Mafikeng

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Mafikeng is the provincial capital of North West since 1994and lies on the border with Botswana, it's about 260 kilometers West of Johannesburg! It was previously a seat of government for the Bechuanaland protectorate until 1965.

The town was given the name Mahikeng by the Barolong boo Ratshidi who settled in the area during the early nineteenth century. The Barolong spelling of using an H was later changed to an F in order to comply with a more standard Setswana spelling. As a result, the town became Mafikeng. The name in English means "place of rocks". In Setswana, Lefika means rock and Mafika is a plural. The eng at the end of Mafik eng denotes place of. Similarly, Gauteng becomes "place of gold" and Mangaung "place of Cheetahs".

Early People

The earliest people to settle in Mafikeng were the Khoi and San societies. They lived in the area for thousands of years before they were joined by the migrating Tswana societies. The section of the Tswana society that settled in Mafikeng was the Barolong Boo Ratshidi.

The Barolong Boo Ratshidi established their chieftaincy in the area with their capital in Mafikeng (Mahikeng: Ba Rolong pronunciation). During the nineteenth century the expanding Voortrekkers and the establishment of the Zuid Afrikansche Republic in western Transvaal became a threat to Barolong boo Ratshidi autonomy. As a result, Chief Montshiwa of the Barolong Boo Ratshidi requested British protection. On the 22 May 1884, in Mafikeng, Chief Montshiwa signed a treaty ceding his sovereignty to the British. Soon afterwards the British government established a garrison in town. The following year, Hercules Robinson approved a proclamation that divided Mafikeng into two sections, one for the Barolongs and the other for European settlement.

From 1899 to 1901 (217 days) Mafikeng was besieged by the Boer forces during the second Anglo Boer War (South African War). At the time of the siege, people like Solomon T Plaatjie were residing in Mafikeng. The other famous person was Colonel Baden Powell who was sent to Mafikeng to protect it against Boer invasion. It was during this siege that the Boy Scouts were first organised and used to carry messages across towns and to spy on the movement of Boer forces.

Historic Monuments

The town of Mafikeng is the only known town to have war monuments in honour of Black (specifically the Barolong) men and women who died in the Anglo Boer War. It also has a monument honouring Chief Besele Montshiwa, head of a regiment that fought with the Boers forces during the war. The monuments were erected by the Barolong chieftaincy with funds collected from the Barolong people. The other monument is the Prince of Wales road, which was used by the Prince of Wales during his historic visit the Barolong Boo Ratshidi.

The Mafikeng Museum in housed in an ornate old building dating back to 1902, the Mafikeng Museum offers some interesting and diverse displays that take in all of the above. A retired steam locomotive outside the Museum, as well as displays of prehistoric artifacts will appeal to children and adults, and displays concentrating on Tswana culture and history tell interesting stories of the heritage and history of the region’s people. One of the most notable events in Mafikeng’s history was a protracted stand-off that took place betwen the British and the Boers (Afrikaaners) during the Second Boer War at the end of the 19th Century. The Siege of Mafikeng lasted 217 days, from October 1899 to May 1900, and this part of Mafikeng’s history is well covered at the Museum.
 
A permanent exhibition is also dedicated to Sol T Plaatje – the founder of the African National Congress (ANC).
 
The Curator of the Museum also holds the keys to various historical sites in and around Mafikeng and will be able provide you with some sightseeing information.
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Last updated : 23-May-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011