During the short period of rest in the neighbourhood of Reitz, President Steyn and Judge Hertzog were engaged, together with the other members of the Executive Council, Messrs. Brebner and Olivier, in writing letters to the sovereigns of Europe and to the President of the United States of America. These letters were intended to explain our position, and to ask whether the Powers would not exert their influence in the interests of the Boers, especially regarding matters concerning the rules of civilised warfare and the fundamental principles of international law, which were both being shamefully outraged by the English in this war.
It was intended that a messenger should be sent to Europe through German West Africa with the letters, and that he should himself, when abroad, further explain matters.
At the same time Judge Hertzog busied himself in collecting affidavits from women and others, who had suffered under the barbarity of the British soldier, and the Kaffirs in their service. I was allowed to read these declarations, and must admit that I have never perused anything more heartrending. Let me here note a few facts.
One woman declared that an English Colonel had pulled down her house over her head at Haco, in Ladybrand district, on 21st January 1902. On the 27th of the same month a patrol of the same officer came and took her prisoner. They made her and her children walk in front of the patrol for a distance of three miles, and that when she was so far advanced in pregnancy that she gave birth to a daughter ten days later.
The wife of Commandant J. J. Koen, of the Ladybrand Commando, was taken from her house at Blanco, in the district of Ladybrand, against her will, by a patrol of Major General Knox, on 27th January 1902. The order was first given that she should go to the camp on foot with her children, of whom one was a baby of a month old. Fortunately, however, there was a cart which the English had looted that morning, and she was allowed to go in that. The night was cold and stormy, but, notwithstanding that, she had to pass it, with her children and two other women who had likewise been captured, under some trees in the open air, with very little bedding. On the following day she was brought up and cross-examined like a criminal, and this was repeated shortly after before a Colonel. This officer told her that her husband had captured eighteen of his Kaffirs the day before, and said that if her husband had those Kaffirs shot, he, the Colonel, would give the 1000 Kaffirs under his command liberty to do with her as they chose. The number of women and children had in the meanwhile increased to eighteen, and all were in the open air, without protection against wind and weather. In vain Mrs. Koen begged for a tent.
A Colonial, however, took pity on her, and spread a buck sail over the waggon under which the women and children had sought shelter from the rain. This kindly deed of the Colonial displeased the Colonel, and he severely took him to task about it. From Monday morning to Wednesday evening the women got nothing to eat, and again it was a Colonial who intervened. This man gave them some raw meat, biscuits, and a little coffee and sugar. But they had themselves to provide for fuel, and that on a bare hill where there was none to be found.
From Mequatling's Nek the women and children were conveyed to the farm of the late General Ferreira, on a trolley waggon loaded with seed-oats. It rained all the while, and they were drenched to the skin. They passed the next night under a buck sail with scanty covering. After spending nine days like this, Mrs. Koen was given a broken-down cart and two lean horses to return with to her house. She found it looted.
The Colonel had made the threat not to Mrs. Koen only. When he uttered the disgraceful words to that lady, he had already written a letter to her husband from Mequatling's Nek, dated 21st January 1902, in which these words appear:—
"I request from you proof that these boys [Kaffirs captured by Commandant Koen, and afterwards sent by him to Basutoland] are safe. Should I find, on the contrary, that you have murdered them, or should you murder others, besides other penalties, which you will assuredly not escape, I warn you that it will be beyond my power to control my Kaffirs in their action towards your women. I hope, however, that your assurance, accompanied by proof, that my Kaffirs are safe, will enable me to assuage my Kaffirs, and to continue to you that protection which I have hitherto been able to grant them."
Now, I ask, suppose that Commandant Koen had shot the Colonel's Kaffirs, could such a deed justify a British officer to set loose savages upon defenceless women?
Another woman declared that on the 9th of September 1900, a soldier, a Hottentot, and two Kaffirs visited her farm, Jolly Kop, in the district of Bethlehem. The soldier remained some distance off, but the others came to her, threatened to shoot her, and forcibly removed her rings from her fingers.
Many acts of unnecessary and reckless violence took place in relation to women in very weak condition. If the columns trekking about wanted to burn a house or take a woman away from her house, they seldom took into consideration whether a woman was ill or in a weak condition. There were officers and men who had neither heart nor eye for the weakness which is generally a guarantee and protection against violence. Here is an instance.
A woman was taken from the farm Omdraai, district Bethlehem, towards the end of March 1901, when she had been delivered of a child but one day.
Another, on the farm Tijger, district Heilbron, had a child of one day old. Notwithstanding this, on 20th January 1902 Colonel Rimington had her house burned over her head, and she was forced, ill and weak as she was, to totter out of the house so as not to be consumed by the flames.
The same thing had happened on the 1st of November 1901 to a woman at Vogelstruisfontein, district Heilbron. Her child was but two days old, and she too had to save herself from the burning house. Too often in this war it happened that the courtesy to women which chivalry dictates was lacking on the part of the British. Not only were our women treated with disrespect and contempt, but this contempt was as often accompanied by a large measure of cruelty.
So, for example, it very often happened that the English fired on the houses with cannon and rifles, under the pretext that the Boers had concealed themselves in them. In many cases it turned out afterwards that these houses were occupied by women and children only, and that some of these had been wounded by the firing which had taken place.
And then, when the women were taken away, the enemy placed them on open waggons, where they had no protection from sun, wind, or rain. There was one woman who was conveyed from her house on a gun-carriage. This took place in the middle of May 1901, on the farm Moolman's Spruit, district Ficksburg.
From other women the soldiers took all their clothing, and searched them for money they had hidden on their persons. And when the women were driven out before the soldiers, or when they were allowed to return to their homes from a camp, they not only carried their babes, but also bundles of clothing—and these were often women who had never before carried any burden. Our Africander women carrying bundles like tramps! On what Viæ Dolorosæ did they have to go!
Racial hatred? Who is to blame for it if it exists?
Who can blame the Africander if he cannot forget what was done to his mother, to his wife, to his sister?
In the middle of July 1901 a burgher on the top of Venter's Kroon saw an English patrol set fire to a waggon along the Vaal River. When the English had ridden off he went to the burning waggon and there found the sister of Mr. H. Miny of Vredefort burned to death. She was sixty years old, and had never in all her life been able to walk. The burgher found her about twenty yards from the waggon, with her hands before her eyes, and it would appear that she had crawled so far after the waggon had been set on fire. It may be that the English had not seen her. Let us hope that this was the case.
Much was said in the declarations about things I have spoken of in former chapters, in regard to the rough treatment the women were subjected to when the flying columns burnt their houses and destroyed their dwellings. Much was said, too, of the pillaging which took place on such occasions; of the breaking or looting of plates, dishes, pots and pans; the plundering of everything in chests or wardrobes, the carrying off of all movable food stuffs, and the manner in which such provisions as could not be taken away—flour, beans, peas, and the like—were strewn on the ground. They complained bitterly that the soldiers left them nothing to eat, and that thus, so to speak, the very bread was taken from the mouths of the children. How our women and children suffered!
And what shall I say of deeds more horrible than the worst that I have related here?—deeds which, out of respect to our wives and our mothers, I cannot name, but of which I, alas! just as in the cases I have mentioned, can give the date and the place? Would that I did not need even to allude to them! But I must! I must let the curtain rise but swiftly to exhibit other scenes—but as in passing—for all may not be seen, and what is seen must only be partly seen. Our women were assaulted and ill-treated, so that after the departure of the British flying columns they were sometimes confined to their beds for days, and in many cases bore the marks of blows and bruises for weeks.
Worse still! There were many attempts at violation, and there were cases in which violation actually took place, in a manner which it is impossible to describe here.
Me Miserum! that I must record this—that it is necessary to lead posterity to the altar upon which our women were offered!