The South African War is one of the hinges upon which modern South Africa turns. On the highveld, especially, it swept aside the old Boer states and ruling class; it transformed the human geography of the region; and it thrust entire communities into new political and economic relationships. After the war's end, the British set about modernising the South African state.
In the region of the north-western bushveld, the South African War involved every African society in varying degrees, some total and committed participants, others onlookers inevitably and reluctantly swept up in the dramatic episodes of the conflict. In this chapter we explore and analyse the varying roles of the black participants in the South African War and its impact upon them. The particular focus is on the the baKgatla, the baRolong, and the baHurutshe, with passing reference also to minor players such as the baFokeng, baTlokwa and others.
Most of the contemporary or early accounts of the mis-termed ‘Anglo-Boer’ War perpetuated the myth that it was a ‘white man's war’ that did not involve Africans. Only comparatively recently was this laid to rest when several historians, in particular Peter Warwick and Bill Nasson, revealed the very active participation by black people in a wide range of roles in the war (including armed combat) on both the British and Boer sides. All these historians have shown that blacks were both ‘active shaping agents as well as victims’ in the war.
The reasons for the conflict, discussed and debated in many books and academic articles, apply to the major combatants at national level; in the various regions where Africans became involved in the war they did so because of their own local, specific reasons, some of them deep-seated historical grievances.
BaKgatla participation in the War
The baKgatla harboured specific historical grudges against the Boers. One was the Boers’ incessant demands for their labour over several decades which finally culminated in the flogging of Kgamanyane by Kruger discussed in Chapter 1. In both the Pilanesberg and Mochudi, this episode was remembered with bitterness by practically all of the older baKgatla men and women who still retain graphic accounts of the flogging and the subsequent division of the morafe.