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    The terrain towards which the Boers retired in July was in the shape of a horseshoe some 120 kilometres long, formed by the Wittebergen range of mountains which extends from Commando Nek opposite Ficksburg to the north and the Rooiberge range which continues in a south-easterly, then easterly direction, terminating at Golden Gate.


    Wittebergen (English: White Mountains) refers to the exposed white sandstone deposits underlying the lava strata that intruded afterwards. To the south of thes mountains flows the Caledon River, separating the Free State from Lesotho (then called Basutoland). The principal passes in these mountains are Commando Nek, Retiefs Nek, Slabberts Nek and Naauwpoort Nek while less conspicuous are the gaps such as Witnek, Nelspoort, Bamboeshoek and Golden Gate.


    Within the enclosure are deep valleys through which flow the Brandwater, the Little Caledon and Caledon rivers. In this mountainous region, known as the Brandwater Basin, some 8400 Boers including their leaders President M T Steyn and Cmdts Christiaan de Wet and Marthinus Prinsloo, were encircled by 16000 British troops.


    SLABBERT’S NEK There were however some passes in the mountain barrier which Gen A Hunter, commanding the British troops had not yet blocked and the Boers decided to quit the basin through them while there was yet time. They split into four groups and the largest under De Wet, with President Steyn, left on the night of 15/16 July 1900. Two more were due to depart the following day, and the fourth, under Prinsloo, would hold the passes open and leave last of all. De Wet’s column of 2 600 men and 460 wagons escaped via Slabbert’s Nek. 

    The next two parties were delayed because they were waiting for commandos from Natal to join them, but eventually tried to halt the oncoming British at Slabbert’s and Retief’s Nek. At Slabbert’s, on 23 July, the British suffered a loss of 8 men killed and 34 wounded, while at Retief’s Nek, on the same day, their casualties amounted to 12 killed and 81 wounded.



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