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Fire-Fight At Boswelakgosi

We had previously noted that during their Sunday long truce Kgosi Sechele and the Transvaal Boer Commandant General Scholtz had agreed to meet on Monday morning.

The meeting was held, but failed to resolve anything. In response to Sechele’s call that he justify his demand for Mosielele, Scholtz underscored the real issues at stake by calling on the Bakwena and their allies to agree to disarm and be prepared to supply free labour to the Boers, as well as cooperate in the apprehension of fugitives.

Sechele replied that he would remain a Kgosi through the grace of God and his people, not the Boers, adding that as with Mzilakazi in the past, he would never accept the Transvaal leader Andries Pretorius, as his “Tautona”.

Once the parties had returned to their positions, the battle quickly commenced with the Boers under cover of their artillery charging outer ring of entrenchments that encircled the four principal Dimawe hills. Their maiden advance was initially opposed by up to 5,000 Bakwena, Bakaa, Bangwaketse and Bakgatla bagaMmanaana defenders, among whom perhaps a fifth or less, were equipped with firearms.

In this initial assault, the invaders advanced from behind their coerced Bahurutshe auxiliaries, using them as human shields. Sechele instructed his men not to fire on their hapless brothers, an action that gained him the subsequent allegiance, as well as respect, of many Bahurutshe. According to an unpublished c. 1940 essay by a certain B.S. Morebedi’s:

“Gatwe Kgosi Sechele a bua ka lentswe je logolo, a re, ‘Ba bangwe mo go bone ke ba ga rona, mme ba seka ba utlwisiwa botlhoko. Mafoko a, a ga Kgosi Sechele, a tsenya botsalano mo Bahurutshe. Erile ba sena go boela kwa morago, Bahurutshe ba bo ba simolola go ngwega mo Maburung ba tshabela kwa go Kgosi Sechele.”

In the early part of the battle, the Boers succeeded in breaking through the Bangwaketse and Bakgatla bagaMmanaana lines. Being less used to guns than their Bakwena allies, many from these two merafe are alleged to have panicked during the initial assault, fleeing southward before they could be regrouped by their respective Dikgosi, Senthufe and Mosielele. The supposed BagaMmanaana “desertion” is reflected in the following verse:

“Kwena, utla hutshe yangwana wa Leburu, obontshe ba bina kgabo botshelo, batle batshele kawena boorramogotswana; bagothele madi akgofa bafete, ebe Dimo asala aaja wena wesi fela!”

Some of the Boers then invaded the abandoned settlement of Dimawe, putting it to the torch. Notwithstanding the contrary suggestion contained in Scholtz’s official report of the battle, Sechele had sent all of the Batswana woman and children away on Sunday, after they had spent most of the day hauling water to the entrenchments. At the outbreak

of the fighting most had apparently taken in the hills to the west of Dimawe.

Despite this precaution many were captured. While some escaped over 200 were carried off to the Transvaal. Included in this number were some 124 Bakwena children- 68 boys and 56 girls, including Sechele’s son Kgari, who appear in a list subsequently compiled by David Livingstone.

Smoke from the fire drifted over much of the battlefield, which further complicated the task of the defenders. Sechele’s own redoubt at Botswelakgosi hill was engulfed in the choking mist, but his mephato still tenaciously held their positions in the face of over six hours of assaults and sniping. Returning to the Rev. Robert Moffat’s 16 September 1852 report based on eyewitness accounts:

“The Boers found means of setting fire to the town, when the hill in the centre became enveloped in heat & smoke, when a scene of confusion ensued, easier conceived than described. This decided the fate of the Bakuenas, who found their efforts to defend themselves against such a force crippled by the smoke that enveloped them. Though the Boers kept a respectable distance, they were able by means of small swivels to do much execution among the natives. The Bakuenas, however, continued to defend themselves until the curtains of night were drawn over the melancholy scene.”

Thus it was that after the Boers’ initial success, the battle turned into a stalemate. The focal point of the Boer attack Boswelakgosi, was a natural fortress whose rocks provided both concealment and protection. In addition to the advantage of holding of the high ground its 100 or so Bakwena defenders were well-positioned to pin the Boers down with their gunfire.  At one point the defenders are said to run out of bullets, but succeeded in keeping the attackers at bay by loading their muskets with stones.

After at least one failed frontal assault, Kruger’s men also resorted to sniping at the Batswana defences. Meanwhile hit and run skirmishes continued elsewhere in the area.

It is said that before the battle, Sechele’s then pregnant wife Mohumagadi Seleman (MmaSebele) had been hidden in a small cave. When, during the heat of the battle, Sechele saw some Boers approaching the hiding place, he rode to his wife’s rescue with two or three men. The couple were reunited but soon found themselves cut off by the enemy. Sechele’s companions were slain leaving Selemang to load her husband’s muskets, allowing Rramokonopi to maintain a steady fire before others arrived to assist them.

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