Professor Fransjohan Pretorius, professor emeritus of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, is the winner in The Conversation Africa Science Communication Awards category Science Communication Excellence for the most read article published on The Conversation in 2019.
His article, Concentration camps in the South African War? Here are the real facts, appeared on The Conversation on 18 February 2019. It was written in response to some controversial comments by British Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg on a BBC television programme. To date there have been 259 741 readers of the article.
Rees-Mogg’s statements caused consternation because they were riddled with inaccuracies. A claim that caused quite an upset was Rees-Mogg’s allegation that the concentration camps had exactly the same mortality rate as was the case in Glasgow at the time (1901). Professor Pretorius indicates that the death rate for Boer civilians in the concentration camps in South Africa exceeded this by a factor of 10.
Rees-Mogg also revealed his total lack of understanding why the British military authorities established the concentration camps in statements such as: “Where else were people going to live when … (the Boers were fighting the war)?”; “people were put in camps for their protection”; “they were being taken there so that they could be fed because the farmers were away fighting the Boer War.”
Professor Pretorius points out that the reality was very different, and goes on to explain the actual situation, and how appalling conditions were in the camps because of the exceedingly bad British administration.
Finally, he states that Mr. Reece-Mogg was not even aware of the existence during the South African War of camps that had been set up to get black people off the land so that the Boers could not get supplies from them. In addition, forcing black farmers off their land also enabled the British to use black men as labourers on the gold mines.