Zimbabwean History – April 1900

Rhodesian horse regiment

The Siege of Mafeking is probably the best known British action during the Second Boer War. It took place at the town of Mafeking (now Mafikeng) in South Africa, over a period of 217 days, from October 1899 to May 1900. But did you know that some forces involved in the siege were based in the new country of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

The geography explains the situation as the Cape Colony and Natal were the main bases from which British troops could operate, but on the west of the two Boer Republics was Bechuanaland, and on the north, Matabeleland, in southern Rhodesia and it was of the greatest importance that these were well guarded.

Colonel Herbert PlumerColonel Herbert Plumer
Colonel Baden-Powel put Colonel Herbert Plumer in command of one regiment to operate in Southern Rhodesia where he immediately set about raising and organizing the Rhodesian Regiment and there is little doubt that if he had not kept watch and ward at Tuli during the earlier stages of the Boer war, there might have been a dangerous incursion of the boers into Rhodesia. Even so, a Boer commando appeared on the banks of the Crocodile River and exchanged shots with Plumer’s patrols. Subsequently Plumer moved his camp to Gaberones which led to his coming in still closer touch with the Boers, and on several occasions he was sharply engaged.

It was towards the end of the siege in April 1900, when the Boers were on the defensive and in retreat, the British began a major effort to relieve Mafeking. Two columns would converge on the town: one would march northwards from the British lines on the Modder River, while a second would strike south from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in conjunction with the Rhodesian Field Force commanded by Colonel Herbert Plumer of the 2nd Battalion, the York and Lancaster Regiment and later to become Field-Marshal Lord Plumer, Baron of Messines and Bilton.

The Rhodesian Field Force that was to march on Mafeking required reinforcements, particularly in artillery, before it could proceed. Luckily, “C” Battery, Royal Canadian Field Artillery, had recently arrived from Canada and was in the Cape Town area. Getting to Mafeking was no easy task. On 14 April, the battery, along with a squadron of Australian mounted rifles, boarded a ship bound for Beira in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). This was followed by a five-hundred-kilometre journey by train westward to Marandellas (now Marondera) in Rhodesia and another five-hundred-kilometre trek to Bulawayo. From there, the gunners, augmented by mules and with Black South African drivers to draw the guns and ammunition wagons, set off again by rail, arriving at Ootsi, only 100 kilometres north of Mafeking, on 11 May. (The important contributions of these Black South African drivers has gone largely unnoticed for nearly a century.)

As we now know the British were victorious and the lifting of the Siege of Mafeking was a decisive victory for them and a crushing defeat for the Boers. The siege also turned the British Military Commander Colonel Baden-Powell, who went on to found the Scouting Movement, into a national hero.

Zimbabwean / Rhodesian Military History Books (before 1960):
Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia

Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia

By Frederick Courteney Selous (Author) is a firsthand account of the Second Matabele War (also known as the First Chimurenga). An unabridged reprint of the the 1896 edition.

Originalally published in 1896: Excerpt: CHAPTER III "Now this murder of a native policeman on the night of Friday, 20th March, was the first overt act of rebellion on the part of the Matabele against the Government of the British South Africa Company, and I will therefore relate exactly what occurred. On the evening of the aforementioned day, eight native policemen, acting on instructions of Mr. Jackson, arrived at the town of Umgorshlwini, situated in the hills near the Umzingwani river. Being accompanied by several boys carrying their blankets, etc., they formed quite a little party, and so camped outside the town. They were sitting talking over their fires after the evening meal, when a number of Matabele came up, and ranging themselves in a line in front of them, commenced to dance. These men all carried knob-kerries, and were led by a man named Umzobo, who had held a post of importance at Bulawayo in Lo Bengula’s time."

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No Insignificant Part: The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East African Campaign of the First World War

No Insignificant Part: The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East African Campaign of the First World War

The is the first history of the only primarily African military unit from Zimbabwe to fight in the First World War. Recruited from the migrant labour network, most African soldiers in the RNR were originally miners or farm workers from what are now Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi. Like others across the world, they joined the army for a variety of reason, chief among them a desire to escape low pay and horrible working conditions.

Written by Timothy J. Stapleton has been a post-doctoral fellow at Rhodes University, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa, and a research associate at the University of Zimbabwe.

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The Matabele Campaign

The Matabele Campaign: 1896

By Robert Baden-Powell is his account of the Campaign in Suppressing the Matabele Rising in the Matabeleland and Mashonsland in 1896.

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Zulus and Matabele: Warrior Nations

Zulus and Matabele: Warrior Nations

Written by Glen Lyndon Dodds who grew up in Matabeleland and covers the rise and fall of the Zulus and Matabele nations. This account begins with the characters who spurred the people to greatness and nationhood, continues with the wars and battles which afflicted them and ends with an assessment of their role in the history of Southern Africa.

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