The Anglo-Boer had begun to take its toll on the Boer Nation. The soldiers saw their women and children dying in Concentration Camps, their farms and property being looted and destroyed and their fellow comrades being captured and placed into Prisoner-of-War Camps outside of their Motherland.
The war between the two Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and Britain had ripped throughout South Africa from October 1899. It was a war for Boer independence and for British supremacy, as the British were already in control of the Cape Colony and Natal. By 1902 the Boers realised that the only way to ensure self-preservation was to reach an agreement to end the war. President Burger of the OFS had said to the Boers, “ We have lost so much already that it would be hard, indeed, to lose our independence as well. But, although this matter is so near to our hearts, we must still listen to the voice of reason. The practical question, then, which we have to ask ourselves is, whether we are prepared to watch our people being gradually exterminated before our eyes, or whether we should not rather seek a remedy.”
Sammy Marks, businessman, founder of Vereeniging and personal friend of President Paul Kruger from the Transvaal, offered a site in Vereeniging for the Boers and British to negotiate a Peace Agreement. On the misty morning of 15 May 1902 sixty delegates from the Boer Republics and sixty delegates from Britain met at a site at Vereeniging Brick and Tile (present-day Vereeniging Refractories). A marquee tent had been erected for the negotiations to take place under and was called the “Tent der Saamekoms” (meeting tent). Barbed wire surrounded the negotiation site and sentries heavily guarded it. A shroud of secrecy surrounded the negotiation process, which caused major frustration for the press who tried in vain to determine what was progressing inside the camp.
A resourceful journalist for the London Daily Mail, Edgar Wallace, had the fortunate advantage of knowing one of the sentries on duty at the negotiation site. Each day he would travel from Pretoria to Vereeniging by train and sit in the coach, read a newspaper and smoke a pipe. Each day the guard would walk to the fence closest to the station and wipe his nose with one of three coloured handkerchiefs. A red one meant that there was a hitch in the negotiation process, a blue one that the negotiations were running smoothly and a white one that peace would definitely be signed. In this manner Wallace was able to cable the news that the Boers had surrendered to the British to London 24 hours before the news was made official.
Peace was signed on 31 May 1902 at Melrose House in Pretoria.
The negotiation site is situated at Vereeniging Refractories’ cricket pitch and was former President FW de Klerk officially opened a memorial at the site on 31 May 1992.