During the decade and a half that followed his 1857 detente with Marthinus Pretorius’ South African Republic, i.e. Transvaal Boers, Kgosi Sechele struggled to maintain his status as the pre-eminent political figure in Botswana.
To a great extent, the Mokwena in his latter years became a victim of his own success. In particular, his triumph in convincing the Boers to allow for open trade, including the flow of munitions, across the boundary between them and the free Batswana had the long-term effect of reducing the level of commercial traffic through eastern Kweneng.
With the emergence of alternative trade routes through the western Transvaal into northern Botswana and beyond, ox wagons began to directly link communities such as Zeerust and Rustenberg with the then Bangwato headquarters of Shoshong, in the process often bypassing Molepolole.
The spread of firearms throughout the region, which Sechele had done much to initially foster, ensured the continued collective security of the western Batswana merafe against the threat of renewed incursions by Amandebele, Makololo or Boers. While this was of general benefit, it also meant that the Bakwena no longer enjoyed a martial advantage over their immediate neighbours.
Relying on the soft power of diplomacy, combining Christian evangelism, traditional Bakwena claims of royal seniority, personal wealth and prestige, Sechele was nonetheless often able to manipulate the dynastic politics of neighbouring merafe to his benefit. This allowed him for a period to exercise considerable influence, rather than rule, over a wide area beyond his Kingdom’s, at the time ambiguous, borders
In keeping with his strategic understanding of his state’s overriding interests and capacity constraints, Sechele’s used the resources at his disposal sparingly to promote two overriding concerns: 1) to preserve the Bakwena stake in the wider regional trade in local and central Africa game products and 2) maintain the integrity of greater Kweneng.
In 1857-59 Sechele cooperated with the Barolong Kgosi Montshiwa in supporting the consolidation of Gaseitsiwe’s rule over the Bangwaketse in preference to his rival Senthufe aSebego. In the decades that followed, the two “great Crocodiles”, along with their heirs Sebele and Bathoen often cooperated.
The Bakwena-Bangwaketse alliance was successfully tested when they worked together to manage the fallout of a succession dispute among the Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana.
In 1870-71 the BagaMmanaana were divided by a bogosi dispute when Pilane claimed the throne from his ailing biological, but not in the eyes of his supporters customary, father Kgosi Mosielele. The origins of the dispute went back to c. 1840 the then BagaMmanaana Kgosi Pheko aKontle died without issue, dikgosana were sent to Gangwaketse to bring back his junior brother Mosielele, who had remained
In accordance with the common custom of seantlo, Mosielele, after being proclaimed regent (Motshwareledi-Kgosi), entered the house of Pheko’s widow, Kganyane aMongala aDiale, to raise sons on behalf of his late half-brother. Thus Pilane (1843-89) and his brother Gobuamang I (1845-1940), along with four daughters, were born. Mosielele also begot male heirs from his sixth wife Ikalafeng, the daughter of Balete Kgosi Mokgosi I.
By the end of 1870, Mosopa was temporarily abandoned when the larger faction, that of Pilane who at the time was married to Sechele’s daughter Gagoangwe, removed to Kgabodukwe, where they remained under Bakwena protection.
At the same time, Mosielele led his loyal followers to resettle amongst his maternal relatives, Bangwaketse. Mosielele died in 1873 at Gamafikana, where a branch of the BagaMmanaana led by his descendents has since remained.
Pilane resettled in Mosopa in 1875, but with a loss of status. He had by then been abandoned by Gagoangwe, who shortly thereafter became the great wife of Gasietsiwe’s heir Bathoen I. This development coincided with Sechele giving up his longstanding claims to Mosopa in favour of the Bangwaketse. Prior to this understanding, which was allegedly connected to Gagoangwe’s desertion of Pilane for the hand of Bathoen, the Bakwena had claimed Polokwe Hill as their Southern boundary.
Gaseitsiwe and Sechele subsequently had the entire Kweneng-Gangwaketse boundary professionally demarcated by British surveyors. This was in 1880, that is five years before the establishment of the Protectorate.
The demarcation exercise was part of wider efforts on the part of Sechele, along with Gaseitshiwe and Montshiwa, to secure their eastern borders from the potential of renewed Transvaal Boer aggression. In February 1865 the same triumvirate, further joined by Mokgosi of the Balete and Mosielele of the BagaMmanaana, had sent a joint ultimatum of their willingness to wage war on the Transvaal Boers if the latter carried out their intent to encroach upon Kgosi Mangope’s lands in Lehurutshe. As it was, in the face of the threat, the Boers quickly backed down.
In the west, the three dikgosi divided control over the lucrative Kgalagadi ostrich feather and kaross trade.
Sechele’s diplomatic skills were also applied within the Kweneng, where he interfered little in the affairs of the refugee groups who migrated into his country. Amongst the Bakwena, the Kgosi strengthened the political and economic status of commoners as a counterweight to the power and influence of his royal relatives.