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A Shocking Turn Of Events

In our extended account of the 1852-53 Batswana-Boer War, we last left off in January of 1853, when a growing number of Transvaal Boers were calling for an end of hostilities with Kgosi Sechele’s alliance of western Batswana merafe.

The most prominent leader of the emerging anti-war faction was the Marico District Veldkornet Jan Viljoen, who despite his responsibility to prevent the flow of arms and ammunition into Botswana, had himself traded munitions for ivory. Indeed, Viljoen was trading in Ngamiland at the time of the August 1852 attack on Dimawe. Given that Commandant-General Piet Scholtz’s commando had been formed only after many months of discussions and delay, Viljoen’s absence from its ranks can be seen as a deliberate act.

In September 1852, armed Bangwato took Viljoen and his companions into custody. Sechele had by then sent messages to all of the independent Dikgosi living between Kudumane and the Zambezi calling on them to intercept and kill the Boers. But, when Viljoen was brought before Kgosi Sekgoma I, he was given a reprieve. The great Phuti reportedly told him

“Jannie, I love you and it is because of this that I let you go, although I know you will come back to shoot me.”

As it turned out, Sekgoma was wrong. Upon his return, Viljoen spoke out in opposition to Scholtz’s desire to launch a new attack on Sechele’s stronghold at Dithubaruba, accusing the Commandant of being “the sole cause of the losses of the Boers and the enmity of all the tribes.”

At the time the missionary, David Livingstone observed: “The Boers are reported to be quarrelling among themselves; the widows of those killed at Sechele’s [Dimawe] won’t receive their share of the plunder, and curse Pretorius bitterly because he pretended to be sick while he sent their husbands on commando.”

In January 1853, Viljoen met with his wounded, ailing President, Andries Pretorius, and obtained from him a blessing to take up Sechele’s offer of peace talks. Sechele had made such talks conditional on the release of his son Kgari, who had been captured and enslaved. As a result Pretorius, himself, purchased Kgari from a certain Johanes Oelfse for 200 Rix dollars. Viljoen then set out to rendezvous with Sechele’s senior brother, Kgosidintsi, at Motito. While thus in route “the presuming Scholtz”, who wished to sabotage any negotiations. In anger, Viljoen publicly told Scholtz “the thunder would fetch him.”

That same afternoon, as a Raad or gathering of Boers assembled to listen to Schotlz’s call for continued war, lightening struck the laager’s gunpowder magazine killing 12 in a massive explosion.

According to James Chapman’s diary, Scholtz

was found “sitting on a case of 75 lbs. (about 34kg) of gunpowder, and the lightening penetrated between the box and his body; his legs and sides were burnt, and he stooped like a man of 90.”

Nonetheless alive, Scholtz exclaimed that the Lord in heaven had spoken in favour of Viljoen’s peace initiative!

Thus, it was that in late January 1853 Vijoen was able to rendezvous with Kgosidintsi at Motito, which by the following month had resulted in an effective ceasefire between the Transvaal Boers and the western Batswana alliance. In the months that followed, there were a number of incidents but no further outbreak of full scale fighting.

Relations between the Boers and Batswana, however, remained tense. When, in May of 1853, two Bakwena were killed in the Transvaal retribution was swift. A Bakwena mophato intercepted and killed a three-man Boer hunting party along the Limpopo.

Until late in 1855, few Boers ventured west of Rustenburg and Potchefstroom, while tens of thousands of Batswana refugees from the Madikwe region were temporarily settled in the vicinity of Sechele’s Dithubaruba stronghold.

Having secured himself against the Transvaal Boers, Sechele was free to turn his attention to the British who, through the Sand River Convention had helped to incite and still threatened to sustain the Boer’s aggression. Even before the ceasefire, Sechele had resolved to go to Cape Town and, if needs be, Queen Victoria herself to protest against Anglo-Boer cooperation in enforcing the ban on the sale of firearms and ammunition to all black southern Africans.

Along with his wife Selemang, in December 1852, Sechele visited the Moffat’s at Kudumane. His purpose was to check on the welfare of his son, Sebele, and daughters, Ope, Kereboletswe and Kwantheng who had previously been sent to the mission station to further their education.

The visit also afforded him an opportunity to confer with the Rev. Robert Moffat on possible LMS support for his proposed Cape Town initiative. Although personally sympathetic, the missionary was not in a position to fully commit his Society to the undertaking.

Sechele’s was returning to Dithubaruba from Kudumane when, on December 19, 1852 he encountered Livingstone, along with his then close confident George Fleming, at Motito. The latter, it may be recalled was an African-American ex-slave who had been a seaman and a Cape Town cook before becoming self-employed as a pioneering long distance trader.

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