Mafikeng is the provincial capital of North West since 1994. 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.

Last updated : 16-Feb-2012

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