Undeniable atrocity

April 23, 2004

Your article on the work of Newcastle University sociologists Liz Stanley and Helen Dumpier approaches historical revisionism of a dangerous order ("Boer war camps' atrocities 'a myth'", April 16). The argument appears to be that because the apartheid regime in South Africa used the concentration camps and the deaths of 26,000 women and children as propaganda, this discredits the idea that this was an atrocity. British colonialism should not be let off that lightly.

Unable to win the Anglo-South Africa war by conventional means, the British turned the civilian population into military targets and herded the civilian population into concentration camps. The strategy breached international law that distinguishes between civilians and combatants.

For too long Britain has attempted to hide behind a racialised construct of the Afrikaner as the evil villain of South African history. The racist framework of South Africa was inspired by Cecil Rhodes and brought into law by Westminster in the Union of South Africa Act 1909. The concentration camps did happen, and the British army led by General Kitchener did systematically attack civilian targets.

John Strawson
School of law
University of East London

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