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The Blackman’s War (3)

JEFF RAMSAY
We left off on October 24, 1899, with the British officials and police under Deputy Commissioner William Surmon abandoning Gaborone Camp and Station in the face of the advancing Transvaal Boer Commando of Commandant Peter “Ramolara” Swartz.

Surmon’s deputy Jules Ellenberger would later recall:
“If I remember correctly, it was on October 24th that we evacuated Gaberone's. It was about 2 p.m. when we rode out of the Camp, making for the village of Morwa, on the Metsimotlhaba river and in the Bakgatla Reserve. Two men had been left behind with instructions to set fire to the Police stores half an hour after our departure and then to catch up with us, which they did in due course. We saw the smoke going up in the air. The Boers also saw it and entered the camp very shortly afterwards as we subsequently learnt from our friends the Natives.”
Surmon soon abandoned Morwa, however, withdrawing up the rail to Mahalapye, were he rendezvoused with the Anglo-Rhodesian troops under Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Plumer and Kgosi Khama III’s Bangwato. On November 7th, 1899, Gammangwato was invaded when Transvaal forces under Commandants Frederick Grobler and Hendrik Christoffel Janse van Rensburg crossed the Limpopo and fired artillery at the 700 Bangwato holding Ngwapa hill. Apparently impressed by the strength the Bangwato defences, the Boers broke off the engagement returning to the Transvaal. There was a further Boer attacks on Plumer’s forces at Rhodes’ Drift on November 16-18, 1899, with the Boers once more breaking off the attack.
Between Mahalapye and the besieged British and Barolong at Mahikeng the defence of the southern Protectorate was thus left to local mephato. The Bakgatla bagaKgafela, Bakwena and Bangwaketse fully mobilized to protect their respective territories, while the Boers were able to exercise effective occupation over today’s South-East District.
Kgosi Bathoen I’s Bangwaketse became engaged in smuggling supplies to Mahikeng as well as deterring the Boers from advancing on Kanye from Lobatse. Meanwhile, Sebele I’s Bakwena were for a period able to maintain a mutually convenient ceasefire with the Boers, based on Commandant’s Swartz’s pledge not to advance westward beyond the railway, thus abandoning plans to move on Molepolole. Notwithstanding a few incidents the Bakwena-Boer truce lasted until the return of British forces under Plumer in March 1900.
Prior to Plumer’s advance, the fiercest fighting north of Mahikeng took place along the Kgatleng-Transvaal border, beginning in October when Boer commandos of Harklass Malan raided Bakgatla cattle posts. In response Linchwe agreed to dispatch the Makoba, Majanko, and his own Matlakana mephato, under the command of his brother Ramono, to assist British forces in an assault on the Boer laager at Deerdeport.
The three-hour attack began at dawn on November 25, 1899, the Bakgatla having used the

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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 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, like the Boers, were well armed as is 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 stating 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.
Confirmed in his previous belief that British promises of protection were worthless, Linchwe decided fight the rest of the war against the Boers without paying much attention to the British. In so doing he avenged the honour of his father, Kgamanyane, against Paul Kruger, the hated "Kirikiri", who had thirty years earlier publicly beaten his father, Kgamanyane. But, besides revenge, the Bakgatla ruler was motivated by the desire to reclaim their historic 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 in 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 on display at the Phutadikobo Museum was also taken.



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