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Sebego Crosses The Molopo

In the aftermath of his August 1826 expulsion of the Sebetwane’s Makololo, the Bangwaketse Kgosi Sebego moved his own headquarters from Selokolela to Lwale hill north-west of Moshupa and west of Kakalashwe, where he was briefly able to enjoy undisputed dominion over south-eastern Botswana.

Like his late father Makaba II, Sebego was now determined to further secure his position by promoting contact with the British ruled Cape Colony for the direct export of his karosses and ivory. The effect of firearms during his assault on Dithubaruba reinforced the Mongwaketse in his determination to acquire guns through the game products trade.

Travellers’ accounts from the period confirm that southern Botswana was at the time teeming with game, including elephant and rhino. With no immediate military challenge Sebego’s disciplined regiments were free to exploit the abandoned hunting grounds of Kweneng, as well as Gangwaketse.

Besides meeting market demand the Trans-Orange River European and Griqua merchants were aware that supplying powerful rulers like Sebego with firearms would, at least in the short term, increase the market supply of ivory, while potentially securing their own spheres of operation.

At the time, the principal ivory traders preferred to base their business operations in the vicinity of mission stations, such as the Rev. Robert Moffat’s LMS station at Kudumane.  It is, therefore, not surprising that Sebego wasted little time in following in his father’s footsteps by following up on the missionary’s previous promise to establish an LMS presence among the Bangwaketse.

The opportunity presented itself when in 1827 when he was informed that Moffat was staying near his southern border among the Barolong at Tswaing (Morokweng) just south of the Molopo River.  He immediately dispatched emissaries to entice the missionary to visit him at Lwale.

Moffat’s primary motive for spending a season at Tswaing was to deepen his understanding of Setswana in order to advance his ambition of achieving a standard orthography and grammar with which to translate the Bible and other texts. Not satisfied with his initial publication, an 1826 spelling book and catechism, he worked to refine his efforts.

As Tswaing was also a home to refugees from the north, the location further provided the missionary with an opportunity to familiarise himself with other Setswana dialects. These linguistic efforts resulted in his breakthrough 1829 translation of the Gospel of Luke, a significant step towards his crowning achievement, his 1857 translation of the entire Bible.

Determined to complete his work among the Barolong, Moffat informed the Bangwaketse that unfortunately he was not able to join them on their return to Lwale, giving them instead a present to take to their king with the message that he hoped to be able to come some

other time.

To Moffat and his host’s surprise, shortly thereafter Sebego himself arrived, accompanied by his Malau regiment. Their sudden appearance initially gave rise to panic; as Moffat later recalled:

“A fortnight after, while sitting writing in my wagon, the hue-and-cry was raised that an enemy was approaching, when many fled, leaving the village with few inhabitants.

I did not like the idea of leaving my wagon and other property, after their example, and sat waiting to see who the enemy was, when presently Sebego, with 200 warriors, fine-looking men, emerged from a thicket of acacias, and the trembling inhabitants were amazed to observe the chieftain, whom they never saw before, come and salute me in a way which proved that we were old acquaintances.

“I walked into the village with him and his men, to the no small astonishment of its owners, who drew near, out of breath with their flight, to see the king of the Bangwaketse.

They were still more surprised when he told them that he had broken an established law of his people, which would not permit the king to leave his own dominions, but that his martial appearance among them was on designs of peace; for his sole object was to induce me to accompany him to his capital.”

Sebego remained with Moffat for the next two days in a vain attempt to convince the missionary to accede to his urgent request by accompanying him back his own country. In the process the Kgosikgolo reportedly spoke at great length and with much apparent pleasure about the Reverend’s previous visit to Makaba II at Kgwakgwe, expressing his own desire that Moffat should live among the Bangwaketse with the words “trust me as you trusted my father.”

Moffat noted in his diary that Sebego went to some length to appear in European style dress when meeting with him. For their part, the Barolong were reportedly relieved when the Malau had finally crossed back over the Molopo.

Unwilling to permanently leave his own station, Moffat did renew his efforts to recruit others to take his place among the Bangwaketse.

This resulted in the 1830 arrival at Kudumane of three representatives of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society led by the Rev. Prosper Lemue, who intended to proceed to Lwale.

But, by the time of the French protestant missionaries arrival a new threat had emerged in the form of the Amandebele of Mzilikazi.


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