Skirmishes Route and museum, Louis Trichardt, Bandelierkop, Polokwane, Tzaneen, Tzaneng, Musina, Venda, Thohoyandou

Bushveldt Carbineers

Sunday 28 March - Saturday 3 April 2010

The Australian TV crew visited  ‘Breaker’ Morant Territory in Limpopo Province to film and document the South African side of the Bushveldt Carbineers (BVC) Story.  

The final program will be presented on their Channel 9 ‘60 minutes’ Sunday night program in Australia. The date will be announced. 

The Channel 9 Team comprised interviewer Ray Martin, producer Danny Keens, camera man Drew Benjamin and sound technician Chick Davey. They arrived in Johannesburg on Saturday 27 March. 

Nick Bleszynski and Jim Unkles, the promoters of the ‘Pardon for Morant’ petition,  joined the TV team at Lalapanzi Hotel – in ‘Breaker’ Morant Territory – on Wednesday night 31 March.  

It is almost impossible to recount all that happened in those few days. Some of the issues around the BVC story seem to be so much more distant and even less important now than others that have suddenly become so major. I am certain that amongst all of us who were involved with this tour there will always be different perceptions of issues that perhaps made a greater – or lesser – impression on me.

I cannot thank Piet and Anne-Marie Redelinghuys enough for the most amazing manner in which they sorted out the Pretoria/Johannesburg/Pretoria side of the tour. Their efforts added much value and gave the tour great impetus from the very beginning.

The TV crew could not have been a nicer team of guys. After the first meeting – when my initial apprehension proved totally unfounded, we got on so very well together and both Bev and I could not get over their empathy, sincerity and real desire to capture the South African Story, albeit after 108 years.

The tour started on Sunday 27 after we met the TV team and started with an interview with Prof. Malie Smuts, a grand daughter of Rev. Heese, at the Paul Kruger House in Pretoria. This was the first impression that Ray got of the various feelings and emotions of the descendants of those involved with the BVC and the Anglo Boer War.

Here I learnt to my dismay that ‘… the best laid plans of mice and men go hopelessly awry’ – when dealing with a TV crew. I believe that even Prof. Malie was non-plussed by the painstaking attention to detail that the TV guys put into every film session – something we came to understand and cater for by adding an extra 4 or 5 hours (so it seemed at times) to every interview.

We then went to the grave of Lts. Morant and Handcock in the Pretoria Cemetery accompanied by Prof. Fransjohann Pretorius. It was very special indeed to have the expertise and input of people of the caliber of Profs. Fransjohann and Malie. We then departed for a filming and interview session at Melrose House, the absolute shrine, and perhaps the very seat, of Prof. Fransjohann’s heart. This is where the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging was signed at 11:05 on 31 May 1902 by the delegates of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic. It was in that very room and from the same chair that Ray sat in that Lord Kitchener said ‘We are all good friends now’.

Much enlightenment came from that interview and I believe that Ray and Danny learnt a great deal of the real soul of the Afrikaner Nation and the horror and devastation of Kitchener’s Scorched Earth Policy. I have no doubt that this interview impacted greatly on – and perhaps even determined some of the direction – that Ray and Danny would take in the days ahead.

By the time we had finished at Melrose House and about to leave Pretoria, my program and itinerary was running about 4 hours behind schedule so calls had to be made to Orrie Baragwanath in Pietersburg and Inga Gilfillan at Lalapanzi.

Unfortunately we missed out on some of the places we had planned to visit, such as the grave of the Rev. Heese in Potgietersrus, but thanks to the producer Danny’s amazing ability to organize and adapt plans, it was not too serious and we clocked in at Lalapanzi late that evening, a little tired but safe.

We spent Monday and Tuesday as working days together in BVC Territory which included the entire tour route of the Bandolierkop/Elim – as well as the Letaba/Modjadji/Duivelskloof – areas of BVC occupation and operations.

Access to all the Elim/Bandolierkop graves and monuments has been made possible by these very good friends and supporters of ours, Poog Henning, Cobus Holtzkampf, Gerrit Hendriks and Percy Anderson. Thank you guys!

These 2 days included interviews with descendants of some of the victims of the BVC. Most were emotional and moving and involved Fritz and Corna Kelly, Hans Kelly, Ronnie Visser and Hasane Chauke. At Valdezia we heard Dennis Eveleigh, descendant of J.J.Vercuil, one of the 6 murdered Boers, tell how he and his family felt about the BVC saga. At the remains of the homestead of the Viljoen family in Duivelskloof we met Margaret Barrett, Annette van Rensburg and one of the Schnell descendants. Gerry Barrett, Theo and Marie Dicke, Phile van Zyl, and George Short – and their lovely wives are good friends who have all done so much for the BVC Story down in the Duivelskloof and Modjadji Valley area.

What certainly came out loud and clear during the interviews with the descendants of the victims of the BVC occupation was that during the Anglo Boer War, South Africans generally made no distinction between soldiers from the colonies or soldiers from Britain. They certainly did not say  ‘that bl..dy Canadian or New Zealander or Australian…’. They obviously never really got that close and personal. Some of the descendants did not actually know that Morant and Handcock were Australians. All that they knew and cared about was that the Anglo Boer war was between those who spoke English and those who spoke Dutch or German or French or whatever. Their deep-seated anger was directed against the ‘bl..dy Englishman..’ in general.

On Wednesday – the spare (or rain) day – Bev, who has been so very much part of this story, joined us with appropriate picnic and cooler boxes for a day in the Kruger Park. An early start made for some stunning sunrise footage. Though we all know that the chances of seeing the big five in one day are rather slim, it was still a remarkable day which included lions, charging elephants, buffaloes etc. causing much excitement in the Kombi. The Channel 9 guys had only the best from the KNP!

For the work day in the Duivelskloof / Modjadji / Medingen areas, we were able, through Phile van Zyl, to organise a helicopter for some really stunning footage. Pilot Phile, of the ZZ2 Tomato Empire is no slouch as a pilot. Some amazing photography for the Australian TV production is the result. The helicopter was also used on Vliegenpan 3 days later with equally spectacular results. Thank you Phile, for showing Australia that the scenes in the Beresford BVC movie are so very far off the mark from what the area really looks like . . .

Nick B. and Jim Unkles, who only arrived late on Wednesday evening, were met on Thursday morning with a ‘staged’ arrival and welcome. The T-shirts they wore (blazened with Morant’s picture) really did not offend me! We stook them and the TV guys on more or less the same trip as Monday but were able to include a few more of the historical sites as this time round we did not include interviews with descendants.

Thursday evening was a social gathering for all the role-players and interested parties at Lalapanzi. Channel Nine provided the wine and Lalapanzi the snacks. Nick and Jim presented their points of view and that was followed by some very interesting observations from the guests.

On Friday the whole group went back to the Lowveld. Our Zoutpansberg Skirmishes Route and Heritage Foundation presented the first of four granite tablets to landowner George Short, on whose farm the Grobler boys as well as Floris Visser are buried. George responded – in his customary way – with a ‘ Bush Breakfast’ second to none! Thank you Ramona!

After meeting as usual, at Theo and Marie Dicke’s home (which is becoming famous for it’s warm friendship, hospitality and total commitment to our ’cause’). Another visit took place to the ruins where the night attack took place where Hunt, Eland, both Viljoens and a few others were shot. This was where Morant was told that the Boers had mutilated the bodies of his best friend Hunt and also of the Viljoens (see my book later this year?) and he declared that he would take no more prisoners. Prof Louis Changuion also joined us – knee brace an’ all – and added richly to the academic and research content of the story.

I was a bit taken aback by Jim’s earlier statement that he ‘did not have much time’ for certain academics. However, he and Nick seemed to appreciate Prof. Louis so much that we barely heard the end of their visit to the Iron Crown Pub on Louis’ turf in Haenertsburg. Thank you, Kobus, my very able tour assistant, for bringing the guys back safely to Lalapanzi. Kobus must have been rather up-to-his-eyes with the BVC story that he had been hearing since day one!

On Saturday morning Bev and I met the whole group at Lalapanzi sadly, for the last time, and took them to Polokwane (Pietersburg), on their way back to Johannesburg. We visited the house in Pietersburg where the actual Courts Martial took place. This was arranged by Orrie Baragwanath who has become a very passionate supporter. See appendix 1.

We concluded the tour with a visit to the Pietersburg Concentration Camp Cemetery – always a moving and emotional experience for me. There are 647 children’s graves there. Twenty-nine have 2 bodies in and 3 or 4 have 3 bodies in. This camp had the highest ‘number per inmate’ of deaths of all the 64 Concentration Camps in South Africa. This very camp, also known as Hell Camp, is the one that Lt. Witton mentioned in his book, Scapegoats of the Empire and wrote that the Boers ‘regarded (it) as a picnic’ and that many ‘found it better than their own home circumstances’ . . . or in words equally despicable.

This is the part of Kitchener’s Scorched Earth Policy that the BVC were involved with.

Their mandate or orders, were to ‘mop up’ the results of his Scorched Earth Policy and escort the remaining groups of Boers to Pietersburg for incarceration in this camp.

I could not help thinking to myself, whilst standing there, of the 2 options that these pathetic little groups of Boers and their children had. One was to face ‘Morant’s Rule .303’ and the other was to accept Kitchener’s special form of hospitality in the Concentration Camp. I also wondered how much this scene – when viewed in Australia – would affect the minds of thoses who had not yet decided what they felt about the pardons.

I certainly know that Jim Unkles and Nick were rather overwhelmed and possibly even moved by this rather unexpected add-on visit to the tour and I think I could understand their new mission to first  ‘reconcile with SA and then ‘go’ for Kitchener’, the real beast of the ABW.

I really wish we could all be a fly on the wall of every home in Australia while Channel 9’s program is aired.

I have no doubt that it will be a MIND CHANGING affair.


Our deepest gratitude goes to the guys from Channel 9:

Ray (e-mail: [email protected]

Our Derek Watts certainly has something to learn from you, as do interviewers in general. I look forward to receiving a copy of your book.

Danny (e-mail: [email protected])

Your organisational skills are actually very good and perhaps more courageous than your driving skills when an elephant trumpets ahead of you.

Drew (e-mail: [email protected])

Apart from being such a nice guy, you have so much to teach budding aspirants about photographing angry elephants and naughty monkeys.

Chick (e-mail: [email protected])

My knowledge of Aus. nicknames is so lacking that I first thought you were the ‘lucky lady’ coming on a jaunt with three not-so-clean old men!

As the Channel 9 team, you guys have given South Africa the opportunity to tell Australia, and the world, our side of the ‘Breaker’ Morant and the Bushveldt Carbineers story. For that, we thank you sincerely.

Jim (e-mail: [email protected]) and Nick (e-mail: [email protected]) – we differ on several issues but agree that we have some common ground. We do not support what you are attempting, but we grant you your passion. We might not attend your ‘Pardon Parties’ but will not take offence if you don’t come to our ‘No-Pardon Party.’ (Ronnie Visser and the guys will see that we enjoy ourselves none the less.)

It has been a great and very special time and we really hope that you will all be back if and when you decide to turn the heat up on Lord Horatio Kitchener.

On behalf of all of us back in SA who will remember you for what each of you – in your own special way – have meant to us, baie dankie, Channel 9.

Charles Leach (e-mail: [email protected])



The killer, Breaker Morant to receive a Royal Pardon?

On Thursday 2 April a party of Australians gathered at the Lalapanzi Hotel to report on a tour they had undertaken with a doyen of the Anglo Boer War skirmishes in the northern Limpopo Province, Charles Leach. Their mission was to find supportive evidence for an Australian inspired petition to the Queen of England to pardon Breaker Morant for the crimes of murder committed against Boer men, women and children in the war.

Present at the meeting were Charles Leach and local members of the community, the author of the book  – Shoot Straight You Bastards, the Story of Breaker Morant, –  Nick Bleszynski, and he was accompanied by Commander Jim Unkles, who is a military lawyer, and a team from the Australian equivalent of Cart Blanche, Channel Nine.

The petition to pardon Morant stems from Jim Unkles because he came across a book on military law and procedures which was in use during the Anglo Boer War and the more he read, the more he realized that Morant was not tried according to procedure. Being an Attorney he has based his case on the fact that fair observance of procedure was not followed by Major Bolton during the court martial held in the officer’s mess in the house now used by Marius Botha, a well known attorney in Polokwane. Unkles had to have all the correct facts for the petition and hence the visit to our area.

The historical facts were the basis for Nick Bleszinski’s book and Jim Unkles’ petition and they were gleaned from a book which a pardoned Australian officer, Lt Witton wrote when he got back to Australia after the war, titled “Scapegoats of the Empire.” And this is where the rub comes in. Good bias and good propaganda gives many true facts and alters or leaves out crucial facts to support a point of view. Much of what Witton wrote was factual, but some of it was a pack of lies which current research by people like Charles Leach, Professors Louis Changuion and Fransjohann Pretorius are proving beyond doubt.

During their reports at Lalapanzi Hotel, Nick Bleszynski and Jim Unkles went on and on about that despicable British officer Lord Kitchener as though, because of his orders, Morant and his bunch of murderers bore no blame for what they did. They both also referred to crimes committed by others and questioned why the others had got off scot free while Morant’s lot were found guilty of murder. A puerile argument in law surely?

Nobody questioned why three Shangaans were rounded up and shot on the day Morant murdered eight Boers, of which four were Dutch school teachers. Was it because he knew he was wrong and the Shangaans were witnesses?

In discussions after the Lalapanzi meeting it was felt that South Africans should counter the Australian petition to the Queen of England, that more of us should visit Charles Leach to hear the truth and some of us who have ancestors on both sides of that bitter conflict, felt that Morant should be tried again and shot a second time!

Orrie Baragwanath (e-mail: [email protected])

ARTICLE pulished in the Zoutpansberger: 09 April 2010

Calls on Boer-killings

Australia made headlines by petitioning Britain to pardon Breaker Morant, whose victim’s graves are in the Soutpansberg area. Louis Trichardt was honoured to receive a visit from big Australian names. From left are Australian television journalist Ray Martin, local heritage expert Charles Leach, military lawyer Jim Unkles (who wrote the petition), Poog Henning, local landowner on whose farm some of the graves are, and Australian author Nic Bleszinski.

Article By: Linda van der Westhuizen
Date: 09 April 2010

Was he a cold-blooded murderer or a scapegoat of the British Empire? Maybe both.” said Australian television journalist Ray Martin during a recent visit to the Soutpansberg area.

Martin was referring to ‘Breaker’ Morant, for whom a posthumous pardon is now sought by Australia. The petition that Australia sent to Britain in February, seeking pardon for two Bushveldt Carbineers, was written by military lawyer James Unkles.

Commander Unkles, with 28 years of military law and 250 courts martial behind him, arrived in the Soutpansberg on March 31. This is the area where some of the murders took place that led to the court martial and execution of Morant and his sidekick, Peter Handcock, on February 27, 1902. The death sentence of a third Australian, George Witton, was commuted to a life sentence and he was later released. Witton published a book, Scapegoats of the Empire.

Australian author Nick Bleszinski, who wrote a book titled Shoot straight you bastards!, after the last words of Morant, accompanied Unkles. Unkles said at a function at Lalapanzi Hotel on April 1 that he had petitioned the British Crown to pardon lieutenants Morant, Handcock and Witton for their role in the murders of Boer soldiers. He said that in the midst of the brutalities of a war where the British laws of war were thrown out the window, these three Australians believed that they had followed the orders of Lord Kitchener.

Today, the South Africans and Australians stand together in a mission to ensure that the British take responsibility for the terrible deeds committed against the Boers and against Morant and his friends. The British army and Empire are responsible for the unfair procedure in the prosecution of the three men … I don’t think Morant was a cold-blooded murderer. I believe they deserve a pardon. It is probably your view that they don’t. I respect your view.” Unkles said.

Unkles told the Zoutpansberger that he would be surprised if he received a decision on the petition this year, since the British were having an election and might regard it as politically lethal to give a decision at this stage.

Award-winning Martin, a household name in Australia and best known for various on-air roles at Channel Nine, said that he was almost embarrassed by the generosity of spirit and kindness of local heritage expert Charles Leach and his wife Bev. Leach took Martin, producer Danny Keens and the whole crew of the popular current affairs programme Sixty Minutes to various historical sites, including the site of the concentration camps for women and children in Polokwane, war monuments and heritage sites in the area and the graves of the Van Staden children on Poog Henning’s farm.

It was very emotional and moving. I had no idea how powerful the memories are in this part of South Africa. We think of the Anglo Boer War as a skirmish, but it was so much more. I learnt about the concentration camps and the ´Scorched Earth policy´ – it is appalling! We talked to relatives of the victims of the Morant crimes and saw how, 108 years later, they cry when they tell the story.” Martin said. He said that in Australia, the families of Morant and Hancock had had their lives shattered as well.

When Martin saw the actual scenes where the BVC operated, he realised how “different it was from the movie.” The film Breaker Morant was released in 1980. Martin emphasised that the Nine Network team came without any agenda. “We did not come to try and prove that they are innocent. We try to tell a story.” Martin said.

Cameraman Drew Benjamin moved the audience at the function when he apologised to the South Africans. Keens said that he did not think that Morant should be pardoned. This sentiment is echoed by Australian author Craig Wilcox. Author Nic Bleszinsky, who had done extensive research on Breaker Morant, believes that a pardon is long overdue. At the heritage sites he saw “The bare bones of a fantastic heritage trail. Why aren’t you doing something about it? It is sad to see that some of the homesteads are falling apart… The people will come here, if we can help you to make it into something permanent.” Bleszinski said. He announced that he was hoping for a remake of the movie in the actual area.

Leach regarded that as good news. “Whether or not a pardon is given, it is not going to change a single grave, it will not cancel a single fact that I have researched and it will not cancel the deep-seated pain. But if it will bring a lot of attention to our area, resulting in nurturing our heritage, then we have succeeded… I am happy that, for the first time in a hundred years, we have put the South African story across.” Leach said.

Producer Keens said that Leach had researched the story, but now “Leach has become the story“.

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.

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.

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