The Basuto Gun War [1880-1881]; A Native Stand Against Oppression

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The Basotho people had been under the control of the Cape Colony of the British Empire since 1871, Basutoland was a British protectorate from 1868 to 1871. In the early days of colonial rule, Basuto remained autonomous as its traditional chieftaincy held actual power in the territory. An attempt by the Cape leadership in the late 1870s to consolidated power over the territory and restrict the traditional chieftain authority literally and it suffocated an independent Basutoland [present-day Lesotho] which was used to been independent.

Map of southern Africa, showing Basutoland as a constituent of the Cape Colony (dark pink), before the outbreak of the Basuto Gun War.

In retaliation, the chiefs of southern Basutoland attacked the Cape Colony magistrate and took a stand on the issues of self-rule and sovereignty. As a punishment the Cape authorities doubled the already controversial hut tax on the Sothos.

Sir Henry Bartle Frere, the High Commissioner for Southern Africa (1877–1880),

The situation escalated when Governor Henry Bartle Frere reserved a section of Basutoland for white settlement and demanding all the natives to surrender their firearms to Cape authorities under the 1879 Peace Protection and Disarmament Act.

And in April 1880, the Cape government of Sir John Gordon Sprigg set April 1880 as the date for surrendering weapons. The date set for the surrendering of gun saw most of the natives refusing to do so with only a handful reluctantly surrendering their weapons led to a conflict by September.

Most Basotho chiefs launched a rebellion which led to a civil war. The Cape force which tried to quell the insurrection suffered heavy casualties, as Basotho enjoyed a flow of serviceable firearms from the Orange Free State. In September 1880, a Cape Colony army attacked Sotho rebels led by Lerotholi. In October, the rebels ambushed the First Regiment, Cape Mounted Yeomanry where they inflicted a resounding defeat on the Cape troops, killing 39. They employed a guerrilla tactics, using the mountainous landscape to their advantage. The defeat of an experienced and formidable Calvary discouraged the Cape authorities to deploy more soldiers to fight the rebels.

The Cape authorities and Basuto chiefs signed a peace treaty in 1881, which the conceded most of the points in the dispute. Basotho chiefs wielded true power over the territory, and had unregulated access to firearms in exchange for a national one-time indemnity of 5,000 cattles.

 

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