A Tale of Three Koppies: Marikana one of many historic hillside battles

Specialist Contributor David van Wyk

Our landscape is littered with sites of battles lost and won. This month we commemorate the fallen of Marikana who took their last stand on a rocky outcrop called Wonderkop (Wonder Hill). It’s an opportunity to look at moments in our history when our people were massacred after proudly gathering on the top of a Koppie to protect their rights.

This photo essay and some of the research is the work of David van Wyk of Bench Marks. David says:

“It is amazing how often colonial, and more recently the neo-colonial, as in the case of Marikana, massacres occur on koppies (small hills).”

Top of the list of memorable koppie battles is the story of Chief Luka Jantjie, a virtually unknown hero, and his men. They resisted the British on a small hill in the Northern Cape, near Kuruman, called Gamasiep. Some estimates say about 1 500 died when Chief Jantje and his men decided to defend themselves against colonialist appropriation. Luka Jantjie Resistance Hero of the South African Frontier by Kevin Shillington is a tale “of invasion and conquest, heroism and resistance”. Says online book reviewer Katherine Munro:

“This is a story of local people and a wider community who had been in occupation of this part of Southern Africa for over 200 years and the pressures they faced when their lifestyles and beliefs were challenged by missionaries, adventurers, Afrikaner farmers, diamond seekers and speculators and colonial administrators during the 19th century.”

The Gamasiep Koppie in the Northern Cape is an anonymous monument for Chief Luka Jantjie and his men.

The Gamasiep Koppie in the Northern Cape is an anonymous monument for Chief Luka Jantjie and his men.

A Forgotten Hero

Luka Jantjie is today a largely forgotten hero of resistance to British colonialism. His place in South African history has tended to be overshadowed by events elsewhere in the region.

In 1870, at the beginning of the Kimberley diamond mining boom that was to transform southern Africa, Luka Jantjie was the first independent African ruler to lose his land to the new colonialists, who promptly annexed the diamond fields. His outspoken stand against the hypocrisy of colonial ‘justice’ earned him the epithet: “a wild fellow who hates the English.” But as the son of an early Christian convert, Luka was brought up to respect peace and non-violence. His boycott of rural trading stores in the early 1890s was perhaps the earliest use of non-violent resistance in colonial South Africa. His steady refusal to bow to colonial demands of subservience intensified the enmity of local colonists determined to “teach him a lesson.”

The Gamasiep Koppie in the Northern Cape where Chief Luka Jantjie and his men bravely fought against colonial incursion.

The Gamasiep Koppie in the Northern Cape where Chief Luka Jantjie and his men bravely fought against colonial incursion.

His life ended in a dramatic and heroic last stand in his former ancestral sanctuary of the Langeberg mountain range. The battle’s tragic consequences stretched far into the next century.

King Sekhukhune’s Last Stand

And in another brave Koppie story, the great Pedi King Sekhukhune, was defeated at the hill pictured below by the British colonial army assisted by Swazi mercenaries. Sekhukhune was King of the Marota people (commonly called Bapedi) who originated from the Bakgatla of what was then the Western Transvaal.

King Sekhukhune standing guard over the koppie where he fought off colonial incursion for many years.

King Sekhukhune standing guard over the koppie where he fought off colonial incursion for many years.

After many years of being beaten in battle by King Sekhukhune and his men, the colonial authorities moved a motley collection of troops comprising Britons, Boers and Africans (10 000 Swazi troops) to bring down the kingdom. This was the fourth British attempt to reduce Sekhukhune to submission. It was a major military operation. The enemies moved in a pincer movement from Fort Kruger, to Jane Furse and from as far afield as Swaziland… literally from all sides, towards Thaba Mosega. The battle raged furiously from 28 November to 2 December 1879. King Sekhukhune fought with muskets obtained from Lesotho, from French Missionaries, from the Kimberley Diamond fields where his people worked and from Delagoa Bay (Mozambique) with which he had close trade and other links.

The British used their more modern Mausers and much life was lost. Sekhukhune himself lost his son and heir, Moroanoche, and fourteen other members of his immediate family. As the battle raged, Sekhukhune was taken by surprise in the form of an attack from behind by the 10 000 Swazi troops in the service of the British. This surprise attack virtually brought the war to a close. So ended the colonial war against Sekhukhune on this koppie in December 1879.

King Sekhukhune and his men are forgotten on the memorial at the koppie where they fought colonial intrusion.

King Sekhukhune and his men are forgotten on the memorial at the koppie where they fought colonial intrusion.

These historic stories put the brave stand of the men on the Wonderkop Hill in Marikana in a context of an ongoing war against an erosion of human rights.

The Wonderkop Hill in Marikana, now another memorial to the fallen in the battle against social injustice.

The Wonderkop Hill in Marikana, now another memorial to the fallen in the battle against social injustice.

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