In last week’s installment it was noted that the Bangwato are said to have finally broken away from the Bakwena bagaKgabo after an alleged violation of the latter’s bojale camp, which resulted in an armed clash between the two merafe at Kope (or Kgope) Hill.
This event occurred sometime in the mid-late 18th (c. 1770) during the reigns of Kgosi Mathiba of Bangwato and his once mentor, Kgosi Motswasele I of Bakwena bagaKgabo
Historically, the hill site of the skirmish has at least three names - i.e. Ngwaritse and Boswelakgosi as well as Kope. The oldest of the three is Ngwaritse, which survives as a common reference in Sengwato accounts. Kope refers to a historic figure, rendered Kgopa or Kgope, who is otherwise remembered as having been a senior Mongwato Kgosana and principal backer of Mathiba. It is said that it was Kgope who took the lead in bringing Mathiba back to the Bangwato after his years of residence among the Bakwena.
Mathiba’s return to Ngwaritse set the stage for his final power struggle with his regent uncle Mokgadi, who by all accounts was reluctant to vacate the throne. The name Boswelakgosi is thus said to refer to Mokgadi’s murder. While there is general agreement that Mathiba was behind the homicide of his uncle, some sources identify an individual named Tshipane as having actually carried out the deed. The tragedy of Mathiba’s reign did not end with his controversial enthronement and humiliating expulsion from eastern Kweneng. His later years and death in particular could be readily adapted as source material for a Setswana version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “King Lear”. Before his death, Mathiba was cast off by his own sons, Kgama and Tawana, who in each case established rival kingships at their father’s expense.
But, before the fall there were years of migration and struggle. From Ngwaritse, Mathiba initially led the Bangwato northward to the area around Ramaselwana Hill, which now forms the junction of the Kweneng, Kgatleng and Central Districts. Thereafter, Mathiba is said to have migrated to Lophephe followed by Marutlwa, before finally settling at Shoshong.
Prior to the arrival of the Bangwato, two other merafe were already settled among the Shoshong Hills, the Baphaleng and Bakaa. The Baphaleng are believed to have originally been a branch of the Bakwatlheng. A century or so earlier, they had been driven out of Dithejwane Hills by the Bakwena under Kgabo. They may have also been subsequently driven from the region around Ngwaritse by the Bangwato.
Notwithstanding the above, Sengwato accounts insist that the Baphaleng initially invited the Bangwato to join them at Shoshong, though the subsequent pattern of Baphaleng subordination casts some doubt as to the veracity of this version of
The Bakaa are known to have originally been an offshoot of the Barolong. According to their traditions, they settled at Shoshong during the reign of Kgosi Mmopane aMagogwe. The village of Mmopane near Gaborone was the site of an earlier residence by the same Bakaa ruler.
The Bakaa and Bakhurutshe agree that the latter group was previously resident in the area. In this respect, the Bakaa acknowledge that for a period they paid tribute to the Bakhurutshe, before the latter were either expelled or driven by drought from the area. The Bangwato memory differs, claiming that the Bakaa had, during the time of Mokgadi, previously come to them at Ngwaritse as refugees. Their version further insists that it was Mokgadi who had originally settled the Bakaa at Shoshong as his vassals. The Bakaa in turn reduced the Baphaleng to servitude, which may account for the latter’s alleged overtures to the Bangwato. At any rate, the Bangwato under Mathiba arrived at Shoshong to find the area already occupied by Bakaa, who were by then ruled by Mmopane’s son Motlhabane. After a period of uneasy coexistence, Mathiba attacked the Bakaa who fled for a period to the Bakwena.
But, Mathiba had little time to enjoy the fruits of his victory, for his morafe was by now becoming divided into two factions led by his sons Tawana and Kgama.
Tawana was the older of the two, and also long favoured by their father. Among his several wives, Tawana’s mother alone had been at Mathiba’s side during his exile among the Bakwena. But, Mathiba’s efforts to declare her as his Great Wife or Queen (Mohumagadi-mogolo) had failed, with Kgama having instead been designated by the Bangwato as his true heir.
The rivalry between Tawana and Kgama is said to have been further aggravated when the former, either by design or accident, injured an eye of the latter by pulling back on a branch of a mokgalo tree. Such incidents convinced Kgama that Tawana was determined to usurp his inheritance.
Tensions between Tawana and Kgama, each backed by their mephato, continued to grow during the latter years of Mathiba’s reign, ultimately overshadowing his own royal authority, while drawing in others, such as Tawana’s younger sibling Monageng. The final split between the two factions was touched off when Tawana travelled with a group of supporters to consult with the by now aging, but still in control, Bakwena Kgosi Motswasele I.