Lizzie van Zyl
Born: 1894. Boer Republic.
Died: April 1901, Bloemfontein.
Cause of death: Malnutrition resulting from lack of food whilst in a concentration camp.
Notable because: Lizzie van Zyl was the daughter of a Boer fighter who refused to surrender. As his child, she was 'punished' to encourage him to surrender by being denied proper rations. Her death was used by activist Emily Hobhouse to highlight the plight of Boer women and children in the British concentration camps.
Emily Hobhouse, an English activist, spent six months in South Africa from January to June 1901 visiting Bloemfontein and six other camps. She saw Lizzie van Zyl die on an airless April day.
"She was a frail, weak little child in desperate need of good care. Yet, because her mother was one of the "undesirables" because her father neither surrendered nor betrayed his people, Lizzie was placed on the lowest rations and so perished with hunger that, after a month in the camp, she was transferred to the new small hospital. Here she was treated harshly. The English disposed doctor and his nurses did not understand her language and, as she could not speak English, labelled her an idiot although she was mentally fit and normal. One day she dejectedly started calling for her mother, when a Mrs Botha walked over to her to console her. She was just telling the child that she would soon see her mother again, when she was brusquely interrupted by one of the nurses who told her not to interfere with the child as she was a nuisance"
“I used to see her in her bare tent lying on a tiny mattress which had been given her, trying to get air from the raised flap, gasping her life out in the heated tent. Her mother tended her. I got some friends in town to make a little muslin cap to keep the flies from her bare head. I was arranging to get a cart made to draw her into the air in the cooler hours but before wood could be procured, the cold nights came on and she died."
Emily returned to England to campaign against “a gigantic and grievous blunder caused not by uncaring women but crass male ignorance, helplessness and muddling.” Her militancy brought the scorn of the British people who called her a rebel, a liar, an enemy of the nation, hysterical and worse.
Lord Kitchener, whose troops burnt down 30,000 farm houses, torched a score of towns and interned 116,572 Boers, a quarter of the population explained the camps as follows:
“It is for their protection against the Kaffirs,” said the British War Secretary, oblivious to the fact that Africans were being armed and encouraged by the English to attack a mutual enemy. Also ignoring the fact that 115,000 “black Boers” were sent to their own concentration camps, loyal servants who saw twelve thousand of their number die.