‘Enemy aliens’ in wartime: civilian internment in South Africa during World War I

Stefan Manz, Tilman Dedering*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the previously neglected history of civilian internment in South Africa during World War I. German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish nationals were classified as ‘enemy aliens’. They included mostly male immigrants, but also several hundred women and children deported from Sub-Saharan colonial contact zones. The main camp was Fort Napier in Pietermaritzburg, holding around 2,500. Based on sources in South African, German and British archives, this multi-perspectival enquiry highlights the salience of the South African case and integrates it into wider theoretical questions and arguments. The policy of civilian internment was rolled out comprehensively throughout the British Empire. Not least lessons learnt from the South African War (1900-1902), when Britain had been widely criticised for harsh conditions in its camps, led to relatively humane prisoner treatment. Another mitigating factor were the pro-German sympathies of the Afrikaner population. Nevertheless, suffering occurred through isolation and deportation. Remembering the First World War mainly as a ‘’soldiers’ war’ on the Western Front generates too narrow a picture. Widening the lens on civilians of both sexes in overseas territories supports notions of war totalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-556
JournalSouth African Historical Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in South African Historical Journal on 23/11/2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/02582473.2016.1246593


  • World War I
  • German civilian internees
  • minority persecution
  • Fort Napier
  • women prisoners


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