25 min

Episode 173 - Boer women fight off the Bapedi, Mpande interferes in Swazi business and Potgieter’s last trek History of South Africa podcast

    • History

This is episode 173 and we’re in what was called the north eastern transvaal, modern day Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Last we heard how Hendrick Potgieter’s Voortrekkers had camped at a new town they named Ohrigstad in 1845, after leaving the are around Potchefstroom. Potgieter wanted to move further away from the British, and he sought a new port to replace Durban which had been annexed by the English.

The area around Ohrigstad had a major drawback, apart from the fact it was already populated by the Bapedi. The lowlands were rife with malaria. Within a few weeks of arriving in the rainy season of 1845, men women and children began dying. The trekkers realised they had to move once more so families packed up their wagons and trekked to higher ground 50 kilometers south.

The named the new town Lydenburg and established a new Republic named after the town. The Boers were gathered across the Vaal now, deep into the lowveld, spreading out across southern Africa. They had congregated around towns like Winburg, Potchefstroom, Ohrigstad, Lydenburg.

Local African chieftans had to decide how they were going to face this arrival, was it a threat or opportunity? Later it would obviously become clear that the boers arrival was a threat, but this wasn’t the case at first in spite of modern assumptions. They were new power brokers, thinly spread, a minority on the ground and the Bapedi Chief Sekwati quickly came to the conclusion that the trekkers were an opportunity rather than threat.
So when Hendrick Potgieter and his trekkers rolled onto the landscape, a meeting was arranged between the Boer leader and the Bapedi chief. On the 5th July 1845 a Vredenstractaat was signed - a treaty - which granted the Boers the land east of the Steelpoort River. As I pointed out last episode, many of the Boers who had trekked with Potgieter took exception to this treaty. They said he was acting dictatorially, and wanted more of a say in how these treaties were being signed.
King Mswati of the Swazi’s who lived south east of this region was aware of what was going on. The Boers understood that he also laid claim to the Steelpoort, and had been fighting constantly with Sekwati about who had the right to this region. Mswati met with this group of disatissfied Boers, and told them that the Bapedi were his subjects, he’d defeated them.
The Boers under Potgieter and the second group who regarded themselves as independent of Potgieter’s actions continued to settle on Bapedi land and friction developed. The Bapedi took a liking to the Boer cattle, and raids escalated quite quickly into full-blown attacks between the two groups on the veld. Sekwati had heard about the Boers and Mswati’s recent talks, so naturally he was suspicious of their motives.

The Bapedi king encouraged the raiding of Boer cattle so by 1846 bad faith seemed to imbue all negotiations. Then an incident occurred that escalated matters. According to the Bapedi annals, the Boers complained that in joint Boer-Bapedi hunting parties the Bapedi had taken more than their allotted share of game. The Boer annals report something much more violent.

That was the Bapedi raid on a Boer laager at Strydpoort, just south of modern day Polokwane. The trekkers were particularly angry because the Bapedi raided the laager on a day that most of the men were away hunting with a section of Bapedi, leaving the women alone. It was the women who fought off the attackers. There are poignant stories told by trekkers who survived how the women were knocked flat on their backs every time they fired these huge heavy muskets, leaving them bruised and battered but unbowed.
There is further intrigue. The Trekkers had no idea about who owned which bit of land, they naturally assumed that Mswati was the overlord considering his people’s military social structure, similar to the amaZulu who by now, they knew well. What followed was intrigue, mystery, myth and of course, war.

This is episode 173 and we’re in what was called the north eastern transvaal, modern day Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Last we heard how Hendrick Potgieter’s Voortrekkers had camped at a new town they named Ohrigstad in 1845, after leaving the are around Potchefstroom. Potgieter wanted to move further away from the British, and he sought a new port to replace Durban which had been annexed by the English.

The area around Ohrigstad had a major drawback, apart from the fact it was already populated by the Bapedi. The lowlands were rife with malaria. Within a few weeks of arriving in the rainy season of 1845, men women and children began dying. The trekkers realised they had to move once more so families packed up their wagons and trekked to higher ground 50 kilometers south.

The named the new town Lydenburg and established a new Republic named after the town. The Boers were gathered across the Vaal now, deep into the lowveld, spreading out across southern Africa. They had congregated around towns like Winburg, Potchefstroom, Ohrigstad, Lydenburg.

Local African chieftans had to decide how they were going to face this arrival, was it a threat or opportunity? Later it would obviously become clear that the boers arrival was a threat, but this wasn’t the case at first in spite of modern assumptions. They were new power brokers, thinly spread, a minority on the ground and the Bapedi Chief Sekwati quickly came to the conclusion that the trekkers were an opportunity rather than threat.
So when Hendrick Potgieter and his trekkers rolled onto the landscape, a meeting was arranged between the Boer leader and the Bapedi chief. On the 5th July 1845 a Vredenstractaat was signed - a treaty - which granted the Boers the land east of the Steelpoort River. As I pointed out last episode, many of the Boers who had trekked with Potgieter took exception to this treaty. They said he was acting dictatorially, and wanted more of a say in how these treaties were being signed.
King Mswati of the Swazi’s who lived south east of this region was aware of what was going on. The Boers understood that he also laid claim to the Steelpoort, and had been fighting constantly with Sekwati about who had the right to this region. Mswati met with this group of disatissfied Boers, and told them that the Bapedi were his subjects, he’d defeated them.
The Boers under Potgieter and the second group who regarded themselves as independent of Potgieter’s actions continued to settle on Bapedi land and friction developed. The Bapedi took a liking to the Boer cattle, and raids escalated quite quickly into full-blown attacks between the two groups on the veld. Sekwati had heard about the Boers and Mswati’s recent talks, so naturally he was suspicious of their motives.

The Bapedi king encouraged the raiding of Boer cattle so by 1846 bad faith seemed to imbue all negotiations. Then an incident occurred that escalated matters. According to the Bapedi annals, the Boers complained that in joint Boer-Bapedi hunting parties the Bapedi had taken more than their allotted share of game. The Boer annals report something much more violent.

That was the Bapedi raid on a Boer laager at Strydpoort, just south of modern day Polokwane. The trekkers were particularly angry because the Bapedi raided the laager on a day that most of the men were away hunting with a section of Bapedi, leaving the women alone. It was the women who fought off the attackers. There are poignant stories told by trekkers who survived how the women were knocked flat on their backs every time they fired these huge heavy muskets, leaving them bruised and battered but unbowed.
There is further intrigue. The Trekkers had no idea about who owned which bit of land, they naturally assumed that Mswati was the overlord considering his people’s military social structure, similar to the amaZulu who by now, they knew well. What followed was intrigue, mystery, myth and of course, war.

25 min

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