Drives and blockhouses
The introduction of an official internment policy
In December 1900 Kitchener replaced Roberts who returned home. On the face of it
his task looked quite simple-
Kitchener viewed the Boer as a savage and believed the Boer wife had a particular role in extending the war. For him the Boer was 'an uncivilised Afrikander savage with a thin white veneer. Kitchener wanted to send Boer women overseas as happened to the men, but he was overruled by the Cabinet.
What Kitchener did do was to turn the unofficial refugee policy of interning those
burnt out by farm burning into an official internment policy. He had no idea of the
full implications of this policy-
The policy of internment tied up British troops and ensured a long lasting resentment against Britain. it also freed the commandos from the responsibility of looking after their families.
In January 1901, the first of Kitchener's great drives took place. General French,
commander of the operation had 21,000 troops at his disposal organised into seven
columns. Five were placed along the Johannesburg-
The final part of Kitchener's plan to defeat the Boers commandos, was put into place following the failure of the peace talks held with Botha at Middelburg on 28 February 1901. With the watering down of Kitchener's plan by Milner and the government, Botha had no option but to reject what was offered to him. Kitchener now had to think how to end the war. There were still, his experts were telling him, 20,000 Boers still at large.
Kitchener began by reducing the rations in the concentration camps for Boer prisoners
by way of punishment and then turned his attention to rounding up the remainder of
the Boers at large. The answer for him lay in two new weapons; barbed wire and the
blockhouse. The blockhouse, built of tin and concrete, had been originally introduced
in South Africa to defend the railway system but Kitchener now hit upon the idea
of creating a mesh of barbed wire and forts across the country with barbed wire alternating
with blockhouse forts. By the end of 1901 the country was criss -
In December Kitchener took the decision not to take in any more Boer civilians but
to leave them on the veld to their own devices. The Boers increasingly felt responsible
for them. In conjunction with the blockhouses Kitchener organised a series of drives
whereby columns of soldiers would drive the Boers into the lines of blockhouses to
try and trap them. The first of these drives happened in February 1902. At nightfall
on Feb 5, Kitchener had 9,000 men drawn up in a continuous cordon of 54 miles between
Frankfort and Bethlehem-
The combination of scorched earth, blockhouses, barbed wire and offensive drives was taking its toll and the Boers were exhausted. It was taking all their efforts to just evade British troops who seemed to be everywhere and the inevitable happened in May when, on the initiative of the Transvaal government, the Boer leaders met at Vereeniging, south of Johannesburg, to discuss peace terms.
Farm burning became official policy under Kitchener
A column of British soldiers on one of Kitchener’s drives
Lines of blockhouses limited the ability of the Boers to move around the country