"The tragic Women's Monument" Top 5 Page for this destination Bloemfontein Things to Do Tip by CatherineReichardt
Bloemfontein Things to Do: 65 reviews and 144 photos
The Women's Monument in Bloemfontein is somewhere that I've wanted to visit for a very long time, because I have a particular interest in the way that women and children were treated in the Anglo Boer War.
It's tempting to think of concentration camps as a practice that was introduced during World War II, but in fact the Nazi camps simply built on a model that had been developed long before by the British in the Anglo Boer War which raged between 1899 and 1902.
Concentration camps were developed to incarcerate women, children and the elderly and were motivated by a couple of considerations. First and foremost was the desire to take Boer women off the land, where they could produce food and provide other support to their menfolk - a strategy which operated in deadly tandem with the British 'scorched earth' policy to starve out the enemy. It was also intended to demoralise the Boer forces.
The casualties in the concentration camps were appalling as the army personnel tasked with running the camps had neither the resources nor the experience to do so. The conditions were absymal, leading to frequent outbreaks of epidemic disease, and only meagre rations were available, leading to widespread starvation (see the picture of poor Lizzie van Zyl above). The path from the Anglo Boer War Museum to the monument is lined by 31 small stone plaques, each representing a concentration camp and its fatalities. In all, 27,000 women and 24,000 children died in the concentration camps - a huge number considering the relatively small size of the Boer population at the time, and only just less than the number of Boer soldiers that died in the hostilities (approximately 53,000, as opposed to 22,000 British casualties).
The Women's Monument was funded by private subscription in response to an appeal by President Steyn. Interestingly (or typically, depending on your perspective) not a single woman was involved in its design - a fact that incensed Emily Hobhouse, the firebrand British activist who was almost singlehandedly responsible for drawing international attention to the appalling conditions in the concentration camps. The sculptures are by the renowned Dutch sculptor Anton von Wouw (who was also responsible for the statue of Paul Kruger in Church Square, Pretoria) and the centrepiece depicts a Boer woman cradling her dying child.
President Steyn and his wife are buried in front of the monument. By the time the monument was consecrated, Emily Hobhouse (who was due to be the guest of honour) was too ill to travel to the event, but she was represented by a group of girls - all of whom had been given the name Emily (and sometimes even 'Emily Hobhouse') in her honour - and her ashes were subsequently interred in the monument.
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