Survivor’s family release book on her experiences during Anglo-Boer War

The Anglo-Boer War was a defining moment of South African history, one which would go on to have a lasting effect on not just the country but the world at large.

SHARING HER STORY: Graham Jooste, a descendant of writer Maggie Jooste, with a copy of ‘Maggie: My life in the camp’
Picture: MATTHEW FIELD

One of the most harmful legacies of the conflict was the creation of the modern-day concentration camp by the British forces.

The colonial authorities threw thousands of Afrikaners and black people into densely crowded and poorly maintained camps, with many dying as a result of starvation or infection.

These camps went on to inspire many imitators throughout the 20th century.

Against all odds, many of those imprisoned by the British survived to tell their stories.

One such person was Margaretha “Maggie” Jooste, whose memoirs have recently been released.

Titled Maggie: My life in the camp, the book is a transcription of a manuscript that Maggie wrote almost 50 years after she was released, and is available in both Afrikaans and English versions.

“The manuscript was in the possession of our family for over 70 years,” said Graham Jooste, one of Maggie’s descendants.

“The first version was written in Afrikaans and was originally held by the Dutch Reformed Church in Heidelberg, Maggie’s home town.

“However, they had certain floods and other problems,” Jooste said.

“The original document is basically gone but we’ve got copies of it.”

In the manuscript, Maggie describes her life in Heidelberg before the Anglo-Boer War broke out.

One of six children, Maggie’s family was fairly well off thanks to her father Jakobus Petrus Jooste’s work as a local blacksmith.

“He had the contract from the old South African Republic, run by Paul Kruger, to mend the post carts on their way to Natal if needed,” Jooste said.

When the war did eventually break out, her father and two brothers left to join the local commando forces, while the rest of the family was soon evicted and forced to travel to one of the English camps in Howick, where they would stay for the duration of the war.

In the book, Maggie documents the many trials and tribulations her family faced as they struggled to survive the horrendous conditions.

“They never knew from one day to the other where their family was,” said Jooste.

In the book’s foreword, Professor Fransjohan Pretorius, professor emeritus for the department of historical and heritage studies at the University of Pretoria, said one of the most compelling elements of the memoir was how Maggie “[bore] no hatred to the British for what befell her family”.

“There is no bitterness. No pro-Boer or anti-British propaganda,” said Pretorius.

For Jooste and the rest of Maggie’s descendents who helped to get the story published, the work was a deeply personal journey and required their combined efforts.

Jooste said stories like Maggie’s were important because they showed what ordinary people had to endure in their time.

“Younger children in South Africa should know what other children in their age group went through,” he said.

Maggie: My life in the camp is available from Exclusive Books and Bargain Books.

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