Structure suspended overhead: ± 2000 names printed on strips of transparent acetate and pinned onto 7 sheets of Polystyrene
Wall mountings: 5 enlarged images of kings and queens, mounted onto light plastic base boards
Floor covering: 7 sheets of plastic mirror
2003/03/12 Kastrupgård Samlingen Museum, Copenhagen as part of STED//PLACE exhibitions curated by Doris Bloom
2004 Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg
2005 Constitution Hill, Hillbrow, Johannesburg
2007 Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg
2011 Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke, Bloemfontein
Collection: Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke, Bloemfontein
Size and format of installation: Five images in a row on a wall from side to side - 8.4m. Each image is A0 size. The floor in front of the images is clad in small mirrors, also 7m from side to side and 2m away from the wall; the labels on the ceiling are fixed to 50mm polystyrene, directly above the mirrors on the floor and are 2.4m X 8.4m.
32000 Darling Little Nuisances
The PLACE where I live is in the formerly 'white' suburb of Johannesburg called Kensington, named after the royal borough of Kensington in Greater London, where members of the British royal family still live in Kensington Palace. Queen Victoria grew up there. My street, King Edward Street is named after King Edward VII, who succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria, to the throne in 1901 at the time of the Anglo-Boer War (11 October, 1899 to 31 May, 1902).
On one side King Edward Street is flanked by Roberts Avenue. Frederick Sleigh Roberts was British commander-in-chief for the early part of the Anglo-Boer War. On the other end of King Edward Street is Kitchener Avenue, after Horatio Herbert Kitchener, British commander-in-chief, taking over from Roberts in November 1900, for the latter part of the Anglo-Boer War. Most Anglo-Boer War commentators believe that Kitchener and Roberts should be declared war criminals because they maintained inhuman camps in which 42,000 civilian detainees suffered and died needlessly.
32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES responds to the unacceptable refusal of the five British monarchs of the twentieth century to apologise for the war crimes of the Anglo-Boer War. I 'reverently' show their portraits in the proper manner, big and colourful, well-labeled in a way that does them proud. On the ceiling are the names of the 1,142 children who died senselessly at Bethulie concentration camp, 60 kilometers from the family farm of my grandfather, Willem Hendrik Boshoff (1880 - 1928). Fourteen children on the list have the Boshoff name, two of them Willem Hendrik Boshoff. Their names and ages at death are printed on strips of transparent film and placed upside down, back-to-front so that they can't be read. African words for 'baby' and 'child' are used for the black children whose names were never recorded.
On the wall, the British kings and queens are proud and true and it is easy to read their names. In the mirror on the floor, however, on the 'other side' of our world, they are upset, their images and labels are upside down and back-to-front. In the same mirror the names of the innocent concentration camp child victims are perfectly legible.
The title 32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES refers to the 32,000 children who died in the concentration camps and on a well-known statement made by Queen Victoria (in Kings and Queens, a booklet from Buckingham Palace). She is said to have been robustly practical about the tiresomeness of small children and her own words "Children are such darling little things, but they can be a terrible nuisance", are adapted for the title.
The title of the Danish/South African collaborative exhibition is PLACE and in two new artworks I ‘dwell’ on PLACE from my perspective. First, consider the place I chose to be my home.
For the past 19 years, I have lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the formerly ‘white’ suburb of Kensington, so named after the royal borough of Kensington in Greater London, where members of the British royal family still live in Kensington Palace. My street is named King Edward Street – after King Edward VII, who succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria, to the throne of Britain when she died on 22 January 1901. These two monarchs reigned during the time of the Anglo-Boer War, also called the South African War (11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902). King Edward Street is not very long and is fenced in on one side by Roberts Avenue.
Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl of Viscount St. Pierre, or as he was also called, Baron Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria, and Waterford, was British commander-in-chief for the earlier part of the Anglo-Boer War. On the other side of King Edward Street is Kitchener Avenue, named after Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl, Viscount Broome of Broome, Baron Denton of Denton, also called Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum, of the Vaal, and of Aspall, the British commander-in-chief, taking over from Roberts in November 1900, for the latter part of the Anglo-Boer War. Not far from my home, these two streets are connected by Milner Crescent before they join up at Rhodes Park. Milner Crescent is named after Sir Alfred Milner of Saint James’s and Cape Town and Rhodes Park is named after Cecil John Rhodes, for whom the erstwhile Rhodesia was named and organizer of the giant diamond-mining company De Beers Consolidated in 1888 – both British statesmen, empire builders at the time of the Anglo-Boer War and the driving force behind Britain wanting to seize the old republic of the Transvaal, then under administration of President Paul Kruger and the republic of the Free State, then under President Marthinus Theunis Steyn.
All four my grandparents were part of the Anglo-Boer War. Ouma (Granny) Driekie (1889-1966) on my mother’s side was taken into the concentration camp at Krugersdorp in 1900 when she was 11, and she was very lucky to survive. The cemetery of that camp has over 2 000 grave-markers for children of her age and younger. Oupa (Grandpa) Willie (1880-1928) on my father’s side was only 21 when he became a prisoner of war in 1901 in Bellary, India – I still have a beautiful walking stick that he carved over there.
In the 1960s, when I was still at school, my grandparents instilled in me a sense of hatred for the British, for their culture and language. Their tragic stories inspired in me a spirit of intrepid daring-do. I fought the Boer War all over again in my own high school – in the English class. I made life intolerable for my English teacher by writing senseless crib notes, simply to prove that he can’t catch me out. I would, for example, pin a crib note right on the teacher’s back under the pretext that I am rubbing off some dirt – a large enough note for everyone in the class to crib from. I was the ‘super’ Boer spy Danie Theron or that damn elusive general Christiaan de Wet. In my Afrikaans medium school I had the support and admiration of my friends who were all equally anti-British/English. But, listening to the popular music of the Beatles, and reading wonderful English books made English a trifle more palatable. I loved reading and when I was 11, I would often read two books a day. I was able to read in both English and Afrikaans, my home-language, and I usually took home piles of books from our school and town libraries.
There are not many Afrikaans speaking people in my part of Johannesburg. So, you might ask what I’m doing in a place like this, a place that venerates the memory of those who, in history, killed and shunned defenceless members of my own family and people.
In the work for the Gastrupgård Samlingen museum, 32,000 DARLING LITTLE NUISANCES, I look more closely at the people after whom the streets in our neighbourhood are named.
Victoria, who was sovereign on the British throne for the first part of the Anglo-Boer War, reigned in a society that idealized both motherhood and the family. She was brought up in Kensington Palace and was herself a mother of nine. However, Encyclopaedia Brittanica states that she hated pregnancy and childbirth, detested babies, and was uncomfortable in the presence of children. In Kings and Queens, a booklet I bought at the gates of Buckingham Palace, it says that she was “.... robustly practical about the tiresomeness of small children.” In her own words: “Children are such darling little things, but they can be a terrible nuisance.” The title of my work 32,000 Darling Little Nuisances is adapted from this quote.
The South African War dominated Victoria’s final years. The sufferings of her soldiers in South Africa aroused the queen to a level of activity and public visibility that she had avoided for decades. With a demanding schedule of troop inspections, medal ceremonies, and visits to military hospitals, Victoria finally became “the exemplar of a modern monarch”. Her death in January 1900 inspired her men in the field to great and heroic heights. She was succeeded by her son Edward VII, after whom my street is named. King Edward supported the policy of concentration camps when commander-in-chief of the Anglo-Boer War at the time, Lord Roberts, proclaimed the first camp in about July 1900.
The camps were introduced at a time when the British failed to make headway in the war. Up to the end of the war, the British took 120 000 Afrikaners, mostly women and children, into the camps; 27 000 did not survive – that is 22.5% of all. Of the 27 000 deaths, 22 000 were children under the age of 15. There were also camps for blacks, but black and white camps were separate. About 80 000 black people, also mostly women and children, were taken in; it is estimated that about 15 000 black women and children died there. Conditions were much worse in the black camps – incarcerated black people lived off the scraps of white camps like animals. There are no records for black people’s camps, and their deaths were considered so unworthy that their names were not even recorded. Most historians believe that more than 10 000 black children aged 15 and under died there. For the sake of my work, I have taken 10 000 as the number. To do justice to these nameless, forgotten children I include a fair number of the words for ‘child’ as written in black languages. In the languages of Tswana, Northern Sotho and Sesotho ‘child’ is ngwana, ‘baby’ is lesea; in Xhosa, Zulu and other Nguni languages, both ‘child’ and ‘baby’ are umntwana and in Venda ‘child’ is ńwana and ‘baby’ lutshetshe. These words will be repeated many times in the work. The ’32 000’ in 32,000 Darling Little Nuisances is derived from the 22 000 Afrikaans children added to the 10 000 black children. To make the work fit in into the exhibition space of the Gastrupgård Samlingen Museum and given my time limit to set up the work, I use about 2 000 names, but I have every intention to lay down all 32 000 name tags when I can manage it.
During the last few years, I have visited all 42 of the concentration camp cemeteries of the Anglo-Boer War. The sad experiences at these grave sites often put my sincere drive for reconciliation with the British to the extreme test. The things I saw and learned as I went along caused me great distress.
The first concentration camp cemetery I visited was at Krugersdorp – that is the one where Ouma Driekie cheated death. There were more than 2 000 graves for women, children and the aged, and I noticed that graves for children younger than 15 were by far in the majority. To my mind this clearly reflected a disregard for the most vulnerable. In 32,000 Darling Little Nuisances, I highlight the plight of the innocent and most exposed of concentration camp victims by only using statistics and names for children aged 15 and under.
When I visited the camp cemetery in Berg Street, Standerton, I noticed an important thing – among the graves of Boer women and children there were a number of headstones with British surnames. That means that Boer women were married to British men and that their households had a very tough time, being representative of the opposing sides. Likewise, British women would have been married to Afrikaans men – but the graves would not reflect that divided reality because men did not take the surnames of women. A number of families were torn apart by that awful war. Our own two English speaking children, who are inseparably loyal to the two Afrikaans speaking ones, often make me wonder where we will stand as a family in such a war.
Gerrit Broeksma, a Dutch citizen, was public prosecutor of Johannesburg during the war. When he saw the appalling conditions at the Race Course concentration camp in Turffontein in Johannesburg, he felt that, as a man of the law, it was his duty to report the neglect to the British Parliament and countries in Europe. Unfortunately his efforts were revealed immediately to the British forces in South Africa and he was executed in September, 1901 for ‘breaking the oath of neutrality’. Thus he failed to prevent the deaths of over six hundred women and children in the camp, situated right in the heart of the city of Gold!
At Springfontein, south of Bloemfontein, I noticed that the older part of the concentration camp cemetery, near the gate, has rows and rows of British soldiers’ graves dating to the very beginning of the war. Towards the middle of the cemetery there are graves of woman and children, interspersed with those of British soldiers. As I reached the other side of the cemetery, dedicated to the last part of the war, I found many hundreds of graves of women and children and none of British soldiers. To add to my sense of anguish and indignation, I discovered a whole field of baby graves far removed from the main Springfontein cemetery. I learnt that these were the graves of unbaptised children – unbaptised because they were born out of wedlock from the union between British soldiers and young women in the camp. I felt as if the soldiers were saying to me “We do not fare so well with the Boer men – but have you seen what we can do with their women and children!”
Not far from Springfontein is the town of Bethulie with its concentration camp cemetery of about two thousand graves. It was at Bethulie that I found many of my own relatives – fourteen Boshoff children are buried there. Oupa Willie and all his family were initially from the nearby Philippolis and Colesberg districts. I was speechless and shocked when I saw my own name crudely chiseled out on two of the slates: WILLEM HENDRIK BOSHOFF.
Emily Hobhouse is the English reformer and social worker who became an outspoken critic of British concentration camp policy. When she learned of the high mortality rate of Boer women and children in these camps, she went to South Africa in December, 1900 to discover the facts for herself. When she saw the wretched conditions in the camps of Bloemfontein and Bethulie, she returned to England to speak out against the abuses and cruelties. Her investigations led to a storm of indignation and an improvement of conditions in the camps soon followed. A second visit to South Africa in October 1901 led to her deportation.
At the Aliwal North cemetery I learned a very important truth about my country’s political dilemma. Two brothers who had survived camp life returned in 1910 to set up a decent headstone for their third brother who had died there more than eight years before. The headstone shows the name of their beloved brother and the sad circumstances of his death. They also put their names on the stone with a promise that they will