Mmegi Blogs :: Ghanzi In History (PART 3) – Dukiri
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Friday 21 September 2018, 15:09 pm.
Ghanzi In History (PART 3) – Dukiri

With the return of the Bangwaketse to south-eastern Botswana in the 1840s, the Batawana Kgosi Letsholathebe eventually imposed his authority over much of the Ghanzi region. Letsholathebe’s expansionist designs were, however, resisted by local Khoe or Basarwa; the //Aikwe, commonly known as Naro and their, linguistically distinct, neighbours the Au/ai or Auen.
By Jeff Ramsay Mon 09 Jul 2018, 15:23 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Ghanzi In History (PART 3) – Dukiri

By the early 1850s the two communities had united under the leadership of a ruler named Dukiri.

An early published reference to Dukiri can be found in Siegfried Passarge’s 1907 German study Die Buschmanner der Kalahari. Citing information from “an old Bushman” named Kapoch, he wrote of Dukiri as having been a powerful Au/ai leader.

According to Passarge, Dukiri ruled over a “well organised state”. Consistent with other local sources, he further suggested that Dukiri had built up his wealth and power by selling ivory and other game products to traders for weapons:

“He ruled the entire area between Rietfontien in the west, the Grootlaagte in the north, Okwa to the south, and deep into the sandveld as far as Epukiro to the east. His residence during the dry season was Ghanzi and !Kautsha, during the rainy season he hunted as far a Grootlaagte. He was very powerful and always surrounded by many Bushmen.

My reporter saw as a child with his own eyes the paramount’s arsenal, his house filled with spears and other weapons. He was the supreme warlord. Upon his call the Bushmen would gather, and he led them against neighbouring tribes.

“Families had to pay him an annual tribute in skins, ivory, ostrich egg shell stings etc. He was also the head judge, who made decisions in family conflicts. ...In those times the title of paramount was hereditary and the Bushmen completely autonomous. The Bechwana did not dare enter their territory, the Hottentots [Nama] only in raids.”

But this circumstance did not last. In 1854 Dukiri raided Batawana cattle-posts initiating several years of conflict. After repeatedly failing to corner Dukiri in 1858 the Batawana Kgosi Letsholathebe offered to make peace. But, Dukiri and his men were put to death when they arrived to negotiate.

Besides being remembered in local oral traditions, the 1858 murder of Dukiri and his lieutenants was recorded by the 19th century artist adventure capitalist, Thomas Baines, who notes of Letsholathebe:

“He sent a man with tobacco to buy skins of them, and having by a long course of deceitfulness lulled their suspicions, be proclaimed a grand battue [great hunt]. Of course the quarry were the Bushmen themselves, who were surprised, disarmed, and brought before [Letsholathebe] when sitting on his stool. He superintended the deliberate cutting of their throats, embittering their last moments by every taunt and sarcasm his imagination could supply.”  

With Dukiri out of the way, Letsholathebe was able


to consolidate his authority over the north-western Ghanzi District, while the south-east as far a Qade and Molopo remained under his ally (and one-time father-in-law) Sechele.

Possession of the Ghanzi plain gave the Batawana kingdom control over a major trans-Kgalagadi trading nexus. By the mid-1850s many European traders were coming through the area from Walvis Bay, usually offering guns for ivory. Some traffic also came from the south via Kweneng.

The Ghanzi region was also valued by the Batawana elite as a source of, usually Khoe, malata.  Most of these malata spent their lives serving local masters who had the power of life and death over them. The Swedish trader, Charles Andersson wrote of the punishment meted out on two such servants whose neglect had resulted in one of Letsholathebe’s horses dying in a quagmire:

“Without further question or remark, the chief ordered the halter of the dead horse to be loosened, and the hands and feet of the Bushmen to be secured with it. This being done, they were thrown into the mud alongside the dead quadruped, where of course, they soon miserably perished, Lecholetebe coolly exclaiming: ‘There now mind the horse!’”

In another incident Andersson noted that Letsholathebe had a Khoe lad caught stealing sheep “tied to a tree, and practised upon with guns at the long distance of two hundred paces.”

The Batawana ruler also became notorious as the one major Kgosi of his era who is known to have sold malata to slave traders. The British trader Leyland, who visited Ngamiland in 1851, observed:

“[Jan Viljoen, Lucus Swartz and Petrus Jacobs] exchanged several Cows, brought with them, for slaves: and the Griquas exchanged a slave for a dog...They were principally boys, nine or 10 years of age; their countenances were sad, melancholy and miserable. The chief treats them as dogs, they are not permitted to associate with the tribe they are under.”  

Evidence of Letsholathebe’s slave trading has been compiled by Barry Morton in his chapter on “Servitude, Slave Trading, and Slavery in the Kalahari”, which is included in the groundbreaking collection Slavery in South Africa.

Even before one gets to the text one is confronted by an 1869 Thomas Baines water-colour, reproduced on the book’s cover, showing over two dozen young, naked slaves being herded from Toteng to the Transvaal by Viljoen, Swartz and Hendrick Van Zyl. The latter figure would subsequently become for a period Letsholathebe’s Ghanzi governor.

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