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The Third Batswana-Boer War (1899-1902)

JEFF RAMSAY
We last left off with the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer or South African War of 1899-1902, noting that by the beginning of 1900 Dikgosi Bathoen I, Khama III and Sebele I had mobilised their mephato to repel any armed Boer incursions into their territories.

At the same time some of the more daring Bangwaketse and Bakwena joined Barolong in running supplies across the Boer lines to the besieged town of Mahikeng. 

In February 1900 Sebele reached an agreement with the Boer Commandant Peter “Ramolara” Swartz to keep his men east of the rail line. But the agreement broke down the following month when British Rhodesian Bechuanaland mounted police under Colonel Herbert Plumber occupied Lobatse in an attempt to relieve the Mahikeng Siege. On March 15, 1900 Plumber abandoned Lobatse in the face of a Boer counter attack.

Plumber's force thereafter retreated into Gangwaketse, where they were supported by Bathoen’s mephato. A Reuter's correspondent with Plumber's column at the time reported (The Times of London of March 23, 1900):

"Our right flank is protected by the chief Bathoen, who has warned the Boers not to enter his territory. It is improbable that they will do so. Since their ill-advised raids on Linchwe the Dutch have a wholesome dread of the natives." 

Over the next few weeks Plumber's troops made sorties from Kanye and Sefhikile as far as Ramatlhabama, while awaiting the arrival of a bigger British relief force advancing from Kimberly, under Colonel B.T. Mahon. On May 17th, 1900, Plumber and Mahon's columns finally linked up to relieve Mahikeng.

With respect to the Bakgatla bagaKgafela, at the outset of the fighting the British had feared that the morafe might join the war on the Boer side. But Kgosi Linchwe saw no purpose in allying his people with those who had previously forced them to flee to Mochudi. Instead, as reflected in the Reuters dispatch, the Bakgatla began to wage their own war against the Boers.

The Bakgatla were initially provoked when Boer commandos raided Kgatleng cattle posts. In response Linchwe sent the Makoba, Majanko, and his own veteran Matlakana mephato, under the command of his brother Ramono, to assist British forces in an assault on Boer laager at Deerdeport.

The three-hour attack began at dawn on November 25, 1899, with the Bakgatla having used the cover of darkness to cross the Madikwe River to take up favourable positions. But, to their surprise, the British deserted the field shortly after the first shots had been fired. Ramono's regiments continued to advance, burning down much of Deerdeport itself, while preventing the capture of a machine gun, which had been abandoned by Mmamosadinyana's troops.

The Bakgatla suffered 14 dead before breaking off

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the attack, while Boer losses were 8-20, including two women caught in the crossfire. Additional Boer women and children interned by the Bakgatla during the engagement were later released unharmed. 

The Bakgatla were well-armed as reflected in the following stanzas of one of Linchwe’s praise poems, which specifically refers to his men’s Martini-Henry rifles: “Mekgakwana borranko-emoriti ntona tsaga Makopye aLekgoa; obafudile kamartini, mokgatla kamartini, Mokgatla wagaKgafela.”

[“Red faced people with jutting noses, lieutenants of the white man ‘Makopye’ (literally one with protruding head, identified as Harklass Malan); the Bakgatla fired on them with Martinis, with Martinis, the Mokgatla of Kgafela”].

For his part the Boer Commandant at Deerdeport, J.T. Kirsten, also wrote after the battle that the Bakgatla had shot "wonderfully well, in the same manner as the Boers, and their aiming was excellent, infinitely better than the English." 

The British Colonel, Holsworth, subsequently tried to justify his withdrawal by claiming that Ramono's men had commenced the attack contrary to his instructions. Other British as well as Boer and Bakgatla sources suggest that he lost his nerve.

Seeing that British promises of protection were empty, Linchwe’s forces now fought on his own. In so doing they avenged the honour of Linchwe’s father, Kgamanyane who had 30 years earlier was publicly beaten by “Kirikiri” - Paul Kruger. Beyond revenge, Linchwe himself was motivated by the desire to reclaim Bakgatla lands in and around the Pilanesberg.

In December 1899 the Boers retaliated by burning down Sikwane, but by the following February the Bakgatla had cut off the supplies to Deerdeport, forcing its final evacuation.

The fall of Deerdeport cleared the way for Bakgatla raids on Boer communities and farms deep into the Transvaal. In the months that followed, Bakgatla carried out large cattle-raiding expeditions in the Transvaal, capturing at least 10,000 animals. They were thus able to rebuild their herds from the effects of rinderpest. Additional plunder, such as the organ subsequently on display at the Phuthadikobo Museum was also taken.

By 1902, Linchwe had seized control of all of the land between Sikwane and northern outskirts of Rustenburg. Much of this land had been held by Bakgatla before the Boers arrived in the 1840s.

Once the war was over, Linchwe asked the British for the rights over his re-conquered territory. This was refused. Post-war British policy instead treated the defeated Boers as partners in the creation of a new, white ruled, South Africa.



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