The white regime mobilised 1800 Boers: 850 from Tshwane (Pretoria), 200 from Potchefstroom, 100 from Waterberg, 200 from Heidelberg, 200 from Standerton, and 250 from the Soutpansberg. The Boer commando, led by General Joubert, reached Tshitandani (Makhado) on 18th October 1898. They constructed a laager in the form of a square, fortified by a stone wall in order to combat night attacks. The Vhavenda on the other hand constructed their own fortifications about a mile from the laager.
King Mphephu ordered his men not to attack the Boers until the Boers fired on them. His people, however, wanted to fight since they resented the presence of the Boers in Venda. On 21 October 1898, when the Boers were busy putting their laager, shots were heard from the direction of Luatame. The first shot was fired by Funyufunyu who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol. He fired the shot which to the other men heralded the beginning of hostilities. The Boers were caught unawares. Vhavenda men swarmed down the hills in their thousands. The skirmish only lasted 15 minutes as the Boers were able to repel the attack. As a result of this surprise attack Joubert requested the white regime to send another 2700 Boers.
Joubert wrote a letter to King Mphephu asking him to negotiate. Mphephu refused due to the fact that Sinthumule was with the Boers. Mphephu thought that he was being asked to go to a meeting with the Boers so that he could be killed, and that the Boers wanted to install Sinthumule as king of Vhavenda.
On 2 November 1898 Reverend Beuster visited Joubert with two messengers from Khosi Tshivhase. The two messengers brought with them four oxen and an assurance that Tshivhase would support Joubert. Later on Khosi Mphaphuli also indicated that he would not support Mphephu. Two Batlokoa chiefs, Machaka and Ramokgopa, also indicated to the Boers that they would not support Mphephu. By forcing Tshivhase, Machaka, Ramokgopa, and Mphaphuli to state that they would not support Mphephu, the Boers managed to isolate him.
On 16 November 1898 4500 Boers attacked Luatame. They were joined by 1000 Swazi men and 1000 TsongaShangaan men. Seven divisions were dispatched to attack Luatame from three sides. The easterly division attacked from Malimuwa. The central division attacked from Tshirululuni, while the westerly division forced its way through Vhulorwa.
The Boers, after heavy fighting and resistance from Vhavenda, took over Luatame. But the Phawe, Malimuwa and Tshitopeni regiments gave the Boers a run for their money. Finally, after two days of fighting, and after about 130 people had perished, Vhavenda surrendered to the Boers. Most of the people who perished were old men and women.
The Boers, after annexing Luatame and Malimuwa, were surprised why Vhavenda surrendered. The two places were well fortified and impenetrable. It would not have been easy for the Boers to capture the two places had Vhavenda not been terrified by the sound of cannons. The Boers were able to capture the two places because Vhavenda got terrified and deserted the two areas after only two days of fighting
King Mphephu fled to Zimbabwe to seek help from the British. The Boers were disappointed at having failed to capture him. They continued searching for Mphephu, not knowing that he had fled to Zimbabwe. Vhavenda who were taken prisoners of war misled the Boers by telling them that Mphephu was hiding in caves. The Boers looked for Mphephu in different caves, but could not find him.
On 20 November 1898 Joubert received congratulatory messages from Khosi Tshivhase and Khosi Mphaphuli. The two promised to guard the boundary on the north-east to prevent Mphephu from escaping.
The search for Mphephu continued on 21 November 1898. The Boers went as far as Ha-Madzhie, but Mphephu was nowhere to be found. Some of Mphephu’s chiefs, Tshiangamela, Kharivhe, Matshisevhe, Lishivha, Madzhie, Ravele, Madzivhandila, Mugivhi, Nelwamondo, and Netsianda offered to negotiate peace with the Boers.
The Boer army left Venda on 8 December 1898. Joubert reported to the white regime in Tshwane that although the army had failed in its mission to capture King Mphephu, they had succeeded in subduing all Vhavenda.
The total number of people who crossed Vhembe River into Zimbabwe was 2 402. With the recall of the Boer army from Venda and the surrender of Vhavenda, the Mphephu war ended.
The Boers decided to establish a town at Tshirululuni. This town was, by a proclamation published on 22 February 1899, named Louis Trichardt. But the Boers continued to search for Mphephu. They later learnt that he was in Zimbabwe. They requested the British to extradite him to South Africa. The British refused to extradite Mphephu.
The Boers gave Tshifhefhe back to Sinthumule. Maemu was also given his own land which was later known as HaMaemu. But people refused to acknowledge Sinthumule and Maemu as chiefs since they accused them of inviting Boer enemies to Venda.
Vhavenda continued to pay tribute to King Mphephu in exile through Rambiyana and Ravele Matsheketsheke. When the South African War (Anglo-Boer War) broke out in 1899, Mphephu encouraged his people to assist the British against the Boers. Vhavenda responded by attacking the newly established town Louis Trichardt, established at Tshirululuni, and setting it on fire. Vhavenda joined the English in the war against the Boers actively participated in the war.