OUR STORY NO 20

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.

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