When Makhado ascended the throne at the beginning of 1864, the Boers had already firmly established themselves in his territory at Thivhalalwe (Schoemansdal), Luonde and other areas where they started conducting farming operations. The Boers began to flex their muscle in an effort to exercise control over everything they found, including the indigenous inhabitants. This control was exercised through unilateral land demarcations, forced taxation and compulsory labour. These activities gave offence to the Venda nation.
Davhana’s stay at Luonde under the protection of Albasini, and the activities of the land hungry and land grabbing Boers at Thivhalalwe angered Makhado. He decided that whites staying at Luonde and Thivhalalwe had to be driven out of Venda. Furthermore, the Boers at Thivhalalwe had decided, on 27 February 1855, that money had to be raised from Vhavenda for the improvement of the Boer settlement at Thivhalalwe. To make it easier to collect this money, the Boers decided that Vhavenda chiefs, including senior chiefs such as Tshivhase, Mphaphuli, Rambuda, Madzivhandila, Mugivhi, Nethengwe, Tshikundamalema, Nelwamondo, and Netsianda should collect tributes from their subjects and hand such tributes to Boer representatives.
Schoeman appointed Albasini as a tribute collector. Albasini, in turn appointed some of his Tsonga followers as tribute collectors. But Makhado vehemently resisted any attempts to subjugate Vhavenda to the laws of the Boers. To him, the payment of taxes to Albasini would signal an acceptance of not only subjugation to the Boers, but also to the foreigners who had illegally established themselves at Luonde.
Realising that Vhavenda were resisting paying tribute to the Boers, Albasini and his followers went on expeditions to collect tribute by force. But they did not only collect tribute from Vhavenda. They also stole and seized people’s cattle, goats, sheep, ivory and hoes. The collection of tribute and the seizing of people’s livestock led to animosity between Vhavenda and whites.
It has already been mentioned that during the rainy season the Boers used to give Vhavenda arms and ammunition to go on an elephant hunting expedition. Albasini’s behaviour and the attempts by the Boers to exert their authority over Vhavenda led to the latter acquiring arms and ammunition by either claiming to have lost the arms and ammunition in the hunting expeditions or simply refusing to hand back the arms and ammunition. Vhavenda also told the Boers that they had worked for a long time without any remuneration, and that the firearms could be considered payment for their labours and forced taxation. Vhavenda also decided to trade directly with the Portuguese in Mozambique by exchanging ivory for arms and ammunition.
What triggered the war between Vhavenda and the whites was the fallout between Albasini and his Tsonga induna, Munene. The king of the Gaza Kingdom, a Shangaan kingdom in Mozambique, Manukusi, passed away in 1859. His two sons, Mzila and Mawewe, fought for the throne. Mzila was driven into Venda and settled at Tshitavhadulu, Tshakhuma. His settlement at Tshitavhadulu was sanctioned by Khosi Raluthaga Madzivhandila of Tshakhuma. Mzila’s stay in Venda was, however, short-lived. He returned to Mozambique whereupon he defeated Mawewe and became the king of the Gaza Kingdom in 1861.
After gaining complete control of the Gaza kingdom, Mzila lodged a complaint with Albasini, requesting him to extradite Munene with his wives and children to Mozambique, or to put them to death for the offences Munene was alleged to have committed during the reign of Manukosi. Mzila further warned that should his request be denied, he would close the hunting grounds in his country to further trade, thus denying hunters and traders access to their chief source of income, ivory. Faced with this dilemma, Albasini felt he had no choice but to succumb to the ultimatum. But while still contemplating his course of action, Munene became aware of Albasini’s treachery and fled to the protection of Commandant F.H. Geyser at Thivhalalwe.
Munene was arrested by the Boers at Thivhalalwe after Albasini had lodged a complaint against him. Munene, however, escaped from custody on 28 March 1865. He sought refuge at Luatame (Songozwi), then Phawe and ultimately at Mukumbani.
When news of Munene’s escape from detention reached Albasini, he became furious and immediately dispatched his subjects, ordering them to search for Munene. Albasini’s marauders ill-treated innocent villagers and pillaged their homes. They also committed criminal acts against Khosi Magoro and other mahosi. On 7 April 1865, the Boer commando under Venter and Albasini, and which included Davhana and Tsonga warriors, left Luonde and travelled over the mountains as far as Phawe. Horrifying atrocities were committed under the pretext of looking for Munene. In the course of this invasion, several subjects of Khosi Tshikumbu Maphaha, including his mother, the famous Makhadzi Nyakhuhu, were killed. A number of cattle, sheep and goats were also taken. In addition, several defenceless women and children were taken prisoner.
Davhana was accused of having killed Makhadzi Nyakhuhu, skinning her and wearing her skin to look like her. This, it was alleged, was a desperate attempt by Davhana to go to Makhado, looking like Makhadzi Nyakhuhu and with the aim of assassinating Makhado.
On 8 May 1865 these combined forces then travelled to the next target, Tshakhuma. These attacks on Phawe and Tshakhuma signalled the commencement of the conflict in earnest, as Vhavenda started preparing themselves for war.
As the situation deteriorated, the tribute collectors realised that Vhavenda were armed with guns obtained from hunters and traders. They demanded from Madzhie that the firearms be returned to the Boers. Madzhie’s reply was clear. As long as the
Boers had not yet complied with the request that Davhana be handed over to Makhado, no firearms would be returned. This reply further aggravated the already tense situation. The Boers were so angry that they launched an attack on Madzhie on 1 September 1865. Their attack was, however, repelled by Vhavenda. The Boers retreated with their tails between their legs.
The Boers ill-treated Vhavenda employed on their farms and domestic workers in Thivhalalwe, Schoemansdal. Although the working conditions on the farms and in the households are unrecorded, there is one occurrence which remains in the memory of the Vhavenda, and which according to them, led to Vhavenda attacking and driving the Boers out of Venda.
One of the young Vhavenda employed on a farm was Mmboi, a younger brother of Funyufunyu, the khosi of Vhulorwa and the commander of Vhaingamela battalion. Both Funyufunyu and Mmboi were sons of Tshinetise Matinyatshiulu of Vhulorwa. Mmboi, an industrious and dedicated worker, was employed primarily to look after the cattle. As a cattleherd he had to discharge all the duties connected with cattle farming, including the milking of cows. One day Mmboi’s elder brother, Funyufunyu visited him during the morning milking session. Funyufunyu was waiting for him outside the kraal. However, there were also three stockily built Boers inside the kraal.
Mmboi was in the process of milking, and the container was almost full when a calf came running in and pushed the milk container with its head, resulting in the spilling of all the milk. When the three Boers saw the milk flowing away, they became furious, berating him for the loss of the milk, and thrashed Mmboi to such an extent that they left him unconscious. Funyufunyu witnessed the entire episode, and sympathising with the unjustifiable punishment of his younger brother, rushed to Luatame to inform Makhado of the beating. Makhado took up the matter and referred it to his uncle, Madzhie, for further advice. Makhado was worried by the attitude of the three Boers, and concluded that the whole White community was arrogant, and that it looked down upon his people.
Madzhie’s response was that the time to launch an attack on the Whites had come. Makhado, however, was cautious, as he doubted the Vhavenda’s ability to face the Whites in an all out war. But Madzhie was persistent in his demands that war should be declared. Mahosi and magota also agreed with Madzhie that the Boers needed to be driven out of Venda.
After their defeat at Ha-Madzhie, the Boers requested reinforcements from Pretoria. In May 1867, 500 Boer fighters arrived from Pretoria and stationed themselves on the western side of Thivhalalwe. Their arrival, which brought relief to the Boers, signalled a warning to Makhado that should he not comply with the demands the Boers imposed on him, the outbreak of full scale war between the two groups was inevitable.
Before any military action was undertaken by the Boers, Paul Kruger sent a deputation to one of Makhado’s royal residences, Makwatambani. The deputation requested that Makhado should come down to Thivhalalwe (Schoemansdal) and enter into negotiations aimed at averting war. Makhado felt insulted that ‘the king of the Boers’ was summoning him in his own land, instead of the Boers visiting him. He therefore responded negatively to the request. To further complicate matters he sent a group of young boys to meet the Boer delegation, a tactic which the Boers regarded as a sign of his contempt for them and their peace offerings.
When the Boer demands were refused, forces led by one of the commandants, Frikkie van Dyk, attempted to storm Makhado’s royal residence at Luatame. The topography of the place, with its heavy boulders and ravines presented insurmountable difficulties to the attackers. The Boers suffered heavy losses. They diverted their attack to Vhulorwa, north of Schoemansdal. When the Boer commando approached Vhulorwa, three prominent diviners Lidzwavho, Bereda, and Makhovha, had through their thangu (diviner bones) discovered that the Boers were coming. Subsequently, the Vhavenda army prepared themselves under the command of Funyufunyu. The Boers were sent packing and a lot of them were killed. On their way back, the surviving Boers disturbed bee hives on Mount Vhurengwe. The bees came out in huge swarms and attacked the Boers. This led to more Boers dying. The surviving ones scattered in all directions, fleeing to Thivhalalwe after having failed to storm both Luatame and Vhulorwa.
The next target of attack was, for the second time, Ha-Madzhie. The Boers were joined by Davhana, who joined the battle for his personal benefit as well as payment for Albasini’s protection. Apart from Davhana’s followers, Albasini who was waiting for such an opportunity, assisted the Boers by providing them with his Tsonga warriors, armed with assegais and spears. Tsonga auxiliaries would assist in combing the bushes and mountains.
When the attackers arrived at Ha- Madzhie, four hundred troops climbed the high mountain, occupying strategic positions directly behind boulders, the intent being to forestall the arrival of any reinforcements from Venda’s other battalions, thus isolating and containing Madzhie’s large army within the confines of his mountain stronghold. The Commandant-General himself, together with some of his men, remained on the slopes of the mountain with a cannon in place. The Boers, under command of Fieldcornet David Herbst, proceeded to the nearest boulder, while Albasini’s Tsonga warriors approached from the east.
Madzhie’s fighters unleashed a hail of bullets from their elephant guns. The situation was such that, the Boers and their allies were unable to penetrate the strategic points. Under these difficult conditions, and with lots of Boers and Tsonga fighters dead, the Boers immediately realised that continuing the fighting would be dangerous. It was not possible to launch a full-scale attack on the fortified mountainous stronghold. They retreated from an offensive to a defensive position. By four o’clock that afternoon, the Commandant-General ordered the commando to retreat from the slopes to join those stationed at the foot of the mountain. Eventually the Boers retreated to Thivhalalwe leaving Madzhie’s army and the man believed to be the brains behind the outbreak of hostilities, Madzhie himself undefeated. After the three major confrontations with the Boers, and the heavy defeats inflicted on the Boers, Makhado’s armies were still intact. His fighting strength remained unabated.
The heavy losses suffered at Luatame, Vhulorwa and Ha-Madzhie were hailed by Vhavenda as military successes. To the Boers, these defeats were catastrophic.
On their return to Thivhalalwe, a meeting was convened to discuss the future of the settlement. The Boers realising that they had no chance of defeating Vhavenda, decided to leave Venda. Remaining there was no longer advisable, as they heard the whole night the sound of Vhavenda’s war drum, Mutulogole, signalling Vhavenda’s intended attack on the town. Following these discussions the inhabitants became convinced that they had no alternative but to commence packing their wagons in preparation for departure. Doors, windows and poles were all packed to use for rebuilding in a new settlement. It was a pitiable moment when tears rolled down cheeks as women and children wept, at the thought of leaving the town which had been their home for almost 19 years.
On 15 July 1867, when everything was ready, the Boers left Schoemansdal by way of Blouberg, while the Vhavenda watched from mountain tops the dust rise near Ha-Matshavha indicating that the Boers were returning, en masse, to the south from where they came. When all the inhabitants were gone, Vhavenda rushed to the abandoned town to destroy it completely.
As the Boers proceeded further, they saw the settlement of Schoemansdal, enveloped in flames and black smoke. It was more painful when they thought of deserted graves, orchards, gardens, houses and furniture, livestock, and all other articles which were too heavy and cumbersome for them to take along.
King Makhado had therefore managed to drive the Boers out of Venda and reduced Schoemansdal to ashes. This brought to an end era of White residence in the northernmost part of South Africa. By failing to subjugate Vhavenda, the Boers were unable to extend their control to the Venda kingdom. Vhavenda remained undefeated and free of Boer authority. The war was not an uprising or a rebellion in which the conquered rose against their conquerors. It was a war culminating in the retention of Vhavenda freedom from subjugation by the Boers.
With this great victory, Makhado became known as Tshilwavhusiku tsha ha Ramabulana, meaning the night fighter of Ramabulana. This name, which is legendary amongst Vhavenda, came from the fact that some of Makhado’s strategies included attacking the Boers at night. The driving out of the Boers from Venda signified Makhado’s victory through his bravery as a warrior and leader of his people. The Boers called him the “Lion of the North”. Praises and songs emanated from this name, hailing Makhado as a diplomat, a statesman, and a fearless fighter not afraid to fight for his people and the preservation of the kingdom.
After the Boers were forced to leave the village, they first settled at Moletji, where they remained for five months. They then proceeded further south and settled on the farms of Hans Venter and Gert Emmenis. They remained there for a whole year. This was the beginning of the Marabastad settlement. This settlement paved the way for the Boer settlement in Polokwane in 1886.