Last Updated
Friday 09 October 2015, 18:00 pm.
'Give us our autonomy'

When the debate about Sections 77, 78, 79 of the Botswana Constitution raged on, tribes that featured prominently were those from the non-Sotho-Tswana stream such as the Wayeyi, Kalanga, Hambukushu and Basubiya.
By Staff Writer Sat 10 Oct 2015, 08:58 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: 'Give us our autonomy'

There were also the Bakgalagadi and the Batswapong and Babirwa, whose languages are to a great extent mutually intelligible with Setswana.  All that these tribes (merafe) had one thing in common: they wanted to be recognised as tribal groupings with distinct histories, cultures and customs.  A recurring strand of argument was, and continues to be that the tribes should not remain subjugated by other so-called main eight [read Setswana speaking] tribes.  Setswana tribes.  At the time the Bahurutshe also known as Bakhurutshe [For those South and North of the country respectively] and the Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana did not quite make their voice as loud as those of the Bayeyi who trumpeted through their Kamakao Association, or the Bakalanga whose Society for the Promotion of Ikalanga (SPIL) fearlessly articulated the mind of this huge tribe or even the Batswapong through their Lentswe la Batswapong.  When the tribal coalition RETENG [for WE EXIST], made up of and representing all the marginalised merafe campaigned for these merafe to be liberated from the 'major eight', the Bahurutshe and Bakgatla were not very loud.  That could be because the journalists simply did not give them coverage or that they simply did not holler loud enough.  At the time, the two merafe had elderly chiefs who have since handed the baton to their sons or passed on.  Like most of their generation, the new chiefs are well-read.  And as most educated folks, they will not allow their teeth to "set on edge because their fathers ate sour grapes".  These young leaders may just prove to be a headache for whoever is unlucky to be local government minister - currently Lebonaamang Mokalake.  Now the popular RETENG refrain: 'If you want to get rid of a tribe, deny them of their identity, take away their land and kill their leaders' can be heard.  Blowing the lead trumpet is fearless Oscar Mosielele of the Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana.  "As a Kgosi I am the custodian of my people's culture, customs and practices.  I may, for example, want to call dikgafela (a practice where the King calls his people to bring harvest to the King as both a way of saving for the future and also as thanksgiving to God), or to instruct letsema (where he officially announces the ploughing season), but it is a challenge if everytime I do that I have to consult another Kgosi to seek his permission.  He does not understand my people's ways and can easily say he will not allow such a thing to happen in his country," says Mosielele.  The 'another Kgosi' that he is referring to is Kgosi Malope Gaseitsewe of Bangwaketse.  Mosielele believes that the current arrangement where he has to report to the Bangwaketse King is erroneous and makes it appear like Bangwaketse are superior.

"The thing is that Kgosi Malope is Kgosi of his morafe.  I am a Kgosi over my people.  I am not representing him as a kgosana as he is not my people's leader.  I believe government needs to appreciate that as dikgosi we are peers.  None is senior to the other.  Thus the current arrangement is fallacious," he says.  Government, he says, needs to appreciate the circumstances under which his people became Bangwaketse subjects.  "It is a bitter part of our existence as Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana.  We would like to close that ugly chapter in our history and hope that all stakeholders - Kgosi Malope and government, will have an appreciation of what we are saying and deal with the matter in as sensitive a manner as is possible."  The 'bitter' part relates to the treatment of Bakgatla by Bangwaketse.  A case in point is the well-documented conflict between Kgosi Gobuamang of Bakgatla and Kgosi Bathoeng II of Bangwaketse in the 1930s.  Bathoeng, it is said, believed that the older Gobuamang was stubborn, so he set out to "deal with him".

Around the time the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church agreed with Bathoen II to expand health services in GaNgwaketse, Kgosi Bathoen II unilaterally imposed a levy on all the people living in the area and did not consult Kgosi Gobuamang or his people.  Kgosi Gobuamang showed his indignation by declaring "The hills and the plains of Moshupa belong to Bathoen, but the Bakgatla and their money belong to me!"

To contain the elderly chief, Bathoen II is said to have made a decision to relocate Gobuamang to Kanye. Gobuamang retorted during a Kgotla meeting that there would be gunpowder should Bathoen try to force him to move to Kanye.  Charles Rey, Protectorate Resident Commissioner at the time, who until then had chosen to remain neutral, became worried by the mention of 'guns' and thus ordered that Kgosi Gobuamang should relocate to Kanye within a month.  But the proud people that they were the Kgosi and his morafe ignored Rey's order.  They boycotted all that came in the name of Bathoen, so much that Bathoen sent a mophato (regiment) accompanied by protectorate policemen to arrest Gobuamang.  The Bakgatla rallied behind their Kgosi and presented a very strong resistance, with the result that the Bangwaketse mophato returned without their captive Kgosi.  At the time the protectorate headquarters were at Mafikeng and following the confrontation, Kgosi Gobuamang decided to go there to plead his case and that of his people.  Having heard that he would be going to Mafikeng, the Bangwaketse and protectorate police waylaid him, arrested him.  He was taken to Kanye where he stayed until September 1931 when his people paid ransom for his release.  But Bathoen II was not done with the old chief.  He wanted him out of his territory and convinced the protectorate administration to exile the old Kgosi from Moshupa.  So, seven months after the old chief was released from house arrest in Kanye he was banished to Kweneng where Kgosi Kgari Sechele of the Bakwena grudgingly accepted him.  A part of the tribe followed their King and settled at Thamaga.  Thus ba-ga-Manaana were divided, with one group remaining in Moshupa and the other in Thamaga.  Bathoeng appointed Bangwaketse to rule over the Bakgatla who remained in Moshupa.  The tribe remains bitter to this day and words like "re batla ditlhobolo tsa rona" [we want our guns back] are wont to be said.  The guns were taken during the arrest of Gobuamang.  And the cruelty with which Kgosi Bathoen was said to have chased the Bakgatla out continues to reverberate generations later: "Ditlhomeso tse le bojang ke tsame. Le ka tsaya ditshipi fela," [The rafters and the grass belong to me. You may only take metal] Bathoen is alleged to have said, ostensibly in parody of what Kgosi Gobuamang had said earlier that is about the plains and the hills belonging to Kgosi Bathoen II and not Bakgatla.

Once settled in Thamaga, Kgosi Gobuamang began building his morafe.  But he remained conscious of the fact that he did not have land or hills or plains to call his own.  Once again he would have to play subject to another Kgosi, in this case Sechele of Bakwena.  Ironically it was initially Sechele who gave the Moshupa area to Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana in the 1850s, as they came fleeing from the Difaqane, the tumultuous wars of the 1800s in Southern Africa.  It is unclear how the land eventually came to be under Bangwaketse administration.  (Suffice it to say though that Bangwaketse and Bakwena were at some stage one tribe).  And so Bakgatla remain subject to Bangwaketse in Moshupa, and in Thamaga, to Bakwena.  In Moshupa Kgosi Oscar Mosielele promises to lead the battle, and hopes his cousins in Thamaga, will join him.  "Of course I would not hold it against Kgosi if

he does not view things the way I see them, but I promise to work with him to help unite our people and rebuild our culture.  We need to recover our identity as Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana," he says stoutly.

Thamaga lies some 7km from Moshupa (as the crow flies, 15km by road).  Here, Kgosi Gobuamang Gobuamang rules over his 'exiled' people.  Unlike his cousin, Mosielele, he is more diplomatic.  He makes his point known nonetheless that he disdains government's insistence to address him as a Senior Chief's representative.

He is a descendent of Kgosi Gobumanang of yore, and is therefore the rightful King of Bakgatla Ba ga Mmanaana, something that even Kgosi Oscar Mosielele acknowledges: "Kana rona bo-Mogolo-a -rona ba kwa ga Thamaga" [our older siblings are in Thamaga].

" He is right as Bogosi [the crown] could not transfer to our uncles when those who could ensure continuation of the King's progeny were still alive, and we still are," he says simply.

Indeed, Gobuamang was draped in leopard's skin when he became King of Bakgatla in Thamaga - an honour reserved only for Kings, and not their subjects among Batswana tribes.

"We do not condone the use of the phrase 'chief's representative'.  Bakgatla Ba Ga Mmanaana have a Kgosi, a fact that even history attests to.  We understand our lineage.  We have always had a King and not a chief's representative," he says, after a long narration of the history of his people and his genealogy.  The statement carries much.  Despite his diplomatic demeanour, the King is not happy to be referred to as a Bakwena subject. 

Interestingly, he is named after his great-grandfather, in the same way that Kgosi Kgari Sechele of Bakwena has been named after his grandfather who accommodated Gobuamang.

Kgosi Gobuamang concurs that the issue of the autonomy of Bakgatla needs to be discussed, but adds that, " It is surely a sensitive issue and needs to be handled with wisdom and great sensitivity," he says.  He believes the issue of "the stolen guns" is extricably connected to the history of his people.

"The guns form part of our history, and we should certainly be thinking about having them form part of our Library of History as Bakgatla," he states, adding that it would be necessary to engage the Dikgosi in whose territories they live. "I am saying this because there are other merafe that are in the same situation as us," he says.  One such morafe is the Bahurutshe.

Though not as numerous as Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana (at least in the immediate locale of the Ba GaMmanaana), the Bahurutshe find themselves subject to at least three tribes: the Bangwaketse on the west, where they lord it over Bahurutshe of Manyana, Bakwena to the east overseeing the Bahurutshe of Mmankgodi and Tlowaneng and Balete to the South, where Kgosi Mosadi Seboko of Balete is boss over the manly assemblage of chiefs of Mmokolodi, Fikeng and a number of other Bahurutshe settlements in her area.  Other Bahurutshe are found as far as Tonota, Letlhakane, Ditadi, and even in Namibia.  Those in the northern part of Botswana have come to be known as Bakhurutshe.  Ironically Bahurutshe are the most senior - the first-borns among Setswana speaking tribes.  This fact being acknowledged from time immemorial by all Batswana tribes, as for example, according to now retired Kgosi Mareko Mosielele of Manyana, " a Mohurutshe who went for bogwera (initiation) with non-Bahurutshe was always accorded the right to go in first - a right usually reserved for the King's son."

But the tribe finds itself without land - and no recognised Kgosi-Kgolo [Kgolo].  And like his educated counterpart in Moshupa, Kgosi Kebonetshwene Mosielele of Bahurutshe ba Manyana believes his tribe needs to be recognised.  "I am not so much calling for recognition as a paramount chief as I am for recognition of my people, as a distinct people, with a peculiar history, their own customs and practices - essentially an identity of my people.  We are Bahurutshe and cannot be identified as Bangwaketse or some other tribe," he says. "Curty" - as the Kgosi is popularly known - became King of Bahurutshe early May after his father handed the baton to him. 

Old Mareko Mosielele had been king for 59 years.  Since his father is still alive, Curty may not be draped in a leopard's skin.  Four months in the saddle and he is busy rebuilding his morafe.

"We need to have insignia that identifies us as Bahurutshe.  Our totem is a monkey, not a crocodile or anteater. This is necessary if we are to rebuild and maintain our identity as Bahurutshe," he says, carefully circumventing the issue of autonomy.  In his bid to build his people's identity, Kgosi Mosielele plans to work with Bahurutshe in other jurisdictions.  "I believe we can work together, for example through our already existing trusts to build our identity," he says.  The trusts can also work together and come up with income generating projects, such as tourism programmes featuring the history of Bahurutshe.  "In turn the money would be used to develop our people and our villages," he says.  The villages have somehow been skipped by important developments taking place while in the big towns of the merafe that have accommodated them.

" If you look at Manyana, there is not a single council tarred road.  Compare that with Kanye," he says.  The Department of Roads built the one road that connects the rest of the country with Manyana, and runs through the village to the Kgotla.  But even in his dream to unify Bahurutshe, Kgosi Mosielele, whose genealogy would necessarily make him King of Bahurutshe in southern Botswana, is aware of the logistical problems presented by the location of his people.

However, he is adamant that Bahurutshe must have their own Bahurutshe Tribal Administration.  To that end he has already started with a culture committee, which will work with other Bahurutshe in the other districts to set up a Bahurutshe culture day.

" The idea is that the celebrations would rotate among the areas where our people live, the idea being to bring our culture to them." Culture, he says, binds people.  Once people have and understand their culture, it should not be too difficult to get them to work together, as they would understand that despite their boundaries they remain one people.

"So my intention is to work with the existing trusts at Mmankgodi, Manyana, Mogonye and the other places to build morafe."

Mosielele believes that his tribe will need to look beyond the land question, that is, the fact that the tribe has no land that it calls its own.

"In the past, land belonged to Dikgosi, and they collected tax from inhabitants. Today, however, land belongs to the government. There is nothing at stake when a tribe is given due recognition," he says.  Simplistic as his view may appear, it is perhaps what Local Government Minister Lebonaamang Mokalake may find closer to practical.

"By asking for autonomy, Dikgosi who are doing so, want to destabilise the existing land arrangement," he said when approached for comment.  But the legal arguments that could come out of an arrangement where a King is declared as such while his people are resident in another tribe's land are mind-boggling. 

The issue of tribal autonomy and recognition, which entails subject tribes having their own Kings, appears, even casually to be inextricably connected to land.  Will any tribe willingly cede its territory to its 'subjects?' 

And having another King lording it over his people - and indeed some of your people living among his people something that our current society can fathom?  That appears to be a question for which you can be guaranteed no immediate answer - not by anyone.

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