University of Botswana History Department
Electronic texts

Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 19

Contents page

Introduction etc. | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Appendices etc.

History Home Page  |  Site Index  |  Electronic texts index  |  To end of document

Chapter XIX     Armed Natives in the South African War

  Oh, where is he, the simple fool,
   Who says that wars are over?
  What bloody portent flashes there,
   Across the Straits of Dover?
  Nine hundred thousand slaves in arms
   May seek to bring us under
  But England lives and still will live,
   For we'll crush the despot yonder.
  Are we ready, Britons all,
   To answer foes with thunder?
          Arm, arm, arm!

        The Gallant Bakhatla Tribe

When Bechuanaland was invaded by the Republican forces
at the outbreak of the Boer War, the British Police Force
in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, finding themselves hopelessly isolated
in that far-away region, decided to evacuate Gaberones and effect a junction
with Colonel Plumer's force which was then coming south from Rhodesia.
The British Commissioner, before leaving Gaberones,
advised the Native Chiefs of the Southern Protectorate
to make the best terms possible with the invaders until the Transvaal Republic
was conquered by the advancing British Army.

Chief Lentsue of the Bakhatla, acting entirely on his own responsibility,
sent his brother Segale with a message to the Dutch Commandant, reminding him
that the war was a white man's war, and asking him at the same time
not to traverse his territory with armed Boers; he also added
that any invasion of his territory would be resisted with all the means
at his disposal.  Naturally, this message was treated with the contempt
that a Boer would habitually treat any frankness on the part of a "Kafir",
and the Boers, in utter disregard of this warning, invaded Bakhatla territory.
Chief Lentsue was not in a position to attack the Boers
at the beginning of the invasion.  He had the men but hardly enough ammunition
to last for a whole day, so he had to bide his time, scheming the while
to secure an arsenal.  The Dutch contempt for Lentsue's threats
advanced by 100 per cent when they overran his outer villages on two occasions
and he failed to offer any resistance, but they had not calculated
that his Intelligence Department and War Office were hard at work
in order that his threat to the Boers might not come to naught.
Accordingly on a certain day a convoy of huge buck-wagons,
each drawn by sixteen African bullocks, carrying ammunition
to the Dutch troops in Bechuanaland, meandered its way slowly
in the direction of the Marico River, escorted by a squadron
of mounted Burghers.  All of a sudden they were surprised and disconcerted
by a fusillade of musketry, and the situation grew in gravity
from the fact that whichever way the members of the convoy scampered,
they appeared to be running from the frying-pan into the fire.
The ruse was swift and successful, indeed so successful
that the train of ammunition and provision wagons proceeded on its way
to Lentsue's town, Mochudi, but under a different escort.

What had happened was this:  The sub-chief Segale, who has since
been known as Lentsue's fighting general, had closely watched
the movements of the Dutch and studied their plans, till he was able
to anticipate the coming of this convoy and to waylay it.
He captured enough ammunition in this and succeeding attacks
to enable the Chief Lentsue to arm his men.  Thus they repulsed
two invasions of the Boers, followed the enemy into his territory,
and came home with numbers of head of cattle, and Lentsue's territory
was never again invaded by the Boers.

This isolated action of the Bakhatla Chief and people
in a remote corner of the Empire, on the boundaries of the late Boer Republic,
had its moral and material value.  The Boers, who virtually owned
the whole of Bechuanaland to the south, except Mafeking town,
found that it would pay them better to adopt a friendlier attitude
towards the other Bechuana tribes.  Thereby a Dutch Field Cornet
pronounced all the Bechuana Chiefs as the original Afrikanders --
with the exception of Lentsue of the Bakhatla, and Montsioa of the Barolong
in Mafeking.  These two chiefs, the Field Cornet said,
were traitors to their country as they had joined the foreign Rooineks
against their black and white fellow Afrikander.  But the armed Burghers
ceased to help themselves to native property, and the Government's
huge compensation bill at the end of the War became less formidable
in consequence.  Furthermore, the task of that unacknowledged hero
-- the native dispatch runner -- became so appreciably easier that
an almost regular bi-weekly communication was maintained between headquarters
at the Cape and the siege garrison at Mafeking, for the native runners
after crawling through the lines of the investing Boers,
under cover of the night, could move through the peasant villages
with much less danger of detection by Boer patrols.

But it must be confessed that Chief Lentsue's defensive activities
were wholly illegal, inasmuch as the Boers, although they had declared war
against Lentsue's sovereign Lady, Queen Victoria, were not at war with him.
It was defined, by an uncanny white man's mode of reasoning,
that the war was a white man's business in which the blacks
should take no part beyond merely suffering its effects.  The Natives' retort
to this declaration was in the words of a Sechuana proverb,
viz., "You cannot sever the jawbones from the head and expect to keep
those parts alive separately."  It was this principle, we presume, that guided
Lentsue's action.  Still from the standpoint of white South Africa,
the Chief's operations were a purely filibustering adventure;
and while it seemed difficult to indict Lentsue on any definite charge,
some of his men were arrested for having taken part
in a cattle-raiding expedition in Transvaal in the course of which
they shot and killed a German subject of the Transvaal Republic.
These men were tried at Pretoria after peace was declared,
and three of them were sentenced to death.  All through the trial
the Chief stood by his men, who pleaded justification.  He accompanied them
in the first instance to Pretoria, and afterwards paid for their defence
at the trial, and it was evident that he took the verdict and sentence
very much to heart.

If the verdict strained the loyalty of the Bakhatla,
it had the effect of satisfying the Boers across the Bechuana border,
in the Western Transvaal, who had to live down the sad memory of a victory
gained by a black chief over their white army and of their purposes thereby.
From a Dutch point of view nothing could be more humiliating
than that black men should have gained such a signal success over them,
and they are constantly crying out for the repression of Lentsue
and his "proud" Kafirs.  The Boers' demand that the Union authorities
should make the thraldom of the Natives more effective,
forgetting that the armed forces of the Boers when left to themselves
during the temporary British evacuation of Bechuanaland were unable to do it.
Notwithstanding this fact, the newspapers, especially the Rand Sunday Press,
seem always to have open spaces for rancorous appeals to colour prejudice,
perhaps because such appeals, despite their inherent danger,
suit the colonial taste.  Preceding the introduction of the Natives' Land Act,
the clamour of a section of the colonists and most of the Transvaal Boers
for more restrictive measures towards the blacks was accompanied
at one of its stages by alarming reports of "Native disaffection",
"Bakhatla insolence", and similar inflammatory headlines.  One Sunday morning
it was actually announced in the Sunday Press of Johannesburg
that the Bakhatla had actually opened fire on the Union Police
and were the first to draw blood.  Our own inquiries proved
that the British Protectorate, in and around Lentsue's territory,
where the Bakhatla dwell, was abnormally quiet.  All that had happened
was that two Dutch policemen had unlawfully crossed into Bechuanaland
with firearms; that the Natives had disarmed them and taken them
to their chief, who in turn handed them over to the British authorities
at Gaberones, where they were tried and sentenced.

It is not suggested that Sunday papers in giving publicity
to disturbing reports lend their space to what they know to be untrue;
but the fact remains that, right or wrong, their editorials seem ever ready
to fan the glowing embers of colour prejudice into a blaze;
and after arousing in this manner a most acute race feeling,
the editors, upon discovering their mistake, if such it was,
did not even trouble to tell their readers that they had unwittingly published
exaggerated accounts -- since after a fair trial before the British tribunal
at Gaberones, the offending Union Police were fined 50 Pounds.
The fact is that while under the quasi-Republican laws of the Transvaal
a native policeman dare not lay his "black hands" on a "lily-white" criminal,
even if he caught him in the very act of breaking the law:
in British Bechuanaland, "there shall be no difference in the eye of the law
between a man with a white skin and a man with a black skin,
and the one shall be as much entitled to the protection of the law
as the other," and so in spite of scaremongers' ravings to the contrary,
Chief Lentsue proved himself once more on the side of the law of his Empire.

    Go mokong-kong ko Tipereri,
     Go mokong-kong gole;
    Go mokong-kong ko Tipereri,
     Go mosetsana montle.
    Dumela, Pikadili,
     Sala, Lester-skuer,
    Tsela ea Kgalagadi, Tipereri,
     Pelo ea me e koo.
                             "Tipperary" in Rolong.

        The Barolong and the War

The Barolong and other native tribes near Mafeking were keenly interested
in the negotiations that preceded the Boer War.  The chiefs continually
received information regarding the mobilization of the Boer forces
across the border.  This was conveyed to the Magistrate of Mafeking
with requests for arms for purpose of defence.  The Magistrate
replied each time with confident assurances that the Boers
would never cross the boundary into British territory.
The Transvaal boundary is only ten or twelve miles from the magistracy.
The assurances of the Magistrate made the Natives rather restive;
the result was that a deputation of Barolong chiefs had a dramatic interview
with the Magistrate, at which the writer acted as interpreter.
The chiefs told the Magistrate that they feared he knew very little about war
if he thought that belligerents would respect one another's boundaries.
He replied in true South African style, that it was a white man's war,
and that if the enemy came, Her Majesty's white troops
would do all the fighting and protect the territories of the chiefs.
We remember how the chief Montsioa and his counsellor Joshua Molema
went round the Magistrate's chair and crouching behind him said:
"Let us say, for the sake of argument, that your assurances are genuine,
and that when the trouble begins we hide behind your back like this,
and, rifle in hand, you do all the fighting because you are white;
let us say, further, that some Dutchmen appear on the scene
and they outnumber and shoot you:  what would be our course of action then?
Are we to run home, put on skirts and hoist the white flag?"

Chief Motshegare pulled off his coat, undid his shirt front
and baring his shoulder and showing an old bullet scar, received in
the Boer-Barolong war prior to the British occupation of Bechuanaland,
he said:  "Until you can satisfy me that Her Majesty's white troops
are impervious to bullets, I am going to defend my own wife and children.
I have got my rifle at home and all I want is ammunition."

The Magistrate duly communicated the proceedings to Capetown,
but the reply from headquarters was so mild and reassuring that one
could almost think that it referred to an impending Parliamentary election
rather than to a bloody war.  But the subsequent rapid developments of events
showed that the Natives of Mafeking were in advance and that those
at headquarters were far behind the times.  In a short time
after the interview of the chiefs with the Magistrate,
the Boers, following the terms of their ultimatum, crossed the border
between the Cape and Transvaal, cut the lines of communication
north and south of Mafeking and, before any arms could reach this quarter,
Mafeking (a little village on the banks of the Molopo) was surrounded,
with Montsioastad, a town of 5,000 native inhabitants.
The population of these places was largely increased by refugees,
both white and black, from outside the town, and also from the Transvaal.

At this time of the investment General Cronje sent verbal messages
to the chief advising him not to mix himself and his people
in a white man's quarrel.  This view of General Cronje's was,
at the beginning of the siege, in accord with local white sentiment.
The European inhabitants of the besieged town had a repugnance
to the idea of armed Natives shooting at a white enemy;
but the businesslike method of General Cronje in effecting the investment
had a sobering effect upon the whole of the beleaguered garrison;
the Dutch 100-pounder Cruesot especially thundered some sense into them
and completely altered their views.

The Barolong youth had his baptism of fire on October 25, 1899,
when General Cronje tried to storm the garrison by effecting an entry
through the native village.  He poured a deafening hail of nickel
into the native village.  The Natives who were concealed behind
the outer walls of Montsioastad waited with their rifles in the loopholes,
according to Captain Marsh's instructions, till the Boers
were quite near to them, then returned the fire with satisfactory results.
After this encounter the whites, for the first time, regretted that
there were not any arms in the place with which to arm all the Natives.
As this attack was unmistakably severe and a Red Cross wagon
moved around the Boer lines in the afternoon, it was feared
that the native casualties were heavy, and medical aid was offered
by the white section of the garrison.  But all were agreeably surprised
to find that beyond slight damages to the housetops there were no casualties
among the Barolongs.  The following was the only injury:
A shell burst in front of Chief Lekoko as he was engaged
in repelling the Boer attack, but no fragments of it touched him.
One piece of shell, however, struck a rock and a splinter of the rock
grazed his temple.  At best only a few rounds of ammunition
could be handed out to those of the Barolongs who used their own rifles,
and it is doubtful if so little ammunition was ever more economically used,
and used to greater advantage.

The investment of Mafeking was so effective that only
certain Natives could crawl through the Boer lines at night.
Throughout the seven months of the siege only one white man managed,
under the guidance of two Natives, to pass into the village.
All the dispatches which came into and out of Mafeking
were carried by Barolong runners.  Before the Boers moved their stock
into the far interior of the Transvaal, the Barolongs continually
went out and raided Boer cattle and brought them into the besieged garrison.
Often the raiders had to fight their way back, but sometimes as they returned
with the cattle in the night the Dutch sentries preferred to leave them alone.
The result was that General Snyman, who commanded the besiegers
after General Cronje went south, issued a general order
authorizing the shooting dead of "any one coming in or out of Mafeking",
armed or unarmed.

At his village called Modimola, ten miles outside the beleaguered garrison,
there lived Chief Saane, uncle of the Mafeking chief.
Being apparently harmless he was not for some months molested by the Boers.
Later, however, they rightly suspected him of supplying the garrison
with information.  They then took him and his followers to Rietfontein,
where they placed him under surveillance, but Chief Saane proved
even more useful in captivity than in liberty.  He used the seemingly
inoffensive young men of Rietfontein, to glean all first-hand information
from the Boers, who still had command of the lines of communication.
Then he sent the news in verbal messages to his nephew, the paramount chief
in the siege, who in turn communicated it to Her Majesty's officers
in command.  By means of this self-constituted intelligence bureau
the garrison learnt of the surrender of Cronje -- a happy consummation
of the battle of Paardeberg -- shortly after the good news
reached their besiegers; and when official confirmation came from the Cape,
more than a week later, Chief Saane's messengers were there again
with fresh news of the surrender of Bloemfontein.  This news,
as might be well supposed, was glad tidings to the besieged people.
They were in fact the truths that King Solomon thus sets forth:
"As cold water is to the weary soul, so is good news from a far country,"
for, in those days, before the invention of aeroplanes and Marconigrams,
no country in this wide world was further than a besieged garrison.

Among the first civilian bodies raised in Mafeking for
purposes of garrison defence was the "Cape Boy Contingent",
a company of mixed classes in varying degrees of complexions.
Sergt.-Major Taylor, a coloured bricklayer, who led the contingent
and directed the crack snipers of that company, was killed
during the fourth month of the siege, by a fragment of a huge shell
in the outer trenches.

His funeral was attended by General Baden-Powell and other staff officers,
and was probably the only funeral of a coloured person
in the South African war that was accorded such distinguished
military attendance.

The language of the Cape coloured or mixed people is the same
as that of the Boers, viz., the Cape Dutch.  At times during the siege
our advance lines and those of the Boers used to be less than 100 yards apart,
and when the wily snipers of both sides saw nothing to snipe at,
they used to exchange pleasantries at the expense of one another,
from the safety of their entrenchments.  Sometimes these wordy compliments
made the opponents decidedly "chummy", to borrow a trench phrase.
In that mood, they would now and again wax derisive or become amusing,
bespeaking the fates of one another or the eventual outcome of the war.
Whoever got the worst of the argument used to cut off communication
with an unpleasant remark; but when it was mutually amusing,
both sides enjoyed an advantage and each joined heartily
in the resulting merriment.  On more than one occasion a convivial Dutchman
momentarily forgot the martial aspect of the mutual hilarity and complied with
an equally convivial coloured man's exclamation to "kyk hier, jong"
(look here, old fellow), and directly he "kyked" the snipers did to him
that which from the enemy's point of view would amount to "devil's work".

The reader of these reminiscences will perhaps permit us to pay a tribute
to the Dutch Burghers who, under General Snyman, besieged Mafeking.
Whatever we may say against them, in other ways, this much must be said
in their favour, namely, that they left us entirely alone on Sundays.
Such an opportunity gave the Mafeking people a chance to get about,
to have a thorough wash-up, and to keep the Sabbath holy.
Snipers put down their rifles on Sunday mornings, declared a day's peace
among the contending forces between the opposing trenches,
and pointed out to one another landmarks beyond which the opposing sentries
might not cross, since to wander past these beacons would mean
a sudden resumption of hostilities.  But as the landmarks
were religiously respected there seldom was any occasion
to desecrate the Sabbath by the clash of arms.  We had thus
a whole day's recreation, when the trenchmen used to visit
their families in the women's camp and make all-round preparations
for another week's bombardment.

The "Cape Boys" fought with distinction and maintained their reputation
right up to the end of the siege.  Visitors to Mafeking may now see
near the obelisk in front of the pretty town hall of the famous siege town,
a five-pounder gun "captured by the Cape Police during the siege".
This gun was seized by the coloured Sergeant Bell and two other
subalterns of the "Cape Boys" contingent; their contingent was then
under the command of Lieutenant Currey of the Cape Police.

Besides the brave coloured men who fell during the defence of Mafeking,
one painful effect of the siege, in connexion with this contingent,
was that of Mr. Swartz, who was blinded by an exploding Boer shell
and has never been able to regain his eyesight.

    Ukude, ukude Tipperary,
     'Kude mpela ku hamba,
    Ukude, ukude Tipperary,
     Nentombi 'nhle ng' asiyo.
    Hlala kahle, Piccadilly
     Nawe Leicester Square
    Ikude lendlhela yase Tipperary
     Kona 'po nhliziyo yami.
                             "Tipperary" in Zulu.

Two other small companies who filled their posts without reproach
were the Fingo contingent and the Black Watch, so-called, presumably,
from the jet-black colour of the members.  The "Black Watch" included
Mozambique and Zambesi boys, Shangaans and others from among
the blackest races of South Africa.  The greatest disaster
sustained by this company was when a party of thirty-three of them
dashed into the Boer lines on an ill-starred attempt to loot cattle
from the enemy's herds.  After their night's dash out of the garrison
they got to a hiding place for the day, but they were followed there
and were surrounded by a Boer commando, which peppered them
with a maxim and a big gun.  They fought up to the last cartridge,
but were helplessly outnumbered and outranged by the Boers,
who killed them to a man.

Cattle-raiding was a dangerous business in which the crafty Barolong,
who belonged to the country, alone were well versed.  A subtle warrior
among the Barolong, named Mathakgong, was a regular expert in this business.
He led the occasional Barolong dashes into the Boer lines in search of beef
and he invariably managed to rush his loot into Mafeking.
He did this throughout the seven months' siege with the loss of only two men.
The only misadventure of this intrepid looter was when he attempted
to rush in an unusually large drove of cattle which Colonel Plumer had been
buying and collecting at his Sefikile camp about forty miles north of Mafeking
for the besieged garrison.  Dutchmen tell us that for days they had learnt
that Colonel Plumer was arranging to send cattle into Mafeking.
They even knew the exact number -- 100 head -- and so they sent scouts
to the north every day to watch the roads and warn the besiegers of the event.
Hence, although they had left Mafeking unobserved, when Mathakgong's party
approached Mafeking on the return trip with the cattle, a strong Dutch force
was waylaying him and waiting to give him and Colonel Plumer's cattle
a hot reception.  They opened a rattling fusillade upon the cattle drivers,
which could be heard from Mafeking.  Over half of the cattle
were killed in the ensuing fight, and the remainder,
like the fat carcases of the dead bullocks, fell into the hands of the Boers.
The drivers escaped with only two wounded out of the party of twelve.
They said that they owed their escape almost entirely
to the carcases of dead cattle, which they used as ramparts.

When Mathakgong heard subsequently how the Boers had planned
to annihilate him and his small party, he became very indignant
at what he called "the clumsy European method of always revealing
their intentions to the enemy."

Away out in Basutoland, "the Switzerland of South Africa",
the Paramount Chief Lerothodi offered to send an army on Bloemfontein
while the "Free" Staters were engaged in the British Colonies
of Natal and the Cape, which they had invaded.  Lord Milner strongly
forbade him from taking that step, and it was all that Sir Godfrey Lagden,
the British Resident in Basutoland, could do to restrain the Basuto warriors
from swooping down upon the Orange "Free" State.

On one occasion, however, the Basuto mountaineers were quickly mobilized.
Word reached Maseru that General De Wet, whose guerrilla career
was then at the height of its fame, was seriously harassed by Imperial troops
in the "Free" State, and that it was feared he would escape
through Basuto territory.  In such a case it was ruled that the Basuto
would be justified in opening fire upon the trespassing commandoes,
but not until the Boers actually set foot upon Basuto territory.
Therefore the Basutos, in anticipation of this violation of their territory,
under the leadership of Councillor Philip Modise, made a record turn-out
in one night, in a mountainous country, without telegraphic communication,
and where all the orders were conveyed by word of mouth
by men mounted on the sure-footed Basuto ponies; so that at daybreak
as the Boers at the frontier near Wepener awoke, they found the Basuto border
to be one mass of black humanity.  The Basutos made strong appeals to Maseru
for permission to cross the border and rush the Boers, and again
they were forbidden.  At length General De Wet, amid a rain of British shells,
withdrew his commando and carried his operations elsewhere.

General De Wet, in his book on the South African War, admits that
he was once hopelessly cornered and that then his only safe way of escape
lay through the territory of the Basuto.  He next proceeds to give his reason
for not violating Basuto territory:  it is that the Basutos
showed no hostility towards the Boers, and that he had no wish
to provoke them.  No mention is made that armed Basutos barred his way,
but if General De Wet's restraint were voluntary it would be
the first instance in history that a Boer general had shown any regard
concerning the rights or feelings of the Natives.

General Botha has on several occasions mentioned the loyal assistance
rendered to the Transvaal Burghers by the Natives of the Transvaal.
We may also mention the case of Chief Mokgothu, of the Western Transvaal,
who with his headmen was detained at Mafeking after the siege.
In fact that chief died in the Mafeking prison where he was interned
with the Republican political prisoners for participating in the war
on the side of the Republic.

On another occasion General Botha (obviously referring to Natives
other than those around Mafeking) unwittingly paid a tribute
to the valour of British Natives during the South African war.
Speaking in the Nieuwe Kerk, at Middelburg, Holland, the General said: --

The Kaffirs turned against us and we not only had to fight
against the English but against the Natives as well
. . . when the attacks of the Kaffirs increased, our cause became
dark and black. . . .  All these facts taken collectively
compelled us to discuss terms of peace.*

* "De Boerengeneraals in Zeeland", p. 29.

The southern defences of Montsioastad were maintained by the Barolong,
under their own chief Lekoko, in their own way and with their own
rations and rifles.  These were only supplemented by supplies of ammunition,
of which there was not too much in the garrison.  And the only instructions
which Major Godley and Captain Marsh gave the defenders
was to "sit tight and don't shoot until the enemy is quite close."

The rest of the native population in the besieged town
was under the fatherly care of Mr. C. G. H. Bell, the civil magistrate.
And the harmonious relation between white and black as a prevailing
characteristic of the population of the garrison throughout the siege
was largely due to the tactful management of Major Lord Edward Cecil, D.S.O.,
Colonel Baden-Powell's chief of Staff.  At the end of the siege,
Lord Roberts sent General Sir Chas. Parsons to thank the Barolong
for the creditable manner in which they defended their homes
throughout the siege.  The veteran soldier evidently thought
that he had not done enough in the matter, so later on he sent
Major the Hon. Hanbury Tracey from Pretoria with a framed address
to the Barolong chiefs, written in gilt letters.

Colonel C. B. Vyvyan, who was escorted to Montsioastad
by a squadron of the 4th Bedfordshire Regiment, headed by
their band playing patriotic airs, presented the address
in the presence of a large gathering of Barolongs and European visitors.
The ceremony was described by the `Mafeking Mail' as follows: --

Within the square, seated on chairs and stools, were the Barolong men,
whilst the women, attired in their brightest dresses,
took up positions wherever they could get a view of the proceedings.
On the arrival of the Base Commandant (Lieut.-Colonel Vyvyan)
and the Resident Magistrate (Mr. C. G. H. Bell), a Union Jack was hoisted
to the accompaniment of a general cheer.  A large number of civilians
and several military officers witnessed the ceremony, among them being
the Mayor (Mr. A. H. Friend), Mr. W. H. Surmon (Acting Commissioner),
Lieut.-Colonel Newbury (Field Paymaster), Major the Hon. Hanbury Tracey
(the officer who brought the address from Pretoria), and Major Panzera.

Mr. Bell, addressing the assembled Natives, said:  To-day is an historical one
in the history of the Barolongs as represented by Montsioa's people.
I am sure it must be most satisfactory to you all who have so bravely assisted
in the defence of Mafeking to have this honour conferred upon you,
which is unprecedented in the annals of the history of the native tribes
in this country.  The Field-Marshal commanding Her Majesty's troops
in South Africa has expressed in the address which is about to be
presented to you his thanks for the services you rendered during the siege --
an honour which I am sure you will appreciate at its full value, and which
I can assure you is fully recognized by the Europeans who took part with you
in the defence of the town.  On many occasions bravery was displayed
by both Europeans and Natives.  We have fought and risked our lives together;
we have undergone privations; we have eaten horses and various other animals
of a like character; we have seen our friends fall, shattered by shells;
and we have endured hardships and trials which very few men endure
more than once in a lifetime.  We have fought together for one common object.
We have attained that object, and it is now impossible for us to do otherwise
than experience a feeling of fellowship which is accentuated
by the proceedings of to-day.  You Barolongs at the commencement of the siege
declared your determination to be loyal to the Queen,
and when we had a meeting here shortly before war broke out
you were assured by General Baden-Powell that if you did remain loyal
your services would not be forgotten, and the Field-Marshal
has endeavoured to-day to convince you of the truth of that statement.
There are certain names mentioned on the address; but I cannot help,
while talking to you now, mentioning the names of other persons
who were of great assistance to us during the siege.  It was
altogether impossible to include the names of everybody on the address,
and some of you may think that your names are not there
because you have been overlooked, but that is not so.  I will just mention
the names of a few which, had there been room, might have appeared.
First, there is Saane, who remained outside and assisted our dispatch runners,
and who when he heard news sent it to us.  It is only those
who suffered from news hunger at the time can understand the pleasure
we experienced at the assistance continually rendered to us by Saane.
Then there is Badirile, who so bravely commanded his young men
on the western outposts, and who on many occasions went through
determined encounters with the enemy.  Then again there is Joshua Molema,
Motshegare and Mathakgong, all of whom did good service.
Then there was Dinku, who on the day Eloff came in and when the enemy
was behind him, stuck to his little fort, and who during the attack
was wounded by a shell, which has since caused his death.
His memory will not fade away amongst you Barolongs, as he was well known
as a brave man.

Colonel Vyvyan then stepped forward and said:  Chief Wessels and men
of the Barolong nation, -- Lord Roberts, Commander-in-Chief of
the British Army in South Africa, has sent a special officer from Pretoria
to bring you his greeting and to deliver to you a mark of his approval
and the approval which he expresses on behalf of the Queen.
Gathered here to-day are subjects of the Queen from various parts
of her wide dominions -- men who have come overseas from England,
from Australia, from Canada, and from India -- and they are here
this afternoon to meet her native subjects of the Barolong tribe;
whilst we, the officers and soldiers of the Queen who fought in Mafeking,
wish to show what we think of our friends and neighbours
down here in the stadt.  You have done your duty well.  You will remember
that some time ago an officer was sent by Lieut.-General Baden-Powell
to thank you for your services, and now the greatest General of all
has sent you a special mark of his esteem in the form of this letter,
which I shall read to you:

                       V [ Crest of Queen Victoria ] R.

    "The Chief Wessels, Lekoko, and the Barolong of Mafeking.

"I, Frederick Sleigh Baron Roberts, K.P., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., V.C.,
of Kandahar and Waterford, hereby testify my approbation of the loyalty
to H.M. Queen Victoria, and the good behaviour of the Barolongs
under the leadership of Wessels, Lekoko, and the headmen
Silas Molema and Paul Montsioa, throughout the long and trying
investment of Mafeking by the Boers, from October 13, 1899, to May 17, 1900,
and I desire to congratulate these leaders and their people on
the successful issue of their courageous defence of their homes and property
against the invasion of the enemy.

                        "(Signed)  Roberts,
"Pretoria, July 1, 1900."

Addressing Chief Wessels, and at the same time handing him
the letter, the Colonel concluded:  I give you this
on behalf of Lord Roberts and the Queen.  You are to accept it
on behalf of your nation.  You are to keep it and show it to your children
and tell them why it was given to you and that they are to be proud of it.

The Colonel held out his hand, which Wessels gripped very cordially.
The band played the National Anthem, and the Barolongs joined
in one of their native cheers.

Wessels then rose, and taking off his white helmet,
replied on behalf of his tribe.

Replying to the address and speeches Chief Wessels Montsioa asked the officers
to convey to Lord Roberts the gratitude of the Barolong
for the relief of Mafeking, adding:  "I have gone to extremes
into which my forefathers scarcely ever went in defending their homes.
I have eaten horseflesh, donkey and mule flesh, and had the relief column
not come when it did, I was going to eat dog flesh, if by that means
I would have been enabled to hold up a gun and keep the enemy out of doors,
until Lord Roberts sent relief."

Mr. Chamberlain, who visited Mafeking two years later,
inspected the old siege position and addressed the largest meetings
we had ever seen in Mafeking.  He said to the thousands
of assembled Barolongs:  "You ask in your addresses that the conditions
secured to you, when you were transferred from the Imperial Government
to the Colonial Government should remain as they are.  I do not think
that Sir Gordon Sprigg or any one who may succeed him will alter them
in any respect, and should any one attempt to alter these conditions,
you will have your appeal to His Majesty's Government."
This was said in the presence of Sir Gordon Sprigg,
the Cape Premier of the day, Mr. Thomas L. Graham,
the Cape Attorney-General (now Judge of the Supreme Court at Grahamstown),
and Sir Walter F. Hely-Hutchinson, Governor of the Cape Colony.
But what must be the feelings of these people, and what must be
the effect of these assurances upon them now that it is decreed
that their sons and daughters can no longer settle in the Union
except as serfs; that they no longer have any claim to the country
for which they bled, and that when they appeal to the Imperial authorities
for redress of these grievances, they are told that there is no appeal?

A promise of a farm was made to the Fingo and Kafir contingent,
but that promise still remains unfulfilled.

When His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught visited Mafeking in 1906,
he was touched by the grateful references which Chief Lekoko made
to the benign rule of His Royal Highness's late illustrious mother.
And he assured the assembled Natives, in the name of His late Majesty
King Edward VII, that the death of their beloved Queen
would "not alter their status in any manner whatsoever as His Majesty took
the same deep interest in the welfare of the native population
as the late Queen did."  In view of this statement by His Royal Highness,
Chief Lekoko congratulated his people on having had the honour of receiving
"assurances of Imperial protection, not from an Imperial official,
but from the lips of His Majesty's own brother, and in the King's English,"
the Barolong felt that they were reclining on a veritable rock of ages.

Since the inauguration and meeting of the first Union Parliament,
laws have been enacted which threaten to annul all this.
As far as the Barolongs are concerned, the Colonial Government
is not the only aggressor.

In the early 'nineties a British Boundary Commission awarded
the territory of Mokgomana to a northern tribe.  The award caused
great dissatisfaction amongst the Barolong; accordingly they sent a deputation
to the High Commissioner about the award.  It was only after they announced
their unalterable intention to assert their claim to that territory
by means of the sword, that the Imperial authorities,
in the name of the Queen, re-considered the former decision,
and that Sir Hamilton Goold Adams restored that land to the Barolong,
under date March 11, 1896.  But the Colonial Office, completely ignoring
Sir Hamilton Goold Adams's signature on behalf of the Queen,
and without referring the matter to the native inhabitants in any way,
lately confiscated that territory and declared it the property of the Crown.
In consequence of this high-handed proceeding there is much bad blood
among the Barolong.

It might be said in support of this act of the Colonial Office
that strangers will not be settled in the territory,
but Sir Garnet Wolseley once declared that "as long as the sun
shines in the heavens, Zululand shall remain the property of the Zulus."
The sun is still shining in the heavens, and right up to the time
of the outbreak of the European War in 1914, the Union Government
were very busy cutting up Zululand and parcelling it out to white settlers
under the Land Settlement Act of the Union (for white men only),
parcels of land to survey which black taxpayers are forced to pay,
but which under the Natives' Land Act no black man can buy;
and what is true in regard to Zululand, British Kaffraria,
East Griqualand and other native territories, is equally so
in regard to Bechuanaland.

Back to top

Next chapter (20)

This work (Sol Plaatje, Native Life in South Africa) is out of copyright, but see the Project Gutenberg legal notice.