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Lord Of The Kgalagadi

In last week’s episode Kgosi Sebego had defeated and expelled the Ovambandero of Tjamuaha from Ghanzi region. The Bangwaketse victory is said to have been amply rewarded in captured livestock; as reflected in the following passage from Sebego’s praise poem (as recorded in 1938 by Kgosikobo Chelenyane):

“Ketswa le motlhasedi Tlammeng [Matlamma=Tjiherero speakers], ke tswa go bona ka ditlhaba dilwela, banna bajana kaseputlela sa lerumo. Dikgomo tsa bokone magolonkwane; di gola maoto, dinaka ga digole, magolonkwane oo Rrakgaodi....Thamaga di diboll’a bola; dikgomo di ditshubaba Rramaomana, Rramaomana aMokube. Ke ile le motlhasedi Tlammeng, ngwana wa namane tse ditlhaba, mmusi, tse ditlhaba tsa motse wa Matlamma; re diraetse molamu wa tshukudu, re re tlhaba di khubame ka mangole, di lebe go ene, moabi a Khuto. Ke goreetseng kare o moabi? Nkabo ke rile motlhasedi, nkabo ke rile motlhasela-batho.”

Another apparent legacy of Sebego’s short residence in Ghanzi was the introduction of the ivory trading and large scale commercial hunting into the region. There can at least be no doubt that his mephato’s communal hunting practices, e.g. encircling game over a wide area, were of an altogether different scale and nature to the traditional, environmentally sustainable, practices of the local Khoe.

The arrival of the Bangwaketse was also a burden for the Bangologa merchants in the region who, accompanied by a few Ovambandero breakaways, withdrew to the Matsheng area [Hukuntsi-Lehututu-Lolgwabe-Tshane].

But there they found little respite. With malaria beginning to take a toll at Monnyelatsela and more pillage beckoning, in the summer of 1835-36 Sebego advanced on Matsheng setting up his new headquarters at Lehututu. From there he demanded the subservience of the Bakgwatheng and Bariti as well as Bangologa in the region, raiding the villages of any who dared to resist, seizing their livestock, including small stock, in the process. At Hukuntsi some Bangologa sought assistance from their southern compatriots, resulting in a temporary coalition led by a Morolong named Molebe. But, Sebego defeated Molebe’s force when they attacked his position at Lehututu. He then pursued survivors, catching up to them at Kurutlwe. There, in the manner of the Amandebele against the Griqua at Moordkop, the Bangwaketse attacked at night, slaughtering their opponents in large numbers. Sebego’s retribution against any who thereafter resisted him is alleged to have been cruel. The French missionary Prosper Lemue reported of one incident: “Having confiscated their goats, Sebego had men, women and children put into their huts, which were then burned down.”

Through such alleged heavy-handed means, Sebego is said to have terrorised much of what is now western Botswana, more especially in today’s northern Kgalagadi District, into temporary submission. While the extent of Sebego’s cruelty may have been exaggerated in some quarters, his time at Matsheng undoubtedly represents a historical nadir of Batswana exploitation and oppression of “Bakgalagadi”. Although the hard-hearted Crocodile was able to live in relative peace for

several years, the seeds of his tragic downfall had already begun to sprout. By the late 1830s, Sebego’s harsh methods of accumulating power had alienated some among his own Bangwaketse, as well as those he had reduced to vassal status, botlhanka. Unable to openly challenge Sebego, many Bangologa sought relief by relocating into remote areas. Among the Bangwaketse there was collective yearning to return to their masimo in the east, once peace was restored. In this respect, Kgosikgolo himself is also said to have been eager to once more harvest.

To the south-east at Tswaneng, the following of Sebego’s sibling rival Segotshane, now regent for Gaseitsiwe, continued to increase as Bangwaketse voted with their feet. Among those who joined him was Bome, another of the late Makaba’s sons who had deserted Sebego. At Dutlwe, Diatleng also aligned himself with Segotshane’s faction.

In addition to a growing number of Bangwaketse, Segotshane was able to count on his alliance with Barolong and Batlhaping, who bitterly resented Sebego’s forcible usurpation of their sphere of influence in the Kgalagadi.

In addition, the Barolong were the maternal uncles of Gaseitsiwe. Standing between the two Bangwaketse factions was the young Bakwena Kgosi Sechele who, from his base at Lophephe was occupied trying to reunite his morafe and restore his father’s authority of Kweneng, while warding off the Amandebele.

Through their commercial dealings with the Griqua and traders like David Taute” Hume, both Segotshane and Sechele had also begun to acquire guns, which increased their capacity to provide protection to those who sought refuge with them. In this respect they had a common interest in securing their own positions by denying firearms to Sebego and Mzilakazi. Further to the west, in today’s Namibia, the Nama had combined with the Orlams in also acquiring muskets, posing another potential threat to Sebego’s Bangwaketse as well as the Ovaherero.

In 1836-37, the regional balance of power was further altered with the Boer invasion of the South African Highveld, otherwise known in Afrikaans’s based accounts as the “Die Groot Trek” or the “Voortrekkers”. Notwithstanding the growing threats to his position, Sebego’s reputation was growing further afield. In the pages of the Grahamstown Journal (Eastern Cape) newspaper, he was glowingly described as: “Being the most intrepid and intelligent chief of South Africa--possessing great energy of character, and so well-affected by the white man, that it is thought he would readily cooperate in any measure having for its objective the maintenance of peace, and the advancement of the natives of the extensive region he inhabits in the scale of civilisation.”

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