- North West
The frontier history of Southern Africa was a brawling, boisterous, violent chapter in human history. It was contemporary with the Wild West of America and much the same type of man was involved.
In Southern Africa, however, women were far more numerous. They journeyed with their men into the most remote regions, produced infants in quite impossible situations, backed up their men with a stubborn resolve, and by their presence moderated much of the bad behaviour which was so conspicuous on the American frontier. There were still plenty of wild men in Southern Africa, but the presence of women tended to subdue them. Where women were scarce, there was more gun play and violence.
Mafeking's beginning was during a period of considerable frontier instability. The Rolong tribe who lived in the area, were divided into two factions. Both sides recruited European mercenaries and some wild individuals, known as freebooters, joined the tribesmen. Rewards from the tribal chiefs for service consisted of farms and the result was the creation of a miniature republic named Goshen, with Rooigrond, 20 km from Mafeking, as its capital.
There was considerable uproar. The British government sent a force to occupy the area and the commander, Sir Charles Warren, annexed what became known as British Bechuanaland. An administrative centre was established at the place known to the Tswana as maFikeng (place of boulders). This was the foundation in 1885 of Mafeking, as it is known to Europeans.
The great glory of the town came with the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. It was besieged by the Boers from 14 October 1899 until 17 May 1900. Colonel R S S Baden-Powell was the British commander and it was during the siege that he conceived the idea of the Boy Scouts. The small boys of Mafeking were almost as tough as their fathers. To keep them usefully employed and out of mischief during the months of the siege, the ingenious colonel gave them non-combatant tasks. They proved so useful at carrying out the town's essential services that the idea of the Boy Scout movement became firmly established.
The siege of Mafeking captivated the British public. It was not particularly violent. The Boer forces completely outnumbered the defenders of the town but they were content simply to besiege Mafeking, with an occasional shelling and no attempt at a massed onslaught was made. There was seldom any fighting on Sundays and apart from monotony, short rations, shell dodging, sniping, periodic patrols, raids and minor clashes, the whole siege was a singularly civilized example of warfare, with polite notes exchanged between the opposing commanders on such matters as the status of non-combatants.
The relief of Mafeking was a great delight to the British people. London enjoyed a wild night of celebrations. So many odd little stories had reached the outside world about the siege - escapes and tragedies of individuals, tales of heroism and cowardice and of the personalities of the besiegers and the besieged that the siege of Mafeking will always be remembered and discussed.
In the modern town there are numerous mementoes of the siege. Cannon Koppie with its fort is maintained as a historical monument. Guns and cannons are preserved in several of the original buildings.
Mafeking is in the centre of ranching country. There is a large creamery in the town. Groundnuts are produced in the district. Thirty-one km away is a vast sinkhole in the dolomite. Known as the Wondergat -'wonder hole' - it is nearly 100 m deep and 70 m at its widest point. It is filled with clear water and legends still linger of its use as an execution place by Mzilikazi and his Matabele raiders before they were driven away to the then Rhodesia by the Voortrekkers.
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