Lizzie van Zyl is just one of the 27,000 women and children who died in English concentration camps during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
I had two great grandmothers who lived in those camps, one of whom (my paternal great grandmother) was interned in Bloemfontein (I am not sure which camp the other great grandmother was placed in, but that great-grandmother lost all three of the children she already had in that camp). My paternal grandfather joined the Boer forces when their home was burned down although he was only fourteen years old at the time. Resentment of the British, particularly the English, ran deep in the older generations of my family. Lizzie’s story indicates some of the uglier history involved.
Lizzie van Zyl’s story is preserved because Emily Hobhouse wrote about her death in the Bloemfontein Concentration Camp after her arrival their on 24 January 1901. Hobhouse was shocked by the conditions she encountered.
“They went to sleep without any provision having been made for them and without anything to eat or to drink. I saw crowds of them along railway lines in bitterly cold weather, in pouring rain–hungry, sick, dying and dead. Soap was not dispensed. The water supply was inadequate. No bedstead or mattress was procurable. Fuel was scarce and had to be collected from the green bushes on the slopes of the kopjes (small hills) by the people themselves. The rations were extremely meagre and when, as I frequently experienced, the actual quantity dispensed fell short of the amount prescribed, it simply meant famine.”
Of little Lizzie van Zyl it is written: She was a frail, weak little child in desperate need of good care. Yet, because her mother was one of the “undesirables” due to the fact that her father neither surrendered nor betrayed his people, Lizzie was placed on the lowest rations and so perished with hunger that, after a month in the camp, she was transferred to the new small hospital. Here she was treated harshly. The English disposed doctor and his nurses did not understand her language and, as she could not speak English, labeled her an idiot although she was mentally fit and normal. One day she dejectedly started calling for her mother, when a Mrs Botha walked over to her to console her. She was just telling the child that she would soon see her mother again, when she was brusquely interrupted by one of the nurses who told her not to interfere with the child as she was a nuisance”. Quote by Emily Hobhouse from Stemme uit die Verlede (“Voices from the Past”) – a collection of sworn statements by women who were detained in the concentration camps during the Second Anglo Boer War (1899-1902).