Review: Archie Henderson
Guide to Sieges of South Africa, by Nicki von der Heyde (Struik)
Nicki von der Heyde’s Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa is a hard act to follow, yet she’s managed to do it.
Her latest book maintains the same high quality of her battlefields guide that has become essential reading for a growing niche in South African tourism. It’s not just her meticulous research and descriptions of events in both books, it’s also the advice she gives. I ignored this in her battlefields guide – and paid dearly. On the arrogant assumption that I knew what I was doing, I had the wrong footwear for climbing Elandslaagte (slip-slops instead of boots) and not hiring a guide. She has since given me the name of a good one.
I also didn’t think we had enough sieges in this country to fill an entire guide book. After Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley, what else could there be? Of course there are many others.
How could I forget O’Kiep in Namaqualand? I once lived close by. It happened in the autumn of 1902 when 650 British troops and some loyalists held off 3 000 Boers under Jan Smuts. Among the Boer troops was the young Deneys Reitz, author of Commando, the Boer War classic. The siege was not very long, neither was it very bloody, and at times there were moments of levity.
A railway truck filled with explosives as sent down a slope into the mining town by the Boers, but the station master merely switched points and the truck exploded harmlessly some distance from where it might have done real damage.
After Smuts had left the siege to join the peace talks, Commandant Manie Maritz took command and challenged the besieged “to a football match”, presumably rugby not soccer. It was rejected. Soon afterwards, a relief force arrived, the Boers drifted away and fulltime was called on the war.
Overall there have been 17 sieges during wars major and minor in South Africa, each one with its own fascinating story – and Von der Heyde tells all the stories briefly and brilliantly.