Go to the Labyrinth of East London Lore

Uitlander Refugees
during the war

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Immediately prior to the outbreak of the South African War -- also known as the Anglo-Boer War -- in 1899, foreign immigrants, mainly English, in the Transvaal began to leave, seeking asylum for what they believed would be a short and sharp war.

Most chose coastal towns, and many chose East London. The early arrivals were mainly women and children, whose husbands had sent them away for safety.

Since they were able to plan for the journey, most brought sufficient money with them and were able to take lodgings at East London's hotels and boarding houses.

Once war became a reality, however, the Kruger regime evicted thousands more "Uitlanders". This second group also headed for the coast but, because they were unable to plan for the adventure, they often arrived on board cattle trains and in a penniless condition.

They were therefore forced to seek charity from the host towns. At East London, this charity was immediately forthcoming.

Up to 5,000 Uitlander refugees descended upon the port, more than doubling the small town's population within a matter of months. The majority were settled in tents at the beach camp near Eastern Beach. Others were accommodated at various other places in the town.

The South African War unexpectedly lasted some three years, and during that time charity was stretched to its maximum. The Lord Mayor of London responded to the crisis by organising the Mansion House Fund with its distributional headquarters in Cape Town.

As many job creation opportunities as possible were also explored locally, often at the expense of East London's Black labourers.

All in all, it was one of the gravest crises to face the port and its inhabitants -- and the "Uitlanders" themselves fell victim to unscrupulous profiteers, unsympathetic British warmongers who wished to push the men into the imperial army, and the ever present dysentery that lurked in the unsavoury conditions.

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