Last week we ended when Potgieter had confirmed that a Ndebele impi (war) of about 5000 warriors was approaching. On the next day, the battle took place; the Boers survived again. This time around the Ndebele warriors managed to reach the laager and attempted to get through this fortress. The Boers also fought fiercely leading the Ndebeles to retreat for a moment. The Ndebele warriors were very stubborn; they launched another attack but failed again to get through; until Chief Mkhaliphi ordered his brigade to withdraw with 500 head of cattle and 50 000 sheep that were grazing nearby. When the Ndebele impi was now out of sight, Potgieter went out of the laager and started shooting all the seriously injured Ndebeles that were left behind.
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Every time he saw a breathing Ndebele warrior lying down, he would blow the latter’s head while furiously shouting, “Dooie mans moenie sweet nie! ” (“Dead men don’t sweat!”). About 500 hundred Ndebele warriors had been killed while the Boers lost 2 men and 14 men were hurt by the spears thrown inside the laager. The nearby hill, where this battle was fought, became known as the Vegkop- meaning ‘the fight hill’. The battle became known as the Battle of Vegkop. Potgieter was not yet finished with the Ndebeles, he wanted revenge. He now had a good reason to wipe off the Ndebele nation from earth and turn its Kingdom into a Boer territory; and then revive the lekker lewe they had before the coming of the British administration . Potgieter managed to get reinforcement from other Boer groups in the interior, especially from Gert Maritz who was leading a group with 100 wagons in a single file. Both men, Potgieter and Maritz, agreed to lead the commando to attack King Mzilikazi and his followers. They also agreed that they will share the spoils of war. They managed to form a regiment of 107 Boer calvarymen who were supported by 40 mounted Griquas led by Davids
Davids, who also had a personal score to settle with King Mzilikazi. Forty Barolong people (Sotho group) of Kgosi Moroka were hired to become herders of cattle that were to be taken from the Ndebele Kingdom. It was decided that the whole army would head to present day Marico/Madikwe District where King Mzilikazi was said to be residing in his Mkhwahla Great Palace. They wanted his head in the plate. The commando was to be guided by Chief Matlaba of the Barolong and a Ndebele warrior they had kept as a prisoner at the Battle of Vegkop. The journey was to take 325 miles (523 kilometres). On the 16 th of January 1837, the Boer Commando stormed the Madikwe/ Marico District and the Ndebele nation was taken by surprise. The Mkhwahla Great Palace was not far away from the present day town of Zeerust. About 15 settlements in the Madikwe/Marico District were razed to the ground. This included the Mkhwahla Great Palace. Erasmus was among the commando, he kept calling his children; he was still not aware of their executions. Six thousand head of cattle were looted and Boers killed every Ndebele person they came across.They failed to find the King because he had relocated to Gabheni settlement. The Boers decided to return back and promised to come back for another round. They vowed not to rest until they had killed all the Ndebeles and took their Kingdom.
The battle is known as The Battle of Mkhwahla or the Battle of Mosega. The Boers had seriously damaged the Ndebele power. King Mzilikazi got to realise that the he had to start thinking of relocating to the north of Limpopo where his spy network had said that there was good pasturage and people who had been exhausted by the endless Mfecane wars from the south. Potgieter, on the hand, was preparing for a war expedition to Gabheni. Potgieter came for another round. He had tasted victory and had to ensure that he totally destroys the Ndebele nation before rival Boer groups did; otherwise he was going to lose the vast land of the Ndebele Kingdom. Gabheni was not far from Mkhwahla, it was 60 miles away (96 km). The reason why the Boers did not go to Gabheni after razing down Mkhwahla and the surrounding areas was because the horses were very exhausted, so they used the remaining horsepower to return back across the Vaal for refreshing. After the downfall of Mkhwahla, most Ndebele settlements were constructed around Gabheni in a form of fortifying it. This could have been due to the fact that the nation was protecting King Mzilikazi who probably was still settled there.
Potgieter had allied with Piet Uys who had a following of 100 Boer families. Maritz was to miss the fight because he was ill. The new commando numbered 330; the Barolong herders had to come along again. The battle began in the first week of November 1837; and it turned to be the mother of all battles in the first Ndebele-Boer War. It took 9 successive days. On the 12 th of November, the Ndebele impi finally broke; the snaphaan had proven beyond reasonable doubt to be more superior to the assegai. No casualty was suffered by Boers while about 3000 Ndebele warriors were killed. Gabheni and other nearby villages were put to torch by the Ndebeles. This is what the Ndebeles usually did when they were deserting an area. The Boers had managed to loot 7000 head of cattle. The Boer commando called off the pursuit in present day town of Derdepoort. Potgieter proclaimed the annexation of the Ndebele Kingdom by right of conquest.
On the other hand, the remaining Ndebeles had managed to regroup in the Tswapong Hills, which was not far from present day Sherwoord in Botswana. King Mzilikazi declared that the nation had to relocate to the north-east, in the land presently known today as Matabeleland. He divided his followers into 2 groups. One group was to be led by his maternal uncle, who was also the Ndunankulu (Prime Minister) Chief Gundwane Ndiweni (also known as Khondwane Ndiweni). This group comprised of the Amnyama and Amakhanda brigades. Amnyama was headed by Chief Majijili Gwebu while Amakhanda by Chief Linganisa Dlodlo. Crown Prince Nkulumana and the rest of the royal Great House were put in this group. They were to directly enter the new territory north-eastwards. King Mzilikazi was to lead the second group, which was to first reconnoitre the area which covers present day Botswana. He took away with him Gabha and Amhlophe brigades. Gabha was still under Chief Maqhekeni Sithole while Amhlophe was led by Chief Gwabalanda Mathe. Both groups were to meet in the Matopo Hills.
Arnold Mayibongwe Nkala is the author of the Mthwakazi history and culture book
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