I'm trying to find out more about the First Sekhukhune War, and in particular exactly how and why Sekhukhune won. As wars in historical times go, it seems to be very sparsely documented. Here's what I have been able to find out so far.

The war started in 1876, with the belligerents being the Transvaal Republic under President Thomas Burgers, together with an allied force of Swazi, versus the Marota a.k.a. Bapedi under King Sekhukhune.

News24 has a partisan slant, but goes into more detail than any other source I have been able to find.

It suggests Thomas Burgers led the Transvaal army in person, which would be consistent with other accounts that his health was damaged by the stress under which it was placed during his wartime efforts, contributing to his early death. Is this correct? If so, is the reason documented anywhere? (Presidents usually leave it to their generals to lead armies in the field, and I haven't found any indication that Burgers had military training.)

It gives the strength of the Transvaal force as 2,000 men with 500 wagons and a few Krupp seven-pound field guns.

It doesn't give the number of Swazi warriors, though other sources suggest this to be around 3,000. It does suggest some other African troops joined the expedition.

I haven't found any specifics on the Marota order of battle, though it is clear they had a large number of rifles purchased with money earned by their young men working on farms and in particular in the Kimberley diamond mines.

The consensus is that the key battle happened at Thaba Mosega, the Marota capital, from late July to 1 August 1876.

There is also a consensus that in the first round of fighting, the Transvaal force defeated and killed the Marota chief Dinkwanyane, but in the second round of fighting, there was some coordination failure on the Transvaal side, with the result that they were unable to defeat Sekhukhune and were forced to retreat. However, I'm not clear exactly what the coordination failure was.

The above source says

For some unknown reason, there was no contact between Joubert and the other forces, probably because of the rough land and the distance.

But it doesn't seem to say exactly who Joubert was, or why the forces did not maintain better contact.

The Illustrated at the Fireside: True Southern African Stories says

During the first battle of that war, the Boers, who had linked up with the Swazis, marched on Mafolofolo, and after failing to breach the outer wall with their four-pound cannon, hung back, leaving the Swazis to do the fighting. After a desperate battle, the Swazis managed to breach the town's defenses, killing Dinkwanyane along with most of his followers.

But the destruction of Mafolofolo proved to be the turning point in the First Sekhukhune War. As the Swazis were outraged by the Boer cowardice and duplicity, the Boer commando had to continue into the next battle without the Swazi shock troops. This led to the defeat of the Boers by Sekhukhune, leaving the way open for the annexation of the Transvaal by the British through Natal.

Once again this is very light on detail, but such detail as it does give, differs significantly from the other account in the specifics of how the battles unfolded. (Also describes the Transvaal field guns as four rather than seven pound.)

I haven't been able to find any other sources with as much detail as those.

Is there more detail available on what really happened? What was the Marota order of battle? What tactics did they use? What were the decisive factors?


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