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Mzilikazi strikes back

We left off in 1859 with Kgosi Sekgoma having been restored to the Bangwato throne, following the forcible ouster of Matsheng by Bangwato with armed Bakwena assistance.

With Mzilakazi rejecting his appeals for support, Matsheng ultimately found refuge with the man who had sanctioned his overthrow, Kgosi Sechele.

During Sekgoma’s second reign, Shoshong rapidly emerged from the shadow of Bakwena centres at Dithubaruba and (after 1863) Molepolole as a leading centre for the ivory and ostrich feather trade. Whereas in 1841 the town had a population of only about 1,500, two decades later it was home to over 30,000 people, being described by one visitor as “undoubtedly the most important town in any of the independent native kingdoms in the interior of South Africa.”

If Sechele and Mzilakazi had expected the restored Sekgoma to subordinate himself to their interests, they were disappointed. As his kingdom prospered, the Phuti sought to expand his domain northwards into areas also claimed by his old adversaries; the Amandebele and Makololo.

It was in this context that Sekgoma sent Mephato to collect tribute from the Batalaote living to the region along the Matlotse River who were also regarded as vassals by the Amandebele. News of the incursion was relayed to Mzilakazi by Kedikilwe aPotoko, also known as Rradiloro, who was then the Kgosi of the Mokobi branch of the Batalaote. Kedikilwe is said to have been previously loyal to the Bangwato, but had fallen out of favour with Sekgoma. The Austrian observer Dr. Emil Holub thus noted that: “In March, 1862, at the instigation of Kirekilwe, a fugitive sub-chieftain of the Bamangwatos, the Matebele king renewed hostilities; some Makalahari while tending cattle on the Matliutse [Matlotse] and Serule were put to death, and a village on the eastern Bamangwato heights was destroyed, only two men escaping to carry the news to Shoshong.

“Without delay Khama and Khamane, the king’s sons, set off to avenge the injury; they routed two companies of the Matebele without difficulty, but were almost overpowered by a third company which had been attracted by the sound of firearms, and although they killed some forty of their adversaries they lost at least twenty of their own men, and had some difficulty making a safe retreat to Shoshong.”

In 1863 a larger party of raiders including Mzilakazi’s son Lobengula once more raided Gammangwato, reaching as far south as the outskirts of Shoshong.

The Amandebele, however, were unwilling to attack the Bangwato entrenchments in the Shoshong Hills, while the Phuti refrained from engaging the Amandebele on an open plain outside of his capital. Instead, Sekgoma waited for his opportunity when Mzilakazi’s impis began their march

home. Holub noted that although the Amandebele “carried off with them a considerable quantity of cattle, Sekhomo started off in pursuit, and recovered all of it in a fortnight.”

Sekgoma once more entrusted Khama to lead the pursuit with his armed cavalry. From Hugh Mashall Hole’s account of the events: “Khama’s force met the invaders late in the afternoon advancing leisurely in close formation – a splendid target – and at once opened fire. The Matebele soldiers, who were too young to remember the Boers, at first made fun of the guns, and imitated their reports, but when the bullets began to drop among them and some were hit they changed their tune, and on a charge by mounted men they broke ranks and took flight.

“Another party, which had been lying concealed, then made a flank attack on the ba-Mangwato, who lost the advantage of the first success and fled incontinently, leaving a good many dead. For some reason – probably fear of guns – the Matebele gave up the pursuit,… among them were two or three of Mziligazi’s sons, including Lobengula, who is said to have been wounded in the neck by a bullet fired by Khama himself.

“Khama behaved throughout the affair with great gallantry and judgement, covering the retreat with his mounted men and thus averting a route. His prestige with the tribe was much increased in consequence.”

According to Holub: “As a result of all this, the Bamangwatos rose in importance. They were manifestly establishing their superiority over the Matebele, hitherto regarded as the stoutest and most invincible of warriors, and the consequence was that numbers of Makalalas [Bakalanga], Batalowtas [Batalaote], Mapaleng [Baphaleng], Maownatlalas and Baharutse [Bakhurutshe], came as fugitives from the Matebele district and craved permission to settle on the Bamangwato heights.” 

Additional accounts, by both outsiders and locals suggest that 1862-63 fighting between the Bangwato and Amandebele was indeed a turning point. Besides confirming the Gamangwato Kingdom as a regional power, the events also established Khama’s reputation, preparing the ground for his ascendancy.  From a Sengwato leboko:

“Tau [Khama] esale elala eomana letlou; erile boosa yaperepetsha tlou [Matsheng], yaethulega yaleba Sesabane, kwamaropeng agaRramokopole; erile eboa yaforofotsha makgabana, ere gona etshosa magatlapana, etshositse Diloro aKedikilwe; Mokalaka-Serwa [Batalaote] oetla aseba, are, a jaana tau gaekantshware, a fa gaakantshware Kilamolelo [Khama]?

“Keene mogale yoosanneng isong, yoerileng tshaba diphuthegile, diphuthegile diya kgonnye, asale asekaseka ditlhobolo; atlhopha tsedimafulo athata, atlhopa bobojane [short rifles, carbines] le bobautu [bolt rifles, i.e. breechloaders].”

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