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Historia

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Abstract

VAN HEYNINGEN, Elizabeth. "Fools rush in": writing a history of the concentration camps of the South African War. Historia [online]. 2010, vol.55, n.2, pp. 12-33. ISSN 0018-229X.

In the light of recent controversy over the hygiene of the Boers in the camps of the South African War, this article explores some of the difficulties in writing a history of the camps. The article argues that although the British Blue Books were politically tainted, this does not necessarily invalidate the contents. Although the authors were loyal to the British cause and shared a Victorian middle class culture, which led them to view Boer hygiene critically, they were so consistent in their comments that they cannot be disregarded. An analysis of the camp registers confirms a picture of great poverty amongst the rural population who formed the bulk of the camp inmates. The war contributed to the destruction of republican society, creating the poor white crisis which troubled Afrikaners so greatly in the twentieth century. The post-war emergence of Afrikaner nationalism was concerned not only with unifying Afrikaners politically and uplifting them economically, but with gentrifying these urbanising poor whites. This process has been little discussed but it has bitten deeply into Afrikaner consciousness and explains the reluctance, even of twenty-first-century Afrikaners, to recognise that this pre-industrial rural society possessed a different culture.

Keywords : South African War; Anglo-Boer War; concentration camps; poor whites; middle class culture; sanitation; hygiene; British Blue Books; Ladies Commission.

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