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Battle Of Mosita (Part 2)

In our last instalment, the Barolong booRatshidi Kgosi Montshiwa had withdrawn from Lotlhakane to Setlagole where he was joined in his resistance to the Boers by the Barolong booRatlou and Bahurutshe refugees.

Thereafter, Setlagole became a staging post for raids on Boer farms in the western Tranvaal.  A surviving Boer document records the loss of 287 cattle from eight Schoonspruit farms during one such foray.

In an attempt to regain the initiative that the Transvaal Boers leading figure, General Andries Pretorius, decided to personally lead a commando against Setlagole.

He hoped that after crushing the Barolong he would link up with what was left of Scholtz’s forces to finally impose a settlement on Dikgosi Sechele of Bakwena and Senthufe of Bangwaketse.

To accomplish his initial task, the Boer President called for a force of 1,000 Boers to come together at Mooiriver. But there, joined by Commandant Schutte, he was only able to raise about 400 men.

Dissension in the Boer ranks prevented another 300 or so men under Commandant Schoeman from joining him. Still others elected to remain concentrated in various defensive laagers.

On December 26, 1852 Pretorius decided that he could wait no longer.

His men rode out of Mooiriver accompanied by an unknown number of auxiliaries and some one hundred ox wagons.

Before departing, he dispatched a final order to Schoeman to rendezvous with his men at Groenfontein. But, Pretorius failed to wait there himself. Of this “misunderstanding at Groenfontein” he later reported to his Volksraad or “People’s Assembly”:

“No excuse is necessary for I was obliged to do what I did, since my [scouting] patrol had been captured [by Batswana] and I had to move out against the enemy with all force.”

When in late December 1852 news reached the freedom fighters at Setlagole of Pretorius’ commando, there was some panic in their ranks.

Letsapa, the newly installed Kgosi of the Barolong booRatlou overruled his young lions by deciding to seek asylum with the neutral Batlhaping Kgosi Mahura at Taung.

But the Barolong booRatshidi Kgosi, Montshiwa, accompanied by Lentswe’s Bahurutshe decided to wait for the arrival of the commando at Mosita, a strategic location some 30 kilometres further to the west.

Pretorius caught up with Montshiwa and Lentswe’s forces on January 7, 1853. The battle commenced with the Boers charging on horseback across a flat open plain. On a ridge behind their stone-walled entrenchments, the outnumbered Batswana gunmen waited.

As the Boers came within firing range, a slightly stout figure with a tall hat on a greyish white horse crossed the gun sight of Mococe aMarumo.

Unlike most of his comrades, the target was clean-shaven.

Mococe pulled his trigger allegedly hitting Pretorius,

who was certainly taken from the battlefield. Mococe’s name has since been celebrated by the Barolong with the following verses:

“Mogale wa pitse e tshweu ga bonwe, Moetapele wa masaropo o jele mmu, O phamotswe ke phamole ya ga Marumo, A mo isa bogwera bo iwang ke Masweu le Bantsho. Nnoi o a lele, ere a lela mathlo a gagwe a kwano, Ebile o futsa nkwe ya losika loo Makgetla, O futsa phamole e tsetsweng ke Marumo, A re setlhodi sele se re jetsa banna, sa tlhoga sa re baya ka boswagadi.”

{“The hero of the white horse is nowhere to be seen, The leader of the white troops has licked the dust; He has been snatched by the eagle of Marumo, He is initiated into colour-blind mysteries. His lady is in tears, but her eyes look away, As she curses the tiger of the Makgetla breed, She curses the eagle that is born of Marumo, Says that monster has eaten up our husbands, And thus condemned us to dismal widowhood.”]

The legend of the son of Marumo aMakgetla’s shot was subsequently reinforced by the fact that the ailing Pretorius did in fact die six months later. In this respect, one cannot discount the possibility that the Morolong’s bullet contributed to his passing.

At least three Boers and a larger, but unknown, number of Batswana died in the engagement at Mosita, which lasted until sunset when the Commando finally retired. Among the slain was the courageous Lentswe.

The next morning the Boers found the battlefield deserted. Low on water for his men, horses and oxen alike, the ailing if not wounded Pretorius decided to give up the chase and head back to Mooiriver.

For his part Montshiwa had once more withdrawn further to the west, stopping when he reached Morokweng.

The Barolong remained there until August 1853.

While the Boers had not been defeated at Mosita, they had also once more failed to achieve a decisive victory. Unable to overcome concentrations of armed Batswana in open battle, their farms remained at the mercy of roving mephato, while the Boers were left to rot in their laagers.

Before his death, on July 23, 1853, Pretorius must have wished he was once more fighting the Amazulu, who a decade earlier had bravely but hopelessly charged his laager in tight formation armed with long shields and assegai, rather than face the hit-and-run wrath of the gun-wielding western Batswana.

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