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The Bakgatla Baga Mmanaana (Part 5)

In our previous episode the Bakwena Kgosi Sechele had rejected the Boer Commandant Pieter Scholtz’s demand that he surrender the Bakgatla bagMmanaana Kgosi Mosielele as a step towards acknowledging the hegemony of the newly formed Transvaal Boer Republic of Andries Pretorius.

Sechele fortitude and accompanying bravado during the weekend long truce between the Batswana and Boers at Dimawe was underpinned by a formidable arsenal.

By 1849 the Boers were already claiming that the Bakwena alone had 500 guns and a cannon. Over the years, a number of people have taken Livingston’s rejoinder that his flock only had five guns and a cooking pot at face value. Yet, from Livingston’s own private papers, as well other accounts, it is clear that the Batswana defenders at Dimawe were in possession hundreds of guns. It is also all but certain that Sechele did deploy his cannon. Besides his boasting of it to Scholtz, we have Chapman’s subsequent diary passage referring to his discussions with Sechele about the battle.

While talking about the Boer casualties, the Mokwena is said to have “brought out some leaden cannon balls and smiled rather contemptuously.”

When Scholtz and Sechele finally met face to face on Monday morning, August 30, 1852 they were unable to reach any agreement. In response to Sechele’s call that he justify his demand for Mosielele, Scholtz underscored the real issues at stake by calling on the Bakwena and their allies to immediately disarm, agree to supply free labour to the Boers, and cooperate in the apprehension of fugitives. Sechele replied that he would remain a Kgosi through the grace of God and his people, not the Boers.

The battle began before noon following Kgosi Sechele’s declaration to Commandant-General Scholtz that he would never recognise Pretorius as his “Tautona”. The Boers then charged the Mokwena’s hillsides entrenchments, which encircled each of the Dimawe hills.

In this initial assault the invaders advanced from behind their coerced Bahurutshe auxiliaries, using them as human shields. Sechele instructed his men not to fire on their hapless brothers, an action that gained him the subsequent allegiance, as well as respect, of many Bahurutshe. According to the late B.S. Morebedi’s c.1940 account:

“Gatwe Kgosi Sechele a bua ka lentswe je logolo, a re, “Ba bangwe mo go bone ke ba ga rona, mme ba seka ba utlwisiwa botlhoko. Mafoko a, a ga Kgosi Sechele, a tsenya botsalano mo Bahurutshe. Erile ba sena go boela kwa morago, Bahurutshe ba bo ba simolola go ngwega mo Maburung ba tshabela kwa go Kgosi Sechele.”

In the early part of the battle, the Boers succeeded in breaking through the Bangwaketse and Bakgatla bagaMmanaana lines.  Being less used

to guns than their Bakwena allies, many from these two merafe are alleged to have panicked during the initial assault, fleeing southward before they could be regrouped by their respective Dikgosi, Senthufe and Mosielele. The supposed BagaMmanaana “desertion” is reflected in the following verse:

“Kwena, utla hutshe yangwana wa Leburu, obontshe ba bina kgabo botshelo, batle batshele kawena boorramogotswana; bagothele madi akgofa bafete, ebe Dimo asala aaja wena wesi fela!”

Some of the Boers then invaded the abandoned settlement of Dimawe, putting it to the torch. Notwithstanding the contrary suggestion contained in Scholtz’s official report of the battle, Sechele had sent all of the Batswana woman and children away on Sunday night, after they had spent most of the day hauling water to the entrenchments. At the outbreak of the fighting most had apparently taken in the hills to the west of Dimawe.

Despite this precaution many were captured. While some escaped, 147 Bakwena, including Sechele’s first-born son Kgari, were ultimately carried off to the Transvaal.

Smoke from the fire drifted over much of the battlefield further complicating the task of the defenders. Sechele’s own redoubt at Botswelakgosi hill was engulfed in the choking mist, but his mephato still tenaciously held their positions in the face of over six hours of assaults and sniping. From a  September 16, 1852 report by the Rev. Robert Moffat, based on eyewitness accounts by Sechele and others:

“The Boers found means of setting fire to the town, when the hill in the centre became enveloped in heat & smoke, when a scene of confusion ensued easier conceived then described. This decided the fate of the Bakuenas, who found their efforts to defend themselves against such a force crippled by the smoke that enveloped them. Though the Boers kept a respectable distance, they were able by means of small swivels to do much execution amongst the natives. The Bakuenas, however, continued to defend themselves until the curtains of night were drawn over the melancholy scene.”

After the Boers’ initial success in breaking through the Bangwaketse and Bakgatla bagaMmanaana lines, in order to advance across and torch Dimawe village, the battle at Dimawe turned into a bloody stalemate. Throughout the afternoon, members of the Boer commando under the direction of Commandant-General Piet Scholtz’s chief adjutant, Paul Kruger, kept a hundred or so Bakwena under Sechele’s personal command surrounded and pinned down defending Boswelakgosi hill.

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