South Africa – The Undesirables – Dave Boling

the undesirables

An untold story of the Second Boer war and an unpleasant facet of British history

Story in a nutshell

This is the story of the Second Boer War – between the Dutch settlers in South Africa and the British fighters.

The Venter family live on their farm in the Orange Free State. Three of them go off to defend their country and indeed their family while the women stay at home. However war comes closer than they feared and before long the British have arrived and ripped them from their home and taken them to ‘a camp’. Daughter Aletta takes us through the story of what happens next and the horrific conditions of what they are forced to endure.

They have a tale to tell that is hard to hear. As for what their men have experienced… War has a horrific story to relate.

Place and setting

The geography of the region; theSouth African Republic/Transvaal (Pretoria) The Orange Free State (Free State),  the British Cape Colony -(Cape Town) The Natal (Pietermaritzburg) Swaziland
The geography of the region; the South African Republic/Transvaal (Pretoria)
The Orange Free State (Free State),
the British Cape Colony -(Cape Town)
The Natal (Pietermaritzburg)

This is the story of the ‘undesirables’  – what the British called those who would not surrender. These people were kept in squalid camps like the rest of those captured but there was a fence separating them – undesirable as they were. The Boer war has a human side and this is it. Those who were left behind, forced to the camps, the men who disappeared and those who were deemed undesirable for not wanting to surrender.

Hearing what this horrific experience must have been like from the voice of one 14 year old is a touching and poignant one indeed. Aletta arrives at the camp with her family and speaks candidly as only fourteen year olds can about the conditions of the camp and the resulting sickness and horror they find there. As well as the actual conditions of the camps and indeed the hospitals there, the tales and rumours surrounding folk remedies and superstitions held by the people there were both tragic and poignant. Many children died in these camps as did adults. We also find out about the South Africans who were in similar camps and who suffered equally squalid conditions and fates.

It is the touches of humanity that shine through and keep the human aspect very much at the fore – Aletta for example falls in love with British authors such as Dickens and hungers for the words and phrases she learns from a dictionary. The hatred and fear of the British at that time is not reflected in their language and this was a beautiful touch which said so much about the strength of the captives. As for what happens to the men…well that is another facet of the story that will make you cry and wonder just what this war actually achieved..

Thoughts and views

Having read Guernica – the authors first book about the experiences of the raid on the Basque town by the Luftwaffe in 1937. This book dropped you right in the dirty, raw experience and gave me a  real insight into the time and place as well as the human angle of the conflict and this time, in South Africa,was no exception.

The Undesirables was a tough read for the subject matter but not for the smooth yet gritty writing. The author is a writer and journalist by trade and it shows – what was a surprise was that he was not Dutch, Boer or British. He writes as if he was actually there in some way.

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