Death in the mountains

Farmer's Weekly|February 28, 2020

Death in the mountains
Solitary graves on various farms bear witness to ambushes and skirmishes in the mountains of the north-eastern Cape during the Anglo-Boer War, and each town has a memorial to the fallen. Graham Jooste tells of some of the actions in this unforgiving region.
Graham Jooste

The Anglo-Boer War (1899- 1902) was fought on widely varying terrain. In the Stormberg and Drakensberg region of the north-eastern Cape, the battles took place in a landscape unsurpassed not only in splendour, but also in ruggedness and harshness. Death to the unwary was never far away for those who crossed the mountains on horseback.

Almost 300 British and Cape Colonial troops, about 80 Boer men, more than 700 Boer women and children, about 300 black civilians and an unknown number of black soldiers lie buried in the region that stretches from the Stormberg near Dordrecht up towards the Witteberg near Lady Grey and Herschel, close to the Drakensberg and the Lesotho (then Basutoland) border.

Politically and economically, this was a complicated area. Pro-Boer traders and farmers tended to do business across the Orange River to the north towards Bloemfontein, whereas those who were pro-British preferred Queenstown, King William’s Town and East London.


After the fall of Bloemfontein and Pretoria, the Boers changed their tactics and used smaller, mobile commando units to surprise and harass the British. This was the start of the guerrilla war, and Boer Commandos crossed the Orange River into the Cape Colony with the aim of triggering a general uprising among the Cape’s Boer population.

After the Battle of Stormberg Junction in December 1899, Commandant JH Olivier and his mainly Free State Commandos decided to return to the Free State. The battle had been a resounding victory, and he had occupied the area for four months. Commandants Pieter Kritzinger, Willem Fouché, and others remained behind to harass the enemy. By then, however, the British under Lt Col Harry Scobell were arriving in large numbers and pursued them relentlessly.

Kritzinger and Commandant Stoffel Myburgh captured Jamestown, the Boers sacked the place and cut it off from the outside world for a period.


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February 28, 2020