The resistance and freedom route takes us to the new cemetery. It is located, South-East of town and near the crossing of the N3 and R42 (Nigel road).On this very spot some of the greatest self-sacrifices had been paid.
Following the British annexure of Heidelberg (23 June 1900), it would be on this very location where the British would bring great pain and suffering to the town folk. General Viljoen of the Heidelberg Commando was prepared to surrender the town to Major Hart, under the condition that the town was not to be damaged in the crossfire. The Boers from the area then aligned themselves with guerrilla warfare tactics. We remember the prophetic words from former Heidelberger, Johanna Brandt when she said:” Tommy Atkins, the war has just begun.”
The local Reverend AJ Louw refused to pledge the oath of neutrality and was deported to the Cape. Many women who were seen to be outspoken (especially Issie Kriegler and Cassie O’Reilly), were captured and deported to a concentration camp in Merebank, Natal. This scorched earth policy led to the capture and replacement of women, children and the hensoppers (the Boers who surrendered to the British). The concentration camp in this area quickly grew in numbers and up to 2 000 “prisoners” were kept here. Many of those imprisoned died (867 deaths) due to illness or starvation. The cold Highveld winters, tented living and general food shortages did assist in the mortality rate. Laer Volkskool has a hall (“Gedenk Zaal”) honouring those who had lost their lives, of which most were children younger than the age of 15 (408deaths) and older than 15 years (91 deaths). It should be noted that Heidelberg’s population in 1880 was a mere 4 181 Boers and 320 outlanders.
Up and above the concentration camp for whites, Heidelberg also had one for blacks. The British primarily made use of them to help build block houses and of their knowledge of the area. It was therefore not a mere “white men”s war” and is Heidelberg a witness thereof. According to a study by WJ Pretorius at the University of Pretoria, about 2 300 blacks were kept in the black concentration camp held here during July 1901 to July 1902. They were part of the struggle and also paid the biggest price. Their death rate was much lower but just as unnecessary. They lost 150 lives of which 121 were children. In the journal of Adriaan von Geussau a photo was taken of a black armed infantry in confirmation of their involvement. It was also recorded that the Boers saw them as traitors in their fight for self-determination and as a result were executed if caught. Graves were discovered when the N3 was constructed, of the location of the black concentration camp.
They both being born as South Africans had the love of the land and independence in common. Both were however discriminated against. Afrikaners, by making derogatory comments and referring to them in the English language as “boors”, having the same meaning as being uncivilized. The discrimination against blacks was to call them by the name of ‘amakafura’ having the status of a slave. Much anguish and pain would follow before Heidelberg would in 1996 give honorary citizenship to our first fully elected democratic president, Nelson Mandela.
The scars of the past are recorded in history. We trust that the Scorched Earth policy would never be repeated. The location of this cemetery is a lasting symbol of the freedom struggle and the past can now be laid to rest here.