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Sekukuni Wars / Secocoeni

SenkukuniSekukuni / Secocoeni / Sekhukhune [the modern rendering] was a chief of the Basuto [Sotho or BaSotho) ] who ruled from his almost inaccessible stronghold in the district called Lydenberg. The first Sekukuni War broke out on 07 March 1876, the treaty of peace being signed 16 February 5th, 1877. The second Sekukuni War, begun under the Shepstone administration in March 1878, resulted in the complete destruction (under Sir G. Wolseley) of the tribe, and the capture of the chief, who was held a prisoner of war until the convention of Pretoria was signed in August 1881. The Mapoch (Niabel) and Mampoer war commenced near the end of 1882 and was about ten months in duration. Mapoch surrendered 12th of July, 1883, to General Joubert, who had conducted the operations against both chiefs.

Sequati, a Bauedi chief on the northeastern border of the Transvaal, had two sons, Mampoer, a son by the royal mother, and Sekukuni, a son by a wife of inferior rank. They fought for the succession, when Sekukuni being victorious usurped the throne and Mampoer fled to Mapoch, a small chief in the Transvaal. Sekukuni became a powerful Basuto chief, who, had given the Cape Government much annoyance, had acknowledged the supremacy of Cetewayo, and had taken up arms against the Boers, when the Transvaal Republic attempted to wield authority over the "disputed territory" on the left bank of the Blood River, claimed by the Zulus as theirs.

Secocoeni was chief of a tribe, akin to the Basuto, living in the Lulu Mountains, on the borders of the Lydenburg district, and to the east of the Transvaal. The Boers claimed his territory on the strength of an alleged treaty with a Swazi chief, from whom, they said, they had bought the land. Secocoeni denied alike the sale and the right of the Swazis to sell, since the land had not been occupied by them. While the dispute was proceeding Secocoeni's brother, Johannes, went to live in the disputed district, and the Boers ordered him back. He refused to obey, and the Boers then appealed to Secocoeni, who replied that the land belonged to his tribe, and that Johannes had a right to be there. The chief added that he did not wish to fight, but was quite ready to do so if they preferred it. In June the Transvaal declared war, and sent a commando, 1,400 strong, aided by 1,500 Swazis, to punish the "rebels."

The Boers never experienced much difficulty contending with the natives in the plains or open country; but, in the mountainous and rocky districts, offering natural defences, they generally preferred slower tactics — bringing the enemy to terms by destroying their means of subsistence, together with constantly harassing them — rather than incur considerable loss of life through directly attacking or storming a strong position.

The Transvaal President Thomas François Burgers led in person. One minor stronghold — described by Burgers as a "Kaffir Gibraltar " — was captured, and then an attack was made on Johannes' stronghold, which was taken, under circumstances of great barbarity, by the Swazis, whom the Boers left to do the fighting. So indignant were the Swazis at the cowardice of the Boers that they left the battlefield and went home. After this an attack was made on a strong natural fortress where Secocoeni had entrenched himself. On this occasion the Boers left the bulk of the fighting to be done by about 40 English and Germans, who had gone out to help them, and Secocoeni's men offered so vigorous a defence that the Boers turned round and began to go back home. Mr. Burgers begged them to shoot him rather than allow him to suffer such a disgrace. They took no heed, however, and he was obliged to abandon the expedition. The news of the Boer repulse by Secocoeni created a great sensation, especially among the native tribes, who gained the idea that it was a much easier thing to beat the white man than they had hitherto supposed.

Deserted by the burghers, who raised the now proverbial cry of "huis toe," and broken-hearted, without adherents, without money, President Burgers had to return to Pretoria and leave Sekukuni virtually master of the situation. This ultimately led to Burgers' downfal1 and the assertion of British authority, and here he learned from painful experience that "the Boers were not those of the great Trek, and he himself was not Ketief, Maritz, Pretorius the elder, or even Paul Kruger."

Capt. von Schlickmann, a Prussian adventurer, was sent to Steelport. He gathered around him a number of filibusters, who were engaged on the condition that they were to have no pay or supplies but might seize whatever cattle they pleased, and he also promised to each man a farm of 2,000 acres in Secocoeni's country. With the help of Kaffir allies an intermittent war was carried on with great barbarity against Secocoeni and his people, many ruthless massacres taking place. Von Schlickmann was killed in an engagement on 17 November 1876, and was followed by a certain Abel Erasmus, of whom Lord (then Sir Garnet) Wolseley spoke in public as "a fiend in human form."

Lord Carnarvon wrote to Sir Henry Barkly describing the war against Secocoeni, carried on under the conditions adopted by the Boers, as a menace to the peace of all South Africa, referring to the general position of affairs in the Transvaal. General disorganisation had followed the repulse of the Boers by Secocoeni, who was again threatening the country, while on the borders Cetewayo had from 30,000 to 40,000 Zulus assembled with the avowed intention of driving the Boers out of the Transvaal. There was no recognised force to resist them, and they were only held back from making an attack by the influence of the British. At the same time the Boers refused to pay the war tax for the Secocoeni expedition, and other taxes besides; the treasury was empty.

After several months of inquiries and conferences Sir Theophilus Shepstone became convinced that nothing short of British Sovereignty could save the Transvaal State from ruin. Burgers had sought alliances with Continental Powers— Germans, Belgians, and Portuguese—and Shepstone had no reason to doubt that if England declined to interfere Germany would be induced to undertake the protection of the Transvaal, which would have added infinitely to our troubles in South Africa. On the British annexing the Transvaal on 12 April 1877 they succeeded to the feud that existed between this Basuto chief and the Boers.

Second Sekukuni War - March 1878 - August 1881

Since his defeat of the Boers in 1876, Secocoeni, although at one time friendly disposed towards the British, had become a steadily increasing source of danger. He considered himself more powerful than the whites, and, as mentioned in Shepstone's despatch of April 30, 1878, acted as a kind of lieutenant to Cetewayo. He had gathered around him a following of about 4,000 or 5,000 men, who included the most lawless characters of the country round about, and with these he took up his position in a range of mountains difficult of access, near Lydenburg, and was only kept in check by a costly border force. From that point he made frequent raids on territory occupied by British subjects.

In April 1878, urged on by Cetewayo, King of the Zulus, the Kaffirs, under the formidable Sekukuni, made two raids into the Transvaal—one at Orighstadt and the other in the Waterfall Valley, burning the farmhouses, killing their white occupants, and carrying off the cattle— and that the fugitives were flying on every side to the bush, where they hid by day, till, by nightfall, they could seek places of safety. In the subsequent November an attack was made on a stronghold belonging to one of Sekukuni's chiefs. The British troops destroyed 300 houses and a great quantity of grain, with the loss of only one man killed — a sergeant of the 13th Regiment — and eleven men wounded.

In February 1879 two Bapedi bands went out, and in the evening of the 8th of that month attacked some Swazi kraals, where they killed every individual except the young women. They collected all the cattle, and commenced to retreat, but the Swazis farther in advance, on learning what had occurred, followed them up and attacked them, when fully three-fourths of their number were killed and the girls and the cattle were recovered. In June 1879 raids were made by the Bapedi into the Lydenburg and Zoutpansberg districts, and a good many cattle were driven off from farms, but the Europeans who were plundered managed to escape.

Sekukuni, like one of the robber barons of the Middle Ages, was surrounded by all the warlike and lawless spirits of the country, whom he attracted by hopes of plunder. Occupying a mountain range of fifty miles long by fifteen wide, and a grand valley fitted for the pasturage of his flocks and herds, proud of his past •successes and preparing for constant aggressions, Sekukuni sought, as he said, to become a great power.

After the British annexation of the Transvaal, Sekukuni did not come to any settlement. In the Transvaal, even after the British had taken over the conduct of the Sekukuni War from the Boers, there was no satisfactory progress until, on the close of the Zulu war, the arrival of an overwhelming force, under Sir Garnet Wolseley, rendered success no longer doubtful. After two and a half years' skirmishing around the position, with but one serious advance to take it, Sekukuni still held out.

Sir Garnet Wolseley arrived in September, 1879, after the dethronement of Cetywayo, and he at once sent a special envoy, dictating terms to Sekukuni, which the latter refused. This at once led to an attack upon his stronghold, which Sir Garnet Wolseley stormed and captured, supported by sixteen companies of infantry. 400 mounted men, two or three guns and 10,000 Swazi levies under Mampoer. It was thought strange that no warballoon was used to inspect the stronghold of Sekukuni, who, with his followers would have been stricken with terror, on beholding such an object hovering above them in the air.

Sekukuni's garrison was about 14,000 strong, but of these, only 4,000 could be depended upon for defence. The rest were better suited for scouting, and predatory or cattle-lifting expeditions. At daybreak in the morning of the 28th November 1879 three columns advanced to the attack of the mountain. The loss of the Europeans was three officers and five men killed, and seven officers and thirty-nine men wounded. How many of the Bantu auxiliaries, especially of the Swazis, lost their lives or were wounded cannot be stated with any pretence to accuracy. The Swazies lost at least 300 — some say 500 — killed. But they never counted their dead, nor cared for them, and scarcely ever carried off their wounded. And of the Bapedi loss nothing more can be said than that it was very heavy. It was indeed commonly stated a few days later that fifteen hundred unburied corpses were polluting the air, but that number rested solely on guesswork.

Sekukuni escaped when his stronghold was taken, but he was so hemmed in that four days later, on the 2nd of December, he was obliged to surrender to Commandant Ferreira. He was sent a prisoner to Pretoria, where he was kept in confinement for many months. An act was passed by the Cape parliament authorising his detention as a prisoner of state in the Cape Colony, but it was never made use of. He represented himself as having only daughters left, all of his sons, eight in number, as well as three of his brothers, having been killed by the Swazis when his stronghold was taken.

After the capture of Sekukuni and the death of the leading men of his immediate clan, all of the petty chiefs who had been his vassals tendered their submission to the Transvaal government, and as a proof of their good faith surrendered his cattle. They were then permitted to retain the land they were occupying, upon condition of paying taxes and each admitting the supremacy of the European authorities. To these conditions they agreed without demur, and the troops and auxiliary forces were then withdrawn from the locality. After the overthrow of Sekukuni by Sir Garnet Wolseley, there was peace between white men and blacks throughout all Africa south of the Limpopo, and the supremacy of the Europeans was unquestioned.

Sir Garnet Wolseley's successful expedition against Sekukuni had cost the British treasury £383,000, an amount altogether beyond the power of the republic to expend upon any military adventure. When Sekukuni was captured and sent as a prisoner to Pretoria, Sir Garnet Wolseley appointed his half-brother Mampuru principal chief of the Bapedi, but subject to the Transvaal government like all the other heads of clans of the tribe. Between Sekukuni and Mampuru there had long been a feud, and when this is the case between brothers it is almost invariably carried on with great animosity. Mampuru had been obliged to flee from the Bapedi country, and take refuge in Swaziland, where according to the general Bantu custom he was protected by Umbandeni the chief. Sir Garnet Wolseley thought to create a rival power in the district, which would facilitate keeping Sekukuni's people in check, and so he invited Mampuru to return. This chief had a considerable number of adherents, though they were not so strong or so many as his brother's party, even after its defeat. Between these two factions there was ceaseless strife, but open war was prevented by the Transvaal government.

Mapoch (Niabel) Mampoer - 30 October 1882 - 12 July 1883

By the now celebrated twenty-third article of the convention of Pretoria Sekukuni was set at liberty. His people were rejoiced to receive him again, and Mampuru's faction became even more hostile than before. Early in May 1882 it became necessary for the government to take proceedings against Mampuru, who was conducting himself in a seditious manner and openly refused to pay the hut-tax. A commando was called out for the purpose of compelling him to submit, but upon its approach he concealed himself and could not be found. He was then proclaimed deposed from his chieftainship, and a man named Magosi was appointed in his stead. But the clan, though it made no open protest, declined to submit to Magosi, and as soon as the commando retired the fugitive returned and resumed his authority.

During the night of the 13th of August 1882 Mampuru fell by surprise upon Sekukuni, murdered him, one of his sons, and thirteen of his followers, and then burnt his kraal and drove off his cattle. He knew of course that this was an act that could not be overlooked by the government, so he and his retainers immediately abandoned their location and sought refuge with a chief named Mareshane, who was a vassal of the powerful community called by the Transvaal people the tribe of Mapoch. This was one of the composite tribes of recent formation, and had upon the whole more affinity with the Zulus than with the Bapedi or other people of the interior.

The Boers now accused Mampoer of murder and called upon him to surrender himself, but instead of this he took refuge with Mapoch, with whom the Boers had also a quarrel, as he would not acknowledge them or pay taxes. War was now declared against Mapoch (Niabel), who defended himself bravely for many months. On the 30th of October 1882 two thousand burghers who had been called out and had assembled at Middelburg marched from that town under Commandant General Pieter Joubert to reduce Njabel to submission. It was found that he had strongly fortified the salient points of his position, and in particular two hills named by the farmers Boschkop and Vlugtkraal had been made almost impregnable. General Joubert and the council of war therefore resolved to surround the place with a chain of easily constructed earthen forts, to prevent all ingress or egress by constantly patrolling between them, and to close in whenever possible without running great risks. The Bapedi who had been adherents of Sekukuni, feeling it to be their duty to avenge the murder of their late chief, joined the commando, and did good service as scouts. At last, worn out by hunger and want, Mampoer and 8,000 of his men, who were afterwards "apprenticed" into slavery, surrendered, and Mampoer and Mapoch both found themselves prisoners of war. Mapoch surrendered 12th of July, 1883, to General Joubert, who had conducted the operations against both chiefs.

Mampoer with his dying breath said, "I have fought Sekukuni for the Dutch, I have fought him for the English, and now I am hanged for doing my duty." Poor fellow! his execution was a sad, brutal exhibition. Pretoria was full of the accounts of the scene, how the rope round bis nock broke, how he was hoisted again into position. and how the day of his execution was looked upon by the Boers as a gala day, and an opportunity of exhibiting their independence of the " verdomde Englishmen." Even photographic art was called in to perpetuate this official murder, the accompanying view of the execution being openly sold in the streets of Pretoria.

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Page last modified: 25-10-2012 15:51:20 ZULU