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Dimawe’s Fallen

As previously noted, after one or more failed frontal assault on Sechele’s battery atop Botswelakgosi hill, the Boer Commando at Dimawe fell back, with each side resorting to sniping the others positions. Meanwhile hit and run skirmishes continued elsewhere in the area.

At sundown, August 30, 1852, Commandant-General Scholtz ordered his men to return to their laager, leaving the field to Sechele. Under the cover of nightfall, the Mokwena then fell back with his remaining forces to the higher ground at Dithubaruba.

The number of Boers killed at Dimawe is debated.

The Rev. Robert Edwards, who as we have seen was the one European missionary in the immediate area of the fighting, noted in an extensive report drafted in September or early October 1852 that:

“We have since conversed with a number of Bakuena who took part in the conflict. They assert that the Boers had 25 killed and others wounded and carried off in wagons. This statement the latter will contradict, though the graves of their companions were counted by hunters returning southward.”

The Wesleyan missionary Joseph Ludorf also noted at the time: “The Boers pretend to have lost three men, but at Sechele’s place they buried 30, and three bodies they could not find.”

Consistent with his private and mission correspondence at the time, in a September 29, 1852 report to the British Governor-General in Cape Town, David Livingstone, who only arrived back in Kweneng from Kudumane in the aftermath of the battle, maintained that:

“The number of natives killed is upward of 60; of the Boers 35; several of both parties have since died of their wounds, but these are not reckoned in the above numbers.” Livingstone further observed that he had made “careful enquiries among eight different tribes who had been attacked by the Boers during the last 10 year and amongst the Boers themselves, but never could discover the loss of a single man on the side of the latter. In only one instance was a wound inflicted” Livingstone also noted that: “The loss of 35 men will be peculiarly galling to the Boers, inasmuch as while professing to wish to prevent the trade in guns and gunpowder by Englishmen, they are fully aware that much of this slaughter  has been inflicted by weapons which members of their own community have sold.”

In a diary entry dated October 28, 1852 the English trader James Chapman records that Sechele himself only saw three or four Boers killed, but that Griquas who had passed through the remains of Dimawe a few days after the battle “tell him 30”.

Earlier, in a Setswana letter to Robert Moffat written in mid-September 1852, Sechele, himself, had reported that 28 Boers and 60 of his own people

were killed.

Moffat, only received Sechele’s letter on October 12, 1852. Previously, in correspondence dated September 6, 1852, but forwarded on the 20th, he had reported that: “They [the Bakwena] had left about 60 of their number dead besides some women, while of the Boers upwards of 30 have fallen. Many of the Bakuenas were also wounded.”

Moffat’s account would have been based on information he had gathered from others, presumably including the same party of Griqua who had proceeded to Kudumane. In a separate correspondence dated September 25, 1852 another LMS missionary, William Ashton, also reported that, following their initial attack on the Bakgatla bagaMmanaana at Mabotsa Schotz’s commando: “Then proceeded to attack Sechele.

He, however, with his people determined to stand his ground, or rather to protect himself in the mountains which overlooking his town. Here the Boers attacked him, and for a while he fought most desperately, but in consequence of the Boers setting fire to his town below, & he not being able any longer to see on the account of the smoke, he was at length obliged to flee [the following day] to another mountain [i.e. Dithubaruba], but not before he had laid 30 of his assailants prostrate, besides some six to eight wounded who have died since.”   

In the initial draft of his report on the engagement, the Boer commander, Scholtz, however, only confirms four killed and eight wounded during the assault at Dimawe.

Under political pressure Scholtz’s superior, Andries Pretorius, appears to have subsequently tried to cover up the full extent of the commando’s losses by redrafting Commandant-General’s report for final publication in English and Dutch, to include only the four fatalities. In this respect it has been alleged that Pretorius excluded wounded who subsequently died in an era when delayed death from gunshot wounds was common.

In seeking to reconcile the Boer Commandant General’s original casualty figures with the higher counts by others, Isaac Schapera has pointed out that Schotz’s original, as well as Pretorius doctored, account both excluded non-whites in the commando. These included mixed race members who would have been regarded as Boers by their adversaries, as well as the dragooned Bahurutshe auxiliaries. 

Another that has been a factor generally overlooked is that the shooting did not end at Dimawe. In the days that followed, there were further engagements including a second fire-fight between the Boers and Bangwaketse at Kgwakgwe hill in Kanye, as well as an aborted attack on Dithubaruba.

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