The calendar year reads 1890 in Bechuanaland Protectorate, a year after the abandonment of Shoshong by about 30,000 Bangwato led by Kgosi Khama III.
A year prior to this evacuation, the environment of Shoshong had become progressively uninhabitable. A calamitous drought that had struck the surroundings of the Shoshong Hills, and ushering in a season of poor crop yields, also resulted in diminished pastures and inevitable malnourishment of cattle. The result of the drought was a disheartening sight of dead cattle carcasses that littered the area, producing a repulsive stench in the settlement. Problems after another continued mounting amongst Baphaleng, Bangwato, Batalaote, Bakaa and Bakalanga living in Shoshong. These poor sanitary conditions were escalated by shortage of clean water caused by the drying of a perennial spring and wells that supplied the town.
Poor hygiene conditions coupled with a future that was uncertain hovered above Shoshong. This reduced the once affluent trading town into a place of anguish and hollow dreams for the people living in the town. This gloomy condition finally forced King Khama III to issue an instruction for his people to pack their belongings, burn down their homesteads and begin an exodus of over 200 kilometres to Photophotho Gorge in the Tswapong Hills. When this decision was finally reached in 1899, an enormous economic blow had already been dealt to the people of Shoshong. Arriving at the bountifully refreshing waters of the perennial Phothophoto Gorge, the people soon forgot the disaster that had befallen them in Shoshong. Before the business of setting up a new capital dawned on the minds of the people, Phalatswe, while still in its infancy stage, was met by a new regional development. This event was to change the course of history in many ways.
Some 2,000 kilometres away in Cape Town, a group of European settlers of British stock were laying down plans for an unprecedented exodus of their own. Unlike at Shoshong, drought, poor sanitation and dwindling water sources were not the reason for this new development. The settlers were unsatisfied with living conditions in the British Cape Colony. Motivated by selfish desires to expand European occupation of hinterlands of Mashonaland, they pioneered a move that changed the course of history in Southern Africa. They were aware of numerous advantages that were presented to their plans by disunity of scattered chiefdoms of Kalanga and Shona people. The famed prehistoric Shona State of Mutapa and Bakalanga State of Butua had long succumbed to Mfecane upheavals of the 1820s and the subsequent Ndebele raids of the 1840s. The wars had piloted a period of political discord amongst the Bakalanga and the Shona. This made it easy for new organised groups to infiltrate the region. The only politically strong group of indigenous Bantu speaking peoples in the area to the north of what whites called ‘Khama’s country’ was the Ndebele Kingdom established by King Mzilikazi in the 1850s.
With the knowledge of some of these advantages, some European expansionists had succeeded in signing some concessions with Lobengula, the successor king of the Ndebele, by July 1890. The most important of these concessions, known as the Rudd Concession of October 1888, was signed by King Lobengula, allowing Europeans to settle in Mashonaland. This gave land and mining rights to the British South Africa Company (BSAC) owned by Cecil John Rhodes. History shows that King Lobengula signed this concession without full knowledge of its implications. It was only after the signing that the king realised the full consequences of his actions. Not only had Lobengula through the Rudd concession, given land and mining rights to the BSAC settlers in Matabeleland, but he had also also facilitated the occupation of Mashonaland by the whites. It is also believed that Lobengula remained hopeful that by giving the Europeans rights over Mashonaland, the settlers would divert their attention from Matabeleland towards the occupation of Mashonaland.
With the stage set, by July 1890, a group of 200 founding settlers and police made their way from Cape Town to Mashonaland and camped near the Motloutsie River. This move began what would later on be known as the Pioneer Column. The members of the pioneer group was a mixture of men and women with different professions ranging from blacksmiths, doctors, teachers and engineers who had in common
King Khama responded to this new development by sending a message to the High Commissioner for the British colonies based in Cape Town. Aware that the Pioneer Column was made up mainly of British settlers, Khama was forced to offer support to the pioneer column as a form of allegiance to the Queen of Britain who had offered protection to the lands of Batswana in 1885. The King prepared a troop of 250 labourers and 50 mounted scouts to assist the Pioneer Column in their journey to Mashonaland. On July 1, 1890 the Pioneer Column together with an additional 300 troops offered by Khama, arrived at Shashi River and started building Fort Tuli. On July 5, 1890, the B troop under the command of Captain Hoste, Captain Selous and Dr Jameson crossed the Shashi River and cut 50 miles (80.5km) of road so that the rest of the column could move forward. From July 10-12, the rest of the column crossed the Shashi and marched northwards to Mashonaland. The gates leading to the occupation of Mashonaland by the whites had been opened. More Europeans and indigenous people followed this route, all of them with different expectations, made common by an all similar desire to begin a new life in Mashonaland.
With the pioneer route operational, opportunities for beginning a new life in Mashonaland tempted the adventurous and hopeful. With more whites heading up north, the route was immediately viewed as an economic haven by black people living in Bechuanaland Protectorate. Young and adventurous men left their homelands to seek employment opportunities as guides, herders and horse handlers in ox-wagons heading to Mashonaland. Back in Khama’s new capital of Phalatswe in the Tswapong Hills, the future of young men that seemed bleak was drastically uplifted by employment opportunities presented by the Pioneer Column. Word quickly spread in Phalatswe and its surroundings after the safe arrival of Khama’s men who had accompanied the Pioneer Column into Mashonaland up to Fort Victoria, present day Masvingo. As more whites followed the Pioneer Column into Mashonaland, young black men in Khama’s country became more tempted to move to Mashonaland for greener pastures.
We may not know exactly when and how many of such young men left Khama’s territory to begin a new life in Mashonaland. What has become apparent and intriguing to us is that by 1895, three young men left Khama’s territory with the desire to begin a new life in Mashonaland. These young men appear to have presented themselves to an ox-wagon expedition of whites travelling to the north. Family traditions hold that they managed to get employment as ox- wagon leaders, guides and care-takers of horses and oxen. The whites were highly impressed by the personable attitude of these three men from Bamangwato country. Not concerned with memorising their Setswana names, they gave the trio nicknames that replaced their true names for the rest of their lives. Out of these three, the most conspicuous was a six feet one inch (over 1.8metres) tall man whose posture quickly earned him the nickname Long-one, meaning ‘the long one’. Alongside Long-one, there was another man who earned himself the nickname ‘Kleinbooi’ which means short or little one in Afrikaans. The last of the three men, somehow ended up with the nickname of ‘Lamtoy,’ a possible corruption of the name Ramoitoi.
*This article details family history of Longman Mmolai Kgama, who was born around 1863 in Shoshong and moved to Mashonaland in 1895 after the Pioneer Column. The project is supported by his descendants who are tracing their roots back home.
ABEL A. MABUSE & HAZEL CHINGONO*