The Siege of Leboho
In 1895 the government of the Transvaal Republic introduced a hut tax on people living in their suzerainty. Kgosi Maleboho of the Bahananwa refused to pay these taxes. He also could see no reason why he should acknowledge any authority higher than his own. In this extract from this little-known story of an early freedom fighter, we meet Kgosi Maleboho and the Bahananwa as they prepare their resistance. Prompted by Swart Barend Vorster, who was determined to force the Kgosi and his people into submission, the Boer forces gathered at the foot of the Blouberg in what is now the Limpopo Province.
During May and the early part of June 1894, the Boer forces travelled to Blouberg and began to position themselves. The royal village, called the hoofstad by the Boers, was on a plateau close to the top of the mountain. We know that there is only one way up and that this is steep. It also passes through thick forest and bush, which makes it difficult to attack but easy to defend.
The main village was enclosed with a fence of thornbush and creepers and many of the huts were hidden among huge boulders. As you get closer, the approaches are through narrow cracks in the rocks with overhangs, which turn the village into a stronghold. From the beginning of the war, the Bahananwa put up a strong resistance against the Boer forces.
‘You will make a breakfast of Malaboho.’
It took time for the commandos to reach Blouberg. For example, it took the Pretoria Commando twenty-one days to make their way through the bush. On the way, the commandos were assisted by friendly chiefs, getting safe passage and information. ‘He has sent out three impis, he has perhaps a thousand warriors,’ Matlala told the Boers of the Pretoria commando as they passed through his kraal. ‘You will make a breakfast of Malaboho.’ He added that Maleboho had already driven his cattle off to safety. He, Matlala, had sent five hundred men to the front.
The Boer soldiers were able to barter beef and tickeys, which were small silver coins worth two-and-a-half-pence, for mealies, pumpkins, beans, sweet potatoes, amabele and eggs. Adventurous Boers visited the kraals, hidden by a thick maze of prickly-pear bushes. They were usually invited to a meal of mealie pap and roasted locusts, which were plentiful at that time of year. Once in sight of the mountain, they could also see fires which were lit to warn Maleboho of approaching troops, and fires which were lit to burn the veld so that the invaders’ oxen would have no food.
As various commandos arrived at Blouberg, each set up their own base camp around the foot of the mountain. The Zoutspansberg Commando set up their laager, an enclosure of wagons and tents, surrounded by a fence of thorn branches, on the northern side of Blouberg, near the village of the headman Mapene. A section of the artillery was also stationed there, with the Marico Commando joining them later in June. The Waterberg and Rustenburg Commandos set up close to the Berlin Mission Station. The Middelburg Commando set up close to a place called Harvey’s Shop, while the Pretoria Commando moved to the entrance of the Beauley Valley. This was south-east of the hill called Setswe, which lies in front of the larger part of the Blouberg Mountain. Setswe means elbow, because the mountain has a bend or point that looks like an elbow.
The nights were cold as winter was descending on the mountain. The Bahananwa began to retreat up the mountain, but were not going without a fight. The ferocity of one of their attacks along the Bosehla River caused the Boers to flee before them. Deserting their camps, which had been deliberately pitched in the middle of the Bahananwa cornfields, they left behind horses, weapons and other possessions.
In early June, Commandant-General Piet Joubert sent a letter to Maleboho. In the letter, Maleboho was told that he was no longer recognised as Chief of Blaauwberg. ‘I am sorry to say that through this disobedience you have also led your people astray. I herewith inform you that you are no longer chief of this people, but I.’ To Kgosi Maleboho these statements were as ludicrous as the demands of Swart Barend Vorster, but with armed forces arriving at his doorstep he needed to take their threats seriously. ‘Telling a chief that his dignity as leader of his own people has already been taken from him will surely drive him to fight a desperate war to the bitter end,’ Sonntag warned.
Malebobo sent a white ox as a token of peace
Malebobo sent a white ox as a token of peace, together with a gift of twenty pounds. ‘If you want peace,’ was the message from General Joubert, ‘you need to come down from the mountain.’
’Maleboho is afraid that his people will starve because you have taken our corn and burnt our fields,’ the messenger relayed.
’If Maleboho obeys, I will find corn for him and his people,’ General Joubert promised. Maleboho asked for a truce during which his people would not be attacked or fired upon so that he could comply with the demands. But he was not about to hand himself over to the Boers, fearing that they would kill him if he did so. He used the time to send his cattle to safety and to prepare for battle.
You might also be interested in reading about Dimbanyika – First Vhavenda King South of the Limpopo, Makhado – Defender of the Vhavenda, or Kgoshi Mamphoku Makgoba.