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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


DU PLESSIS, Sophia  and  FOURIE, Johan. "A miserable patch upon a great wrong": A statistical analysis of concentration camp residents. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-2, pp.1178-1199. ISSN 2224-7912.

The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) still evokes intense emotions. The concentration camps that were built to house thousands of destitute men, women and children have especially received much scholarly attention in recent years. Many facets of these camps have been studied: children in the camps, education practices, camp testimonies, black inmates and their involvement, the camps in pictures, and the development of camp historiography, among others. Yet, strangely, statistical analysis of the camps has not yet been attempted. How long did the inmates stay in the camps? Why did they leave? How many died? And what did they die of? These are some of the questions we sought to answer. Our investigation was made possible by the availability of information about each of the inmates, in the form of a data base compiled by Elizabeth van Heyningen. This data base includes dates of arrival and departure, reason for departure or cause of death, and biographical details such as age, gender, race, place of origin and occupation. The data required extensive manipulation and cleaning before we could begin our analysis. Most importantly, we had to merge several observations of the same individual into one observation. In order to do this, we used their first and last name and their place of origin. This method was not always perfect, as some names are misspelled or the place of origin changes. We nevertheless identified 104 688 unique individuals who lived in the camps. These form the basis of our analysis. Our summary statistics showed that most were farmers, although more than 1 000 different occupations are listed.The average stay in the camps was 278 days, and 23% of the inmates died there, with infection being the main cause of death. We used a statistical technique called survival analysis to investigate the length of stay. From Kaplan-Meier survival estimates we found that inmates who came from the Orange Free State, Transvaal and Cape Colony had a more than 50% likelihood of still being in a camp after 200 days, while for those from Britain, Swaziland, Natal and the European continent the likelihood was less than 30%. The standard survival analysis suggests that inmates from the Cape Colony remained in the camps the longest. Our competitive risk analysis, however, which controlled for the fact that some residents died in the camps, suggested that it was those from the Orange Free State who remained longest. We used regression analysis to investigate gender differences and found that of the men and women who died in the camps, one third did so in the first 100 days after arrival. Another third died within the first year, and another third within the first two years. In contrast to conventional wisdom, we found only a small gender difference in the likelihood of death in the camps. Although more women died in the camps, men and women suffered equally. It was children, though, who suffered most. Our findings raise many new questions for future research.

Keywords : Concentration camps; survival analysis; Anglo-Boer War; South Africa; mortality; health.

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