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The Orphans And Ants Part 25: The Dawn Assault On Dithubaruba

After midnight, now in the early hours of 28th August 1826, the Bangwaketse Kgosi Sebego ordered the final advance. Under cover of darkness his 5,000 men passed quietly through the open valley between the Dithubaruba and Magagarape hills.

It was potentially the most dangerous phase of the operation. Had the Makololo been alerted, they might have entrapped and overwhelmed the Bangwaketse and their allies.

As it was, Sebetwane’s men slept peacefully as Sebego’s stealthily moved up the steep hillsides to surround the Makololo settlement on the plateau just before dawn. Wrote Bain:

“Every pass was quietly taken possession of before we, with the main body headed by his majesty, commenced our movement in breathless silence down the valley....we passed through a small kloof and, on reaching its summit, the faint streaks of dawn now becoming visible dimly discovered to us the devoted town of Dithubaruba at our feet...One glance at the situation showed the wisdom of the general, for the Bangwaketse white shields were now plainly perceptible in every outlet with a large body in the rear, so it was impossible for anyone to escape.”

Fortified with war medicines, the mephato listened as their final orders were given. A gunshot followed by several thousand voices calling out in “a most hellish war whoop” signalled the start of the attack. While some warriors held back, securing the passes, the bulk of the army rushed forward swinging their two-handed ditshaka at everything in their way.

Sebego had strategically divided his seven armed visitors on elevated ground at opposite ends of the settlement. While their muskets are reported to have killed few, their sound caused the desired panic in the ranks of the enemy. According to Bain:

“I had told our people by no means to kill any of the poor wretches except in self defence and therefore our balls passed over the town, which was now on fire in many places. The shrieks of the woman and children were most heartrending, for wherever they turned they were met by a bloody battleaxe or the dreadful sound of our thunder. Sebego stood by us calmly looking on and giving directions to his numerous aides du camp about securing the cattle.”

On all sides, there was a pandemonium of smoke, dust, and bloodcurdling screams. In his journal, Bain further acknowledged that members of his party were drawn into the murderous exhilaration, despite their supposed prior understanding to limit their engagement. In one haunting image of the melee, he painfully records that in the heat of battle a small boy “of about eight years old” ran towards them, after losing his mother; when

in an instant one of the Griqua beside him stepped forward and blew his head off at point blank range.

But for the fact that some of the mephato, in line with Sebego’s orders, broke off their engagement in order to round up the enemy’s cattle, the massacre of the Makololo might have been complete. As it was, many were allowed to escape with their lives, but little else.

The great wanderer Sebetwane ended up regrouping his surviving followers at Mochudi, where they remained for a few months in the summer of 1826-27, presumably for a harvest, before moving northwards into the Boteti region.

In the aftermath of his victory, Sebego moved his own headquarters from Selokolela to Lwale hill north-west of Moshupa and west of Kakalashwe, which is not to be confused with the contemporary Lwale Pan that is closer to Lophephe. This coincided with the Bakgatla bagaMmanaana under Kgosi Kontle returning to their old headquarters at Mabotsa.

By then, the Bakwena Kgosi Moruakgomo, in apparent fear of both Sebego and Sebetwane, had withdrawn his followers westward across the Kgalagadi to Lehututu, before moving them further northward into Ngamiland. Meanwhile, the rival Bakwena faction under Segokotlo, which included the slain Motswasele II’s legitimate heir Sechele and his brother Kgosidintsi, remained among the Bangwato.

Following the battle of Dithubaruba, Sebego’s Bangwaketse and their subjects were thus for a period left virtually alone in their occupation of south-eastern Botswana, where they were able to enjoy the spoils of their great victory for an all too brief of relative peace.

To their south were the then temporarily united Barolong booRatlou, Seleka and Tshidi merafe, with whom the Bangwaketse were now able to forge a lasting alliance.

 To their immediate north were the Bangwato, who were themselves about to be squeezed by the Bakololo from their south and Banyayi to their north. In the east the approach to Gangwaketse was for the time being guarded by Sebego’s BagaMmanaana in-laws.

Kgosikgolo Sebego’s well-executed assault on Dithubaruba remains one of the bloodiest and most decisive military episodes in Botswana’s recorded history. While its total body count is unknowable, in terms of its magnitude may have only been surpassed by the great 1884 defeat by the Batawana of the Amandebele at Kuthiyabasadi inside the Okavango wetlands, as well as Sebego’s own massacre of the Amadebele a half century earlier on the hot sands approaching Dutlwe.

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