The Ba­sotho vs the Bo­ers

The fi­nal book on Moshoeshoe – from the fas­ci­nat­ing se­ries Our Story, which tells the rich his­tory of all South Africans – ex­plains how he con­sol­i­dated the Ba­sotho nation, en­coun­ter­ing many ob­sta­cles along the way. In this ex­tract, we read about the be­gin

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Moshoeshoe 3: Peace­maker South African Her­itage Pub­lish­ers 48 pages, il­lus­trated R100 at book­stores

Then, in the mid­dle of July, the Bo­ers in­vaded Le­sotho. One com­mando, un­der Louw Wepener, ad­vanced from the south and one, un­der Fick, from the north. The com­bined force was roughly 2 000 burghers and 1 000 black aux­il­iaries (ad­di­tional fight­ers). Wepener’s first en­counter with the Ba­sotho took place near the Koe­berg Range when he at­tacked and dis­persed a com­mando un­der Chief Lebenye, one of Moshesh’s less pow­er­ful chiefs.

Mov­ing on, Wepener de­stroyed Poshuli’s set­tle­ment at Vechtkop and then, six miles east of Morija, he oc­cu­pied Letsie’s new vil­lage, Mat­sieng, the Place of Lo­custs.

He also pro­claimed a large por­tion of Le­sotho, west of the mission sta­tion, as Free State ter­ri­tory.

Fick, mean­while, had marched on Mopeli’s kraal and, find­ing it de­serted, had crossed the Cale­don River and cap­tured Ma­supha’s strong­hold on Berea Hill. To­wards the end of July, he and Wepener linked up south­west of Thaba Bo­siu. They im­me­di­ately be­gan plan­ning an as­sault on Moshesh’s strong­hold.

Moshesh fell ill, and for three days re­fused to budge from his bed. He had not eaten or slept for al­most a week and was ex­hausted. At day­break on Au­gust 8, Thaba Bo­siu was rocked by a bom­bard­ment of shells fired from Ntolokholo Hill in the south. Next mo­ment, two par­ties of Bo­ers were re­ported climb­ing up the south­ern slopes. Panic broke out, but Moshesh calmly gave or­ders for the cat­tle to be driven to the top of the pass and then stam­peded down into the ad­vanc­ing en­emy. This forced the Bo­ers to re­trace their steps down the pass.

Bo­ers did not fire a shot dur­ing the fol­low­ing week. On Au­gust 15 the Ba­sotho caught sight of the Boer aux­il­iaries tak­ing up po­si­tions at the foot of Ntolokholo Hill and on the rise near the mission sta­tion.

Then Wepener, sup­ported by Wes­sels and 300 men, moved up the Ra­futho Pass to the “gut­ter”, as the Bo­ers called the Khubelu Pass. A small party of Bo­ers shel­tered among rocks on the right – and from the bot­tom of the hill the ar­tillery fired a bom­bard­ment of shot and shell at the sum­mit of the hill. Ter­ri­fied by the fierce fir­ing, the war­riors guard­ing the de­fences scur­ried away into the shel­ter of the bush, along the south­ern edge of the pass. Wepener and his com­rades con­tin­ued to climb, each step care­fully cal­cu­lated, hug­ging the walls of the pass or squeez­ing into crevices. Oc­ca­sion­ally they would pause to fire, reload and then move on. Tak­ing up po­si­tions on an out­crop of rocks, Bester and a small body of burghers cov­ered Wepener’s ad­vance with a cur­tain of mus­ket fire. The re­sis­tance of­fered by the Ba­sotho was in­ef­fec­tive – firstly, be­cause they were gen­er­ally not good marks­men. Sec­ondly, the Bo­ers were only vis­i­ble for brief mo­ments as they darted in and out of the rocks. At last, Wepener and his men were near the top. Moshesh’s sons Ma­supha, Mo­lapo and Tladi, who were guard­ing this spot, had been wait­ing for this mo­ment. They waited un­til the area was full of Bo­ers and then the Ba­sotho war­riors opened fire. They killed a num­ber of Bo­ers in­stantly. The ones who sur­vived im­me­di­ately re­treated.

Wepener sent a mes­sage to Fick re­quest­ing re­in­force­ments, but none came. Fick found it im­pos­si­ble to con­vince any­one to go up to Wepener. They all just said it was too dan­ger­ous.

When Wepener re­alised that no re­in­force­ments were com­ing he de­cided to carry on any­way. This was a brave but fool­ish de­ci­sion. The minute Mashupha’s men saw Wepener ad­vanc­ing, they opened fire and killed him.

This quickly changed the mood of the bat­tle. The Ba­sotho re­joiced be­cause they had been wait­ing to see that white man killed. By this stage Fick had ac­tu­ally got close to Wepener’s last po­si­tion, when sud­denly the Ba­sotho war­riors charged at his men. They re­treated as fast as they could, scram­bling down the rocky pass at great speed.

But the Ba­sotho charged no fur­ther than the low­est reaches of the pass. By sun­set they re­turned to their pre­vi­ous po­si­tions up the moun­tain.

When night fell, si­lence re­turned again to Thaba Bo­siu. The de­fend­ers of the hill col­lected their dead and took the wounded to Moshesh’s kraal for treat­ment by the chief’s medicine men. Ca­su­al­ties hadn’t been as bad as Moshesh had ex­pected. Boer ca­su­al­ties were also rel­a­tively light; 11 killed, nine se­ri­ously wounded and about 20 slightly hurt. Later that night, by the light of a half-moon, two of Wepener’s fol­low­ers, Chris du Rand and Carl Mathey, crept up the pass. Reach­ing the ledge, they lifted Wepener’s body and car­ried it to the other side of the pass where they laid it to rest in a shal­low grave next to the body of a com­rade, Adam Rauben­heimer. After a short prayer the two men slipped down the pass and hur­ried back to camp. To buy the books, ask your near­est book­seller to or­der copies if they do not stock the se­ries, or con­tact the pub­lish­ers at info@sa­her­itagepub­lish­ers.co.za For a full list of ti­tles in the se­ries, visit sa­her­itagepub­lish­ers.co.za For up­dates and more in­for­ma­tion, fol­low Our Story on Face­book at face­book.com/an­ces­torsto­ries or on Twit­ter at @sa­her­itagepub

CUN­NING STRAT­EGY From the bot­tom of the hill the Boer ar­tillery fired to­wards the sum­mit

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