they were going to simply surrender it to Kruger’s invading Boers.
So the increasingly-ridiculous Scholtz was basically attempting to blame the British for the war because they didn’t simply hand over their territory (and strategically vital ports) to invading Boer forces. Did he similarly blame Ukraine for the present-day war, as they didn’t simply allow the Russian invading forces to take whatever they wanted?
We are then assured that the British fought the war to ‘demonstrate to the world… that they were still a factor to be reckoned with’. In an article absolutely packed with abject stupidity, this is one of his most farcical statements, and it is telling he offered absolutely no evidence to support it. Scholtz was clearly completely oblivious to something called ‘The Fashoda Incident’ which occurred after Great Britain completed the reconquest of the Sudan in 1898, and which saw London face down France over the borders of the territory. If even the mighty French Empire didn’t dare take on the British Lion, quite what being attacked by two tiny republics was going to prove is anyone’s guess[ii].
Indeed, by spewing out this nonsense, all Scholtz did was to confirm his outrageously blinkered bias. At least he cut an entertaining figure of fun, however, as he apparently forgot his make-belief rubbish about Britain needing to ‘demonstrate to the world that they were a force to be reckoned with’, and shamelessly contradicted this baseless claim in his God-awful book. In what might be the only historical accurate statement in it, he stated: ‘in 1899 Britain was still by far the strongest world power…there was no international power who was able or willing to challenge the British economic and maritime supremacy’.[iii] So quite what led Scholtz to pretend that Great Britain suddenly felt they had something to prove to anyone in 1899 remains a mystery[iv].
And, of course, no self-pitying diatribe by a Defender of the Myths would be complete without pretending that the scheming British wanted to get their hands on the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. As this is all clearly far too complex for certain buffoons to get their heads around, I shall try to make it as clear as possible:
• When Kruger foolishly started the war by attacking and invading British territory, these gold mines were already owned by (mainly British) private investors.[v]
• When the British won the war, these gold mines were still owned by the (mainly British) private investors.
• No mines were ‘grabbed’ by the British.
• In 1906, just 4 years after the end of the war, Great Britain granted self-rule to the Transvaal[vi].
Though the whole ‘stealing the gold’ nonsense remains a perennially favourite myth of the more thick-headed True Believers, it was shattered way back in 1900, by the eminent French economist, Monsieur Guyot, who pointed out the salient fact that is still often (deliberately) ignored today:
‘[Britain’s critics are] perfectly well aware that England will derive no benefit from the gold mines, nor will she take possession of them any more than she has done of the gold mines of Australia. They are private property.’[vii]
Scholtz treated us to a couple of heart-rending (though completely unverifiable) personal stories, though these are the sort of things that, tragically, occur in every war that has ever been fought, and it is intellectually dishonest to pretend that these are representative of the bigger picture. He also quoted Jan Smuts, for example, without taking a moment to point out that Smuts’ Commando murdered some 200 unarmed black civilians at Modderfontein[viii]. Presumably Scholtz considered this mass-murder of black people as simply unworthy of mention.
Similarly, it was intellectually dishonest for him to pretend – as all True Believers do – that the deaths in the camps were as ‘a result of the appalling hygienic, cleanliness and feeding situation’. That is quite simply a lie: the biggest killer in the camps was the measles epidemic which rampaged through South Africa during the war[ix]. An epidemic, indeed, which Mr Scholtz simply ignored altogether, desperate that nothing should interfere with his self-pitying squealing.
If Scholtz had any interest in presenting an honest, historically accurate and fair-minded (concepts which were clearly alien to him) account of the war, he would have had to admit that, even in peacetime, regional infant mortality rates of the age saw around 1 in 3 infants fail to reach their first birthday[x]. Indeed, even if a child made it to the ripe old age of one they were not out of the woods; even in Europe, annual death rates for children under five were around 10%. However tragic, it really is not surprising that children died in the camps; enormous, almost unimaginable, numbers of children at that time died wherever they were, and it is dishonest and disingenuous not to present the reality of infant mortality rates of the period.
And not just children. If Scholtz wanted to present an accurate and balanced picture – which he most certainly did not – he would also have had to admit that twice as many Imperial troops died of disease, than died in action during the Boer War; yes, True Believers, and as much as it will upset you to learn this, even fit, strong, young Imperial soldiers died of disease, not just people being housed and fed in camps.
A couple of lines at the end of his article, wherein he grudgingly admitted that ‘some’ Boers also committed crimes is not ‘balance’. If he had really wanted to, Scholtz could have given dozens of examples of the looting and pillage performed by the ‘noble’ Boers as they invaded Natal. He could have related the devastation and murder the Bittereinder terrorists visited upon non-white civilians, the casual torture and killing of unarmed, non-white scouts who were unlucky enough to fall into their hands, or the way the invading Boers forced black civilians to perform slave labour.
Equally, Scholtz could have explained how the Boers, determined to drag the war on, forced their surrendered comrades to return to the (utterly pointless) fight, or face being burned off their farms – a terror tactic, indeed, which was directly responsible for the establishment of the Concentration Camps, which were set up to house and protect these unfortunates. Scholtz could also have detailed the targeting of civilian trains by gangs of Boers which were little better than bandits, the deliberate attempts to starve and bombard whole towns into submission, the continual abuse of the White Flag, and the fact that almost the entire republican invading forces fought out of uniform – a blatant breach of the rules of war.
The very notion that the republican invasion and annexing of British territory in 1899 was ‘justified’ is so ridiculous and far-fetched, that it is little wonder Scholtz had to resort to endless convenient omissions and blatant untruths to support his outrageously self-serving position[xi]. We all know that some people are desperate to keep the National Party version of ‘history’ alive, but one might as well have attempted to pretend that Japan’s invasion of the Philippines was ‘justified’, that Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait was, or that Russia’s ongoing invasion of the Ukraine is.
[i] Cook, The Rights and Wrongs of the Boer War, p.92
[ii] In his unbelievably bad ‘Why the Boers Lost the War’, Scholtz only supports this ridiculous contention by quoting his equally deluded father: ‘…the place on the globe where they saw the best opportunity to display British power was South Africa. Here the destruction of the two small Afrikaans republics had to demonstrate to the world how big Britain’s power was. It had to reconfirm its position as one of the world’s leading powers.’. Scholtz and Son appear completely unaware of the reconquest of the Sudan, or the Fashoda Incident, and neither provide a single scrap of evidence… and both conveniently ignore that the Boer War was started by the republics, not the British
[iii] Scholtz, How the Boers Lost the War, p.150
[iv] Driven more by envy than by facts, its detractors were always keen to predict the end of the British Empire; the day after Queen Victoria’s death in January 1901, Churchill made a sizable bet with the American millionaire industrialist, James C. Young, who had foolishly claimed that the Empire would collapse within ten years. Churchill knew better, declaring it would thrive for a good deal longer. Needless to say, Churchill won the bet as the Empire continued to prosper for another couple of generations and, indeed, only reached its maximum extent in 1924
[v] Rather amusingly, in his God-awful book, Scholtz even admits that 75% of the money invested in the pre-war Transvaal was British
[vi] This was as per the surrender terms, not, as some prefer to pretend, due to a change in Government in London
[vii] Guyot, Boer Politics, p.33
[viii] Pakenham, The Boer War, p.573
[ix] ‘A Tool For Modernisation? The Boer Concentration Camps of the South African War, 1900–1902’, South African Journal of Science, Vol. 106, No. 5–6, Pretoria, May/June 2010
[x] Martin, The Concentration Camps: 1900‒1902: facts figures, and fables, p.36
[xi] In ‘Why the Boers Lost the War’, and ignoring several decades’ worth of territorial expansion at the expense of neighbouring tribes, Scholtz confirms his abject ignorance / dishonesty by claiming that Kruger ‘never gazed beyond his own borders’. Presumably, in the mind of an extremist, grabbing land from black people doesn’t count