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The Exodus

In our extended account of the 1852-53 Batswana-Boer War we last left off on January 07, 1853 when the Transvaal Boers failed to achieve a decisive victory over the Barolong booRatshidi and their Bahurutshe allies at Mosite. This outcome followed the shooting of the supreme Boer commandant, Andries Pretorius.

Thus once more unable to overcome concentrations of armed Batswana in open battle, the Boers remained largely confined within their heavily defended laagers while their farms continued to be pillaged by increasingly emboldened raiding mephato. Before his death, on the July 23, 1853, Pretorius must of wished he was once more fighting the Amazulu, who a decade earlier had bravely but hopelessly charged the Boer laagers in tight formation armed only with their long shields and assegai.

The hit and run tactics of the gun-wielding western Batswana were slowly but surely undermining his dream of leading a united South African Republic. In the aftermath of his commando’s failure to defeat Montshiwa’s Barolong at Mosite the wounded, ailing Transvaal Boer President Pretorius became increasingly anxious, if not depressed, about his people’s future.  Addressing his Volksraad or “Peoples’ Assembly” he bitterly complained that it was Boer disunity, as well as Batswana guns, that were making it impossible to stem the latter’s raids into the Marico District. An extract from his statement:

“Commandant Scholtz asked me to urgently send reinforcements to him at Marico. But this was impossible for me because I had barely 400 hundred men and I did not know how numerous the enemy would be; so I could not take the risk to diminish my unit. “This I reported to Commandant L. Van Wyk and the Veldcornet of Zwartruggens, and gave the order that they should march out with as many men as they could gather, but the order was not followed; and this might be the reason why a big portion of the land has been abandoned and now lies fallow.

  “Upon returning I realised that Commandant Schoeman was on his way to Groenfontyn and camped near Maricoo; so I sent him an order to come to Maricoo, for he had his men together, and to stay until I could rebuild my ranks and march there myself; but this order, too, was not followed.

“If this segmentation persists we small number will be surrounded by dozens of enemies, be defeated and vanish. Even if we are united our task is difficult, but with this disunity it has become impossible.”

Under the relentless pressure of Batswana raiders, by the end of January 1853 the Boers decided to completely abandon the Marico District and other border areas. Their remaining farms along with such settlements as Swartzruggens were thus abandoned in the retreat. The Boer refugees were

then regrouped at Potchefstroom and Rustenburg, along with the “loyal” Bahurutshe followers of Kgosi Moilwa

. The eastward exodus of the settlers was paralleled by a much larger westward migration of merafe seeking to escape Boer hegemony. Kgosi Mosielele’s Bakgatla bagaMmanaana were followed by such groups as Kgosi Makgosi’s Balete, Masega’s Bahurutshe booMokhubidu, Mabe’s Batlhako, and Semele and Matlhapeng’s Batlokwa. Smaller groups also arrived at Sechele’s Dithubaruba fortress, as  mephato from other groups also elected to join the freedom struggle. Mangope’s son Kontle thus brought over his future Malokwana regiment and others from the ranks of the Bahurutshe booManyana, while Raseme Adam Kok rode up with a party of Griqua. 

The 1852-53 wartime migration permanently changed the demography of south-eastern Botswana. After a number of years of living in the vicinity of Dithubaruba, the newcomers were allowed to spread out, founding such settlements as Gabane, Kumakwane, Manyana, Mmankgodi, Moshupa, Otsi and Ramotswa. Meanwhile the Bangwaketse were reunited at Kanye, while Montshiwa’s Barolong resided at Moshaneng from 1853 to 1876. For their part, the Boers and their allied Bahurutshe only began to return to the Marico region in late 1854.

By then Moilwa had placated Sechele with oxen and other gifts. Mangope, along with Kontle the rest of the booManyana, were ultimately settled by Sechele at Dimawe in 1858. Even before their January 1853 withdrawal from the western Transvaal to Rustenburg and Potchefstroom, there had been a vocal Boer opposition towards continuing the war against Kgosi Sechele’s pan-Batswana alliance.

While those Boers who had been previously involved in the lucrative ivory for arms trade with the western merafe had generally been opposed to the war from the beginning, by December 1852 many others had become disillusioned while watching their families suffer from months in laager as their crops and farmhouses were burned by Sechele’s raiders. Within the Boer volksraad, which much like the Setswana lekgotla of the time were fora that were essentially open to the opinions of all male Boer family heads, discontent about the war was increasingly voiced.

The most prominent leader of the emerging anti-war faction was Jan Viljoen. As the Marico District’s “veldkornet” before the war, Viljoen had been responsible for maintaining Boer law and order in the region, which should have included enforcing a ban on all arms trading with Batswana. But, as previously noted, this responsibility had not prevented him from personally smuggling guns to Dikgosi Letsholathebe, Sechele and Sekgoma.


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