For some four centuries the Ngwaketse dynasty has survived, often against the odds, to exert a lasting influence in the development of not only of Botswana, but also the surrounding region.
The autonomous history of the dynasty begins with the life of its namesake, Ngwaketse, who was a junior son of a Mokwena monarch named Malope.
The line of royal decent from Malope the father of Ngwaketse through to the current monarch, Kgosi Malope II, is free of serious dispute. Malope II is the son of Seepapitso VI, who was the son of Bathoen of Seepapitso of Bathoen of Gaseitsiwe of Tshosa of Makgaba of Moleta of Mongala of Makgaba of Khutwane of Leema of Seepapitso, born of Ngwaketse of Malope.
Counting back the generations, the above genealogy suggests that Kgosi Ngwaketse was probably born sometime in the late 16th century. In many popular accounts Mohurutshe, Ngwato and Kwena are also said to be sons of the earlier Malope. But comparative analysis of the existing genealogies for each of these merafe and other evidence calls into question the belief that the principal royal lines of the Bahurutshe and Bakwena, including Bangwato, Batawana and Bangwaketse, all literally converged in single generation of siblings.
There is a tendency in any culture for oral traditions to compress events and personalities over time. What the folk memory does preserve is an enduring appreciation of common roots. In this respect, what is not in dispute is that the ruling families of each of the above merafe, as well as those of the Bakgatla and Barolong, including such offshoots as the Bakaa, each claim to be the decendents of a more ancient ruler named Masilo whose father was also called Malope.
Beyond common kinship, the putative descendents of Masilo, along with other merafe are also said to share a deeper genesis based on a common ancestor named Matsieng, who is said to have come into this world at Lowe cave near Rasesa. Given the ancient prominence of the Lowe site, the lands of south-eastern Botswana would not have been unknown to Ngwaketse when he broke away from the main body of the Bakwena bagaMagopa to establish his own settlement at Magarapa Hill.
While some accounts state that his brother, the BagaMagopa paramount Kgosi Kgabo, was reluctant to allow Ngwaketse’s departure from the main body of the morafe then residing along the Crocodile River in modern South Africa, there is no suggestion of any resulting conflict.
Here it may be noted that Kgabo a Malope is said to have been the grandfather of Kgabo a Tebele, the founder
Ngwaketse was succeeded by his son Seepapitso, who established his settlement at Khale. There he is said to have repulsed an attempt to force the Bangwaketse to return to Magopa. Thereafter, the Bangwaketse re-settled a short distance further south and west along the Kolobeng River at Ntsotswane Hill. Seepapitso was succeeded by his son Leema, during which time they moved further south to Potsane.
Leema was in turn survived by two sons - Khutwe and his younger brother Khutwane. Due to Khutwe’s alleged incapacity, Khutwane ultimately assumed leadership, during which time the morafe stayed at Sengoma, a hill just south of Ramotswa.
Khutwane’s reign appears to have coincided with a major shift in the balance of power in the region brought about by the arrival of Kgosi Kgabo a Tebele’s Bakwena, who were accompanied by the Bangwato. In alliance with the Bakaa, then settled at Mmopane under their own Kgosi named Magogwe, Kgabo forcibly seized the strategic Dithejwane hills from the Bakgwatheng, who were then united under the rule of Kgosi Magane.
In the aftermath of the conquest, many Bakgwatheng led by a son of Magane named Tau found refuge with the Bangwaketse. A dynastic alliance was then forged with Tau’s sister becoming the great wife of Khutwane’s heir Makgaba I.
Following Khutwane’s death Bogosi jwa Bangwaketse was disputed between his son Makgaba I and Khutwe’s son Modutlwa. This led to a temporary split in the morafe with Makgaba leading his followers to Seoke, whose ruins can be found on the outskirts of Lobatse.
The move to Seoke coincided with an attempt by Modutlwa to enlist the support of the Bakwena ruler Kgosi Motshodi a Kgabo for his own claims. In the end, he failed in his efforts. His descendents and those of his followers became reconciled with those of Makgaba. Today they form the historic Modutlwa, Taukobong, Pudumo and Ruele wards of Kanye.
Makgaba I was succeeded by Mongala, who is credited with asserting Bangwaketse independence from the Bakwena during the twilight years of Motshodi’s long reign. Mongala’s rule is otherwise remembered for his tragic demise as a result of an outbreak of war with the Bakgwatheng, who sought to reassert their independence under Tau’s grandson, Seeiso.