Mafikeng lies along the Northern bank of the Molopo River, 298 km west of Johannesburg, at the altitude of 1 278 meters above sea level. Today it is the center of the thriving Molopo district – but it was once the lush and scenic home of cast herds of game witnessed by travelers early last century. One writer reported seeing a single herd of 1500 zebra and wildebeest at Mareetsane, about 48 km south of Mafikeng. The cast herds attracted early man to the area – as evidenced by the pre-Bushman ruins and the many artifacts to be found in the area.
The town in only one and a half kilometers from the center of the Barolong stadt, traditional capital of the Tshidi Barolong tribe. It was here that the Molema section of the tribe settled in the early 1850’s while the senior section of the tribe under Montshiwa remained at Machaneng in the Kanya district.
Subsequently Montshiwa moved to Sehuba and then to Molema’s town which was then re-named Mafikeng- “the place of stones’ – set as it was amongst great rock outcrops on the banks of the river. Chief Montshiwa prohibited the felling of trees and the plains became well-forested – so much so that Sir Charles Warren, traveling to Mafikeng in 1881, described it as the prettiest village he had seen in his travels.
By the early 1860’s, the Transvaal Republic was expanding westwards beyond the boundary fixed in 1854 and had established two republics – Goshen, at Rooigrond on the Transvaal border, and Stellaland at Vryburg. The Transvalers were laying out farms along the Molopo and this brought them in conflict with the Barolong. In 1865 the western Transvalers demanded hut tax, or alternatively, labourers from the Barolong – but these claims were rejected by Molema on the grounds that the Barolong were not subject to the Transvaal. By 1882, a near state of war existed between Montshiwa and the Transvaal, and in 1885, after giving due warning to Gey von Pittius, the president of Goshen Republic, Montshiwa sent 300 armed men to occupy Rooigrond. As a result, the High Commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson, sent Reverend John Mackenzie to restore peace and order.
During the previous year, a treaty had been signed between Montshiwa and rev Mackenzie, whereby Montshiwa formally ceded jurisdiction of his country to the Queen’s Government. By this treaty all land north of the Cape Colony, west of the Transvaal and east of meridian 20E, became a British sphere of influence. However, the signing of the treaty had no effect on the men from Goshen and the fights and raids continued.
Things came to a head inn July 1884 when 300 Goshenites raided Barolong cattle posts north west of Mafikeng and drove off over 3000 head of cattle. The Barolong attempted to recover their cattle and in the subsequent fight lost 180 men while about 50 Goshenites were killed. among the Barolong dead were two whites who had assisting them -Christopher Bethell (whose grave is still to be found in Mafikeng) and Nathan Walker.
Rev Mackenzie was replaced as Commissioner Cecil Rhodes who spend two days at Rooigrond discussion peace terms with Gey von Pittius and Commandant Piety Joubert -the Transvaal’s special Commissioner for Bechuanaland. Soon after Rhodes’ departure, Montshiwa signed a very unfavorable peace treaty with Gey von Pittius and Joubert.
This was September 1884, just three Months after Montshiwa was supposed to have been taken under British protection. President Kruger then issued a proclamation placing Montshiwa and his subjects under the control of Transvaal.
Ten days later Kruger Withdraw his proclamation but the Goshenites continued with their plans to divide Montshiwa’s country amongst themselves.
Sir Charles Warren Had been appointed Special Commisioner for Bechuanaland to restore order , re-instate the Chiefs in their lands and hold the country until it’s density was decided. He arrived in mafekeng on mirth 19,1885 and on the same day the Goshenites retired to Transvaal. On March 23 a proclamation was issued providing for civil and criminal jurisdiction over the territory. During April and May, Warren visited the chiefs of what is now Botswana and persuaded them to place themselves under British protection.
Warren offered to help Montshiwa by erecting a chapel for his Wesleyan subjects to replace the one built by Molema and wrecked during the war of 1881-1884 against the Goshenites. Three Barolong regiments made bricks and supplied unskilled labour while the Royal Engineers did the masonry and skilled work. The church was opened on December 5, 1885 and continued to be in use until recently.
A Balloon Corps was attached to the expedition and the trial ascent made at Mafeking was the first in Southern Africa.
On August 13, Warren’s force was withdrawn and replaced by a detachment of mounted police. Forts had been constructed by Warren on the northern and eastern sides of the Barolong town and Sir Hercules Robinson gave permission for the establishment of the town of Mafeking close to these forts- although Montshiwa wanted the town built at Rooigrond.
The town was laid out with mathematical precision by the Royal Engineers in 1885. A magistracy was established at the town as a stabilizing point for the control of the area. The forts known as Warren’s fort and Cannon Kopje are still standing to this day. Cannon Kopje is so named because the Goshenites used to fire a small gun from this strategic “high” point into the Barolong Stadt during the early skirmishes.
On Sept 30,1885, the southern portion of Bechuanaland was constituted into a Crown Colony known as British Bechuanaland Protectorate. Mafeking remained the seat of government of the Bechuanaland Protectorate until 1965 – making the Protectorate the only country in the world with its capital outside its borders.
The first meeting of the Mafikeng Village Management Board was held on December 29, 1886. Meanwhile, in 1890, a body known as the Water Syndicate had laid on regular water supply to the town from the Malelane Springs and from nearby wells. In 1894 Mafeking suffered an outbreak of smallpox. The s of fighting were paid for by the imposition of a special property tax. The railway line from Cape Town reached Mafeking in the same year.
Rinderpest hit the country with devastating effect in 1896. The resulting livestock carnage pushed prices sky-high and the humble donkey sold for £10 while a mule fetched £50. Four oxen belonging to the municipality had to be destroyed and the Government paid £15.10,0 in compensation.
Another unwelcome visitor at this time was the notorious Scotty Smith who — just for a lark — stole 100 horses destined for the BSAP from what is now the market square. He returned them four days later, however, much to the relief of the officer in charge.
Meanwhile landmarks continued to be erected many of which survive to this day. A public library was started in Mafeking in 1896 and the Victoria Hospital and St Joseph’s Convent were opened in 1899.