Our last episode concluded with Kgosi-kgolo Makaba II's victory at Matlhabanelo, over combined might of the Bahurutshe, Balete, Bakgatla bagaKgafela, Bakwena bagaKgabo, Batlhaping, and Batlharo.
In the aftermath of this victory, relations between the Bangwaketse and their neighbours remained strained. This animosity is apparent in the accounts of early European visitors, as well as local traditions.
In 1808, just two years after assuming permanent control of the Cape Colony from the Dutch, the British sent an official expedition north of the Orange River with the objective of gaining a better understanding of the region beyond the Batlhaping capital of Dithakong, of which they were already familiar.
The expedition was led by a military officer, Lt. E.D. Donovan, who was accompanied by two other Europeans, Dr. Alexander Cowan and the Rev. Robert Anderson of the London Missionary Society (who also had trading interests), as well as their “Hottentots” (i.e. Cape Khoe) servants.
Passing through the lands of the Batlhaping and Barolong, the party arrived at Kanye, where it was warmly welcomed by Makaba. At this point the Rev. Anderson decided to turn back, while Donovan and Cowan, together with their servants, pressed on to the then Bakwena capital of Sokwane, where they were greeted by Kgosi Motswasele II, who is locally remembered as having received a mirror and other gifts from the visitors.
The two then proceeded northward to the Limpopo, where they disappeared, their remains only being discovered decades later in the country of the Balaka, to the east of Martin’s Drift, where they had possibly perished of fever.
Donovan and Cowan’s fate is of interest to our story due to the fact that Makaba’s Batlhaping rivals, abetted by some Bangwaketse exiles, successfully spread the allegation that the pair had been murdered by the Bangwaketse ruler. This falsehood had the desired effect of discouraging other European travellers from passing through Gangwaketse, some taking circuitous routes to reach the Bahurutshe and other merafe to the east, while avoiding the now feared Makaba.
Makaba’s bad reputation was possibly reinforced by the actual 1809 killing in his country of a renegade ‘Boer’ (maybe mixed race) cattle thief known as Frans Krieger.
A generation of Cape traders thus avoided what would later become the well travelled road to the north through Kweneng and Gammangwato, as well as Gangwaketse.
With hindsight it appears that this outcome was a long-term blessing for local merafe in that it helped to dissuade the 1830s Boer trekkers from using the route.
At the time, however, Makaba was frustrated. Like other dikgosi in the region, he wished to enter into direct trading contact with the Cape so that he could better access
Through the tribute he collected from Kgalagadi communities, as well as the success of his communal hunts, the Kgosi-kgolo had a surplus of what the outside traders most sought - ivory and other game products.
But, except for the fugitive Coenraad De Buys, the Makgoa stayed away, notwithstanding Makaba’s invitations, as well as additional efforts to encourage the Batlhaping Kgosi Mothibi to end his hostility.
The English botanist, William Burchell was thus at Dithakong in 1811 when a party of Bangwaketse arrived amongst Batlhaping with oxen intended as a present from Makaba to Mothibi. But, such was the Motlhaping’s distrust that he refused to accept them, fearing that they had been bewitched.
Makaba’s concern over his isolation must have increased after 1816, when he once more became embroiled in armed conflicts with his neighbours. While he successfully raided the Bahurutshe and Balete, renewed hostilities with the Bakwena, under the militant leadership of Motswasele II, led to sustained losses on both sides.
Makaba’s position was also complicated by his estrangement with heir Tshosa, who fled to the Barolong at Khunwana after failing in an initial attempt to usurp bogosi. In his flight Tshosa was accompanied by a large body of supporters, including his younger brother Segotshane; but he left behind his sons Gaseitsiwe and Ralekoko.
In 1822 Tshosa arrived at Dithakong in an effort to incite Mothibi against his father. But, the Motlhaping refused to get involved; while the then recently arrived Scottish missionary the Rev. Robert Moffat scolded Tshosa for his failure to honour his father.
Thereafter, Tshosa convinced some Barolong to join him in an initially successful raid on his father’s cattle-posts. Makaba sent out mephato in pursuit, who succeeded in surrounding and defeating Tshosa’s raiders at Setlagole.
Various Sengwaketse and European accounts are in agreement that notwithstanding Tshosa’s actions, Makaba wished that no harm should befall his prodigal son, instead ordering that he be captured and brought back alive. Tshosa was nonetheless killed, resulting in Makaba secluding himself for an extended period of mourning.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the Batlhaping and others around him never spoke of Makaba “without stigmatising him in the most opprobrious epithets”, Robert Moffat resolved take up the Kgosi-kgolo’s invitation that he visit. At the time, the missionary was convinced that the powerful Kgosi’s goodwill was the key to bringing peace and the blessings of gospel to the region.