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The Blackman’s War (II)

We left off on October 18, 1899 with the British Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Plumer having arrived from Fort Tuli with reinforcements to join Kgosi Khama’s already vigorous defence of Gammangwato.

In this context, the Old Palapye church was fortified to serve as a forward headquarters for the defence of the northern Protectorate.

With most of the imperial forces besieged at Mahikeng, the situation in south-east Botswana was becoming more problematic, with the Marico Commando under Commandant Peter “Ramolora” Swartz determined to sever the line of rail as well as telegraphic communication.

In addition to local mephato the imperial force to counter them was a handful of colonial officials and police, who had reinforced Gaborone Camp with earthen wall defences.

As fate would have it one of the policemen, a Mosotho Constable named Chere, became the conflict’s first fatality. The then Resident Magistrate at Gaborone, Jules “Ramaeba” Ellenberger would later recall:

“Meanwhile an armoured train with Southern Rhodesia Volunteers under the command of Captain H. Llewellyn, of the British South Africa Police at Bulawayo, was daily patrolling the line as far south as the Metsimaswaana Bridge (nine miles from Gaberone’s Camp) and our scouts were also active.

Two of them, Chere and another whose name escapes me, both belonging to our Native Police, were sent out on patrol one morning - it must have been on October 22nd [1899].

They made for the hill Khale and, climbing a short distance, turned to scan the country below them and caught sight of a number of horse- men travelling in the direction of Gaberone’s. Whether they were friends or foes they could not tell - it might be the Chief from Ramotswe and some of his head-men going to see the Assistant Commissioner.

They decided to ride after them and make sure.

The bush was thick and they could not see far ahead, and thus it was that they suddenly came upon their quarry - a party of Boers resting in such scanty shade as the Protectorate bush can afford.

Much outnumbered, our two men sought safety in flight, with the Boers in hot pursuit.

Only one returned to camp that evening: Trooper Chere was “missing”.

A riderless horse turned up at the Police well the following day - it was the horse Chere had been riding and the blood on its saddle and flanks told a sad story which was subsequently confirmed by natives who said that after killing him the Boers had robbed him of his boots and placed his body across the railway line. This little “Queen’s pawn” was our first casualty.”

The martyred Chere was buried next to the railway,

adjacent to where his body had been left, at a point a few kilometres south of old Naledi. 

Having taken Lobatse and destroyed the rail bridge near Khale from their fortified base across the Notwane at Basuto Kop, Swartz’s forces were poised to seize Gaborone. Ellenberger further recalls:

“The camp was surrounded on more than one side by very thick bush, much of which has since been cleared. Its only water supply was from a Police well on the fringe of dense bush on the river-flat and it had to be carted in a tank on wheels, drawn by oxen.

The fort had been sand-bagged afresh and we all mustered in it at night. No one was allowed to leave it in the morning until the scouts reported “all clear”. The horses were then led out of the deep trench which surrounded the fort and we went back to our respective duties.

One day, however, at about 10 a.m., the alarm was sounded and we rushed back to the fort: a late arrival was Samuel Mokgosi, Cape-cart driver, dressed in his Sunday suit!

He caused some merriment when he explained that if he had on that day to appear before the Almighty, he must at least be well dressed.

Nothing happened, however; the big cloud of dust seen in the direction of Matsetse’s lands, near the Transvaal border, having been caused not by a Commando but by waggons from the lands.

“It was obvious that, had we been attacked at Gaberone’s our position would have been utterly hopeless after a couple of days without water.

Further down the line the Boers on Sepitsi started shelling the armoured train as soon as they caught sight of it. We were therefore not surprised when the Police were ordered by their Headquarters in Bulawayo to retire northwards.

The Assistant Commissioner and I had no option but to do likewise.

I just had time to thrust the Civil and Criminal Record Books of the District into the little Milner safe, which is still doing duty at Gaberone’s and which then contained the sum of four shillings and sixpence; it was placed on a train waiting at Gaberone’s Station and reached Bulawayo in due course.

The Station Master’s safe, which was heavier, remained where it was and when the Boers subsequently blew it open all they found in it was a piece of paper with the words: “Sold again!” (to be continued)

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