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Sebego And Livingstone

We last left off on the 12th of November 1837, with Boer and Batswana alike watching from atop the Dwarsburg hills as tens of thousands of Amandebele crossed into modern Botswana at Sikwane.

The Batswana of what is now South Africa were thus liberated from the Amandebele yoke, though for the Batswana of Botswana the struggle had simply entered a new phase.

In the white settler historiography of this region the indigenous African contribution in expulsion of the Amandebele has been largely ignored. Back in 1964 Dr. S.M. Molema thus observed:  “The historians, Theal, and many others before and after him, have wasted much ink and time in trying to belittle the African contribution.”

Still earlier, in 1930, Sol Plaatje, having interviewed a patriarch about how “Barolong blood was spilled by the gallon” in the early wars alongside the Boers wrote: “The ingratitude of the sons of their White allies made him feel bitter beyond expression. He could find no words to describe it, beyond the karossmaker’s maxim: “Ga ba na phokojane wa morokagangwa nabo.”

While the November 1837 retreat of the Amandebele across the Madikwe removed what had hereto been a threat to the very survival of Setswana civilisation, in the wake of the ordeal merafe were left divided and relatively impoverished.

In the case of the Bangwaketse a decade and a half of virtually no harvests, declining livestock numbers and disrupted trade, as well as battlefield losses, had drained the wealth of Makaba II’s once prosperous kingdom. Politically, the Bangwaketse remained divided between the followers of Sebego, still at Lehututu, and those loyal to Segotshane, who was supported by among others Diatleng’s Dultwe outpost.

Besides his status as the regent for the rightful heir, Gaseitsiwe, in the wake of the Mzilakazi’s evacuation Segotshane had the strategic advantage of being able to disperse his followers into the eastern Gangwaketse hardveld with the acquiescence of neighbouring merafe, the Barolong, Batlhaping and then also divided Bakwena. 

Faced with a growing desire on the part of his own subjects to return to their masimo, in 1839 Sebego approached Segotshane and the other dikgosi asking for peace as a prelude to his return. But the others were suspicious and rebuffed his overture.

Sebego then sought to involve the LMS missionaries as mediators and likely sympathisers by speaking of Moffat and Makaba’s shared vision of the south western Batswana coming together as a peaceful confederacy.

Of his desire to engage the missionaries, it was also noted that: “Sebego, like many of the other people in the country, had the notion that if he got a single White man to live with him he might be secure”. Undeniably where Makgoa resided the flow of guns followed.

When Robert

Moffat proved reluctant to become involved, Sebego reached out to his new son-in-law, the recently arrived Rev. Dr. David Livingstone. The latter had brought with him his own militant belief in the Holy Spirit made manifest in the fighting spirit of those struggling against oppression, more especially the sin of slavery.

Livingstone’s passionate views on righteous resistance are reflected in his early writings, including a number of polemics he published in the British Banner, a radical Christian periodical, under the pseudonym “a surgeon.”

In one article he went so far as to interpret Napoleon’s downfall as divine symmetry for his treacherous capture of the leader of the Haitian slave rebellion, observing that: “Toussaint Louverture was sent to France to drag out his days in a dungeon, and the man who sent him thither was sent to rusticate on the rock of St. Helena.”

Sebego’s initial outreach to Livingstone is recorded in a July 1842 letter by the missionary. Livingstone had taken up temporary residence at Dithejwane among the Bakwena faction then under Bubi, who had succeeded his half brother Moruakgomo:

“On returning to the country of Bubi, I found 16 people of Sebego waiting for my arrival. He is the Chief of one half of the Ngwaketse tribe, and lives nearly ten days directly west of Bubi.

He was driven to his present position in the sandy desert by Mzilakazi, and there he had the address to cut off many detachments of the forces of that marauder, while all other tribes fled before them. By superior generalship he managed to keep possession of his cattle. The others having lost theirs are envious, and have leagued together lately to purchase numbers of horses and guns in order to deprive Sebego of what he alone had the courage to defend.

“In order to that he might be more easy prey for them; they have been trying for some time to induce him to come out of his present situation, to the country near Bubi, where he could sow corn, etc.

“Sebego could not trust the tribes in this direction, for he knew that the individuals who had prepared to attack him belonged to all the southern tribes. Even his own brother Segotshane, chief of the other half of the Ngwaketse, murdered the ambassadors that Sebego had sent to conciliate him.

The plundering expedition was to have left this quarter during the time I was in the Bakwena country I therefore felt anxious to warn him of the danger.”

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