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Game Of Thrones (10) - Khama Becomes King

We left off in 1872, with Kgosi Sechele having summoned a Letsholo (armed meeting), which was attended by many Bangwato as well as Bakwena.

Before the gathering, the Mokwena declared that he would mobilise his regiments to assist Khama in gaining the throne as “there will be no peace in the country while either Sekgoma or Matsheng is chief of the Bangwato.”

Sechele’s determination to intervene had been reinforced by Matsheng’s decision to close the roads into the Amandebele kingdom in an ill-advised attempt to undermine Lobengula. Instead, it had the practical effect of uniting all of the merafe against him, as well as the Amandebele and local traders.

For his part, Sechele had reassured Lobengula that he would settle matters in Shoshong without Bulawayo’s assistance.

It was agreed that Mokwena would equip the entire expedition with gunpowder and other munitions and logistics in return for the then very considerable sum of one thousand English pounds, which would be reimbursed by Khama’s camp following his installation.

The extent of preparations for the assault on Shoshong underscores the fact that at the time serious resistance was anticipated, with Matsheng’s followers having reportedly been reinforced by Amandebele loyal to the royal pretender, Nkulumane.

On August 29, 1872 Sechele’s forces finally departed from Molepolole under the command of his senior son, the future Kgosi Sebele, who was assisted by his experienced uncle Kgosidintsi. The accompanying Bangwato were personally led by the already battle hardened Khama.

According to the resident missionary, whereas the mere prospect of Amandebele appearing was a source of deep-seated dread amongst Bangwato women, the possibility of Bakwena approaching Shoshong did not give rise to general concern. As one mother observed: “Bakwena are not like Matebele, they do not make war on women and children.”

The advance on Shoshong was sufficiently stealthy to take Matsheng by surprise. Mrs. Hepburn, wife of the missionary J.D. Hepburn, would later recall:

“When dawn broke, the poor unsuspecting women and girls, with earthenware pots on their heads, began trooping up the kloof to procure their daily supply of water. Suddenly, a volley was heard in the town, and we saw women throw down their pots, and run up the hills in all directions. The firing became louder and sharper, and presently Khama, at the head of a body of armed men, marched quickly past our houses to guard the water.”

The attackers quickly routed all opposition, while suffering only two fatalities. However, a fire broke out resulting in considerable loss of property including grain reserves.

Over the next few days, Matsheng’s close supporters were tracked down. Matsheng himself was allowed safe passage. He once more fled to Seleka before finding

permanent refuge in the Transvaal.

A few of the deposed Kgosi’s leading councillors as well as his bodyguards, including some of the Amandebele, were however put to death.  

With Khama seemingly secure on the throne, the Bakwena soon returned home. But, much to Sechele’s chagrin, the new order once more proved to be ephemeral.

It is not clear why, at the end of 1872, Khama decided to invite his father Sekgoma to return to Shoshong. Although he had upset some of his subjects through his staunch refusal to “make rain”, or engage in any other indigenous rites he perceived as heathen, there is no evidence that Khama’s throne was threatened.

The missionary Hepburn speculated that: “It is possible that, relying implicitly upon the steadfast adherence of the young men, he felt he had nothing now to fear, and listening in the spirit of his religion to the prompting of filial regard, he determined to bring his old father home to spend the remainder of his days in the bosom of his family, and be buried amongst his own people.

Having relocated to Kanye, Sekgoma now had to find a way around Sechele who banned him from travelling through Kweneng, allegedly with the threat of death. Travelling entirely by foot, Sekgoma nonetheless managed to reach Shoshong in January 1873 by taking a long route through the Transvaal.

Within five months of his return, Sekgoma was once more ruling with the support of Kgamane, while Khama joined by a loyal following resettled at his cattle post at Serne.

Initial attempts a reconciliation failed. As his followers grew past the resources of the Serne, which also had the disadvantage of offering poor ground to mount a defence, Khama migrated to Boteti, leaving the Bangwato once more effectively divided.

Meanwhile Sekgoma and Kgamane seem to have attracted greater support amongst the Bakalanga who had joined the Bangwato in resisting the threat of renewed Amandebele incursions.

After many months of cold peace the political stalemate was decisively broken in January 1875 in the face of escalating disputes over cattle, women and Basarwa (Bolata). Khama organised a lightning strike on Shoshong.

The operation began with Khama’s men seizing Shoshong’s water supply, following a skirmish with Bakalanga in the area. Seeing that they had caught Sekgoma and Kgamane off guard, they then proceeded to enter the village at dawn village, meeting only modest resistance. 

Within hours the Shoshong Kgotla was once more Khama’s. For their part, Sekgoma and Kgamane fled south to find refuge with Sechele.

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