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PURSUIT OF LOBENGULA (2)With only his burning kraal to signify his recognition of defeat, Lobengula had sought the safety of the boundless veld, and with him were his impis(armies). They had come off worst in their encounters with the white men, but they had not acknowledged their conquest.
As long as they had the unifying influence of their king they would never bow the knee and they would continue to be a menace to white civilization. It was essential, Dr. Jameson (Rhodes henchman and bounty hunter) reasoned, that Lobengula be captured and brought to acknowledge his victors. And the sooner the better, before he had time to reorganize his forces and attempt to regain his kingdom.
It was the worst time of year for such a campaign. The rains had broken, malaria would soon be rampant and the waterlogged veld would make progress difficult. Nevertheless the attempt had to be made, unless Lobengula could be induced to come in to Bulawayo by a message instead of an army. On November 7 Jameson wrote him the following letter:
"I send this message in order, if possible, to prevent the necessity of any further killing of your people or burning of their kraals. To stop this useless slaughter you must at once come and see me at Bulawayo, when I will guarantee that your life will be saved and that you will be kindly treated. I will allow sufficient time for this message to reach you and return to me and two days more to allow you to reach me in your wagon. Should you not then arrive I shall at once send out troops to follow you, as I am determined as soon as possible to put the country in a condition where whites and blacks can live in peace and friendliness."
The letter, which was written in English, Dutch and Zulu to ensure that it would be understood, was carried by a Cape Colony native named John Grootboom who tracked the fugitive king until he found him in the Shiloh area some thirty miles to the north of Bulawayo. Lobengula had no missionaries or traders to interpret for him now, but with him was a Coloured man, John Jacobs, with sufficient education to know how to read and write. He wrote down Lobengula's answer:
"I have heard all that you have said, so I will come, but let me to ask you where are all my men which I have sent to the Cape, such as Maffett and Jonny and James, and after that the three men - Gobogobo, Mantose and Goebo - whom I sent. If I do come where will I get a house for me as all my houses is burn down, and also as soon as my men come which I have sent then I will come."
This ungrammatical ambiguity was no answer. After waiting the two extra days Jameson decided to send a strong patrol to reconnoitre the country between Inyati and Shiloh and if possible bring Lobengula back a prisoner. His call for volunteers met with a good response and the force of 320 men was composed of volunteers from the Salisbury and Victoria Columns and 150 men of the Bechuanaland Border Police and Raaff's Rangers who had reached Bulawayo ahead of the main body of the Southern Column.
With three maxims and two hundred native carriers and with Major Forbes in command, they rode out of Bulawayo shortly before sunset on November 14. The first two days and nights it rained almost continually and the horses, which were in poor condition after the main campaign, found the sodden country heavy going. Forbes made for the London Missionary Society's station at Inyati, which had been established before the days of Thomas Baines, and found it a sorry sight. Its normal occupants had abandoned it at the beginning of the invasion and it was now occupied by a party of Matabele in charge of a large herd of cattle. They fled. The Matabele had vented their wrath on the missionaries' houses, which had been wrecked in an orgy of destruction. The veld was littered with torn books, broken furniture and ruined personal belongings.
Leaving a force of eighty men to garrison the station, Forbes went on with the remainder. This part of the country had been heavily populated and in the numerous kraals they found cattle and grain. The grain was a welcome addition to their meagre diet. The force had left Bulawayo before the arrival of the main Southern Column with its food supplies, and their rations, small enough when they had started on the pursuit, were by now almost exhausted. They had kept going with what they could find in Matabele corn bins, but now this source was almost at an end. When they reached the last of the kraals and realized that the further they went the shorter they would be of food, many of the men became discontented. They considered that the pursuit should be postponed 00until the food position was corrected and did not see why they should have to endure hardships that could be avoided. Major Forbes saw their point of view, but knew that if they gave up the chase now they would never overtake Lobengula. He paraded his force and ordered the malcontents to step forward. Most of Raaff's Rangers and the Salisbury Horse did so, but the Victoria Column stood firm. The detachment of Bechuanaland Border Police, being regular soldiers, was not consulted.
Forbes thereupon sent a messenger to Bulawayo asking for food and instructions and received a reply from Dr. Jameson that reinforcements and wagons carrying more ammunition and what food could be spared were being sent to Shiloh. There Forbes reorganized his force.