Mafeking, South Africa (1899 AD)
The Battle of Mafeking was one of the most decisive engagements of the Boer Wars in South Africa and one of the most famous battles to take place in the history of Sub-Saharan Africa. Fought between British colonial forces and the Dutch Boers, the battle, actually a siege that lasted more than seven months, the battle was pivotal in upending the balance of power in the Natal region, ultimately leading to total British control of South Africa at the height of the colonial era. It was also the largest engagement to be fought primarily by Europeans on both sides in Sub-Saharan Africa until World War I.
In the 1880s, decades-old tensions between the British and Dutch settlers in South Africa broke out into open conflict. Two wars, known as the Boer Wars, were fought over control of this pivotal and strategically located colony. The first, fought in 1880, was indecisive. The second, launched after the discovery of large gold deposits outside of Pretoria, was one of the bloodiest colonial wars fought in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Open conflict broke out in 1899. As in the first war, the Boers had several major advantages, including the ability to mobilize large numbers of well-trained militia, better knowledge of the terrain and combining modern weaponry with unconventional tactics. Because of this the Boers quickly seized the initiative and scored some early victories. However, the British soon rethought their tactics, focusing on holding of strategic locations, as the Boers were ill-equipped for protracted sieges.
The main test of the British strategy, and the decisive engagement of the war, took place at Mafeking. In October, the British dug in, fortifying the town of Mafeking with an extensive trench network and gun emplacements. A large force of eight thousand Boers soon arrived, outnumbering the British more than five to one. Several unsuccessful sorties were attempted by both sides, and by November the two forces settled in to a long siege.
The British held out at Mafeking for more than seven months, when large relief forces were finally deployed to the region. In May 1900, the Boers made one last assault on the defenders positions, briefly taking some of the outer defenses before being driven back. A few days later, a large British reinforcement column arrived, driving off the Boers and relieving the defenders. The failure of the Boers to take Mafeking turned the tide of the war, ultimately leading to the defeat of the Dutch and the establishment of the Union of South Africa.
As the battle was primarily a siege, fighting took place throughout and all around the town of Mafeking. Sites related to the battle are scattered around the area. The most popular and important site related to the Battle of Mafeking is a memorial obelisk which stands in the center of the town. On it is inscribed the names of many of those who died during the siege.
The Mafeking Obelisk is located in the center of Mafeking, approximately 90 miles west of Pretoria and Johannesburg. The memorial and other battle locations are generall open sites. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.southafrica.net (official tourism site of South Africa).
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