Mafikeng (also Mahikeng) or the "Place of Stones" lies 60 kilometres west of Lichtenburg and 140 north-east of Vryburg. The city has enjoyed a unique past. Best known for the famous Siege of "Mafeking" (a corruption of the Setswana name), it has been the capital of three political entities, has been besieged twice and has been the scene of two coups, one successful. It has also given rise to the word "Maffick" meaning to celebrate uproariously, which the British Empire did on the day the Siege of Mafikeng was lifted, having lasted for 217 days from 14 October 1899. Mafikeng is also famous for being the birthplace of the Boy Scouts movement.
Mafikeng, lies alongside the Molopo river, which rises from a natural spring 40 kilometres west of the town. It was known to the baRolong from at least the beginning of the seventeenth century as they occupied territory slightly to the south. It was occupied more permanently however after the Difaqane or times of turbulence, when in 1853 the Tshidi-baRolong identified it as a suitable site for a new capital.
It was however an area coveted by a number of Boers and mercenaries from the newly established Transvaal, and the Tshidi leader at this time, Montshiwa, decided to move north to Moshaneng in the territory of the baNgwaketse rather than risk a major conflict with the Transvaalers. However his younger brother Molema Tawana remained in the vicinity to retain baRolong claims to this locality. In this period it was in fact referred to as "Molema's Town". (See also Molema Tawana and Montshiwa). It has been described as a "place of huge stones, and gigantic rocks all along a valley which was wooded with a variety of trees willows, acacias, mimosas, camelthorn and hookthorn…. and was beautifully adapted for defensive purposes"(S.M. Molema:1966). Montshiwa's other brothers, Saane, Selere and Seru also occupied villages close to Mafikeng. At Mafikeng, Molema was at the confluence of trade and wagon routes that ran north to the land of Khama's bamaNgwato and Mzilikazi's Ndebele state in Matebeleland, and west to modern Namibia. He thus came into contact witha large number of traders, missionaries and hunters. In the early 1870s Montshiwa returned to Mafikeng with the majority of the Tshidi-baRolong. Apparently he had to give an undertaking to Molema that he would not interfere with missionary work among the baRolong. (Molema was an early and ardent Christian convert).
Montshiwa's position remained precarious due to the transgressions of the Boers and their Rapulana baRolong allies. The Rapulana under Matlaba claimed as much right to Mafikeng as the Tshidi, as they had originally been one united political unit. Throughout 1881 and 188 Montshiwa faced repeated attacks from European mercenaries and the Rapulana, leading to the First Siege of Mafikeng in August and September 1882, during which time Mafikeng came under cannon fire. The result was that Monthshiwa had to sue for peace, and part of his territory was incorporated into the white-controlled Republic of Goshen, with its capital at Rooigrond (Sehuba).
This however invited British intervention into the affairs of the then independent baTswana people and the area was declared to be British Bechuanaland in 1886.
Mafikeng then began to assume the nature of a colonial town, particularly as it was annexed to the Cape in 1895. The colonial town was laid out by Sir Charles Warren in 1885-1886. It was a typically frontier town, inhabited by the Bechuanaland Border Police and white adventurers, farmers, hunters and traders. A municipality was established in 1886. However the heartland of baRolong traditional authority was outside the colonial town in what was known as the "Stadt".
On 14 October 1899, a few days after the outbreak of the South African War, Mafikeng was besieged for 271 days by the Boers. Colonel Robert Baden-Powell was in charge of the 800 strong garrison, but the success for the defence of the town lies as much with its baRolong residents as it does with the European soldiers and citizens. It was during this time that Baden-Powell organised the boys into a non-combatant corps, giving rise to the idea of the Scouts movement.
During the first decades of the c20th, it developed slowly within the administration of the Cape Province. It remained an important railway terminus and border town for travellers to Bechuanaland Protectorate and the then Northern and Southern Rhodesia. More interestingly, however, it was seat of the administration of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, which was located in what was called the Imperial Reserve. Mafikeng thus became a highly unusual extra-territorial administrative capital for another country.
In 1977, the homeland of Bophuthatswana was created, and the town of Mmabatho was built alongside Mafikeng, an artificial distinction to separate the white and African populations. Mmabatho became the capital of Bophuthatswana, and Mafikeng was incorporated into the homeland three years after, giving rise to the "twin town" of Mafikeng/Mmabatho. For several years after the granting of "independence" the economy of the town grew rapidly as the South African government transferred a large amount of capital into the construction of a bureaucracy in Mmabatho/Mafikeng. In 1988 Mafikeng was plunged into political chaos as elements of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force attempted to overthrow the government of Lucas Mangope. ( See also Lucas Mangope). The coup was crushed by the South African Army, but a second coup was mounted in 1994. This time, paramilitary militias of the right wing Afrikaner Weerstandbeweging (AWB) came to Mangope's aid, leading to the deaths of at least 90 people. After three days of looting and bloodshed, the Bophuthatswana government collapsed, and the homeland was re-incorporated into South Africa. It then became, and still remains, the capital of the newly created North-West Province. The seat of the baRolong tribal authority also still remains in Mafikeng.