Pinetown concentration camp

Pinetown concentration camp

The decision to transfer the Pietersburg camp inmates from Colenso to Pinetown must have been particularly traumatic for the families, for this was a third time that they had found themselves in a partly-built camp with all the associated discomforts of an incomplete infrastructure. In March 1902 Pinetown was a tiny settlement of 300 white inhabitants; nearby was the German settlement of New Germany. When the first Boers arrived in April, they were housed in uncomfortably damp houses previously occupied by Indians, before tents were erected. The camp itself was established on land rented from F.W. Königkramer, in a pleasant area surrounded by hills and far cooler than steamy Durban. The authorities had hesitated for some time about the Pinetown site for the water supply was limited and the camp was only possible because a substantial dam was built with water piped into the camp – one of several major engineering works undertaken in the camps. Most of the remaining structures, like the latrines, had been trucked down from Pietersburg and then moved on from Colenso to Pinetown. The camp remained in existence until August 1902, by which time the people had been trucked back to Pietersburg.1

Life in Pinetown camp differed little from the other camps. Food was not bad since rations could be supplemented with fruit and vegetables from the local farms or from Pinetown itself. Health was good, for the measles epidemic was long past. Of the twenty who died in Pinetown camp, most were the victims of the usual diseases of a pre-antibiotic age. To some extent Pinetown seems to have suffered as a punishment camp, for little effort was made with the school. Most of the Natal camps received at least one teacher from England but Pinetown did not, all the teachers being camp inhabitants.

The most momentous event was a severe gale in June 1902 which blew down many of the tents and destroyed the school. Wasserman records that the Hofmeyr family were taken in by local farmers, the Scotts, on their farm, Glenugie, where the young son was comforted with bananas. The storm destroyed the school and prevented a second lantern-slide lecture on the British Empire, with which the camp inmates had recently been entertained. Fortunately no-one fell ill as a result of their exposure to the storm.2

Pinetown was a complex and divided camp, politically and spiritually. Although some friction between hensoppers and joiners, on the one hand, and bittereindes on the other, was common in most of the camps, in Pinetown this tension seems to have been particularly evident. Pietersburg had produced a substantial number of loyalists, well over a hundred men joining the British volunteer forces. When the people were transferred to Natal, a small National Scouts camp remained in Pietersburg to house some of their families. Others, however, went to Natal, sometimes with their husbands. Wasserman suggests that some of these people reported back to military intelligence on the attitudes of the camp people, with the result that patriotic Boers felt ostracised and oppressed by this surveillance. A group of young women petitioned superintendent Tucker to remove the joiners. Yet, while some of the political opponents can be identified, we know little about their motives. It is too easy to see the conflict in black and white but we do not know why some chose to serve the British. Personal and political ties, economic forces or a realistic view of the situation all played their part.


In 1902, near the foot of Mt. Moriah, on the ridge to the north of the Aller river, the British established Pinetown Burgher Camp (burgerkampen or konsentrasiekamp), which was actually on farm land rented from FW Königkramer, in New Germany.  The camp covered an area of about 31 acres.  The Boer internees, who were mainly from the Zoutpansberg district, had been relocated from the Pietersburg and then Colenso Camps.  They arrived between 30 March and 11 April 1902 and brought with them all their tented accommodation, which comprised of 600 Bell tents, which could house 5 people each, and a number of different sized marquees, which could hold between 12 & 20 people.  The camp was guarded by British soldiers and enclosed with barbed wire fences and was supposed to house about 3,000 Boers, but on 30 June 1902 the highest number of 3,148 inhabitants was reached.  The peace treaty between the British and the Boers was signed on 31 May 1902 and the Pinetown Camp residents began to leave from 2 July up to the 10 August 1902.