Limpopo province is full of myths, legends and rollicking adventure stories. One of these stories is about the hard-riding multi-national unit called the Bushveld Carbineers, formed during the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War), and one of its officers who became an Australian folk hero: Lieutenant Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant.

Did you know?

Breaker Morant is an Australian film made in 1980. It won wide critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Sometime in the year 1900, at the height of the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War), a pro-British shopkeeper-publican from the Limpopo town of Pienaar’s River came up with the idea of forming a local defence unit to fight the Boers in the area.

So keen was he that he donated £500 to the establishment of what was to be known as the Bushveld Carbineers. 

This unit was later recognised as being the first-ever special forces group formed to fight a counter-insurgency war.

As a reward, the generous shopkeeper-publican was made a captain and paymaster. 

He soon used this position to apply for liquor licences at the 10 railway stations between Pretoria and Pietersburg (now Polokwane).

The British army, however, did not think that more alcohol outlets were the answer to their war problems, so his application was denied.

The Bushveld Carbineers were made up of a motley crew of Australians, ‘turned’ Boers, Americans, New Zealanders, Germans, Rhodesians and the occasional Briton.

About 50 men from the unit rampaged through the far-northern Transvaal (now Limpopo), fighting the rough-hewn Boers of the Spelonken (Soutpansberg) area on their own terms.

Into the frame stepped Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, a dapper Australian who could ride a horse, compose a poem, drive a herd of livestock and soldier like nobody’s business.

He was offered a lieutenant’s commission, put in charge of No. 2 Troop of B Squadron, and given the task of raiding farms used by local Boer commandos.

Morant and three other lieutenants were later said to have participated in the execution of a number of Boer prisoners of war and the killing of a German missionary.

They were court-martialled and the chief of British operations in South Africa, Lord Kitchener, personally signed the death warrants. 

Lieutenants Morant and Peter Handcock were executed in Pretoria and buried in the same grave. Lieutenant George Witton’s death sentence was commuted to life, and Lieutenant Henry Picton was cashiered.

However, the passage of time has unearthed conflicting reports of the events concerned, and Breaker Morant and Handcock have been elevated to Australian folk heroes. 

Morant’s last words to the firing squad were said to be: ‘Shoot straight, you bastards, and don’t make a mess of it!’

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route
Tel: +27 (0)15 516 1466 
Cell: +27 (0)83 228 3874

How to get here

The Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Tour begins at the Lalapanzi Hotel and Conference Centre, 28km south of Louis Trichardt on the N1, approx. 500km north of Johannesburg.

Best time to visit

The Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route is a year-round experience.

Around the area

Open Africa, a tourism organisation that has plotted tourism routes throughout Southern Africa, has developed the Ribolla Route in this area. This route takes in the Ribolla art of Venda – check the Open Africa or Limpopo Tourism sites for details.

Tours to do

The Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route tour, led by skilled local historian and registered tourist guide Charles Leach, reveals the whole story of the Bushveld Carbineers, Breaker Morant and the course of the third phase of the South African War.

Get around

The tour guide, Charles Leach, will drive you around the route in his vehicle.

What will it cost

Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route Tour: A minimum charge of R1 200 per group per day.

Length of stay

The Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route is a one to two-day trip.

What to pack

Pack for limited outdoor walking, possibly something warm for a cold morning or chilly evening. In summer (October to April), this area is very hot, so pack light clothes and sunscreen.

Where to stay

The best option would be to stay where the tour starts: the Lalapanzi Hotel and Conference Centre. If you would prefer to stay in Makhado (Louis Trichardt), check the Limpopo Tourism site for accommodation options.

What to eat

Breakfast and lunch (or picnic lunch packs) are available on order from the Lalapanzi Hotel and Conference Centre.

What's happening

Check the Limpopo Tourism site for events in the area during your visit.

Best buys

Pottery or wood carvings from Open Africa's Ribolla Route.