The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 left a bitter taste for the Afrikaner Nation. By 1902 the Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics were almost entirely under enemy occupation and the Boers were outnumbered six to one by the British military. The Boers had no other choice but to surrender.
The war began in October 1899 and the British were convinced that the war would be concluded by Christmas that same year. Although the world’s greatest imperial power outnumbered the Boers, in fighters and in weaponry, they required nearly three years to defeat the tough nation of fewer than half a million. The Anglo-Boer War can be seen as a military campaign against civilians.
By the end of the war 448,000 imperial and colonial troops fought in the Anglo-Boer War, 22,000 of which died (14,000 of these died from illnesses). 87,360 troops fought for the Boers, 7,000 of which died and almost 27,000 died in the Concentration Camps. A little known fact is that almost 20,000 Blacks died in the Concentration camps too (the official British figures state 14,145 deaths, but the latest research shows that the numbers are more in the region of 20,000).
After the war the land of the two Boer Republics was in turmoil, especially in the Orange Free State. Outside of the largest towns there was hardly a building left, about a tenth of their livestock remained and in most areas no crops had been sown in nearly two years. Many returning soldiers were met with shock as their farms had been destroyed. This was a nation on their knees. Herman Charles Bosman wrote after the war, “ … My home was burnt down. My lands were laid waste. My cattle and sheep were slaughtered… My wife had gone into the concentration camp with our two children, and she came out alone. And when I saw her again, and noticed the way she had changed, I knew that I, who had been all the way through the fighting, had not seen the Boer War.”
Although the Boer nation lost their freedom to the British, they never gave up their fight for Afrikanerdom and quickly picked up the pieces of their lives after the war. A truly great feat for any nation to achieve.
On 31 May 1961 a monument honouring all who fought and all who died during the Anglo-Boer War was unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Dr. H.F. Verwoerd, in Vereeniging. Vereeniging was chosen as the site for the monument because the peace negotiations that ultimately ended the war took place in Vereeniging.
The monument was designed and crafted by renowned artist Coert Steynberg (he was also responsible for the Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek and the Kruger Bust in the Kruger National Park).
The mediums used for the creation of the monument are granite, from the quarry at Leeukop, and steel, which was cast at the Iscor works in Vanderbijlpark. Grey-white granite was chosen so that the monument is not a representation of a somber past, but a bright future.
The monument comprises a base, a reclining figure and a steel structure rising up from the figure. Engraved on the base are a soldier’s hat, a bandolier, a wreath and a resting gun. All these represent peace. On either side of the monument is the coat-of-arms of the Transvaal and Orange Free State, the two Boer sides that fought in the war. The reclining figure represents the wounded Boer nation who lost their freedom to the British. Steynberg decided not to dress the figure in soldier’s gear as he wanted the monument to have a universal and timeless appeal. This suggests that the monument not only represents the heroes of the Anglo-Boer War, but anyone who has fought for a cause, be it on a national or international level or on a personal level; it represents anyone who has lost his battle.
The steel structure rising up from the soldier represents a strong spirit rising from a defeat. It represents the strength of the human spirit and the perseverance that will eventually win. The motto of the monument is “Wounded but not Defeated”, a clear statement that reaffirms the meaning of the Peace Monument, and what it will mean for our generations to come.