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Sebego Goes West

JEFF RAMSAY
Our previous episode noted that in the aftermath of his great victory over the Amandebele, Kgosi Sebego decided to move west while leaving a segment of the Bangwaketse behind at Dultwe, under a royal cousin named Diatleng. In 1834 he thus shifted the main body of his followers to Monnyelatsela Pan, near Ghanzi.

Sebego was not moving into unfamiliar territory. The sons of Masilo aMalope, including the descendents of Ngwaketse, had known the place for generations. This was the case notwithstanding the colonial era myth that before the late 19th century arrival of a few Boers, Ghanzi was an empty land - "nullius terra" in their legal Latin – on the basis that it had supposedly only occupied by "roving Bushmen", i.e. Khoe or Kua (Basarwa). 

Mmamosadinyana’s agents then and thereafter further assumed that, as Bushmen, the Khoe were by their nature a landless people. It was on the basis of this assumption transformed into convenient legal fiction that, in 1898, the Ghanzi District was handed over as “Crownland” to Cecil Rhodes British South Africa Company by the then British Tautona, Lord Milner.

The local Khoe, most notably the Naro-khoe (//Aikwe) and historically intertwined Auen (Au/ai), but also Dcui-khoe (IGui), Dxana-khoe (IIGana) and others, have of course never understood much less accepted themselves as being landless. 

By 1800 the Naro and Auen in the region were organised under three traditional leaders or Xhaihasi (a title that itself can be roughly translated as “Land Lords”), located around modern Rietfontien, Ghanzi and Kobis Pan.

Thereafter, in the mid-19th century, the communities were for a period united under an Auen paramount named Dukiri. 

There were also Tjiherero speakers in the area, i.e. Ovaherero in this case more precisely Ovambandero whom Batswana commonly referred to as “Matlamma”. By the early 18th century they had established cattle posts throughout much of the area that now constitutes the Ghanzi Farms under the protection of a ruler named Mutjise. There is, so far at least, little evidence of the Ovambandero and Khoe having come into conflict at the time.

The Ovambandero presence was, however, ultimately challenged by Setswana/Shekgalagari speakers who were also already in the area. By the early 18th century many of the peoples in of western Kgalagadi, including Ghanzi, who claimed common descent from Matsieng of Lowe, were further united by their identification with a Morolong ruler named Mongologa, whose followers came to be collectively known as the Bangologa. 

Here again while the Ovambandero and Bangologa became rivals, the admittedly limited available evidence suggests that before the 19th century there was little conflict between the Bangologa and Khoe in Ghanzi, unlike elsewhere. In this respect the relative status of the Naro at the time is perhaps reflected in the fact

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that they were referred to ka Sengologa as “Bakgotjhu” (“Makgothu”) rather than “Basarwa.” 

Throughout the 18th and early 19th century the Ghanzi region was somewhat better watered than today. It was also attractive for its abundance of game, as well as good grazing. Written accounts by the earliest Europeans visitors further testify to the widespread existence of wells among all of the region’s communities, which were already drawing on the area’s underground aquifers. 

 

In addition Ghanzi at the time was a major nexus of trade, from whence copper from Otavi and iron from the Kwebe Hills as well as cattle and game products were carried south to the Cape Colony via the Barolong and Batlhaping. In the decades prior to Sebego’s migration, Barolong predominance in the wider western Kgalagadi trade had been contested by the Bangwaketse and Bakwena, as well as Ovambandero.

For Ovambandero and Barolong-Bangologa what had started as tit for tat cattle raids escalated c. 1750 into open warfare. As recorded a century and a half later by an interested Protectorate Police NCO named Moses Malata: 

"Both Herero and Bandero [Ovambandero] were fighting with the Barolong and they were strong on both sides. The war lasted some months because the Damara [in this context Tjiherero speakers] used to get fresh regiments from SWA [Namibia] & the Barolong were getting mephato from the south. However later the Barolong pushed the Herero and Bandero out." 

The Ovambandero did apparently withdraw into Namibia, but c. 1780 they returned in larger numbers under the leadership of Mitjise’s son Tjrua, in turn temporarily pushing out the Barolong. 

During the 1820-30s the Ovambandero, by now led by Tjrua’s son Tjamuaha,  proved resilient in also turning back successive challenges by the Makololo, Moruakgomo’s Bakwena and Motswakhumo’s Batawana factions, as well a party of Amandebele, who appear to have been separated from the victims of Dultwe, as well as the Bangologa. But, their good fortune ended with the arrival of Sebego’s Bangwaketse.

From his base at Monnyelatsela, Sebego moved forcibly to impose his hegemony, sending out his mephato to collect tribute in the form of cattle from both the Ovambandero and Bangologa. The Ovambandero rallied against the Bangwaketse.  But their resulting defeat was so decisive as to cause Tjamuaha to once more abandon the region. They only returned decades later, during the reign of his grandson, as refugees fleeing the genocidal German occupation of Namibia.



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