BEING one of the oldest towns in the country, Uitenhage is steeped in a rich history. But few know it was home to a concentration camp during the Anglo-Boer War between 1899 and 1902. Chairman of the Concentration Camp Trust Superintendent Kallie Calitz is working hard to ensure the area is protected and remembered.
“You won’t believe that the majority of Uitenhage’s current residents don’t know about the concentration camp – and it’s in their backyard,” Calitz said.
Situated on the outskirts of the upmarket suburb of Vanes Estate, you will find one lone house with a memorial statue in front of it, which was declared a national monument in 1972. There is another monument made out of high cement walls in memory of the eight children and adults who died in the camp. Calitz said the concentration camp was established because a large number of women and children were dying in a Bloemfontein camp because of extreme temperatures. The new one had to be somewhere near water and a train line.
“Uitenhage was the ideal place because it had an established rail system and there were natural springs,” Calitz said.
The camp was built for 2000 people, but only 1800 stayed there. Although today the site is only four hectares in size, Calitz said they estimate it was about 10 hectares originally. When the concentration camp was built, the town was already 100 years old.
“At first the residents looked down on the people from the camp, but then they realised that these are our people and they started to accept them,” Calitz said.
“For entertainment people went to the camp and played records for the women and children. When the people were given permits to come to town to buy goods, the residents would pick guavas from one of the trees and give them to the children,” Calitz said.
All the houses were made of zinc and wood as opposed to the tents of the other camps. Today, only the house that is believed to have been the commander’s, stands on the site. The rest of the houses were broken down and rebuilt in Port Elizabeth’s Red Location. Peace came in May 1902, but the people stayed in the camp until October. “W here were they supposed to go back to? Their farms (in the Free State) were taken away, their houses had been burned and their husbands shot,” Calitz said.
“Some people moved to town, got married and their descendants are probably still here today.” – By NICOLETTE SCROOBY, source: Daily Dispatch