"My masters, you see that the world is collapsing. We shall be eaten up one by one. Our fathers taught us peace means prosperity, but today there is no peace, no prosperity! Let us march!" – Kgosi Sebetwane
We left off in August 1824 with the party of the Rev. Robert Moffat and Griqua leader Barends Barends having arrived at Kgosi Makaba II royal centre at Kgwakgwe.
Elsewhere, the Bafokeng bagaPatsa and Bataung had merged under Kgosi Sebetwane to form a powerful collation that threatened the Bangwaketse and their neighbours. Then referred to by the Bangwaketse as the “Makgare”, while generically labelled as “Mantatee” by Europeans in the region, the group would ultimately become infamous as the Makololo.
The previous year the Bangwaketse had turned back an initial raid by the Makgare, fortifying the monarch’s confidence in his continued ability to triumph. Pointing to his hilltop defences he boasted to Barends and Moffat:
“There lie the bleached bones of the enemy who came upon our hills like the locusts, but who melted before us by the shaking of the spear” to which he reportedly added “with a stentorian voice, and with superlative self-complacency - Who is to be compared to Makaba, the son of Moleta, the man of conquest?”
At this point the silent multitude of several thousand Bangwaketse who had been listening to their Kgosikgolo are said to have burst into a deafening applause.
In his interactions, Moffat confirmed to Makaba his eagerness to establish a London Missionary Society (LMS) presence in Gangwaketse, exceeding his actual authority by pledging that a missionary would be able to soon take up residence.
The Kgosikgolo responded that in future he hoped that: “no grass would be allowed to grow on the road between the Kuruman and Kgwakgwe.” But, he warned that his Motlhaping rival, Mothibi, would undoubtedly try to hinder the missionary’s coming.
On the morning of the third day of the visit, Moffat’s party received an additional three oxen for slaughter, which they feasted upon with boiled maize, bogobe and bojalwa, also compliments of their host. Of Kgwakgwe, the missionary further reports that:
“I visited the town, which is very large, but was not able to judge of the number of inhabitants: the town itself covered a vast extent, so that the population must have been great compared with that of the towns of South Africa generally”
Moffat later climbed one of the hills from which he was able to count fourteen “considerable villages” the farthest being about four kilometres in the distance, while he was informed that there were still more towns that were not visible. Based on such observations, he subsequently estimated Makaba’s followers to number not less than 70,000.
Moffat also admired the
“Their premises and houses were on a plan rather different from what I had before seen. The houses, though not larger than those of the Batlhaping, were built with rather more regard to taste and comfort. The accuracy with which circles were formed, and perpendiculars raised, though guided only by the eye, was surprising.
Their outer yards and house-floors were very clean, and smooth as paper. No dairy-maid in England could keep her wooden bowl cleaner and whiter than theirs were. In this respect, they formed a perfect contrast to the Batlhaping.”
According to Moffat, Makaba shared his disdain for Batlhaping culinary hygiene, asked the missionary whether they “ever washed a wooden bowl, or if ever they presented me with food which did not contain the mangled bodies of flies, in a dish which had had no better cleaning than the tongue of a dog.”
Of the compound at Kgosing, the missionary further observed:
“The front cattle-fold, or place where public meetings are held, was a circle of 170 feet diameter, formed with round posts eight feet high, and as close to each other as they could stand, each post having been hewn round with the axe. Behind lay the proper cattle-fold, capable of holding many thousand oxen, there were also large sheep-folds.”
“Each of Makaba’s wives, who were numerous, had a separate establishment, consisting of three or four houses, a corn-house, and a general storehouse. They had also a number of round jars for corn, from eight to 12 feet in diameter, and nearly the same in height, which are raised from the ground upon a circle of stones.
While neither Barends nor Moffat acted under the authority of the British administration at Cape Town, their mission can certainly be understood as an early harbinger of imperial contact. Moffat was a member of the London Missionary Society (LMS) whose later representatives would play a significant role in reconciling Batswana to the 1885 imposition of colonial overrule.
Barends’ Griqua were, like the Batswana, destined to number amongst imperialism’s victims rather than agents. Their early interface with the imperial order was, however, reflected in Barends title of “Kaptyn”, which was the product of an 1813 initiative by the Cape Colony Governor to formally recognise him, along with his cousin Adam Kok II, as principal Griqua leaders north of the Colony’s Gariep River boundary, in the process bestowing on them the honorary militia ranks of captain.