The PLACE where I live is in the formerly 'white' suburb of Johannesburg called Kensington, named after the royal borough of Kensington in Greater London, where members of the British royal family still live in Kensington Palace. Queen Victoria grew up there. My street, King Edward Street is named after King Edward VII, who succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria, to the throne in 1901 at the time of the Anglo-Boer War (11 October, 1899 to 31 May, 1902).
On one side King Edward Street is flanked by Roberts Avenue. Frederick Sleigh Roberts was British commander-in-chief for the early part of the Anglo-Boer War. On the other end of King Edward Street is Kitchener Avenue, after Horatio Herbert Kitchener, British commander-in-chief, taking over from Roberts in November 1900, for the latter part of the Anglo-Boer War. Most Anglo-Boer War commentators believe that Kitchener and Roberts should be declared war criminals because they maintained inhuman camps in which 42,000 civilian detainees suffered and died needlessly.
32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES responds to the unacceptable refusal of the five British monarchs of the twentieth century to apologise for the war crimes of the Anglo-Boer War. I 'reverently' show their portraits in the proper manner, big and colourful, well-labeled in a way that does them proud. On the ceiling are the names of the 1,142 children who died senselessly at Bethulie concentration camp, 60 kilometers from the family farm of my grandfather, Willem Hendrik Boshoff (1880 - 1928). Fourteen children on the list have the Boshoff name, two of them Willem Hendrik Boshoff. Their names and ages at death are printed on strips of transparent film and placed upside down, back-to-front so that they can't be read. African words for 'baby' and 'child' are used for the black children whose names were never recorded.
On the wall, the British kings and queens are proud and true and it is easy to read their names. In the mirror on the floor, however, on the 'other side' of our world, they are upset, their images and labels are upside down and back-to-front. In the same mirror the names of the innocent concentration camp child victims are perfectly legible.
The title 32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES refers to the 32,000 children who died in the concentration camps and on a well-known statement made by Queen Victoria (in Kings and Queens, a booklet from Buckingham Palace). She is said to have been robustly practical about the tiresomeness of small children and her own words "Children are such darling little things, but they can be a terrible nuisance", are adapted for the title.
The title of the Danish/South African collaborative exhibition is PLACE and in two new artworks I ‘dwell’ on PLACE from my perspective. First, consider the place I chose to be my home.
For the past 19 years, I have lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the formerly ‘white’ suburb of Kensington, so named after the royal borough of Kensington in Greater London, where members of the British royal family still live in Kensington Palace. My street is named King Edward Street – after King Edward VII, who succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria, to the throne of Britain when she died on 22 January 1901. These two monarchs reigned during the time of the Anglo-Boer War, also called the South African War (11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902). King Edward Street is not very long and is fenced in on one side by Roberts Avenue. Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl of Viscount St. Pierre, or as he was also called, Baron Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria, and Waterford, was British commander-in-chief for the earlier part of the Anglo-Boer War. On the other side of King Edward Street is Kitchener Avenue, named after Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl, Viscount Broome of Broome, Baron Denton of Denton, also called Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum, of the Vaal, and of Aspall, the British commander-in-chief, taking over from Roberts in November 1900, for the latter part of the Anglo-Boer War. Not far from my home, these two streets are connected by Milner Crescent before they join up at Rhodes Park. Milner Crescent is named after Sir Alfred Milner of Saint James’s and Cape Town and Rhodes Park is named after Cecil John Rhodes, for whom the erstwhile Rhodesia was named and organizer of the giant diamond-mining company De Beers Consolidated in 1888 – both British statesmen, empire builders at the time of the Anglo-Boer War and the driving force behind Britain wanting to seize the old republic of the Transvaal, then under administration of President Paul Kruger and the republic of the Free State, then under President Marthinus Theunis Steyn.
All four my grandparents were part of the Anglo-Boer War. Ouma (Granny) Driekie (1889-1966) on my mother’s side was taken into the concentration camp at Krugersdorp in 1900 when she was 11, and she was very lucky to survive. The cemetery of that camp has over 2 000 grave-markers for children of her age and younger. Oupa (Grandpa) Willie (1880-1928) on my father’s side was only 21 when he became a prisoner of war in 1901 in Bellary, India – I still have a beautiful walking stick that he carved over there.
In the 1960s, when I was still at school, my grandparents instilled in me a sense of hatred for the British, for their culture and language. Their tragic stories inspired in me a spirit of intrepid daring-do. I fought the Boer War all over again in my own high school – in the English class. I made life intolerable for my English teacher by writing senseless crib notes, simply to prove that he can’t catch me out. I would, for example, pin a crib note right on the teacher’s back under the pretext that I am rubbing off some dirt – a large enough note for everyone in the class to crib from. I was the ‘super’ Boer spy Danie Theron or that damn elusive general Christiaan de Wet. In my Afrikaans medium school I had the support and admiration of my friends who were all equally anti-British/English. But, listening to the popular music of the Beatles, and reading wonderful English books made English a trifle more palatable. I loved reading and when I was 11, I would often read two books a day. I was able to read in both English and Afrikaans, my home-language, and I usually took home piles of books from our school and town libraries.
There are not many Afrikaans speaking people in my part of Johannesburg. So, you might ask what I’m doing in a place like this, a place that venerates the memory of those who, in history, killed and shunned defenceless members of my own family and people.
In the work for the Gastrupgård Samlingen museum, 32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES, I look more closely at the people after whom the streets in our neighbourhood are named.
Victoria, who was sovereign on the British throne for the first part of the Anglo-Boer War, reigned in a society that idealized both motherhood and the family. She was brought up in Kensington Palace and was herself a mother of nine. However, Encyclopaedia Brittanica states that she hated pregnancy and childbirth, detested babies, and was uncomfortable in the presence of children. In Kings and Queens, a booklet I bought at the gates of Buckingham Palace, it says that she was “.... robustly practical about the tiresomeness of small children.” In her own words: “Children are such darling little things, but they can be a terrible nuisance.” The title of my work 32,000 Darling Little Nuisances is adapted from this quote.
The South African War dominated Victoria’s final years. The sufferings of her soldiers in South Africa aroused the queen to a level of activity and public visibility that she had avoided for decades. With a demanding schedule of troop inspections, medal ceremonies, and visits to military hospitals, Victoria finally became “the exemplar of a modern monarch”. Her death in January 1900 inspired her men in the field to great and heroic heights. She was succeeded by her son Edward VII, after whom my street is named. King Edward supported the policy of concentration camps when commander-in-chief of the Anglo-Boer War at the time, Lord Roberts, proclaimed the first camp in about July 1900.
The camps were introduced at a time when the British failed to make headway in the war. Up to the end of the war, the British took 120 000 Afrikaners, mostly women and children, into the camps; 27 000 did not survive – that is 22.5% of all. Of the 27 000 deaths, 22 000 were children under the age of 15. There were also camps for blacks, but black and white camps were separate. About 80 000 black people, also mostly women and children, were taken in; it is estimated that about 15 000 black women and children died there. Conditions were much worse in the black camps – incarcerated black people lived off the scraps of white camps like animals. There are no records for black people’s camps, and their deaths were considered so unworthy that their names were not even recorded. Most historians believe that more than 10 000 black children aged 15 and under died there. For the sake of my work, I have taken 10 000 as the number. To do justice to these nameless, forgotten children I include a fair number of the words for ‘child’ as written in black languages. In the languages of Tswana, Northern Sotho and Sesotho ‘child’ is ngwana, ‘baby’ is lesea; in Xhosa, Zulu and other Nguni languages, both ‘child’ and ‘baby’ are umntwana and in Venda ‘child’ is ńwana and ‘baby’ lutshetshe. These words will be repeated many times in the work. The ’32 000’ in 32,000 Darling Little Nuisances is derived from the 22 000 Afrikaans children added to the 10 000 black children. To make the work fit in into the exhibition space of the Gastrupgård Samlingen Museum and given my time limit to set up the work, I use about 2 000 names, but I have every intention to lay down all 32 000 name tags when I can manage it.
During the last few years, I have visited all 42 of the concentration camp cemeteries of the Anglo-Boer War. The sad experiences at these grave sites often put my sincere drive for reconciliation with the British to the extreme test. The things I saw and learned as I went along caused me great distress.
The first concentration camp cemetery I visited was at Krugersdorp – that is the one where Ouma Driekie cheated death. There were more than 2 000 graves for women, children and the aged, and I noticed that graves for children younger than 15 were by far in the majority. To my mind this clearly reflected a disregard for the most vulnerable. In 32,000 Darling Little Nuisances, I highlight the plight of the innocent and most exposed of concentration camp victims by only using statistics and names for children aged 15 and under.
When I visited the camp cemetery in Berg Street, Standerton, I noticed an important thing – among the graves of Boer women and children there were a number of headstones with British surnames. That means that Boer women were married to British men and that their households had a very tough time, being representative of the opposing sides. Likewise, British women would have been married to Afrikaans men – but the graves would not reflect that divided reality because men did not take the surnames of women. A number of families were torn apart by that awful war. Our own two English speaking children, who are inseparably loyal to the two Afrikaans speaking ones, often make me wonder where we will stand as a family in such a war.
Gerrit Broeksma, a Dutch citizen, was public prosecutor of Johannesburg during the war. When he saw the appalling conditions at the Race Course concentration camp in Turffontein in Johannesburg, he felt that, as a man of the law, it was his duty to report the neglect to the British Parliament and countries in Europe. Unfortunately his efforts were revealed immediately to the British forces in South Africa and he was executed in September, 1901 for ‘breaking the oath of neutrality’. Thus he failed to prevent the deaths of over six hundred women and children in the camp, situated right in the heart of the city of Gold!
At Springfontein, south of Bloemfontein, I noticed that the older part of the concentration camp cemetery, near the gate, has rows and rows of British soldiers’ graves dating to the very beginning of the war. Towards the middle of the cemetery there are graves of woman and children, interspersed with those of British soldiers. As I reached the other side of the cemetery, dedicated to the last part of the war, I found many hundreds of graves of women and children and none of British soldiers. To add to my sense of anguish and indignation, I discovered a whole field of baby graves far removed from the main Springfontein cemetery. I learnt that these were the graves of unbaptised children – unbaptised because they were born out of wedlock from the union between British soldiers and young women in the camp. I felt as if the soldiers were saying to me “We do not fare so well with the Boer men – but have you seen what we can do with their women and children!”
Not far from Springfontein is the town of Bethulie with its concentration camp cemetery of about two thousand graves. It was at Bethulie that I found many of my own relatives – fourteen Boshoff children are buried there. Oupa Willie and all his family were initially from the nearby Philippolis and Colesberg districts. I was speechless and shocked when I saw my own name crudely chiseled out on two of the slates: WILLEM HENDRIK BOSHOFF.
Emily Hobhouse is the English reformer and social worker who became an outspoken critic of British concentration camp policy. When she learned of the high mortality rate of Boer women and children in these camps, she went to South Africa in December, 1900 to discover the facts for herself. When she saw the wretched conditions in the camps of Bloemfontein and Bethulie, she returned to England to speak out against the abuses and cruelties. Her investigations led to a storm of indignation and an improvement of conditions in the camps soon followed. A second visit to South Africa in October 1901 led to her deportation.
At the Aliwal North cemetery I learned a very important truth about my country’s political dilemma. Two brothers who had survived camp life returned in 1910 to set up a decent headstone for their third brother who had died there more than eight years before. The headstone shows the name of their beloved brother and the sad circumstances of his death. They also put their names on the stone with a promise that they will see to it that such an injustice will never happen again. If these two youngsters were about fifteen or younger at the time of the war then they would be in their mid-fifties in 1948 – the year in which the Nationalist party came to power in South Africa. I understood, when I looked at the reality on that gravestone that the generation of survivor brothers are the ones who formulated the devastating policies of Apartheid. I suddenly understood why Afrikaner people had become so nepotist, to the exclusion of blacks and others. These brothers, when given the chance, would never again allow their solidarity to be threatened. Unfortunately, in the course of the twentieth century, in their over-zealous drive to protect their own, they destroyed the lives of millions of others who live in the same land. I often wonder if this is the fate that might await Israel with its grief and its present day dilemma in the place it occupies. I often wonder whether the ruling party in South Africa, the ANC, will some day, like the embittered government of Zimbabwe, demand its own unfairly. I made a work entitled BAD FAITH
CHRONICLES, now in the Robert Loder collection, London, to show my apprehension for the urge of those who feel hard done by and to try and understand the necessity for land-grabbing.
I am a pacifist and I do not support any political group, especially not the South African far right groups that have tried to exploit the Anglo-Boer War concentration camps for political gain. I believe one should live at peace with others, in particular with one’s ‘enemies’. Towards the end of the 1970’s I refused to carry a rifle and wear a uniform when called upon to serve in the pro-Afrikaner, pro-white, South African Defence force. My work BANGBOEK was made at that time to help me face up to the threat of imprisonment.
Who must bear the responsibility for the human rights disaster of the concentration camp policy? We know that Roberts gave the order to start the camps and that Kitchener ardently endorsed it and made it worse, and that they did it “... for their queen/king and country.” Whenever I have discussed the issue of culpability with Britons, I usually get the following response. First, that the royals had nothing to do with the war and secondly, that one can’t go back forever into history to blame and extract apologies – it has to stop somewhere. Most British have no idea that war crimes, such as they are often so keen accusing others of, were committed in the name of their queen/king – the accusations against them can’t possibly be true because, as everyone knows, “... it is not the British way.” The story they fabricated in their post-war euphoria, show, on the one hand, how atrociously “dirty and stupid” their detainees were, and on the other hand, chillingly, how these terribly dangerous people (women and children!) needed to be restrained “... to bring an end to the war.”
I have no doubt that Roberts and Kitchener are war criminals who escaped proper judgment. They behaved as badly as other war criminals in history. I think if any of their kings and queens knew exactly what they did, they would be harsh and decisive in their condemnation and forthright in their apology. Roberts is suspected to have justified his part in the concentration camps from his sense of obligation at the death of his own son, Freddy, who died at the battle of Colenso in December, 1899. Roberts was succeeded by Kitchener as commander-in-chief in November, 1900. Kitchener came to South Africa from the Sudan where his forces massacred 26,000 men in yet another preposterous quest for land. He committed even worse land-seizure atrocities in the Anglo-Boer War. The British proudly upheld his achievements when they made him secretary of state for war in World War I. At that time he organized armies on a scale unprecedented in British history and became a symbol of their national will to victory. In spite of many agitating, especially from within England, that he be declared a war criminal, he is still venerated as one of their ‘finest sons’.
The term war crime is difficult to define, but after World War II three categories in the law of nations became generally accepted as such. The first, ‘crimes against peace’, involves preparing for or initiating a war of aggression; the second, ‘war crimes’ (also called ‘conventional war crimes’), includes murder, ill treatment, or deportation of the civilian population of occupied territory; and the third, ‘crimes against humanity’, includes political, racial, or religious persecution against any civilian population, either before or during a war, and is understood to include genocide.
Britain and European countries were co-signatories in 1899 of the Hague Convention that forbade the abduction of women and children from their homes into camps at times of war. War was seen as a man’s fight and the suffering of women and children had no place in it. Even though their country had signed this treaty, many British soldiers were to weep in agony within a year when they were ordered to burn down the ± 30,000 Boer homes and farms – that is all the farms – slaughtered all the Boer cattle and herded the women and children off to what turned out to be a solemn gamble with death.
The graves of British soldiers who died in the Anglo-Boer War are well-kept and marked by iron crosses within a round setting. The inscription on every grave marker gives the soldier’s name, rank, day of birth, day he died and respectfully concludes: FOR KING AND COUNTRY. The principal reason for the soldier to sacrifice his life was to serve his queen/king and his home country. Roberts and Kitchener did what they did for their queen/king and their country. The loyal Tommies questioned neither the criminality nor appropriateness of the commands of their superiors towards women and children of their enemies and outsiders. As a British soldier one is called upon to serve one’s king and country – unflinchingly:
Their’s not to make reply
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson The Charge of the Light Brigade 1855
Recently, on 31 May 2002, we concluded four years of ‘celebrating’ the centenary of the Anglo-Boer War, a war at the end of which the victorious British insisted on the summary execution of two war criminals on Boer side, swiftly, and without proper trial. The Boers had lost everything and were not in a position to realise the extent of the damage and wrongdoing they had suffered and they were certainly in no position to bargain and make demands about British war criminals. Now, surely, with the war gone for a hundred years, with many historians demanding an apology and with the centenary refreshing everyone’s memories, this was the right time for the Royal family to apologize formally for the atrocities and lay the matter to rest – what a ‘golden’ opportunity, but alas, not a word!
Even if it is argued that women and children were taken into the camps for protection and that it was not really the aim of British soldiers to ‘kill’ them, but that they died of accidental causes, surely then there should be an apology to show commiseration. My mother taught us to say sorry when we unwittingly hurt someone else. But, as almost all agree, including some members of royal family, if the women and children died from neglect in a massacre by default, then the apology cannot be avoided.
I would like to protest the apparent indifference to royal culpability by installing an artwork in England, within walking distance from Buckinham Palace. I thought of simply showing a row of upside-down portraits of the five dumbstruck British monarchs that reigned during, and since the Anglo-Boer War. Labels under the portraits will be clearly legible: Victoria (1837 – 1901) born 1819, crowned Westminster, buried Frogmore; Edward VII (1901 – 1910) born 1841, crowned Westmister, buried Winsor; George V (1910 – 1936) born 1865, crowned Westmister, buried Winsor; George V1 (1936 – 1952) born 1895, crowned Westmister, buried Winsor; Elizabeth II (1952 – ) born 1926, crowned Westminster. In front of the portraits, on the floor, I would like to scatter the names of a number of children who died needlessly in that war. Unfortunately one is not allowed to show such work in England because the upside-down portraits show too much disrespect.
Instead, 32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES follows a different strategy and is my response to the stoic British royal silence. My reply to their unacceptable refusal to apologise is to finesse their portraits in a more ‘respectful’ way in the Gastrupgård Samlingen museum. I ‘reverently’ show the British monarchs hanging in a row – in the proper manner, as big and colourful as possible, well labeled in a way that does them proud. Above these portraits a grid of fine lines is strung out of sight. The names of the 1,142 hapless children who died at the Bethulie concentration camp, printed on strips of transparent film are placed upside down on the grid to constitute a kind of word-sky above the portraits. All the names will appear back-to-front and can’t be read. Words for ‘baby’ and ‘child’ from our black languages will be used as nameplates for the black children whose names we will never know. If one looks up at the names of the children they are senselessly indecipherable – an outrageous nightmare that bears no recognition.
Along the floor, under these portraits, I have a kind of ‘memory pool’. I wish to emulate the myth of Narcissus, who fell so much in love with his own reflection in the deep quiet waters that, when he tried to embrace his image, he drowned. The mirroring pool prompts the self-absorbed kings and queens to ask the Cinderella-godmother question: “Mirror, mirror on the wall (floor), who is the fairest ...” This ‘memory pool’ is made of hundreds of small blocks of mirror film and when one stands away from the portraits one can see them almost romantically reflected in the pool – Manhattan at night. As one gets closer one finds that the back-to-front names of the innocent concentration camp children are also visibly reflected in the ‘pool’ where they become perfectly clear and no longer read back-to-front, but true and right. But, in this forgotten world that mirrors the converse side of my history, the pompous royal portraits plunge headlong into the water, their labels upside down and back-to-front.
Soft music floats out, past the royal portraits and over the memory pool – traditional British music. The sounds of the song “Everything is beautiful ... in its own way” underlines a ‘positive and cheerful spirit’. I hope to create a pervasive pollyannaism. In Eleanor Porter’s novel Pollyanna (1913), Miss Pollyanna Whittier is so blindly optimistic about life that she finds good everywhere. She is rather foolishly blinded by gladness and hopefulness in the face of appalling circumstances. The wistful, sweet sounds of this song are alternated by the glorious pomp and splendour of the Band of the Royal Air Force, accompanied by two massive choirs, blasting away, and confirming England as the Land of Hope and Glory. This piece of music, also known as the ‘Pomp and Circumstance – the Coronation Ode’ was written during the Anglo-Boer War, in 1902, by Sir Edward Elgar in collaboration with A.C. Benson for the coronation of Edward VII.
Hopefully 32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES will raise an awareness and concern and will travel to South Africa, as the organisers have in mind. And, hopefully, it will land up in England where the royal portraits can be appreciated to their best advantage.
Childrens’ song at the time of the Anglo Boer War
| Siembamba - mamma se kindjie
Siembamba - mamma se kindjie
Draai sy nek om gooi hom in die sloot
Trap op sy kop dan is hy dood
Siembamba - mommy’s little baby
Siembamba - mommy’s little baby
Wring his neck and dump him in the ditch
Stomp on his head and he will be dead
I should like to make a few more Anglo-Boer War works:
In one work I wish to lay down a very large carpet, fit for the royal palace, over piles of filth and dirt swept under it to show a royal family in denial, all those awkward injustices conveniently covered up by pomp and splendour, by the bestowal of endless rewards and by those names they uphold so fondly on our street corners.
I also want to ‘write/publish’ a book entitled: HOMESTEADS IN THE TRANSVAAL AND THE FREE STATE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. The book will be ‘published’ under the allonym ‘Prince Charles’. An allonymous book is a book published by an author under someone else’s name. Prince Charles, possible future king of Britain, has already written a book, A VISION OF BRITAIN – A personal view of architecture, Doubleday 1989. For my HOMESTEADS IN THE TRANSVAAL AND THE FREE STATE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY , I want to take real copies of Prince Charles’s book and neatly burn out any reference to places in Britain and British people so that one can’t see it is not a book on the architecture of the Transvaal and Free State republics. I tried to find a Boer home dating back to that time and I failed – there doesn’t seem to be one. One is also not likely to find any period furniture from that time. All was burnt up. A holocaust, in the original sense of the word, is a sacrifice in which everything is totally consumed by fire. Horses and cattle burnt into a stinking disgrace are a hippocaust. In the front of my altered book ‘Prince Charles’ will dedicate it to his mother.