A book review: The Boer War

It’s very unusual that I write a book review although I read many books. Writing a book review in a photography blog goes beyond usual but since I like the unusual … ūüėČ

I’m living now for fourtheenandahalf year plus almost two months in South Africa and have read many books about its history¬†but this one about THE BOER WAR beats them all….

BoerWarDe Boeren Oorlog (The Boer War) Author: Martin Bossenbroek. Publisher: Athenaeum, Amsterdam. ISBN: 9789025369934/NUR686

I’ve read many books about the history of South Africa, virtually all written by English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans and that includes literature about the Boer War (1899-1902). But never a book written from such a wide perspective (and from a variety of angles) as this 610 pages (including >40 with footnotes and index) masterpiece. It’s written in Dutch and hopefully English translations will be on the market soon for it should be read by South Africans of all walks of life… Until so far I only read books about the subject written from British or Afrikaner perspective. This book adds the Dutch angle to both perspectives. ‘The Dutch connection’ as Bossenbroek writes plays an important role in the years before the Boer War broke out. The story is mainly based on diaries, notes, letters, memoires and articles of British war correspondent Winston Churchill, Boer commander Deneys Reitz and Willem Leyds (Dutch State Attorney in the Transvaal).

The Boer War is intriguing is many aspects. It shows clearly that history repeats itself and that every war is nothing more than a ‘power game’ (or ‘money game’ if you like) on the expense of innocent people. It also learns that the British introduced ‘concentration camps’, which they already did a few centuries before in Australia, with the difference that this time more than 40,000 people (of the estimated >200,000) died¬†in bizar circumstances¬†during their ‘internship’; mainly children. It took over 100 years before the English government made some kind of apology … The Boer War is a ‘forgotten’ war but many used strategies (policies, etc.) were repeated (and sometimes perfected) in World Wars 1 (1914-1918) and 2 (1939-1945) by all involved parties (‘aggressors’, ‘allies’ and ‘resistance’).

In our previous South African residence (in a farm community near Robertson in the Western Cape) one of our neighbours once said (in Afrikaans) that a “book about Africa, South Africa included, can only be written by a true Afrikaner” ….. In essence not much has changed since the Boer War.

The (his)story of the Boer War begins in 1884 in the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam ….

The South African whose funeral attracted more Afro-Africans than that of Nelson Mandela

From history people can learn that history is always repeating itself. Unfortunately history is not high on the list of subjects in education so people forget or are unaware of the existence of certain events. I’m not a South African but Dutch living in South Africa and, while not pretending to know it all, I do know that I know more about the South African history than the average South African.

Smuts1Why am I writing this? Yesterday I was in my favourite South African bookshop and noticed some books about one of the most prominent South Africans of all times: Jan Smuts. Unfortunately the Wikipedia article does not mention everything except that Smuts walked on Ghandi’s sandals, was mentioned in one of Albert Einstein’s writings, had dealings with Winston Churchill, etc. etc. If the ‘General’ had won the 1948 elections there wouldn’t have been ‘Apartheid’ to the extend it grew into¬†under the Broederbond (brotherhood) supported National Party. Neither does it say that many (white) South Africans moved out of the country after the 1948 elections in which Smuts was defeated.

Smuts’ funeral (15 September 1950) attracted more people (especially native¬†Africans) than that of Nelson Mandela. How people forget … W.F. de Klerk’s older brother wrote in 1975 (!!!) “The Puritans in Africa‘ with as subtitle ‘A Story of Afrikanerdom‘ (Published by Penguin Books, UK).

About the last days and the funeral De Klerk writes:

“…. From everywhere in the world, inquiries and good wishes started pouring in to Doornkloof. From everywhere advice and a variety of medicaments were sent. ‘Never did he speak any words of criticism or bitterness of his political foes,’ his physician recounted. ‘The only tone of disappointment I ever noted during my conversations was against those of his fellow-Afrikaners who, he thought, did not regard him as one of them because he thought wider than the South African scene’ …..

…… At each station on the way …. the speed was slackened to permit the standing crowds on the platforms to pay their last respects. Crowds of all races… were on the station. At Irene Station, near his home, an African children’s choir stood to sing the train through the platform lined with flowers. At Olifantsfontein, Africans lined the fences along the rail track, heads bowed, hands folded. A quarry edge was lined up with silent watchers ………. ” ¬†¬†etc. etc.

Again: Why am I writing this? Standing in the bookshop, seeing and picturing the ‘Smuts collection’, I recalled the paragraph I just quoted and wondered if Mandela’s funeral wouldn’t have been more respectful this way than the political propaganda spectacle it was made into last year …