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The Battle Of Mosita (Part 3)

In our last instalment, a large Transvaal Boer commando under the direct command of General Andries Pretorius had withdrawn at sunset from the battlefield at Mosita.

The next morning the Boers found the battlefield deserted. Low on water for his men, horses and oxen alike, the ailing Pretorius decided to give up the chase and head back to Mooiriver.

For his part, the Barolong booRatshidi’s Kgosi Montshiwa withdrew with his surviving forces further to the west, stopping when he reached Morokweng, where he remained until August of 1853. Among the Batswana who had been slain at Mosita was Lentswe, who had become a hero leading Bahurutshe resistance to the Boers in defiance of the morafe’s then pre-eminent Kgosi Moilwa.

At least three Boers had died in the engagement with a larger but unknown number also wounded. As previously noted, according to Serolong accounts; Pretorius himself was numbered among the latter category, though this is not confirmed in the Boer documents known to this author. What is known is that great Voortrekker died in bed at his farm. Before his death he had been confined to bed for many weeks, as well as having reportedly suffered from ill health for some months.

The cause of Pretorius’ demise is recorded to have been “dropsy”, a now archaic term for the swelling of body tissue with fluids. Dropsy, or “borswater” as it was also commonly known among the Boers then; was often attributed to impaired circulation resulting from such medical conditions as heart failure. In this respect dropsy can now be understood as having been symptomatic description rather than a specific illness.

In this context, while unproven it is not unreasonable to believe that the General’s health could have been impacted by a gunshot, as long claimed by the Barolong. The bullet that would have hit him would have been a lead and or iron ball shot fired from a musket, which if it had become lodged in the body but avoided the vital organs would have most likely given rise to an internal infection consistent with the symptoms associated with dropsy. In fact among the Voortrekkers instances of dropsy often coincided with military campaigns. Indeed, it is also credited with having taken the life of Pretorius’ great rival Hendrick Potgieter, who had become bedridden following an unsuccessful attack on the Bapedi.

What can be confirmed is that in the aftermath of the firefight at Mosita, Pretorius became increasingly anxious, if not depressed, about his people’s future. In a letter to his leading followers gathered as a Volksraad (People’s Assembly) he complained that Boer disunity, as well as Batswana guns,

were making it impossible to stem the latter’s raids. 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 Swartruggens, 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 Marico; so I sent him an order to come to Marico, 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, at 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, while the Boer refugees were then regrouped at Potchefstroom and Rustenburg, along with the “loyal” Bahurutshe followers of Dikgosi Moilwa and Mangope.

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.

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, many of the newcomers were allowed to spread out, ultimately founding such settlements as Gabane, Kumakwane, Manyana, Mmankgodi, Otse, Ramotswa and Tlokweng. Meanwhile the Bangwaketse were reunited at Kanye, while Montshiwa’s Barolong resided at Moshaneng from 1853 to 1876.

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