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The Bakgatla Baga Mmanaana (Part 6)

In our previous episode we saw that despite their initial success in breaking through the Bangwaketse and Bakgatla bagaMmanaana lines, the August 30, 1852 Battle at Dimawe turned into a daylong stalemate as members the Boer commando under the direction of Commandant-General Piet Scholtz’s chief adjutant, Paul Kruger, were unable to dislodge Batswana defenders under Sechele’s personal command from their strongpoint at Boswelakgosi hill.

After losing five men, with more wounded, in a failed assault on the hill, Kruger’s men confined themselves to sniping at the Batswana defences. At one point the defenders ran out of bullets but are said to have succeeded in keeping the attackers at bay by firing off blank rounds. Meanwhile hit and run skirmishes involving the BagaMmanaana, amongst others, also occurred elsewhere in the area.

As dusk set in Scholtz called off the attack. “Rramokonopi” Sechele’s men still held Boswelakgosi: “Rramokonopi wa bo Kgosidintsi, otlhotse akonopna le Poulwe [Kruger]; erile motshegare Poulwe alapa, gasala gokonopa Rramokonopi.”

After Scholtz’s exhausted forces withdrew at sundown on Monday August 30, 1852, Sechele collected his mephato together and ordered them to regroup at the historic Bakwena stronghold of Dithubaruba, in the Dithejwane hills. There, they were ultimately joined by the BagaMmanaana, many of whom had survived Boer attacks along the way.

Transvaal Boer invasion of Botswana finally collapsed on Thursday evening, of September 2, 1852, that is three days after the standoff at Dimawe. On the said evening the Boer Commandant-General, Piet Scholtz, convened a Krijgsraad or War Council to put forward his strategy for a final assault on the Bakwena stronghold at Dithubaruba.

But, his men turned down his plan and instead voted to return home. Prior to this collective stand down Scholtz’s men had apparently lost their nerve in the face of the main Batswana fallback positions at Kanye and Dithubaruba. It should be noted in this context the word mutiny would be inappropriate for, unlike most past and present armies, the Voortrekker commandos had a democratic right to collectively overrule their Commandants. Few details survive about the engagement at Kanye. The Commandant-General’s official campaign report (as re-drafted by his President, Andries Pretorius) neglects to even make mention of it, while in a brief, September 12, 1852, letter Scholtz, himself, simply states: “I also made an attack on [the Bangwaketse Kgosi] Senthufe, but there was no time to do this properly.”

The incident is further acknowledged in a few contemporary letters, newspaper accounts and Sengwaketse traditions. From a later account published in the Cape-Town Mail on March 12, 1853:

“They [the Boers] then proceeded to the residence of Sentulie [Senthufe], a neighbouring chief; and on the way, fell in with detached parties of Moselili’s tribe [i.e. Mosielele’s BagaMmanaana], who were endeavouring to make their escape

with their wives, children and cattle. These wretched people they shot down in the most cold-blooded manner, - they offering no resistance whatever, but, on the contrary wishing to surrender.

“Here the Boers enriched themselves with numbers of cattle, woman and children. Sentulie, having sent as many of his women and children as he could to the mountains for safety, awaited the arrival of the Boers, who immediately opened a heavy fire. His men then also fled to the mountains [atop Kgwakgwe hill]; on gaining which they returned fire on the Boers, who then retreated. Here alone, it appears, they did not succeed in obtaining any cattle or captives.”

The Bangwaketse stand at Kgwakgwe may have been decisive in convincing the Boers that the fighting spirit of their opponents remained unbroken. Their subsequent failure to attack Dithubaruba further suggests that the prospect of charging up hills in the face of Batswana gunfire had begun to lose its appeal. The Boers got within sight of the Sechele’s fortifications only to turn back.

Some Sekwena accounts have long credited the Boer retreat to the giant aloe forest west of Molepolole on the road to Dithubaruba. They maintain that upon seeing the forest on the horizon at dusk, the Boers mistook the tall plants for mephato, thus believing that Sechele had mobilised thousands of fresh troops. In this respect, the silhouettes of the aloe leaves are said to have resembled the ostrich plumed headdress of the Bakwena warriors.

Having failed to dislodge either the Bangwaketse at Kanye or the Bakwena at Dithubaruba, Commandant-General Peit Scholtz’s Commando began to withdraw from Botswana on Friday September 3, 1852. As they made their way back to Klein Marico their flanks were constantly harassed by hit and run attacks on the part of their Batswana adversaries. From Klein Marica Scholtz observed:

“I must regretfully inform you that I have been obliged to disband the commando, owing partly to the weakness of horse and oxen and partly to opposition among the men, who would not stay on any longer...If God spares me and grants peace, I hope to give Your Honour my full report in person. Here I cannot mention half the matters that will appear in it…Moreover I greatly fear, since I cannot keep the commando [intact] to accomplish anything, that the Marico district will be unsafe.”

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