Mafikeng vs Mafeking

One may well ask if I’ve been “mafeking” these past few weeks with fewer posts than normal making it onto the site. It is incredible how much one gets to rely on good internet access and electricity supply. A trip to Africa, whether it be south or east (or elsewhere for that matter) is enough to remind one that there is a life away from technology.

Back to mafeking though – it’s a word no longer used to explain joyous celebration and by all accounts it was only used for a short time after the Siege of Mafeking was raised on 16 May 1900. For those of you who have followed some of my blogs, I’m back to researching some aspects of the Anglo-Boer, South African or 1899-1902 war.

My lastest foray has, as you’ve no doubt gathered, taken me to Mafeking which is sometimes spelt Mafikeng. So, what is the difference in spelling? Well according to the gem of a find – The Boer War Diary of Sol T Plaatje: An African at Mafeking (edited by John L Comaroff), the Setswana called the area Mafikeng which means “Place of Stones”. After the British took over control of the territory they changed the spelling to Mafeking. But it appears that both place names were in use and referred to the black and white towns respectively. For some reason, it is also referred to Mahiking. Today it is referred to as Mafikeng and is the capital town of North-West Province.

The story of the siege of Mafeking is rather odd, if you ask me. By all accounts (at least those I’ve read), there was no reason for beseiging the town other than than it was British and it was near where the Jameson Raid started in 1895. There was no strategic reason for the siege. It also appears that despite Lord Baden-Powell achieving fame for bringing the town out of the siege, he had planned all along to be holed up in the town in order to avoid fighting! Brian Gardner’s Mafeking: A Victorian legend is not at all favourable towards BP and rather than crediting old BP as founder of the Boy Scouts, passes this accolade onto Edward Cecil, BP’s ADC and the son of the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. Gardner also picks holes in BP’s scouting abilities.

After the siege was lifted, BP tried to get himself involved in another besieged town despite being chivvied on by Roberts. BP was soon told to put in for leave and his command was taken over by Plumer. Milner, Governor of the Cape, took the opportunity to employ BP in looking after the Cape Police for whom he designed a new uniform. He resigned from the Army in 1907 to devote his time to scouting and during the First World War was not called up to assist as other retired Army Officers had been. He and Kitchener did not get on and according to Gardner, Kitchener told him he would be more useful looking after the Scouts. Baden-Powell’s strength was his ability to keep the inhabitants positively focused which he did through Sunday games and performances. He also spent time sketching as noted in his publication Sketches in Mafeking and East Africa.

One of the challenges I’ve found investigating events during the siege is that Baden-Powell wrote the reports to the War Office which are his version. Reading through the few first-hand accounts from the day, it is clear he glossed over much of what was really happening and I wonder how much of the real story can be compiled from what else remains. Plaatjes’ account in itself is illuminating as it is the account of a literate black man who worked in the Courts as a translator and for a number of the reporters. He was involved in setting up South Africa’s first black newspaper and came to fame with his book, Native Life, on the impact of the 1913 Land Act. He was the first Secretary General of the South African Native National Congress (later the ANC).

Some other accounts can be found at:
FD Baillie – Mafeking: A diary of a siege
The Mafeking Mail (newspaper published during the siege)
Filson Young – Relief of Mafeking
while a full list of accounts in English can be found here.

I still haven’t managed to piece together the story I’m after, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to fully, but it did help me solve what had happened to Baden-Powell during WW1 and enticed me down some other fascinating garden paths. It also reinforces the need for a comprehensive re-telling of the Boer War as Thomas Pakenham’s version remains the most thorough account to date.

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