musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Month: June 2008

Suideroord Concentration Camp Cemetery

The cemetery associated with the Johannesburg Concentration Camp in Turffontein is called Suideroord, and I went to examine it on 14 June 2008. I will admit that it did nothing for me, if anything it seemed so typical of government designed institutions, and to be frank it is probably the sort of place you would walk past every day and never really know what it was about. 
 The images I am using here are a mix of those I took originally and some that I took in 2012, they are almost interchangeble,  

The fact that there was a concentration camp in Johannesburg is surprising, although logically it was inevitable, given the amount of refugees that were coming to the town. (Johannesburg was founded in 1886 so it was still a relatively new town).

The camp was situated in Turffontein, at the race course, although I have read that it was behind the track and not a part of the track. The truth I expect is somewhere in between. There are a number of rumours and conspiracy theories about this camp and logically some of them do leave more questions asked than answered, In fact that was probably my biggest argument about this “Memorial”, There is a decided lack of information at the actual site  and nobody to ask!  I suspect that is why Irene Concentration Camp Cemetery is a good one to visit, they have taken the time to tell history, and provide information as opposed to merely having a lot of puzzling memorials and not much else.  To this day I still do not know whether there are any bodies actually buried at Suideroord.    The big question is why are the people buried here and not in the municipal cemetery in Braamfontein? I suspect it has to do with the inmates being under the control of the military and the cemetery being under the municipality. I did read that the land had been donated specifically for the purpose of burials of  inmates, but again I cannot positively confirm it.

The memorial consists of a series of coffin shaped terraces.


And you can only really appreciate that when you view the Google Earth image. 


It would be interesting to know what the original layout of the cemetery was, but that information is probably gone forever. The names are listed on a plinth on the top terrace, and it is here where the plaque on my second image is found.


A number of the original headstones have been preserved in the small entranceway, but I am sure there were many more originally. Where have they all gone to?



The dedication plaque may also be found in this entryway.


There is also a plaque commemorating the original farm owners at the site.


As a piece of history the site is really important, however when it comes to understanding what you are seeing it fails dismally. 

And I think this is part of the problem I have with the whole concentration camp saga. The version we were taught in school was highly skewed and did not contain any facts that would stand up to scrutiny, and those who froth and foam about the behaviour of the British do not stand at the gates of a place like this ready to cut grass or explain just what you are seeing. The truth has been left by the wayside, just like these memorials have been. The cemetery may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates -26.272334° 28.024066°   

DRW © 2008-2019. Images recreated 04/03/2016
Updated: 09/04/2019 — 08:18

Maraisburg Cemetery

Amongst the many cemeteries that I photographed for the South African War Graves Project was Maraisburg Cemetery on the West Rand. There were four CWGC casualties in the cemetery, and there was also a small ABW Plot which was strange in itself.

The cemetery may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates  26° 10.874’S,  27° 56.514’E, and is very close to Maraisburg Station.

It is however worth noting that this area does have a crime problem so I was taking quite a risk being there in my own. I went through to it during my lunch break at work, the intention being to grab my pics and scarper as fast as I could once I was done. Naturally, the best made plans of mice and men often go awry

Like so many smaller cemeteries this one had fallen on hard times. Situated in what was a working class/industrial/mining area it had been neglected and left to remain in limbo, with only occasional visits by those responsible for its upkeep. The rest of the time it was the abode of tramps, drug dealers, amateur vandals and the usual n’er-do-wells. I was hoping that my flying visit would avoid all of those. The big problem was that there was only one recognisable CWGC headstone amongst them all, the other three were all private memorials so would not be that easy to find. I am certain that I did have a rough map provided by the local CWGC agency, but cannot find it at this moment 

Way back then I was still shooting with a very primitive Kodak digital camera and the images were not all that great, but it was all I could afford at the time and it served the purpose. The cemetery was divided into 2 distinct areas on either side of the road that led from the abandoned main gate. There were not too many headstones, but that did not mean the cemetery was empty, it just meant that there were a lot of unmarked graves.

The Boer War plot was strange, this was not the place where I expected to find ABW graves, and judging by what I saw new headstones had been erected in front of the original steel military style crosses. Sadly many of the new headstones were already toppled, and looking at the headstones it seems as if they were never very well constructed in the first place. It is inevitable that those steel crosses would be stolen anyway, and it was amazing that they were still there even in 2008.

I photographed the graves and managed to hunt down my other CWGC graves and prepared to make tracks as fast as my little yellow car could carry me. Yet, a part of me wanted to explore a bit further and I headed for a gap in the back fence. Like so many other things in the old South Africa the cemeteries were segregated, not only by religion, but also by race, and the gap in the fence led me to what was probably the African section.

I did not venture deeply onto this area because it would have taken me a bit too far from my car. But, I have often wondered who these people were that were buried here. There is so little information available on these cemeteries that you can only really guess as to what the history is behind this sparsely covered piece of of land. 

Then it was time to go. I had my 4 graves and an overview and we could chalk this cem up as having been done. 

Return to Maraisburg.

The problem with a place like this is that you always wonder what you may have missed, and I returned there on a number of occasions, partly out of curiosity, and partly because I I needed to see whether there were other private memorials that we did not know about. I also think curiosity was to blame too, because I really enjoy walking these rows of graves and trying to create some sort of mental image of what the community may have been like. This was quite an old cemetery, and there were graves here that probably pre-dated the Boer War,  I never did feel safe here though, I was always aware of potentially how dangerous this place was, but in all the times I visited it I never saw another person.

The Boer War Plot was redone again at some point, the toppled headstones had been straightened and it was looking much better than before.

This image dates from August 2011, and it was still winter so the grass was dry and the light was great from photography. My Kodak had been pensioned off a long time ago and my new camera was a major improvement.  


The big question is: does Maraisburg have any angels?

Yes it does, and here she is.

and, she was surprisingly intact too. 

The Autumn and Winter light has always been my favourite, and even a place like Maraisburg Cemetery looks great in it. I took a lot of really nice photographs during my 2011 visit, and these are a few. 


Even that barren patch that was the African Cemetery was looking better. A fire had ravaged the undergrowth not too long ago, so new grass would soon be emerging again in the continuous cycle that is so typical of Johannesburg.

Not too far from the cemetery is a neglected War Memorial that I only discovered after taking the wrong turning. 

It was all a part of this area that was once inhabited by miners and their families. Today it is neglected and run down and the mines are shades of their former selves. The fact remains that because these areas are not situated in the Northern Suburbs they are relatively unknown by the heritage community, and it is only once you start to explore that you discover that they too have history, and that it too deserves to be preserved. If it had not been for the project I would have probably never ventured into the Cemetery, but it was really the first of a number of similar small cemeteries that I visited while photographing war graves, and they were all worthy of exploring.

DRW 2008-2019. Retrospectively created 24/04/2016. 

Updated: 09/04/2019 — 08:18

Irene Concentration Camp

Irene was the first ABW concentration camp site that I visited. And is probably the one that had the greatest effect on me. As many people know I really avoid the ABW as a subject because of the emotions it can stir, and because I am of English extraction I will usually get personally blamed for it.
Please note that the contact numbers and address on the board below may no longer be correct. The camp may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates: -25.871277°,  28.220548°, and the address is 11 Stopford Rd, Centurion, Pretoria, 0157, South Africa.

It was really by accident that I saw the camp, we were in the area and I saw the site but it was closed off, so I went looking for a way into it and ended up being directed to a place where I could get the key to the gate. The images I took though were really just a pinprick as I had limited time.

The Irene Concentration Camp was opened on 2 November 1900, the intention being that it would be one of the camps that would house the Boer women and their children that had been driven from their land by the British “scorched earth” policy during the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902. Tragically the conditions in this camp, and most like it, were primitive and very little notice was taken by the authorities of the deaths that were caused by their lack of interest in the unfortunate inmates of the camps. The situation in Irene was also compounded by two uncaring and officious camp commandants who ironically were Afrikaners themselves.

It took women like Emily Hobhouse to raise public awareness about the situation in the camps, to a point where a commission of 6 women under Mrs Millicent Fawcett was established, who went and inspected and made recommendations about improving the camps and the lot of those inside of them.

Many other people took it upon themselves to assist where possible and often the dedication of medical staff and volunteers was all help there was. Of particular note is Henrietta Armstrong who kept an unofficial diary about the camp, as well as Hansie Van Warmelo and Hester Cilliers. By the time public opinion had swelled enough to force action it was too late for the thousands of women and children who lost their lives.

Approximately 4000 women and 23000 children died in these camps as a result of exposure, disease, starvation and a lack of medical care. There is no accurate figure available as to how many Africans died in the camps, where they were housed, or even who they were or where they came from. This particular garden of remembrance site is on the site of the camp cemetery. The generally accepted number of dead is 1149, but it is possible that many more are buried here.

The cemetery is a national heritage site, under the protection of the SA Heritage Resource Agency. More information is available from Centurion Heritage Society

The headstones are symbolic, with names inscribed on both sides of each stone. I did not photograph them all though as I did not have the time. I have 40 headstone faces photographed which equates to about 240 individuals. 

Some of the original headstones still exist, and these have been embedded in concrete and are on display, although I believe a number of them were in storage when I was there.

I was told that this wall was built from rocks removed from the original graves.

34 Children were reburied her and the list of names of the deceased are set in the screen wall behind.

There are five headstones to Imperial Soldiers who may also be buried at the site.

I found it a very emotive site with a strong atmosphere about it that  I did not feel in any of the other concentration camp cemeteries that I visited afterwards. 

A history of the camp may be found at The British Concentration Camps of the South African War website.

Sadly there is not a lot available in print about the concentration camps, but the following ebooks may be of interest at Gutenberg: Woman’s Endurance by A. D Luckhoff. , The Petticoat Commando by Johanna Brandt.

Services of Remembrance are held regularly at the site, and if you do wish to visit it is advisable to first find out whether the site is open or where you may obtain the keys.

 DRW © 2008-2019. Some changes made to page 31/07/2018
Updated: 09/04/2019 — 08:19

Krugersdorp Concentration Camp Cemetery

The many victims of Krugersdorp Concentration Camp are buried in Burgershoop Cemetery in Krugersdorp, and I have been in that cemetery on a number of occasions since I first went there in June 2008. That visit was not about the camp cemetery but more about the military graves in the cemetery. When I originally made that visit the camp cemetery was in a dismal state, as was the whole cemetery for that matter. The grass was uncut, weeds were everywhere, and frankly I could not understand why those who continually raise the issue of the camps were not in there tending the graves!

By the time I left South Africa in 2013 the cemetery, and particularly the concentration camp graves were in a much better condition; the latter being restored by the Erfenis Stigting. As a result most of the images I am using are from June and September 2012. Notice the difference?

From what I have read, the Concentration Camp was established on 19 May 1901, and was one of the biggest camps in the Transvaal with 5488 people in the camp. It was situated north east of what is now Coronation Park on the site of what is now the Dr Yussaf Dadoo Hospital. A blockhouse; Fort Harlech, one of the few still remaining today, overlooks the site. 

Burgershoop Cemetery is literally “up the road” from the concentration camp site and it contains a wide variety of graves ranging from concentration camp deaths, to Jameson Raid, Boer War, both World Wars, miners and ordinary people.

It is difficult to know what the death rate was for the camp, but one source mentions that there are over 1800 concentration camp graves in the cemetery. The stone for the crematorium was unveiled on 13 December 1961.

As far as I can tell the grave markers are symbolic, and very few are actually marked as belonging to a specific person, this is one of the exceptions.

Most of the graves are of a similar pattern, a rectangular kerb with a headstone engraved “Konsentrasiekamp 1899-1902, Rus in Vrede” and filled in with pebbles as below.  


Restoration started in 2011 and not only the concentration camp were being restored, but other ABW were getting attention. 

The cemetery is a very historic one, and it is sad that it had reached such a state of disrepair, but given that it seems to be a common problem this attention it was receiving was very welcome. More information on the camp may be found at  the British Concentration Camps of the South African War website

It is tragic to walk amongst these unmarked graves and to try to imagine the funerals that passed this way over a century ago, and to know that even today the bitterness still remains as does the hatred of the British. I have learnt one thing though; there are two sides to every story, and when I was in school we were only taught one side; and therein lays the tragedy because I was never told about the Black Concentration Camps. That bit of information was conveniently left out when the hand wringing was being done and blame being apportioned.


The Krugersdorp Native Refugee Camp was situated on the farm Roodekrans, and later they were relocated to the farm Waterval.  There are no visible graves for those victims that I am aware of. The sites of those camps are probably inaccessible and it is doubtful whether there would be anything to see anyway.  

Burgershoop Cemetery may be found at Google Earth co-ordinates 26°6.164’S 27° 45.610′.

DRW 2008-2019. Images recreated 04/03/2016, Link recreated 05/02/2018

Updated: 09/04/2019 — 08:21
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