South African Military History Society

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After the Chairman, Bob Smith, had opened the meeting he thanked those present for their faith in the Branch Committee which has been re-elected almost en-bloc. He then read out thank you letters from Mesdames Hermien Barnard and Marcia Nel, thanking the Society for the condolences sent to them on the loss of their husbands.

The Honorary Auditor, Mr Gavin Moore, was then called up and presented with a bottle of wine as a small gesture of appreciation for his services over the past year. The usual advance notices regarding the next meeting and future tours followed and then Bob introduced our "curtain-raiser" speaker.

This was none other than former Chairman Hamish Paterson, the well-known historian and kingpin of the Branch. His subject was "The Road to Amalinde" and Hamish tackled this with gusto, illustrating his talk with the appropriate transparencies.

The Battle of Amalinde is also sometimes known as the Battle of Debe Nek and was fought to settle a dispute over the position of Paramount Chief of the Xhosa nation. The complicated rules of ascendancy to the throne usually resulted in a minor arriving in that position, thus necessitating a regent to rule on his behalf. Invariably the regent refused to relinquish power when the Chief came of age and a conflict between generations resulted. This was usually solved in an amicable manner by the parties involved simply moving apart. This led to a gradual southward movement until the amaXhosa drifting south met the first Boers moving north, making further southward expansion impossible. At the same time as this happened, the Paramount Chief Phalo died, leaving the throne to his son Gcaleka, who later qualified as a "diviner".

The super-natural powers invested in such a qualification resulted in his being perceived as a threat to any rival claimants to the throne and the amaXhosa split into two - those supporting Gcaleka and a breakaway faction led by Rharbabe. This latter faction grew dramatically and the Xhosas became the amaGcaleka in the east and the amaRharhabe in the west. The latter had the services of a very astute chieftain named Ndlambe who was acting as regent for his nephew Ngqika, the Paramount Chief of the breakaway amaRharhabe. As was always the case, when Ngqika attained his majority the regent Ndlamba refused to hand over power, secure in the knowledge that he had forged an alliance with the whites to the south, whom he counted upon to support him. This didn't happen and the unfortunate Ndlambe found himself a prisoner of his nephew Ngqika.

Hamish then took us carefully through a convoluted period of Xhosa history between 1800 and 1818. Ndlambe escaped and, together with another fugitive named Hintsa, took up residence with the amaGcaleka. There was wife stealing and cattle stealing, and intervention by the British Colonial infantry and a number of influential Xhosa witch doctors. This whole simmering mess gradually came to the boil with Ngqika, with two or three thousand men, facing an alliance of Ndlambe, Hintsa and just about every other Xhosa of note, and numbering an army of over 10 000 men. The result was inevitable. Ngqika placed his young son Maqomo in command and with youthful impetuousness he was led by the veteran Hintsa into a trap at Amalinde. They were surrounded and took a terrible beating, their retreat being followed with unrelenting ferocity. Ngqika's territory was savaged and his son Maqoma severely wounded. Mdlambe and his amaGcaleka faction were left the victors but Ngqika survived to call on his white allies for help. They responded and this resulted in yet another frontier war.

The main speaker for the evening was Dr John Bleloch, whom Bob then introduced. Dr Bleloch, a retired medical doctor, is a keen amateur historian and an accredited battle-field guide. His main interest is the Anglo-Boer War, particularly from the aspect of military medicine, so it was no surprise to his audience that he had chosen "Jameson - the Man and the Raid" as his subject.

Leander Starr Jameson was born in Edinburgh in 1853, the youngest of eleven children. At the age of fifteen he accompanied his family in his father's move to London, where he studied medicine and opened his own practice. Because of a combination of ill health, wanderlust and a craving for adventure, Jameson moved to Kimberly where he met and was befriended by Cecil Rhodes, who was of the same age. In 1888 Dr Jameson gave up his practice in Kimberly to travel north to Matabeleland and visit King Lobengula to consolidate some concessions there on Rhodes' behalf. King Lobengula was suffering severely from both gout and an eye infection. Jameson was able to cure him, thus earning the King's fellowship and the sought-after concessions. This led, in turn, to the establishment of the British South Africa Company. Rhodes then placed Jameson in charge of the Pioneer Column, which established Salisbury. This done, he then became the first administrator of what would be known as Rhodesia, successfully repelling an 1893 invasion of Mashonaland by the Matabele. By now he was a famous British "Africa Hand" with a well-established reputation as a colonial explorer and administrator.

To the south of Rhodesia gold had been found on the Witwatersrand and the subsequent influx of gold seekers placed a considerable strain on the then Transvaal Government, headed by President Paul Kruger. This influx of foreigners outnumbered the locals by a vast majority and Kruger imposed stringent and almost impossible to realise stipulations for Transvaal citizenship upon these "Uitlanders", as he called them. This effectively denied them the vote and a voice in the running of the country. This gave rise to a high level of resentment on the part of the uitlander population. There were other grievances as well and Cecil Rhodes decided to back their cause.

His first move was to attempt the transfer of the then Bechuanaland Protectorate to Rhodesian rule. This plot was foiled by swift action on the part of influential Bechuana chiefs who proved to be better negotiators with the British than Rhodes' delegate, a man named Harris. However, the Chartered Company was granted a narrow strip of land along the eastern border of Bechuanaland (present day Botswana) for a railway connection between the Cape Colony and Rhodesia, along the Transvaal border. In the meantime, tension had grown alarmingly in Johannesburg where the uitlanders had formed a National Union whose intentions slowly moved from requesting concessions from a disinterested Kruger to the foment of armed rebellion. Rhodes, who was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, could not officially become involved, but while the National Union stockpiled weapons, Jameson recruited men whom he positioned in the railway corridor at the town of Pitsani. A line of communication between Pitsani and Johannesburg was also clandestinely set up and Jameson was now in a position to assist militarily in any uprising against the Boer rule by the Uitlanders.

There was much talk and debate in Johannesburg but very little action until, at the end of November 1895, Jameson received a letter asking him to implement his proposed plans. Using this letter as motivation, Jameson acted on the principal of "Ready or not, here I come" and crossed into the Transvaal on 29 December 1895. This was a disastrous decision. The Boers knew he was coming and had mobilised, while the National Union, with its name changed to Reform Committee, proved a worthless body when it came to organising a rebellion. Jameson, with 511 troopers and three guns, was kept under Boer surveillance all the way to a point three miles east of Krugersdorp, where he was stopped by a force of 2 000 men under General Cronje.

There was a skirmish and Jameson was forced to the southeast and, after more fighting at Doornkop, was forced into unconditional surrender. He had lost 17 killed and 56 wounded, the Boers lost six men killed. The proposed Rebellion didn't materialise and Jameson found himself a prisoner of the Boers. He and 15 of his officers were deported to London for trial and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. The members of the Reform Committee were also rounded up and shared a particularly hard show trial in Pretoria, four of them receiving the death penalty, which sentences were later commuted to hefty fines.

After serving part of his sentence, Jameson received a remission because of ill health and returned to Rhodesia. Strangely enough, he came out of the whole sorry affair a hero and after serving in the Siege of Ladysmith became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. He never lost the friendship he had with Rhodes and, after receiving the freedom on the cities of London and Edinburgh and being made a Baronet, when he died in 1917 he was buried in a grave next to that of Rhodes in the Matopas.

After an interesting question period, both John and Hamish were thanked by Colin Dean for a most entertaining "African" evening, before Chairman Bob closed the meeting for tea.

Ivor C Little Scribe.

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