The orphans and ants part 24: The hearts of lions

Having spent the night at Matlhoshane, before sunrise on the morning of August 26, 1826, Kgosi Sebego’s army, then numbering some 3,000, resumed its advance on the Makololo at Dithubaruba.

Prior to setting off the warriors loaded themselves up with water, which they stored in bags made from the stomachs and intestines of the animals that had been killed during the previous day’s great hunt.

After about an hour, as the rays of dawn broke across the horizon, the two horns of the army again came together in a tight “buffalo head” formation. At the centre, in a spot covered with large flat stones, Sebego consulted his magic dice with the help of his diviners.

Thereafter, the day’s orders were given and the two horns spread out once more. Their new destination was Phiring in the Leropo hills, which had previously been a Bakwena mining centre.

Before noon the army was reinforced by another 1,000-man contingent that had marched from Kang. The identity of these reinforcements is uncertain.

At Phiring some 70 zebra and wildebeest were slaughtered. The screens were once more put in place and the camp settled down for a long evening feast. It was to be the warriors’ last meal before battle:

“Innumerable fires rose in all directions stretching to the borders of the wood, and the sound of Chackas breaking the marrow of bone did not cease till next morning.”

Sebego’s mephato had marched only a short distance on the morning of August 27, 1826 before they halted. Once more the regiments assembled in a semi-circular formation. The sight of their upright spears was said to resemble “a thick valley of reeds” protruding from a sea of white shields.

As the Kgosikgolo rose, silence once more descended within the ranks of his army that with the arrival of further reinforcements was now estimated to number nearly 5,000. Sebego waved a spear in the air, shouting out “Marumo!” The Bangwaketse warriors then exploded in a great outburst of whistled applause, as they waved their own spears and beat them against their shields. Then, almost at once, silence was restored.

In the face of the impending battle, Sebego addressed his troops one more time; his words of motivation as recorded by Bain:

“Warriors! The honour of your country is now at stake and you are called upon to protect it. Long, long have the scum and dread of the earth had possession of our finest fields, driven us from our flourishing towns and are still feeding on the fattest of our flocks and herds. They have killed your late king, my father, who was the love of his subjects

and the dread of his enemies. Shall we longer live in continual fear of such a scourge?

“No! The time has now come when we must rid ourselves of them forever, that we may again restore peace to the world and claim its admiration as we are wont to do.

“Fortune has favoured us by sending the Makgoa to our country just as we were preparing to strike this decisive blow; but let not the brunt of the battle fall on them. Their thunder and lightning [guns] will strike terror on the enemy, but it is on your bravery alone I trust. The Makgoa are great Captains and have passed through our enemies to visit us, let them be witnesses to your courage that the fame of your glory might reach the most distant of nations.

“The Makgare [Makololo] are numerous as the locusts of the field, but let that not discourage you, for the Bangwaketse have hearts of lions! Yes the Bangwaketse alone have stemmed the torrent of the Makgare, which swept from the face of the earth our once powerful neighbours the Bahurutshe and Bakwena, whose very names are now almost forgotten. Let them no more enter the territories of Moleta, where they butchered my renowned father Makaba. Yes his glorious name must rouse our hearts to vengeance! Revenge! Revenge! Revenge!”

For the rest of the day the mephato maintained a tight formation, while scouts spread out in all directions. There was concern when one of these advance parties failed to capture a Mokololo woman who they feared had sighted them. Sebego’s battle plan called for the enemy to be taken completely by surprise. The Bangwaketse, nonetheless, pressed on.

When his army was within a dozen kilometres of Dithubaruba another halt was ordered. Concealed in thick tree cover, most of warriors rested till sunset, when a short further advance was ordered bringing the Bangwaketse now within striking distance of Dithubaruba. The army then halted again, dispersing themselves into appointed positions, waiting for their final orders to push on.

Of Sebego, who had not slept the night before, Bain wrote on the eve of the battle:

“The King was, notwithstanding, always on his legs examining everything of consequence with his own eyes, and indeed we were astonished at the precautions, foresight and military skill used by this intrepid Chief, which indicated a practical knowledge of his profession that would not have disgraced any European general.”

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