Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa

The Natal Battlefields

The Voortrekkers - The Battle of Vegkop.

Sixty Voortrekkers form a laager and fight off 5,000 Matabele warriors but lose most of their livestock.

The Battle of Vegkop

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Returning with the main party of Trekkers, Potgieter came upon the camp of a trek party that had crossed the Vaal (dark) River against instructions. All had been massacred. There was further bad news - a hunting party had been attacked by the Matabele and had fared badly.

The Matabele territory extended over 30,000 sq. kms and while Mzilikazi did not dislike white men, all who entered his kingdom were expected to enter through Kuruman where missionary Robert Moffat could screen them. Further, he was exceedingly sensitive about his Southern border, the traditional route of invading Zulu armies.

Survivors from the attack on the hunting party had warned the settler camp but were not believed. Riding on, they warned the next camp which took appropriate action by forming a laager at the bend on the Vaal River. 35 men succeeded in driving off 500 Matabele warriors who eventually retired to Mzilikazi's military kraal at Kapain with assorted wagons, stock and two white girls.

As Potgieter returned to his base on the Sand River, the Voortrekkers were retreating from their land as fast as their stock would allow and some were retiring still further, back to Blesberg where the second wave of the Great Trek had arrived.

The Battle of Vegkop (Fighting Hill)

Potgieter realized that he would have to break the power of Mzilikazi if the trek was to proceed and he took a party to a defensible site and formed the wagons into a laager. Here, forty men were to face the might of the Matabele nation under a small promontory that was to be called Vegkop - Fight Hill.

Fighting from a laager had yet to be proven and yet the forty wagons were pushed with the disselboom (draught pole) of one pushed under the other. They were then chained together and the spaces between the wagons filled with thorn branches tied to the wheels. Seven wagons in the centre of the laager were used as a hospital and the grass around the laager was crushed by driving cattle over it.

Two openings, each just the width of a wagon were left, but these could easily be closed if necessary. By forming the wagons into a square with makeshift blockhouses at each corner to enfilade each side of the laager, it became an effective defensive position.

There was finally a total of 33 men and seven boys (one of whom was just eleven and named Paul Kruger) and sixty women and children.

Despite using the heavy smooth bored flintlocks, each man, with the help of the women, could fire his musket six times each minute. Another problem also faced the Voortrekkers - their stock. Thousands of animals were scattered over the veld and would be taken by the Matabele regardless of whether they would prevail or die.

The result of the battle was that 100 Voortrekkers had beaten off 500 Matabele warriors and killed several hundred. After the battle nearly 500 assegais were found in the laager. Wounded warriors were identified by their sweating and finished off. The Voortrekkers suffered one man slightly injured. Lucas van Rensburg (right) survived the attack.

The Matabele finally withdraw with all the Trekkers' livestock. News of the defeat of the mighty Matabele by so few men was not slow to pass over the Drakensberg mountains and down to Dingane, the king of the great Zulu nation.

Potgieter exacts his revenge on Mzilikazi...

Next: The Attack on Mosega

Potgieter's Treks

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