Mmegi Blogs :: The Boer Retreat
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Friday 24 November 2017, 17:23 pm.
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The Boer Retreat

After Scholtz’s exhausted forces withdrew to their laager at sundown on Monday August 30, 1852, Sechele collected his mephato together and ordered them to regroup at the historic Bakwena stronghold of Dithubaruba, in the Dithejwane hills.
By Jeff Ramsay Tue 04 Jul 2017, 17:05 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: The Boer Retreat








From their separate reports it is clear that in the immediate aftermath of the engagement that both Sechele and Scholtz were painfully aware of their own losses, but ignorant of the status of their opponent’s forces.

The Transvaal Boer invasion of Botswana finally collapsed on Thursday evening September 2, 1852, three days after the armed standoff at Dimawe. On the said evening, the Boer Commandant-General, Piet Scholtz, convened a Krijgsraad or War Council to put forward his strategy for a final assault on the Bakwena stronghold at Dithubaruba.

But, his men turned down his plan and instead voted to return home. Prior to this collective stand down, Scholtz’s men had apparently lost their nerve in the face of the main Batswana fallback positions at Kgwakgwe and Dithubaruba hills. It should be noted in this context the word mutiny would be inappropriate for, unlike most past and present armies, the Voortrekker commandos had a democratic right to collectively overrule their Commandants.

As readers may recall in the months before the outbreak of fighting, the rival Dikgosi of the two principal Bangwaketse factions – that is late Sebego’s son Senthufe and the still young Gaseitsiwe’s regent Segotshane – had joined together with Sechele in refusing summons to meet with the Boer Commandants in the Transvaal.

At Dimawe, for the first time in a generation, their mephato came together to join in Sechele’s resistance. In his own account of the event Sechele wrote:

“I told him [Mosielele] that I was glad he had come to me , we could now fight together, as I was also determined not to become a slave. I also called upon Senthufe and Segotshane to join me, that we might make a stand against the Boers. They each sent a number of men, and these I supplied with powder and lead.

During the early part of the battle, however, the Boers had succeeded in breaking through the Bangwaketse lines, causing many to flee in panic. But, Senthufe, was able to regroup his forces at his Kgwakgwe stronghold

Few details survive about the engagement at Kgwakgwe. The Commandant-General’s official campaign report (as re-drafted by his President, Andries Pretorius) neglects to even make mention of it, while in a brief September 12, 1852 letter, Scholtz himself simply states: “I also made an attack on [the Bangwaketse Kgosi] Senthufe, but there was no time to do this properly.”

But further reporting on the fighting can be found in a few contemporary letters, newspaper accounts

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and Sengwaketse traditions. From a later account published in the Cape-Town Mail on March 12, 1853:

“They [the Boers] then proceeded to the residence of Sentulie [Senthufe], a neighbouring chief; and on the way, fell in with detached parties of Moselili’s tribe [Kgosi Mosielele’s Bakgatla bagaMmanaana in and around Moshupa], who were endeavouring to make their escape with their wives, children and cattle. These wretched people they shot down in the most cold-blooded manner, - they offering no resistance whatever, but, on the contrary wishing to surrender. Here, the Boers enriched themselves with numbers of cattle, woman and children.

“Sentulie, having sent as many of his women and children as he could to the mountains for safety, awaited the arrival of the Boers, who immediately opened a heavy fire.

His men then also fled to the mountains [atop Kgwakgwe hill]; on gaining which they returned fire on the Boers, who then retreated. Here alone, it appears, they did not succeed in obtaining any cattle or captives.”

The Bangwaketse stand at Kgwakgwe may have been decisive in convincing the Boers that the fighting spirit of their opponents remained unbroken. Their subsequent failure to attack Dithubaruba further suggests that the prospect of charging up hills in the face of Batswana gunfire had begun to lose its appeal. The commando got within sight of the Sechele’s fortifications only to turn back.

Some Sekwena accounts have long credited the Boer retreat to the giant aloe forest west of Molepolole on the road to Dithubaruba. They maintain that upon seeing the forest on the horizon at dusk the Boers mistook the tall plants for mephato, thus believing that Sechele had mobilised thousands of fresh troops. In this respect, the silhouettes of the aloe leaves are said to have resembled the ostrich plumed headdress of the Bakwena warriors.

Perhaps, it has also been said, the great Mokwena had even used some of his much feared magic to create the illusion. It is at least as likely, however, that it was the actual sight of the walled trenches along the steep eastern slope of Dithubaruba that ultimately discouraged the invaders.

Having failed to dislodge either the Bangwaketse at Kanye or the Bakwena at Dithubaruba, Commandant-General Peit Scholtz’s commando began its withdrawal from Botswana on Friday September 3, 1852. As they made their way back to Klein Marico their flanks were constantly harassed by hit and run, “ka bonokwane”, attacks on the part of their Batswana adversaries.

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