By Arnold Mayibongwe Nkala


In the last article we concluded by stating that the assegai was about to meet the snaphaan.

The Ndebele warriors started to display a war dance as a way of preparing themselves for the battle. The Boers in the laager had their snaphaans aiming at the Ndebele warriors, ready to open fire. The Ndebeles knew the power of the gun through their fighting experiences with the Griqua gangs that usually crossed the Vaal to raid cattle and sometimes women. It was
very difficult to fight the Griquas because they would gallop a short distance away and then open fire to the charging Ndebeles. When the Ndebeles were about to reach them, the Griquas will gallop again on horseback at another short distance and then fire again at the pursuing Ndebeles. Now that the Ndebele warriors had realised that the Boers were
encamped in their laager and were not going to move, the best way to defeat them was to run as fast as they could towards the laager in their usual cow horn formation. They were to take advantage of the reloading of the snaphaans. This was one disadvantage of these muzzle-loading muskets, which is why they were later in the years replaced by the Maxim machine guns. Chief Mkhaliphi let loose his warriors to run towards the laager carrying assegais. The Boers responded by shooting at the oncoming enemy. As much as the Ndebeles did all they could to reach the laager, they failed because of the Boer gun experience. After 6 hours of fighting, Chief Mkhaliphi realised that he was not going to achieve his mission with 500
warriors, he ordered his men to leave the Boers and loot the livestock they could see nearby. The Boers could not come out of the laager hence the Ndebeles went back across the Vaal with 5 wagons they took from Eramus’ camp, 74 head of cattle, 23 horses, 3 Khoi-San wagon drivers and about 5 Boers. The warriors had managed to kill 53 Boers and the Boers had killed about 50 warriors. The battle is historically known as the Battle Kopjeskraal.


Chief Mkhaliphi reached Mkhwahla Great Palace and presented the booty to the King. The captured people were interrogated, which is where King Mzilikazi got to know about Hendrik Potgieter. The Ndebeles could not pronounce the name ‘Hendrik’, firstly they said ‘Ndelikhi” and later they polished the word into ‘Ndaleka’; hence Potgieter became known in IsiNdebele as Ndaleka. Among the captives were 2 sons of Erasmus, namely Daniel and Stephanus Jr. They and another captive, Karel Kruger, were ordered to display any white men’s skills they knew. They were later executed when they tried to escape. The 3 captured Liebenberg
children, that are 2 boys and a girl, were to be assimilated into the Ndebele society. The boys were given Ndebele names Mswanyana and Velani. The girl, Sarah Liebenberg, was to be groomed into the King’s future wife when she came out of age. The captured Khoi-San wagon drivers were to continue providing as much information as they could about Potgieter and in-spanning oxen.

King Mzilikazi was against all white men who entered his Kingdom without the approval of his British friend Reverend Robert Moffat who was stationed in Kuruman Mission in the present day Northern Province. King Mzilikazi even named his Crown Prince Nkulumana as an attempt to pronounce the word Kuruman. The Ndebeles used to call Rev Moffat Mtshede; a name that was created from the suffix –tsheda, which in this case means getting closer. They were saying Rev Moffat has tsheda’d too much to King as a technic to baptise the King and turn him into a Christian. They always kept a closer look at Mtshede and his diplomatic approaches to destroy the Ndebele traditional religion. Rev Moffat was against slavery, he was one of the people who had advocated for its abolishment after seeing how the Boers were treating their slaves in the Cape. There was no way Rev Moffat was going to allow Potgieter to befriend King Mzilikazi. Besides, the British and the Boers were not on good terms, which is why the likes of Potgieter had to emigrate from the Cape.

Chief Mkhaliphi was assigned to return with a brigade of 5000 warriors to finish the Boer issue once and for all. After Potgieter had returned and told what took place while he was away, he made a laager not very far from the south of present day Heilbron in the Free State Province. The nearby hill was to be used as some sort of a binocular. He had also friended some Sotho/Tswana groups that had personal scores to settle with the Ndebeles. He had 53 men and 7 boys, whom one of them was the 11 year old Paul Kruger the future President of Republic of South Africa. The 60 women and children were to help reload the snaphaans while the men were shooting with the already loaded ones. In such a combination, a Boer could shoot 6 shots in a minute, and a good shot could kill 3 charging men. On the 15 th of October 1836, some Bataung men (they were Sothos) came running to the laager and shouting hysterically that they saw an army of Ndebeles coming 5 hours away. Potgieter rode out with few men to check the enemies, and came with a report that the brigade could have 5000 men. Another battle was inevitable. We will continue next week to find out what




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