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Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK

World: Africa

'Britain's shame' over Boer War

'Never again the disregard of the rights of black South Africans'

Britain's Duke of Kent has launched the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Boer War in South Africa by acknowledging what he called his country's dreadful abuses.

BBC News' Jeremy Vine: This war is not yet settled
The Duke, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, was touring Boer and black cemeteries around the city of Bloemfontein in Brandfort, 190 miles south of Johannesburg, with the South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"Let us all agree on one thing: never again war in South Africa; never again the rightly criticised policies of (British commander Lord Horatio) Kitchener and never again the dreadful abuses caused by the camps," said the Duke.

"Never again the disregard of the rights of black South Africans that took place during the war," he said.

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The Duke was referring to concentration camps run by the British, in which thousands of Afrikaners and black soldiers died.

"No one who has read the history of the time could fail to be moved and shocked by the shameful neglect, particularly of women and children, that occurred in those places," said the Duke.

The BBC's Jeremy Vine: "South Africa is intent on highlighting the role and suffering of black people"
The commemorations of the conflict, which was fought between British Empire and Boer settlers for control over lucrative Transvaal gold and diamond mines, focus on the role played by black people.

'Shameful neglect'

Almost 70,000 lives were lost in the war, which began on 11 October 1899 and raged for more than three years, until the British eventually wore down the Boer resistance.

The BBC's Jeremy Vine: "Britain is being asked to apologise for the deaths of Afrikaaner civilians"
It was the biggest deployment of British troops since the Crimea, involving half a million soldiers, including volunteers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Only now are the thousands of black people, who were forcibly enlisted on either side, being properly remembered in what was known as the "white man's war".

"Looking back after a hundred years, it was a war that involved all people in South Africa," Leo Barnard, a professor of history at the University of the Free State said.

"Now we can take a really objective view of what happened."

'Black fighters of Mafikeng'

One such acknowledgement is the key role played by the black fighters of Mafikeng in repelling a Boer assault in May 1900.

At least 12,000 black people died in so-called concentration camps and thousands more were massacred. Their bones largely lie in unmarked graves.

On Friday, a Boer War exhibition close to Brandfort reopened to include the participation of black people in the conflict. It had previously only looked at the conflict from a Boer perspective.

"This will signify that the war actually affected every South African. That's contrary to the views widely held at that time that it was a white man's war," said Musa Xunu, who heads the centennial commemorations.

'No end of a lesson'

Correspondents say the fact that black people are being honoured is part of the rewriting of the nation's past now that the centuries of white rule has ended.

The 1994 all-race elections brought the African National Congress and the overwhelming black majority to power.

The Boer War was proclaimed a great victory for the British but, in the words of the imperial poet Rudyard Kipling, the British Empire was taught "no end of a lesson".

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