Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This Day in Southern African History: The siege of Okiep, in Namaqualand, starts

Date: 4 April, 1902

In the final stages of the South African War (Anglo Boer), the British had whittled down the Boer resistance to such an extent that the only resistance they could offer was sporadic guerrilla campaigns. This was largely due to the superior military power of the British, the 'scorched earth' tactics Lord Kitchener employed and the fact that the British confined much of the rural populace to internment camps.  On the eve of defeat, General Smuts decided to lead a commando down to the Cape Colony.  It was during this campaign that his Commando, as the Boer military formations were called, laid siege to the mining town of Okiep. Okiep was a small copper mining town in the Cape Colony, that eventually became the headquarters of the Cape Copper Mining Company. This was after the neighbouring towns of Concordia and Springbok had surrendered.  Springbok had put up quite fierce resistance, with British loses being four men killed and six wounded.  Due to the small size of British forces in the region, Boer forces had free reign of the surrounding areas.

Thus, Smuts and his commando were able to force the evacuation of many outposts as well as blowing up a number of blockhouses (fortifications).  The majority of the refugees fled to Port Nolloth, as two British gunboats were en route there. On  4 April 1902, Smuts demanded the surrender of Okiep. The soldiers stationed at Okiep were made up of the fifth Royal Warwickshires, number of Namaqualand Town Guard Battalion members, consisting of a sizeable number of Black and European miners It is claimed that Colonel Shelton, the Commander of the British garrison at Okiep, refused to surrender even though he only had enough provisions to hold out for three weeks. On  4 May 1902, a relief column arrived from Port Nolloth and ended the siege.  This was one of the last military actions by Boer forces, as the war ended in May of the same year.  A point of interest is that the British had expected a protracted siege, and in preparation thereof had issued a number of siege notes. This being a form of government guaranteed credit note to keep the economy in a besieged town going until relief arrived.

  1. Cloete, P.G. (2000).  The Anglo-Boer War: a chronology, Pretoria: Lapa.
  2. Sandrock.J.E( date unknown), Siege Notes-Windows to the Past (online), available at: [Accessed 29 March 2010]
  3. Smuts, Field Marshal, Jan Christian. (online), available at: [Accessed 29 March 2010]
  4. The Siege of O'okiep from  The New York Times archives (online), available at:[Accessed 29 March 2010]
  5. O'okiep and Port Nolloth (online), available at:[Accessed 29 March 2010]
  6. O'okiep (online), available at:[Accessed 29 March 2010]
Also on this Day: ANC attack on Booysens Police Station

Date: 4 April, 1980
African National Congress (ANC) insurgents launched a rifle, rocket and grenade attack on Booysens Police Station Johannesburg. Pamphlets were scattered demanding the release of Walter Sisulu from Robben Island. In 2000, the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) granted amnesty for the attack to Siphiwe Nyanda, Solly Zacharia Shoke and Malekolle Johannes Rasegatla, all members of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

Kalley, J.A.; Schoeman, E. & Andor, L.E. (eds)(1999). Southern African Political History: a chronology of key political events from independence to mid-1997, Westport: Greenwood.

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