It wasn’t always this tranquil in the Magaliesberg

  • 14 August 2013 | Sian Adams

Battle of Silkaatsnek, 11 July 1900 - Armageddon of the mountain. Image via www.kormorant.co.za

The tranquility of the Magaliesberg around the Harties Cableway today, is in stark contrast to the violent scenes witnessed there just over a century ago.

On a single day during the Anglo-Boer War, 11 July 1900, three major engagements took place in the area – with the Boer forces decisively defeating their British enemies.

The battles of Onderstepoort, Dwarsvlei and Silkaatsnek took place during the third phase of the Anglo-Boer war, when guerilla warfare was introduced by the Boers.

The famous Boer general Koos de la Rey, a specialist in this novel form of warfare – which pitched lightly-armed but highly mobile Boer forces against their more heavily-armed opponents – was involved in directing the events of the day.

The Boer soldiers were familiar with the mountainous area, which they used to their advantage as they used secret pathways to cross the mountains and launch guerilla attacks on the British soldiers.

The Battle of Onderstepoort saw attacking Boer forces allegedly being fired upon from guns at the Wonderboom fort. This is the only indication that one of the Pretoria fortresses fired shots in anger during the war.

Battle of Silkaatsnek, 11 July 1900 - Armageddon of the mountain. Image via www.kormorant.co.za

On a farm located 15km north of Krugersdorp, on the road to Hekpoort, was where the Battle of Dwarsvlei took place. This farm is still owned and farmed by the descendants of the Oosthuizen family, the Voortrekkers who first settled there. Such was the intensity of the fighting at Dwarsvlei that day, that three Victoria Crosses were awarded to British soldiers for their gallantry.

The most significantdefeat to the British that day, however, was at the Battle of Silkaatsnek, a pass in the Magaliesberg range where General De la Rey travelled towards Rustenburg with some 200 men. When his scouts brought information that the nek was lightly held and that its commanding shoulders had been ignored, De la Rey decided to attack.

If you travel through the Magaliesberg area you will find numerous reminders of the battles that took place. Today, you can still see some of the numerous forts and blockhouses built in the mountains by the Boers. The fort overlooking Kommando Nek and the area now covered by the Hartbeespoort Dam, built in early 1901, is the most prominent of these.

It’s tempting to think that the combatants on both sides that day also marvelled at the beauty of the Magaliesberg, but they probably had little time to do so – unlike today’s visitors to the area.

To read more about these battles, visit the South African Military History Society’s Military History Journal and the Kormorant website

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