How this South African king stood his ground against colonialists but was killed by his own family

Mildred Europa Taylor July 05, 2021
South African king Sekhukhune. Image via Sekhukhune Times

Sekhukhune was King of the Marota people (usually called Bapedi) who originated from the Bakgatla of the Western Transvaal. Being an illegitimate ruler who came to power through military force, his half-brother and legitimate heir, Mampuru had to flee from the kingdom. Increasing his power and support base by various means including military conquest and diplomatic marriages with royal dynasties, Sekhukhune soon became a pain in the butts of Imperial Britain and Boer predators who envied Pedi land.

But Sekhukhune had a plan to defend his kingdom from colonialists. Knowing that the Boers and the British were a threat, in 1863, not too long after coming to power, he called together his royal councilors, advisers and other officials to indicate that he had a new “political manifesto.” He told them that he would not kowtow to foreign pressure as his great-grandfather and father did. Thus, he was going to cancel all peace treaties his father had signed with the Boers, Zulus and Swazis.

Sekhukhune also knew that guns had the upper hand so he subsequently sent young men from his kingdom to work in white farms and diamonds mines. The money they earned from their work on the farms and mines was taxed and used to buy guns from the Portuguese in Delagoa Bay (in present-day Mozambique) and cattle to increase the wealth of the Bapedi, according to South African history. Other young Bapedi on their own used the money they earned from their work to buy guns from the Portuguese gun runners as well as from farmers, Boer hunters and missionaries.

Meanwhile, politicians and other angry White colonists didn’t think Africans should own firearms. They made calls for Africans to be disarmed but Africans argued that they had to right to own guns as it was “a sign of manhood”.

It was during this period that the war between Sekhukhune and the Boers of the Transvaal Republic began. The war started over a wagonload of wood. On March 7, 1876, Dinkoanyane, the half-brother of Sekhukhune, seized the wood, arguing that a Boer farmer had taken it from his land. Soon, the Bapedi were accused of stealing Boer cattle. Dinkoanyane was also accused of burning down a mission station operated by Lutheran minister Albert Nachtigal, a report by Cape Times said.

The war between Sekhukhune and the Boers of the Transvaal Republic began. And despite Boer president Thomas Burgers bringing in superior weapons and one of the biggest armies ever assembled, the Boers were defeated. They tried to fight back as hard as they could in subsequent months but they were still not lucky.

Being unable to defeat Sekhukhune and his men “undermined the authority of the white man in Southern Africa”, according to the British, who annexed Transvaal in 1877 before declaring war against Sekhukhune. Between March 1878 and June 1879, the British tried on three different occasions to defeat Sekhukhune and his army but they failed.

In November, however, Sekhukhune and his men were defeated by two British regiments under Sir Garnet Wolseley, assisted by 8,000 Swazis, as stated by South African History Online. About 1,000 Bapedi were killed in the war, including Sekhukhune’s heir, Morwamoche. Sekhukhune fled but was captured on December 2, 1879. He was sent to prison in Pretoria and remained there until the signing of the peace treaty between the British and the Boers. He was murdered on August 13, 1882, by his half-brother Mampuru.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 6, 2021


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