The Bakgatla Boer War

Previously we observed that at the outset of the 1899-1902 Anglo Boer War, the British feared the Bakgatla bagaKgafela might favour the Boer side. But, Kgosi Linchwe saw no purpose in allying his people with those who had forced them to flee to Mochudi three decades earlier.

Instead the Bakgatla went to war against the Boers of the South African Republic (Transvaal). In so doing they became part of the wider Anglo-Boer or South African War of 1899-1902. In this respect they did not accept a supporting role in the “white man’s war”. They acted for themselves.

The Bakgatla-Boer war provoked when Boer commandos raided Kgatleng cattle posts. In response Linchwe agreed to dispatch the Makoba, Majanko, and his own veteren Matlakana mephato, under the command of his brother Ramono, to assist British forces in an assault on Boer laager at Deerdeport.

The three hour attack began at dawn on 25 November 1899, the Bakgatla   having used the cover of darkness to cross the Madikwe River to take up favourable positions. But, to their surprise, the British deserted the field shortly after the first shots had been fired. Ramono’s regiments continued to advance, burning down much of Deerdeport itself, while preventing the capture of a maxim (machine) gun which had been abandoned by Mmamosadinyana’s troops.

The Bakgatla suffered 14 dead before breaking off the attack, while Boer losses were 8-20, including two women caught in the crossfire. Additional Boer women and children interned by the Bakgatla during the engagement were later released unharmed.

The Bakgatla, like the Boers, were well armed as is reflected in the following stanzas of one of Linchwe’s praise poems, which specifically refers to his men’s Martini-Henry rifles: “Mekgakwana borranko-emoriti ntona tsaga Makopye aLekgoa; obafudile kamartini, mokgatla kamartini, Mokgatla wagaKgafela.

[“Red faced people with jutting noses, lieutenants of the white man ‘Makopye’ (literally one with protruding head, identified as Harklass Malan); the Bakgatla fired on them with Martinis, with Martinis, the Mokgatla of Kgafela”].

For his part the Boer Commandant at Deerdeport, J.T. Kirsten, also wrote after the battle that the Bakgatla had shot “wonderfully well, in the same manner as the Boers, and their aiming was excellent, infinitely better than the English.”

The British Colonel, Holsworth, subsequently tried to justify his withdrawal by that Ramono’s men had commenced the attack contrary to his instructions. Other British as well as Boer and Bakgatla sources suggest that he lost his nerve.

Confirmed in his previous belief that British promises of protection were worthless, Linchwe decided fight the rest of the war against the Boers without paying much attention to the British. In so doing he avenged the honour of his father, Kgamanyane, against Paul Kruger, the hated “Kirikiri”, who had 30 years earlier publicly beaten his father, Kgamanyane. But, besides revenge, the Bakgatla ruler was motivated by the desire to reclaim their historic lands in and around the Pilanesberg.

In December 1899 the Boers retaliated by burning down Sikwane, but by the following February the Bakgatla had cut off the supplies to Deerdeport, forcing its final evacuation.

The fall of Deerdeport cleared the way for Bakgatla raids on Boer communities and farms deep in the Transvaal. In the months that followed, Bakgatla carried out large cattle-raiding expeditions in the Transvaal, capturing at least 10,000 animals. They were thus able to rebuild their herds from the effects of rinderpest. Additional plunder, such as the organ on display at the Phutadikobo Museum was also taken.

By 1902 Linchwe had seized control of all of the land between Sikwane and northern outskirts of Rustenburg.  Much of this land had been held by Bakgatla before the Boers arrived in the 1840s.

Once the war was over, Linchwe asked the British for the rights over his re-conquered territory. This was refused. Post-war British policy treated the defeated Boers as partners in the creation of a new, white ruled, South Africa. It was the blacks who had supported the British who were treated like the enemy. Politically those in South Africa became worse off than before the war.

In the aftermath of the South African War, two developments helped to define how politics in the Bechuanaland Protectorate would be exercised in the future. First, there was a landmark court case brought against the colonial government by Batawana Kgosi Sekgoma Letsholathebe. The government won the case, which confirmed that its officials were literally above the law when carrying out instructions from the High Commissioner.

Second, the British government from 1907 began to press for the Protectorates transfer to the control of the nascent Union of South Africa. It wanted to save money and also to put blacks under the control of local whites. Batswana leaders joined together to oppose this transfer to South Africa. The idea emerged that the peoples of Bechuanaland belonged to a common nation, which should not be located within another country.

As in 1895 the Batswana leaders who opposed the transfer of the Protectorate to South Africa used an idea taken from the British themselves. When they established the Protectorate the British claimed to be “protecting” Batswana. They therefore once more appealed to the British public not to betray them by handing them over to the Boers.

Editor's Comment
Let's Get Serious With BMC

We have heard of so many disturbing stories about the commission. How do some of its leaders put their interests before those of the organisation? How broke is the BMC? We have now reached an all-time low. How does a whole BMC run for five months without a chief executive officer (CEO)?Why would the assistant minister be at pains of answering a simple question of why is BMC without at least an acting CEO? Why can't she tell us what they are...

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