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Ghanzi In History (Part II)

During the early 19th century migration, and in and out of the central Kgalagadi sandveld, along with a corresponding increase in competition over its resources was a result from events elsewhere in the region.

Many merafe found refuge in the sandveld to escape the raiding by the Bafokeng Kgosi Sebetwane's 'Makgare', who as we have seen ultimately came to be known as the 'Makololo'.

This movement greatly increased following the arrival of Mzilikhazi’s Amandebele into eastern Botswana.

In the face of the Amandebele, the Bangwato under Kgosi Sekgoma, for example, moved their centre from the Shoshong Hills northwards to the edge of the Makgadikgadi, which provides a context for the c. 1835 birth of their future Kgosi Khama III at Mosu. 

At the same time, Kgosi Sebego of the Bangwaketse had put some distance between himself and Mzilikhazi by moving his headquarters to Letlhakeng in what is now western Kweneng.

From there, he supported his ally Sechele’s position as the newly installed leader of a faction of the Bakwena then living at Lophephe.

In the winter of 1833, the continued refusal of Sebego, along with Sekgoma and Sechele, to accept Mzilikhazi’s hegemony as ‘Tautona’, resulted in the latter dispatching a punitive expedition from his headquarters at eGabeni, which is what is now part of South Africa’s North-West province, from where he had imposed his authority over dozens of other merafe.

But, having anticipated Mzilikhazi’s move, Sebego put into place his own strategy for defeating the Amandebele by drawing them deep into the inhospitable expanse of central Kgalagadi.

And so, a large army of Amandebele, whose ranks included younger regiments who had pleaded for the opportunity to wash their spears, advanced from eGabeni in a north-west direction towards Letlhakeng.

 As to who where their commanders, and what were the names of their regiments, no known memory survives. Such details were lost with an ignominious defeat so complete as to have subsequently become unmentionable at the Tautona’s court. Their fate is, however, preserved in accounts by local Baloongwe and Khoe communities, as well as the Bangwaketse, who were in the path of their advance. 

Finding Letlhakeng abandoned, the invaders encountered and gave chase to Bangwaketse units whom Sebego had ordered to act as bait, luring the enemy into his trap. The Bangwaketse, along with their allies, thus played a cat and mouse game, appearing only to vanish, all the while drawing the Amandebele after them even deeper into the sandveld.

With each passing day, the pursuing Amandebele grew weaker. They were unfamiliar with the local melons and tubers used by the locals to refresh themselves, as well as watering points and other aspects of the

environment. When water points were reached, they were invariably poisoned.

According to Sengwaketse accounts, Sebego employed Basarwa, i.e. Khoe, as spies to misguide the Amandebele away from any sustenance. In this respect, the Setswana and Shekgalagari traditions are consistent with long overlooked Khoe folk memory.

Beyond any links to the Bangwaketse via the Baloongwe, local Khoe would have undoubtedly had their own motives for frustrating the Amandebele trespassers, who are remembered as the “Kibere” of “Musiyacheche”.   

In his book “Tear for my Land” Kuela Kiema provides an account of a great hunter named Tchaanqabo who launched a solo attack on the Amandebele to divert them from his own nearby village. Captured, Tchaanqabo is thereafter said to have guided the invaders away from his settlement for several days before making an escape. Kiema also relates an additional tradition of the Amandebele being lured to their death during a trance dance.

An additional account recorded by the Japanese anthropologists, Nakagawa and Osaki speaks of a Khoe hero named “Guru” who is also said to have resisted the Kibere. Whatever may have been their motive, there can be no doubt that the Khoe played a critical role in Sebego’s broader scorched earth strategy.

Eventually, the Amandebele found their way to the outskirts of Dutlwe pan, where Sebego had brought his mephato together.

As a final lure, herd boys were sent out with beasts to entice the exhausted and famished invaders, who obligingly gave chase towards a solid phalanx of white shields. Out of the enemy’s sight Sebego’s horns were already coming together.

The Bangwaketse attacked the Amandebele on all sides. Few, if any escaped. A handful of Bakgalagari families, who today claim Amandebele descent, may be a legacy. Otherwise, it is said, none ever returned to eGabeni.

In the aftermath of the Bangwaketse victory at Dutlwe, the Amandebele did not launch another major expedition into the Kgalagadi interior.

Sebego was for the moment militarily secure. But, given his subjects needs, not the least of which being the need to maintain their livestock, prolonged residence in the central Kgalagadi was environmentally unsustainable.

As the Amandebele were still too much of a threat to contemplate any immediate return to the east, Sebego cast his eyes towards new opportunities in the lands to his west. He, therefore, prepared to move his headquarters to Monnyalatsela, near Ghanzi, while a segment of the morafe remained behind at Dutlwe under a royal cousin named Diatleng

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