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House Of Ngwaketse (II) Kgosi Moleta

In our last episode, concluded with Kgosi Mongala aMakgaba, I reasserted the defacto independence of the Bangwaketse from the Bakwena bagaKgabo during the twilight years of Kgosi Motshudi.

Mongala’s rule is otherwise remembered for his tragic demise as a result of an outbreak of war between the Bangwaketse and their Bakgwatheng (or Bakgwatlheng) vassals, who sought to reassert their own independence under Tau’s son Mabeleng and grandson Seeiso.

Following an altercation between Seeiso and Mongala’s son Moleta, Mabeleng led the Bakgwatheng to a place known as Kgaloong-loo-Tau, near Segeng.

Determined to maintain his overrule, Mongala led an attack on Mabeleng’s position. It is said that in his eagerness for action, if not misplaced pride, Mongala failed to bring sufficient force with him. At any rate the Bangwaketse suffered defeat; with the Kgosi being captured and speared to death.

When news of Mongala’s execution reached Seoke, his son and heir Moleta vowed to extract revenge, setting off an era of sustained militarisation, which would ultimately transform the Bangwaketse mephato into the region’s most renowned warriors. 

The material nature of the ensuing conflict is suggested by the fact that, while the rebels’ primary leader, Mabeleng, was remembered as a Shekalagari folk hero, he seemingly became a virtual non-person in Sengwaketse oral accounts.

The war between the Bakgwatheng and Bangwaketse evolved into much more than another of the countless dynastic skirmishes that have occurred amongst the putative descendents of Matsieng over the centuries.

Alongside the Bakwena ruler Kgabo aTebele’s conquest of the Dithajwane hills, the conflict was a key event that defined the separate and unequal relationship that emerged between the Bakgalagari and Batswana merafe of southern Botswana more generally by the early 19th century.

As the Bangwaketse, often in an alliance of mutual convenience with the Bakwena bagaKgabo, expanded their political control even deeper into the Kgalagadi sandveld, the inhabitants of the region were reduced to servile status of batlhanka.

It is at this point that one can speak of Gangwaketse as forming a distinct polity, though contemporary references by neighbours often still referred to the lands of BagaNgwaketse and BagaKgabo collectively as “Bokwena”.

Returning to our narrative, Mongala’s heir Moleta quickly set about avenging his father’s death. In the process he established himself as a Crassus figure to Mabeleng’s Spartacus like challenge to social order.

Through Moleta’s determined leadership, the Bangwaketse mephato acquired a reputation for their collective discipline and battlefield cunning; qualities which were inculcated through constant mobilisation for hunting and raids, as well as the basic training of bogwera.

The Kgosi’s own Madingwana mophato was followed by the Maswana, Matshwarakgomo, Maletlathebe, Mankwe, Mathibaphata, Magwasa, Matshologo, Manoga, Matimakgabo and Magaga.      

Moleta initially led his forces in

a devastating counter-attack on the Bakgwatheng, who were scattered. Some fled south to the Barolong, while others were driven to Dutlwe and beyond by the Bakwena.

Still others fled westward to the Matsheng region, where they became associated with other groups in the region, e.g. the Bapebane, Bathaga, Baeha and Bashaga, who for a period were united under a leader of reputed Barolong origin named Mongologa, whose coalition thus became collectively known as Bangologa.

In the end Mabeleng’s son Seeiso was captured along with his surviving followers and taken back to Seoke. There Seeiso, himself, was allowed to form his own ward, which survives to this day in Kanye, while most of the rest of Bakgwatheng were distributed as batlhanka amongst various Bangwaketse lineages.

Expansion under Moleta also brought the Bangwaketse into conflict with their southern neighbours, the Barolong and Batlhaping, who competed for control of the Kgalagadi’s trade routes and tribute.

Hearing that the Batlhaping in alliance with other southerners (Barwa) intended to attack, Moleta moved his headquarters from Seoke to Pitsa Hill, also adjacent to Lobatse. From there, he successfully ambushed and droved off the invaders at a gorge ever since known as Phata-ya-Barwa.

The Bangwaketse next became embroiled in a conflict involving their eastern Bahurutshe neighbours, who were then ruled by a regent named Boikanyo. When Boikanyo refused to surrender the throne to his younger but supposedly more senior brother Tirwe, the latter turned to Moleta in support of his claims.

Moleta’s forces then clashed with the followers of Boikanyo at Powe, near Dinokana in Lehurutshe, resulting in Boikanyo’s defeat and death.

Moleta next moved his headquarters westward from Pitsa to Makolotwane, but subsequently withdrew from the area under pressure of the Bakwena Kgosi Motswasele I (grandson and successor to Motshodi), who kept his own cattle nearby at Gookodisa.

Moleta then resettled at a place known as Mhakane on the Molopo River, from where he could challenge the northward movement of the Barolong. His son Makgaba was sent on an expedition against the Bangologa at Lehututu, whom he deprived of their cattle.

The Bangologa then turned for help to their traditional allies the Barolong, who were, however, expelled from the area with the help of the Bakwena.

Moleta next settled at Setlhabatsane, where he eventually died in about 1790. Moleta was succeeded by son Kgosi Makgaba II, who initially established himself at Sebatleng. The second Makgaba continued to build on his father’s military legacy, earning for himself the praise name “Rramaomana”.

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