Mmegi Blogs :: Oxwaggons
Last Updated
Wednesday 21 February 2018, 17:14 pm.

When diamond money arrived in the mid-1970s, the oxwaggon, was doomed. Its demise occurred almost overnight. Given its extraordinarily long life span and importance, it’s surprising that no one, as far as I know, has yet produced a history of this remarkable mode of transport in Southern Africa and certainly not in this country.
By Sandy Grant Wed 13 Sep 2017, 16:54 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Oxwaggons

Fortunately, we know much about the oxwaggon from the accounts of many missionaries and traders such as Robert Moffat.

Indeed, without navigable rivers and lakes in this part of the world, the ability of those people to travel would have been extremely limited although Livingstone did somehow manage to travel enormous distances on foot.

Sadly, in the more modern era, it is unlikely that any useful record will have survived. I have a sneaking suspicion that there was some sort of a licensing system, but if it did indeed exist at some stage, it is probable that a majority of these waggons went unlicensed. So, there will be no way that we can arrive at either numbers or distribution.

We do know, however, that prior to the rinderpest of 1896, there were an extraordinary number of oxwaggons congregated in Old Palapye, the majority presumably being owned by resident traders. Unfortunately, we can have little idea when individual Batswana began to acquire these waggons, although it would be safe to say that the Dikgosi would have been amongst the first to do so. What we do know, on the other hand, is that the number of blacksmiths scattered around the country prior to the arrival of diamond money, meant that a great many were in local hands.

How they were acquired, however, is another matter? Grahamstown in South Africa was one waggon making centre although there must have been other places closer


by, such as Zeerust and Mahikeng. But if they were purchased in such places, how could they have been transported here? We can think about some of the characteristics of the old waggon.

For a start, they were extremely heavy and needed considerable animal power to get them moving. They were clumsy, expensive to buy, difficult to use, and requiring real skills to keep them in use. Teams of trek oxen had to be trained and used by people who knew what they were doing. Lacking in manoeuvrability, they required a wide turning circle which may have helped to determine the lay out of many dikgotla.

Curiously, the Mochudi kgotla in the 1930s boasted an oxwaggon shelter presumably for the use of Kgosi Isang, but it is not known if this was replicated anywhere else. They were prestige possessions being the Rolls Royce of their time and when they were on the move, they could be admired by everyone. If theirs was a wide turning circle, they could be used almost anywhere.

They did not require any kind of road at all – merely a dirt road or clear path through the bush.  They could not, as must be obvious, be used in modern towns with their stop signs, traffic lights and competing traffic.

For these reasons, I have always felt it to be a mistake for the National Museum to bring one into Gaborone on Museums' Day.


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