On the 25th of April 1899 Danie Theron, a Krugersdorp attorney, was found guilty of assaulting Mr W. F. Monneypenny, the editor of The Star newspaper, and fined £20. Monneypenny, who had only been in the South Africa for two months, had written a highly derogatory editorial against the "ignorant Dutch". Theron pleaded extreme provocation and his fine was paid by his supporters in the courtroom.
So starts the story of one of the Anglo-Boer War's most illustrious heroes.
Danie Theron, who had served in the 1895 Mmalebôgô (Malaboch) War, was a true patriot - believing in the just and divine right of the Boer to stand against British interference: "Our strength lies in the justice of our cause and in our trust in help from above."1
Before the outbreak of war, Theron and a friend, J. P. "Koos" Jooste (a cycling champion), asked the Transvaal government if they could raise a cycling corps. (Bicycles had first been used by the US army in the Spanish War, 1898, when a hundred black cyclists under the command of Lt James Moss were rushed in to help with riot control in Havana, Cuba.) It was Theron's opinion that using bicycles for dispatch riding and reconnaissance would save horses for use in combat. In order to gain the necessary permission Theron and Jooste had to convince the highly skeptical burghers that bicycles were as good, if not better, than horses. In the end, it took a 75 kilometre race from Pretoria to the Crocodile River Bridge2 in which Jooste, on a bicycle, beat an experienced horse rider, to convince Commandant-General Piet Joubert and President J. P. S. Kruger that the idea was sound.
Each of the 108 recruits to the "Wielrijeders Rapportgangers Corps" (Cycle Dispatch Rider Corps) was supplied with a bicycle, shorts, a revolver and, on special occasion, a light carbine. Later they received binoculars, tents, tarpaulins and wire cutters. Theron's corps distinguished themselves in Natal and on the western front, and even before the war had started had provided information about British troop movements beyond the Transvaal's western border.1
By Christmas 1899, Capt Danie Theron's dispatch rider corps were experiencing poor deliveries of supplies at their outposts on the Tugela. On the 24th December Theron complained to the Supplies Commission that they were severely neglected. He explained that his corps, who were always in the vanguard, were far from any railway line where supplies were unloaded and his wagons regularly returned with the message that there were no vegetables since everything had been carted off to the laagers surrounding Ladysmith. His complaint was that his corps did both dispatch riding and reconnaissance work, and that they were also called upon to fight the enemy. He wanted to offer them better sustenance than dried bread, meat and rice. The result of this plea earned Theron the nickname of "Kaptein Dik-eet" (Captain Gorge-yourself) because he catered so well for his corps' stomachs!1
As the Anglo-Boer War progressed, Capt Danie Theron and his scouts were moved to the western front and the disastrous confrontation between the British forces under Field Marshal Roberts and the Boer forces under General Piet Cronje. After a long and hard struggle up the Modder River by the British forces, the siege of Kimberly had finally been broken and Cronje was falling back with a vast train of wagons and many women and children - the families of the Commandos. General Cronje almost slipped through the British cordon, but eventually was forced to form a laager by the Modder near Paardeberg, where they dug in ready for a siege. Roberts, temporarily indisposed with the 'flu, passed command to Kitchener, who faced with a drawn-out siege or an all-out infantry attack, chose the latter. Kitchener also had to deal with rearguard attacks by Boer reinforcements and the approach of further Boer forces under General C. R. de Wet.
1. Fransjohan Pretorius, Life on Commando during the Anglo-Boer war 1899 - 1902, Human and Rousseau, Cape Town, 479 pages, ISBN 0 7981 3808 4.