A 166 years ago, on January 8, 1853 to be precise, the last major battle of the 1852-1853 Batswana-Boer War was fought at a place called Mosita, which is today located within South Africa’s North-West Province.
The engagement pitted a commando of some 400 armed Boers plus additional press-ganged African labourers under the personal command of General Andries Pretorius against a mixed force of Barolong booRatshidi and Bahurutshe, led by the Barolong Kgosi Montshiwa. In this respect it turned out to be Pretorius’ last military engagement.
While neither side was able to decisively gain the upper hand at Mosita, as with the earlier, August-September 1852, Boer engagements against the Bakwena and Bangwaktse at Dimawe and Kgwakgwe, Pretorius’ commando failed in its primary mission to subjugate the Barolong.
The practical result of this failure, along with the previous punitive expeditions was to leave Boer farms exposed to the pillage and plunder of Batswana raiding parties.
By October of 1852 raids directed by the Bakwena Kgosi Sechele had resulted in the settler farms of the Marico (Madikwe) region being temporarily abandoned as the Boers retreated into laagers. Thus the English trader Edward Chapman noted in a November 5, 1852 entry in his diary that: “The next day we got to Viljoen’s. 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. Crowds assembled round me to enquire where the natives were and whether they had anything to fear. They were astonished at my being alive...”
A subsequent account in the South African Commercial Advertiser, which was republished in other newspapers of the time, further 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.”
The initial success of Sechele’s raiders encouraged other merafe to actively join the freedom struggle, including Montshiwa’s Barolong.
Earlier, in August 1852, Montshiwa had turned down the Boer Commandant-General Piet Scholtz’s demand that he assist in the campaign against Sechele. From messages between Scholtz and Montshiwa: Scholtz: “You are hereby commanded to send
Scholtz: “Sechele is insolent(“parmantig”); but if you do not feel disposed to expose your men to fight, I will be satisfied if you send a troop of men to act as guides, as wagon drivers and as herders to drive back to the Transvaal the looted Bakwena cattle thus leaving the Boers the actual fighting.”
Montshiwa: “I shall at all times be ready to help my Chief with an army to proceed against anyone who has done wrong, but since the message does not disclose the exact point of the offence for which Sechele is to be punished, I shall find it difficult to persuade my people to provide a force to accompany an expedition against him.”
Scholtz: “As you thus refused to obey my orders, I shall settle with you after my return from Sechele.”
Thereafter, following his withdrawal from Kweneng, Scholtz, once more 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.” For his part Montshiwa remained at his headquarters at 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 Lotlhakane to 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 Bahurutshe refugees led by a certain 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.