Thursday, July 2, 2020

Batswana Tribes in the Anglo-Boer War

Kgamanyane’s descendants fought with the British in the Transvaal during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) stole thousands of Boer cattle and later sold them to acquire more than 30 farms once owned by their tormentors. The private farms became known as Saulspoort Location (Fred Morton, Professor of History, University of Botswana).”

We have always known that the Anglo-Boer War was fought deep in the territory of South Africa. Batswana tribes are found all over that country running from Mafikeng to Thaba Nchu, and from Roodeport to Taung  in the vicinity of Kuruman. This was the catchment area where black men were recruited and sometimes forcibly taken into participating in the war.

If you would go to Sechele’s grave and ask him about the Boers; if the dead could talk to the living, he would have a mouth. Bakwena have had skirmishes with the Boers. We have learnt of the Bakwena-Boer War (other scholars prefer to call it Tswana-Boer War) whose most well-known battle is that of Dimawe.

In as far as I am concerned, there is nothing that fits the description of anything like Tswana-Boer War. The Boers of the Transvaal Republic always chose to have skirmishes with individual Batswana tribes. The issue at the head of every conflict at each and every one of these conflicts was land, labour and cattle.

The Boers (farmers) had this insatiable appetite for land and livestock. Bakgatla who happen to be the last of Batswana tribes to settle in present day Botswana have a more pronounced story of total humiliation by the Boers. They were stripped of their property of land and livestock in one of the most dehumanizing ways.

President Paul Kruger had literally enslaved Bakgatla until their ultimate deliverance that was brought about by the Anglo-Boer War. Bakgatla had no other option but to fight on the side of the British. Like it was the case with Bangwato who were too eager to help in the final assault of Bulawayo which was the capital of their former tormentors, Bakgatla found themselves in a rather too identical case like that of Bangwato.

The epitome of the humiliation suffered by Bakgatla was when their king was given a public lashing by Oom Paul himself. There is a school in Mochudi with the name Kgamanyane, this is named after Kgamanyane Pilane. Paul Kruger did not know that he was setting the Bakgatla against his republic in the coming major war.

The involvement of Bakgatla was not a simple fact of choosing a side on a street brawl. For them it was beyond the British versus Boer formula.  This was a war that would define their very existence as a people. It was time for a sweet revenge on the Transvaal Republic.

At the time of the war, Bakgatla were under the leadership of Linchwe I and to him this war provided an opportunity for political and economic independence in many ways. The Boers had always exploited the tribe for its human capital and livestock wealth. From my analysis, there is nothing that ever united Bakgatla ba ga Kgafela in their history than the Anglo-Boer War.

At the time of the war, Kgamanyane Pilane and Paul Kruger were now part of history. Those in the thick of things were another generation from both sides. Malan was pitted against Linchwe I and one had to fight to maintain his predecessors’ legacy while the other was out to avenge the humiliation of the flogging and economic emancipation.

The flogging had taken place thirty years or so before the Anglo-Boer War. The Boers were practicing extortion, slavery and all forms of exploitation on Bakgatla. Kgamanyane Pilane’s sin was to resist such untoward behaviour from the Boers. Eugen Terblanche who led the Afrikaans Westandebeveging  (AWB) mimicked Paul Kruger in every way including his attitude to black people. Eugen’s horse which was a black stallion was a complete look alike to that of Paul Kruger.

It was such a draw back on the war effort to the Boers in that the very labour they had always exploited in their agriculture and irrigation projects had turned against them in their hour of need. The Boers were desperately desperate to have Bakgatla fight on their side.

Bloemfontein museum in the Free State Province of South Africa, a province known as the Orange Free State during the Anglo-Boer War holds so much valuable archival material on the participation of the Tswana tribe during this war. Barolong of Thaba Nchu were so immersed in this war.

Bakwena ba ga Mogopa a Dira who are currently found in the Brits area close to Rustenburg were equally involved in this war. They felt the brunt of this war far more than any other Batswana tribes because of their proximity to Pretoria which was the capital of the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Magalisberg is a country of Kgosi Mogale and he was the ruler of Bapong. In terms of proximity to the Boers, he was unmatched as he was living in present day Krugersdorp (translated as Kruger’s town). By the time this war happened, Commandant Paul Kruger who later became the president of the Transvaal Republic had created sufficient enemies to cause his demise.

The commandos of the Boer republics often set out on raiding trips in the territories of Batswana tribes. When the war between the British and the Boers erupted in 1899, it is fair to say that the Transvaal Republic was very porous as the enemy was within as the Batswana tribes who had old scores to settle were all over the republic.

So in general, the Batswana tribes were active actors in this war and they were not necessarily acting for the British, they acted on their own to protect their personal interests. Every war has rules of engagement, and in this war both the British and the Boers had agreed to use the African population in a non-combat role. That was never the case as both sides violated this rule.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.