The Bakgatla Ba Ga Mmanaana

In the days that immediately followed their August 17, 1852 massacre at Maanwane, Commandant-General Scholtz’s commando skirmished with Mosielele’s retreating Bakgatla bagaMmanaana and Kgakge’s Bakwena booRatshosa, along with additional Bakwena scouting parties sent out by Sechele. 

These small engagements appear to have sufficiently slowed the Boer advance so as to allow the bulk of the BagaMmanaana and BooRatshosa to regroup with the main body of Bakwena at Dimawe.

The Boers finally arrived at the outskirts of Dimawe on Saturday August 28, 1852. There, in addition to the Bakwena and BagaMmanaana, the invaders found the Bakaa, under Kgosi Mosinyi, and Bangwaketse, under Dikgosi Senthufe and Segotshane, all mobilized against them. The two heretofore-rival Bangwaketse rulers had agreed to reunite their morafe, which had been divided for two decades, in the face of the new Voortrekker threat. All of the groups readily accepted Sechele as their commander-in-chief.

Scholtz’s commando now consisted of over 1200 men including about 500 mounted Boers and 700 black and mixed race auxiliaries, along with a variety of light artillery.

Respect for the approaching Sunday Sabbath, as well as a mutual desire to open up negotiations, led Scholtz and Sechele to agree to a two-day truce. During this period the Boers were given free passage to the waters of the Kolobeng River. As the commando passed through the Kolobeng valley Sechele ordered his men to line themselves along the ridges of the Dimawe hills so as to make a show of force by displaying their guns.

From Saturday afternoon there was a steady exchange of correspondence between Scholtz and Sechele. The following is from two of their letters as copied into the official South African Republic account of the subsequent battle (and corroborated by additional settler, missionary and Setswana sources):

“Friend Secheli, - As an upright friend, I would advise you not to allow yourself to be misled by Moselele, who has fled to you because he has done wrong. Rather give him back to me, that he may answer for his offence. I am also prepared to enter into the best arrangements with you. Come over to me and I will arrange everything for the best, even were it this evening. Your friend, P.E. Scholtz, Acting Commandant-General.”

“General Scholtz, - Wait till Monday. I shall not deliver up Moselele: he is my child. If I am to deliver him up, I shall have to rip up my belly; but I challenge you on Monday to show which is the strongest man. I am, like yourself, provided with arms and ammunition, and have more fighting people then you. I should not have allowed you thus to come in, and would have assuredly have fired on you; but I have looked into the book [Bible], upon which I reserved my fire. I am myself provided with cannon. Keep yourself quiet tomorrow, and do not quarrel for water till Monday; then we shall see who is the strongest man. You are already in my pot; I shall only have to put the lid on it on Monday. [Signed] Secheli”

On Sunday morning, August 29, 1852, many of the Boers, including Scholtz himself, are said to have attended the Bakwena Sunday prayer service conducted by Moruti Paul Mebalwe on the bank of the Kolobeng. Later Scholtz noted of the occasion: “We humbled ourselves before the Most High, who delivers both the weak and strong, and jointly beseeched Him to be merciful to us.”

Following their joint morning prayer service on the banks of the Kolobeng both the allied Batswana and invading Transvaal Boers continued to respect their common Sabbath day truce. In the afternoon Kgosi eKgolo Sechele and Commandant-General Scholtz renewed their dialogue through the Mokwena’s interpreter Selete.

While still seeking if possible to avoid bloodshed, Sechele was by all accounts eager to impress his counterpart with his own confidence in his military position. This determination provided a context for a good deal of banter between the two leaders as the day wore on.

In his diary the English trader James Chapman made the following assessment of the two rival commanders’ temperaments on the day: “Sechelli was cool, Scholtz hot, Sechelli sent to ask him for a little tea and sugar. Scholtz said men of war need no such thing but I will give you chilies enough.”

Additional accounts, in Dutch/Afrikaans and Setswana, as well as by English speaking missionaries and traders, are all in agreement that, in return for the tea and sugar, the Mokwena offered the Boer Commandant gunpowder, in case the latter “had not brought enough with him for a long fight.” Selete is also further said to have offered to show Sechele’s “guests” were to graze their oxen so as to avoid mogau [thorny poisonous ground plants that are often lethal to livestock] for he said in anticipation of his impending victory his master “was now beginning to value them as his own.” In the end the two leaders agreed to meet face to face at dawn the next day.

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