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The Batswana Strike Back

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 the 3rd of September 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.

A number of the Boer’s Dimawe wounded are said to have died on the way, while many captured of the Batswana women and children made their escape. On the 12th of September Scholtz reported to his President, Andries Pretorius: “I must regretfully inform you that I have been obliged to disband the commando, owing partly to the weakness of horse and oxen and partly to opposition among the men, who would not stay on any longer...If God spares me and grants peace, I hope to give Your Honour my full report in person. Here I cannot mention half the matters that will appear in it.

“I also had an attack upon Senthufe, but there was no time to do it properly. Moreover I greatly fear, since I cannot keep the commando [intact] to accomplish anything, that the Marico district will be unsafe. This will compel me to remain with [men in] groups pending further developments. “I think of letting Mahura [Kgosi of the Batlhaping at Taungs who often collaborated with the Boers] come with Commandant J. Jacobs in order to help me, because things have not worked out to my liking. I have further taken the liberty of keeping the metal cannon here. I hope the Your Honour will not hold this against me.

“If the Lord wills, I hope to appear with my report before Your Honour at a meeting of the Raad [State Assembly]. May God remain our shield and our rock to all eternity. I give everything into the hands of the Lord, who does wonders to all eternity.” Scholtz’s words proved to be prophetic for in the months that followed Kgosi Sechele and his allies launched retaliatory raids throughout the western Transvaal. As a result the Boers were forced to abandon their farms and regroup into fortified laagers for their safety.

By November of 1852 the English trader Edward Chapman was noting in his diary: “All the Boers are still in laager, they have been in laager a long time. They dare not venture out on their farms for fear of Sechelli. Their cattle are dying fast being too many together, and disease is amongst them. Two or three females died in laager.” A subsequent account in the South African Commercial Advertiser, which was republished in other newspapers

of the time, noted: “That the natives had united in a strong body, followed up the retreating force of Boers, and fallen upon the farmers in the Mirique district, (through which the commando retreated,) and everyone of these has been obliged to fall back with the commando upon the Mooi River.

Great destruction, of course marked the progress of the conquering natives. Every homestead has been burned, and standing corn ripe for sickle, together with vineyards and gardens, which were then in full bloom, have been entirely destroyed.” As the Boers throughout the entire Marico District of the Transvaal retreated into laagers in September-October of 1852, leaving their farms exposed to the pillage and plunder of Bakwena and Bangwaketse raiders, other Batswana were encouraged to join in the freedom struggle. Particularly troublesome were Kgosi Montshiwa’s Barolong booRatshidi, who opened up a new front on the Republic’s southwest frontier. Shortly after his early withdrawal from Botswana, Scholtz wrote to Montshiwa, stating: “You are hereby summoned before the Council of War to appear within five days to answer for your disobedience to my orders [i.e. Montshiwa’s earlier refusal to supply auxiliaries for Scholtz’s commando].” For his part, Montshiwa remained at his capital, Dithakong (Lotlhakane).

He did, however, send a delegation made up of his brother Molema, cousin Bodumelo Moshwela and the Wesleyan Missionary, Joseph Ludorff to Scholtz’s laagered camp at Kliplager. Upon their arrival, the Commandant-General refused to negotiate with the trio, accusing the missionary, in particular, of being behind the Morolong’s plucky pen. Scholtz further threatened that if Montshiwa did not surrender himself “the cannon would roar upon him.” On hearing of Scholtz’s ill intentions, Montshiwa decided to remove most of his people from Dithakong to the relative safety of Setlagole, some 60 kilometres further west.

There the BooRatshidi joined forces with their relatives the Barolong booRatlou of Kgosi Gontse (who died shortly thereafter and was replaced by his son Letsapa) and some Bahurutshe refugees under a young prince named Lentswe. From Setlagole the Barolong and Bahurutshe launched their own hit and run attacks into the Rustenburg and Schoonspruit as well as southern Marico districts.

The mephato who took part in these raids were all made up of young men, ably led by Lentswe, Mokoto Montsosi of the BooRatlou and Segae Motlhalamme, Tswadibe and Tlhomedi Makgetla of the BooRatshidi. A surviving Transvaal Boer document records the loss of 287 cattle from eight Schoonspruit farms during one of their forays.

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