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The Battle of Vegkop
"Vegkop is die Bloedrivier van die Vrystaat en hier het die eerste daeraard van die Christendom vir die Vrystaat aangebreek."
--Ds V.J.B. Naudť at Vegkop during the 1938 Centenary Commemoration.
At least one Labuschagne family that we know of, took part in the famous Battle of Vegkop in 1835.
Leonardus Petrus Labuschagne and his son Leonardus Labuschagne were known to have taken part in the battle. His son, Leonardus, was approximately ten years old at the time, and is recorded as having had to help drag the dead bodies away from the laager after the battle.
It would probably be fair to assume that the list of Labuschagnes at Vegkop must have included more or less the following:
Leonardus Petrus Labuschagne ~1 May 1790, Swellendam district + Hartebeesfontein, Heidelberg district, Transvaal xxx 2/4/1815 or abt 1827 Anna Wilhelmina Christina Pieterse +Hartbeesfontein, Heidelberg district, Transvaal..
Frans Labuschagne (1812-)
Anna Maria Elizabeth Labuschagne (1816-)
Catharina Elizabeth Labuschagne (1821-)
Johannes Theodorus Labuschagne (1824-)
Leonardus Labuschagne (17 May 1826-8 Jul 1926) (If these dates are correct, he lived to be 100 years old...)
The last two children (below), were born later, and thus could not have been at Vegkop:
Jan Hendrik Labuschagne (1837-1907)
Lourens Petrus Christoffel Labuschagne (1841-)
What the Voortrekkers found on top of Vegkop
Contrary to what many people would think, based on the name of the battle, the fight did not take place on top of any hill. Rather, it took place on the plain at the foot of the hillock called "Vegkop" or "Battle Hill." The hill itself is an isolated landmark that presents a commanding view of the entire surroundings. It is not very high, but it was of strategic importance for the view it provided, and for being close to water and good grazing. On the summit of the hill, the Voortrekkers would have found the abandoned villages of a Baralong tribe that by that time, would have been exterminated by the Matabele murder frenzy during the Mfecane ethnic cleansing campaign on the central highveld. There are a number of stone kraals and some fairly good examples of corbel huts o nthe summit. These are very small circular huts that are relatively unique in that they are of a dome construction with stone roofs. The entrances are extremely small and difficult to crawl through. Inside these corbel huts, buried earthern jars have been found, containing the skeletal remains of little babies. During Voortrekker times, there probably would not have been any trees on the summit, and the abandoned village would have seemed ominously quiet and forlorn on the lonely landscape. From the summit the eyes of the Voortrekker sentries would have scanned the surroundings with constant nervous trepidation to see when trouble arrived.
Vegkop itself is a rectangular-shaped hillock which must have been reasonably bare in Voortrekker times, but is today lightly wooded. The sloped are relatively steep and it would have been impractical, if not impossible, for various good reasons, for the Trekkers to attempt to form a laager at the top.
The remains of a corbel hut on the summit. These were circular stone huts with dome-shaped roofs of carefully packed stones.
The remains of a large Baralong kraal on the summit.
Parts of the summit are quite flat and would have provided good habitation for a late iron age village.
These is the western end of the summit. Note the flat and open terrain towardst the horizon.
The view is more or less north-west from the summit. Trouble could be seen coming from far-off.
South view from Vegkop. The red buildings at the foot of the hill are the museum complex. The actual battlefield was on the extreme left where a long clump of sweet thorn Acacia trees can be seen.
When the Trekkers knew that they were going to be attacked, a laager was formed by drawing the waggons into a circle or a square, and chaining them to each other, leaving only one entrance which could be blocked by reversing a waggong into the opening. The horses of the fighting men were herded inside, and the openings below the waggons were sealed up with thorn branches. The vast herds of sheep, oxen, goats and cattle were left on the plains, because they could not be protected in any way.
The actual battlefield was chosen at the foot of the hill of Vegkop. The picture above shows the original battlefield. The laager stood more or less where the thorn trees are in the background. Over the surrounding flat landscape, the Voortrekkers could see their enemies coming, and could place them under fire at a good distance, if needs be. There would also be space for the Trekker horses to manoeuvre if they had to provoke an attack, or counter-attack, or possibly give chase after the battle.
The Trekkers spotted the approaching army far away into the distance. At first a small group of men were sent out to try and reason with the attackers. The Matabele army did not respond to attempts to make contact in order to discuss possible ways of averting the coming slaughter. The Trekkers were soon forced to reatreat back to their laager.
Meanwhile, frantic efforts were being made inside the laager for its defence. Women kept cauldrons of boiling water ready to sponge out barrels, or to be thrown at attackers who manage to penetrate the laager. Axes and tent poles were kept ready for the purpose of beating in sculls and chopping off limbs of those who managed to get through.. Bullets were cast, gunpowder was distributed, and extra guns were placed at the firing positions of the men, boys and servants who would do the firing. Women and children had to reload the weapons so that the fighting men only had to hold out a hand for the next gun.
The monument of Vegkop consists of a large pile of stones, with the bronze figure of a Voortrekker mounted on its peak.
The symbolism of the monument is explained as follows on a bronze plaque:
Simboliek van die Monument “Die opgestapelde klippe simboliseer die omsingelende bereiging van destyds en vandag—die totale aanslag teen die Christelike beskawing. Uit hierdie vyandelikhede verrys triomferend die forse gestalte van ‘n leier. Hoewel een been nog binne die vyandelike omsingeling is, hou hy met erkentlike geloof aan die oorwinning die Bybel met sy linkerarm vas en met sy regterhand ‘n geweer wat in nederige onderworpenheid teenoor God afwaarts wys en waarteen vyandige assegaaie breek en knak.
Die beeldhouer het hiermee EfesiŽrs 6:16 vir ons tyd vergestalt: “Behalwe dit alles neem die skild van geloof op waarmee julle al die vurige pyle van die bose sal kan uitblus.”
Met hierdie besielende woord van God in die hart en verantwoordelike weerbaarheid is die oorwinning vir ons gewaarborg.”
On the side of the Voortrekkers, only two men were killed. Losses on the Matabele side were exceedingly great. The pioneers had survived the attack against all reasonable expectations. It had been nothing short of a miraculous escape. However, their attackers had driven off all their livestock, and they were left stranded without oxen to draw their waggons. Around them the dead warriors soon began decaying beneath the sun. Dogs began dragging the remains into the camp, and the overall smell became unbearable. At first the Trekkers tried to drag the bodies away by tying them to their horses in bundles (a task with which Leenderd Labuschagne and his young friend Paul Kruger, who later became the state president, had to help). Unfortunately there were just too many to move in this manner. \
After tar and sulphur had been burnt and every attempt had been made to deal with the stench, the trekkers in-spanned their horses and slowly hauled their waggons away in limping fashion to a place where they could be sufficiently far removed from the smell of decay. From here, messages were sent to the nearest missionary station at Blesberg (Tabanchu), requesting help in removing the waggons to a safer location.
The two Trekkers who were killed, were buried in a single grave, just south of the original laager. The above marker indicates where the grave had been.
The grave of the two fallen Trekkers was later moved to the museum complex, where it stands today. The above stone was erected in their memory. During the exhumation, a rusted pocket knife was found near the remains of one of the two men.
Speaking about the two fallen men, Mr HJ Klopper, principal leader of the 1938 Centenary Commemoration trek, said these words at Vegkop: "Die nasionale koringkorrel moes eers sterf voor hy kon vrug dra. Hulle het hul lewens gegee vir vryheid en waarvoor gee ons ons lewens?"
Aged Survivor of the Battle of Vegkop
Lukas Janse van Rensburg lived through the Battle of Vegkop at the age of 12. He was wounded in his shoulder by a Matabele spear.He would have been two years the senior of Rooi Leendert Labuschagne, and the two boys would obviously have known each other well.