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LLimpopo 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 Second Anglo-Boer War), and one of its officers who became an Australian folk hero: Lieutenant Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant.
Sometime in the year 1900, at the height of the South African War (also known as the Second 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 defense 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 licenses 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 3 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!’
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Tour – Lalapanzi Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)15 516 5455
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 tour is a year-round experience.
Things to do
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 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.
The tour guide, Charles Leach, will drive you around the route in his vehicle.
What will it cost?
Enquire with the hotel about minimum numbers and cost.
Length of stay
The Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route is a 1 to 2-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.
Pottery or wood carvings from Open Africa's Ribolla Route.