The Guns Of Khutiyabasadi (II)

Previously, it was noted that the Batawana led by Kgosi Moremi II had ample warning of the coming of the 1884 Amandebele pillaging expedition. Moremi was thus able to safely move most of his subject out of the path of the invaders.

When the Amandebele arrived at Toteng, they thus found the village abandoned. But, as they settled down to enjoy their bloodless conquest, about seventy mounted Batawana under Kgosi Moremi’s personal command appeared, all armed with breech-loading rifles.

In classic commando style the cavalry began to harass the much larger enemy force with lethal hit and run volleys. Meanwhile another group of traditionally armed subjects of the Kgosi also made their presence known.

At this point the Amandebele commander, Lotshe, took the bait dividing his army into two groups. One party pursued Moremi’s small force, while the other fruitlessly tried to catch up to what they believed was the main body of Batawana. 

As the invaders generally lacked guns, as well as horses, Moremi continued to harass his pursuers, inflicting significant casualties while remaining unscathed.

The primary mission of Moremi’s men was not, however, to inflict losses on the enemy so much as to ensnare them into a well designed trap. His force thus gradually retreated northward towards Khutiyabasadi, drawing the Amandebele to where the main body of defenders were already well entrenched.

As they approached the swamp area south Khutiyabasadi, Lotshe struggled to reunite his men, perhaps sensing that they were approaching a showdown. But, instead Moremi’s Batawana, now joined by Qhunkunyane’s Wayeyi drew the Amandebele still deeper into the swamps.

In this area of poor visibility, due to the thick tall reeds, the Batawana and Wayeyi were able to employ additional tricks to lure the invaders towards their ultimate doom. At one point a calf and its mother were tied to separate trees to make Lotshe’s men think that they were finally catching up to their main prize, the elusive Batawana cattle.

As they pressed forward the Amandebele were further unnerved by additional hit and run attacks and sniping by small bands of Batawana marksmen. Certainly they could not have been comfortable in the unfamiliar Okavango environment.

It was at Kuthiyabasadi that the defenders’ trap was finally sprung. At the time, the place was an island dominated by high reeds and surrounded to the west by deep water.

In the reeds, three well armed Batawana regiments, joined by local Wayeyi, waited patiently. There they had built a small wooden platform, upon which several men could be seen from across the channel, as well tunnels and entrenchments for concealment.

The Amandebele where drawn to the spot by the appearance of Batawana cavalry who crossed the channel to the island in their sight. 

In addition, cattle were placed on a small islet adjacent to Kuthiyabasadi, while a group of soldiers now made themselves visible by standing up on the wooden platform.  Also at the location was a papyrus bridge that had been purposely weakened at crucial spots. 

Surveying the scene, Lotshe ordered his men to charge across the bridge over what he presumably thought was no more than a small stream. As planned, the bridge collapsed when full of Amandebele, who were thus unexpectedly thrown into a deep water channel. Few if any would have known how to swim.

Additional waves of Amandebele found themselves pinned down by their charging compatriots along the river bank, which was too deep for them to easily ford. With the enemy thus in disarray, the signal was given for the main body of defenders to emerge from their tunnels and trenches. A barrage of bullets cut through Lotshe’s lines from three sides, quickly turning the battle into a one-sided massacre.

It is said that after the main firing had ceased, the Wayeyi used their mekoro to further attack the survivors trapped in the river, hitting them on the head with their oars. In this way, many more were drowned. By the time the fighting was over, the blood is reported to have turned the water along the course of the river black.

While the total number of casualties at Khutiyabasadi cannot be precisely known, observers in Bulawayo at the time confirm that over 2,500 men had left on Lotshe’s expedition and less than 500 returned. While the bulk of the Amandebele losses are believed to have occurred in and around Khutiyabasadi itself, survivors of the battle were also killed while being mercilessly pursued by the Batawana cavalry. Moremi was clearly determined to send a strong message to Lobengula that his regiments were no match.

Still others died of exhaustion and hunger while trying to make their way home across the dry plains south of Chobe; the somewhat more hospitable route through Gammangwato having been blocked by Khama.

While the battle at Khutiyabasadi was a great victory for the Batawana and defeat for the Amandebele, for the Wayeyi of the region the outcome is said to have been a mixed blessing. While they had shared in the victory over the hated Amandebele, one of its consequences was a tightening of Batawana authority in the area over them, as Moremi settled for a period at nearby Nokaneng.

Editor's Comment
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