Painting of King Mzilikazi by Capt. William Cornwallis Harris

By Arnold Mayibongwe Nkala

In the last article we said that we will show how the Boers were spotted by the Ndebele border patrol, leading to the war. The Ndebele Kingdom was bordered by the 4 rivers; namely the Vaal, Molopo, Crocodile and the Limpopo. The parties that were led by Johannes van Rensburg and Louis Tregadt were lucky enough not to be spotted by the Ndebele warriors. Tregadt went to settle in present day Louis Trichardt (named after him; the town is also called Makhado in the Limpopo Province. After a year he and his party left the area and settled in Delagoa Bay in present day
Mozambique. Van Rensburg’s fate ended when he and his party were totally wiped by the Shangaan warriors on their way to Sofala in present day Mozambique.




A Boer party led by one Hendrik Potgieter rested on the south of the Vaal. In IsiNdebele the Vaal River is called uLikhwa. The name was derived from the Sothos, who referred to the Vaal as Lekwa/Lekoa. Potgieter was the one who had instructed Tregardt and Van Rensburg to move north as a scouting expedition while he came behind with a larger group.

While the party rested in the south of the Vaal, Potgieter with a few men decided to follow Tregardt and Van Rensburg to get feedback on what lay ahead. He ordered the members of his party to stay behind and not to cross the Vaal because it was the territorial land of the fearless King Mzilikazi. He
risked his own life by crossing the Vaal on his way to reach Tregadt and Van Rensburg. It was during his absence that 2 camps, which were either part of his party he left behind or were other independent Boer groups, decided to hunt for elephants to the extent of crossing the Vaal. It was the spoors of the 2 camps, one led by a hunter called Staphanus Erasmus and the other comprising of the Liebenberg family, which Chief Mkhaliphi and his regiment were following to punish for trespassing.

On the 21 st of August 1836, Chief Mkhaliphi and his warriors finally got hold of these 2 camps that were still busy shooting game in present day Scandinavia Drift, 50km south of the modern town of Potchefstroom. The 2 groups were still not aware that the Ndebele warriors were closely watching them in the bush. Chief Mkhaliphi came with a plan to engulf them by dividing his troops into tasks forces. The troops that went after Erasmus’ camp managed to kill most of the people it found. Eramus and his son Pieter galloped to inform the Liebenberg camp and then run to inform other Boer groups that had scattered around. When they reached the Liebenbergs, they never took them seriously; they thought that they were joking as they seemed to usually do. Within an instant the Ndebele troops fell upon them, some narrowly escaped and left the wagons. All the captured were taken to King Mzilikazi while Chief Mkahliphi went after those who had escaped. Erasmus and those who had managed to run for their lives finally reached the camps that had been left by Potgieter; they were around present day Kopjeskraal which is 8km to the south west of Parys. The Boers quickly dragged their wagons together and made a protective encampment, which is also known as a laager. Thorn branches were put between the gaps of the wagons in order to fully close
this fortress.

There were 35 Boer men and they had to see that they do everything to protect themselves. Within hours, there was Chief Mkhaliphi and his regiment made of 500 warriors. The Boers had flintlock muskets, they called them snaphaan. The reloading of the snaphaan was a very
complicated procedure: it involved pouring some gunpowder down the barrel of this long gun and ramming it with a thin rod before pressing the trigger; yet Boers were so skilled in using this weapon such that they could fire several shots within a minute. The Ndebele warriors on the other hand had assegais that were very dangerous at close range. The war had already begun. We will continue in the following week to see what happened thereafter.

Arnold Mayibongwe Nkala is the author of the Mthwakazi history and culture book titled

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