THE BLOCKADE “Bushmen Of The English”

We concluded our last instalment with the British Governor at Cape Town, General Sir George Cathcart having been instructed by his superior in London “to abstain from any act beyond making friendly remonstrance” with respect to the issue of Boer enslavement of Africans north of the Vaal River.

The issue had reached the halls of Westminster (Parliament) as a result of Kgosi Sechele’s appeal and the lobbying efforts of his sympathisers.

For his part, having been refused any formal contact with the British colonial authorities at Cape Town, who had otherwise apparently also connived to stall him there so as to prevent him from proceeding to London, Sechele and his associates began their return journey to Kweneng on the 16th of June 1853.

Not yet aware of the broader public impact of his direct appeal to the British Government and people, as he departed Cape Town once more by ship to Port Elizabeth, the Mokwena had seemingly little to show for their long efforts.

Most galling was the fact that the Sand River Convention’s provision that barred the sale of arms and ammunition to blacks was still in effect.

Having been thwarted in his diplomacy, Sechele decided to influence the British by other means. Soon after his return to his fortified headquarters at Dithubaruba, he reached an agreement with the Bangwaketse, Barolong and Batlhaping to jointly exert pressure by closing the northern road to Ngamiland and the Zambezi to white traders and hunters. From an article in the Bloemfontien Friend newspaper, dated the 6th of September 1853:

“We regret to learn that the chiefs and tribes inhabiting the route towards the Great Lake, have made their minds to obstruct travellers and hunters intending to travel towards the Great Lake. They allege, we are informed, that whilst the English government combines with the Boers in preventing them from obtaining firearms and ammunition, the Boers are liberally supplied with the means of shooting them down, to their hearts content.” 

A year later, the blockade was still in effect, causing the Cape economy to suffer. The Natal Mercury reported, on the 20th of December 1854 that:

“Accounts from the interior state that all trade in that quarter has been closed, in consequence of a combination formed by the native chiefs, from Secheli southward, for the purposes of preventing all further communication with the Cape and regions beyond. The only reason they assign for acting in this matter is that the whites can obtain an unlimited quantity of gunpowder, and then enter their country hunting elephants and game, while they are prevented from getting any. The scarcity of gunpowder is much complained of, and high prices are offered.”

To avoid the blockade, some traders began using the route from Walvis Bay on the Namibian coast

to Ngamiland. Others who were willing to continue to smuggle arms and ammunition past both British and Boer authorities were allowed to travel freely by the Batswana. Thus Sechele’s Cape Town companions, Sam Edwards and Frederick Green were rewarded for their continuing support, while others were kept in their place:

“Two traders were stopped before they reached Secheli’s country, and were compelled to sell their goods, the natives paying the usual price. Mr. Nicholson is regularly besieged at New Latakoo, a guard placed over him to prevent him from moving northwards.”

Amongst the Boers, the Marico veldkornet, Jan Viljoen was able to exploit his status as peacemaker to increase his own stake in the commerce. On at least one occasion, he arrived at Dithubaruba to deliver his President’s protest letter over the deaths of unauthorised Boer traders before selling off two wagonloads of muskets and powder.

It was at this time that Kgosidintsi noted that, in Bakwena eyes, the Boers were no more than the “Bushmen of the English”, protesting to Robert Moffat:

“We have been told that the English is a wise nation. Ashu! What is wisdom? We have been told the English is a strong nation. They have driven their white Bushmen into our country to kill us. Is this strength? Have the English no cattle and slaves of their own that they send their Bushmen to take our cattle and our children to sell? We are told that the English love all men. They give or sell ammunition, horses and guns to the Boers, who have red teeth, destroy us, and if we ask to buy powder, we get none. No, no, no! Black man must have no ammunition: they must serve the white man. Is this love? The English are not friends of the black man.”

In the end, the Sand River Convention was never formally ratified, while its provisions about arms traffic ultimately proved unenforceable. Continued strength of the western Batswana alliance in the years immediately following the war also discouraged the Boers from renewing hostilities.

Following the death of the old warrior chief, Andries Pretorius, on the 23j of July 1853, the leadership of the Transvaal or South African Boer Republic was assumed by his son, Martinus. Pretorius.

The younger Pretorius (one of whose farms would eventually become the original core of the city of Pretoria) would ultimately prove eager to consolidate Jan Viljoen’s tenuous ceasefire into a more durable peace with Sechele.

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