War and Forgiveness

This morning I saw a blog entry commemorating the 111th anniversary of the Anglo Boer War.   This coming Sunday the brave soldiers that came to fight in South Africa for the British Empire will be remembered.  It is the first time in over a century that this will be celebrated in that particular town.

Yes, I know, history belong to the victors of a war.  Ordinary men become heroes in the forge of battle.  Their legend lives on. Statues are built for them.  Like this one I saw in Edenburgh, of the Black Watch Regiment.  ImageOh boy- do we remember the Black Watch fondly!  These Scots were brave soldiers. They marched against the entrenched Boer forces with great discipline at Magersfontein. A lot of them also died bravely there- this was the one battle the Boer forces won decisively.

Brave soldiers are remembered.  Remembrance Days are held for them…

But what is often overlooked, is the damage the war caused…  I took this photo on Saturday, 200 meters from my home… Image

What is this?  Only the Dutch and Flemish people will be able to read the Afrikaans words on this memorial:


Here rest, except for a few other people, 544 women and children, who died as victims in the Concentration Camp during the War of 1899-1902 and for whom a memorial was erected on the Market Square on 15 December 1942…”

The Anglo Boer War was not always the Last Gentlemen’s War, as it is so proudly remembered in some circles.  It also marked the invention of the Concentration Camp- not by Hitler, but by the British.  In our town, which had about 1000 inhabitants, and from the surrounding district, 544 women and children has perished in the concentration camp. Some people says it did not happen. Like some would deny the Holocaust of WW II.  But here are the graves… the names of all 544 persons are on a granite  wall at the entry to the  cemetery. And this is in just one small South African town, Nylstroom.  There were many, many such concentration camps,  some a lot worse than this!

How many men died in combat from the Waterberg Commando? (That is the other word we gave the world- Commando- usually damn good soldiers…)  Fifteen…  IMG_0930

Can you think how a society can be normal after the War, when just 15 of it’s men died in combat, but 544 women and children have died?

War creates brave heroes. It also destroy innocent lives.  THe two Boer Republics became a part of the British EMpire- why? We have the world’s gold and diamonds under our feet.

The scars of this war remained a long, long time in South Africa.

BUT: we fought in World Wars I and II alongside the British. We were part of the Allied Forces. That created even more tension in our country- between Pro and Anti War sentiments.

Do I hate the British, Aussies, Kiwi’s and Canadians who fought here? No! What would the point of hate be?  My own sister is now a British citizen. The Empire strikes back- a LOT of my tribe now live in these countries.

And I have been a soldier too.  South African white boys did not have a choice in the matter. We had compulsory military service. You had these choices: two years in the army, or four years in the police or prison system. Or you had to go to jail, have a criminal record, no passport, and a hell of a life trying to get work with THAT on your criminal record. We grew up with the propaganda of “The Communist threat”…  Terrorist attacks like the Church street bomb on 20 May 1983 left a huge impression on my schoolboy mind- THAT is what THEY do- we have to fight to survive in darkest Africa.  They want to kill me…

Young men just don’t have choices in old men’s wars…

So- remember the brave soldiers. But remember the victims too.

It was time in SOuth Africa to forgive the British, and move on. I hope in my lifetime there will also be true reconciliation between the old enemies who grew up together in this beautiful divided land…

Listen, this is why I became a pastor- I believe that love is the greatest gift of all. Broken relationships must be healed.  Even between people and nations.  Love conquers all.  May there be an end to war!