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The Jazz King - Mathubantwa (Part 4)

JEFF RAMSAY
Previously, we observed that from the late 1890s Bakwena males, along with other Batswana, had been driven en masse into employment at the South African mines due to economic distress aggravated by the imposition of Hut Tax. Sebele-a-Kealeboga’s own prolonged stay in Gauteng was, however at least partially rooted in his love of dance and musical performance.

His desire to be a performer as well as consumer the popular music became a lifelong passion.

To the amusement of some and concern of others, Sebele II brought back something of the cultural ethos as well as sounds of the township when he finally returned to Molepolole. Among those who knew him there was been little doubt that his time away had influenced his character.

On the positive side his exposure to life on the mines and in the slum yards of Gauteng gave him a first-hand perspective about the life experience of many of his subjects. Yet, if such insight was perceived as an advantage to some, it was disturbing to others.

In his short biography of Sebele II, Michael Seboni bemoaned the fact that the son of Kealeboga had truly lived inside the mining compounds; “sleeping on cement beds” that were unfit for a person of his standing. In the process he had not only witnessed but to some extent adopted “the living habits of thousands of blacks who lived like ant-bears digging away at the depths of the earth”. To Seboni and others his engagement with people of all walks of life had the effect of “poisoning his mind and filling it with thoughts unfit for a ruler”.

And yet Seboni also acknowledged that while living the rough and fast life in Johannesburg Sebele’s eyes were opened to the power of the world of trade that bore down upon his community, while contrasting the vibrancy of the city with perceived weaknesses of the rural environment he had grown up in. Sebele II found Setswana life not only comparatively slow and boring but also restrictive to the ability of individuals to exercise their creativity and personal freedom. He thus swore to others that on the day he became king he would implement changes that would enable his people to have the modern advantages and entertainments that were enjoyed in the emerging townships of Johannesburg.”

It was at Gauteng that what Seboni characterised as Sebele’s “deviant thoughts” came to embrace elements of what may be described as traditional as well as modernist indigenous culture. This is exemplified by his change in attitude towards bogwera.

When his father, Kgosi Sechele II reintroduced male (but not female) bogwera, with the initiation of the Maratakgosi closely followed by the Maatswakgotla mephato, Sebele II had disassociated himself from the initiative. His own regiment, the

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Mathubantwa, had been formed without being circumcised. This had been in accordance with his grandfather, Kgosi Sebele I’s, late in life acceptance London Missionary Society (LMS) church establishment’s opposition to the practice.

For his part, as a youth Sebele II is said to have aligned himself on civil-religious matters with his mother, Phetogo, who had become estranged and ultimately divorced from his father.

Sechele II’s resuscitation of bogwera had enjoyed acquiesce of the Anglican Church, which with Sechele II’s blessing had established itself in Molepolole as an alternative to the LMS. This development had largely come about through the efforts of the Kgosi’s second wife, Lena Rauwe (MmaTlhalefang), who was supported by the principal of the Bakwena National School, George Mashwe and Motswasele Sechele, a royal relative who had been suspended as a LMS moruti for polygamy.

The local Anglican Church’s ultimately short-lived tolerance for bogwera and other customs long condemned by the LMS was partially a product of its early association with independent African led church movements, in particular the Rev. James Dwane’s “Order of Ethiopia.”

Sebele’s own change of heart about bogwera came about through his interactions with his countrymen and others in Gauteng; where the value of disciplined age-regiments for collective social support was manifest. It is in this context that Sebele became obsessed with knowing bogwera’s secrets.

By the end of 1916 the runaway Prince had become materially comfortable but increasingly restless. As much as he enjoyed his music and personal independence amidst the urban nightlife of Gauteng it seems that the pull of his royal destiny was finally beckoning him to return home.

Earlier in the year Sebele he had appeared at his father’s side, when Kgosi Sechele II’s rule was openly challenged by some of Molepolole’s leading headmen led by Baruti Kgosidintsi. By this time arguments over religion, bogwera and royal governance had resulted in the village becoming physically and well as socially divided, with the majority of the Bakwena joining Sechele II at Ntsweng, which had previously been the location of his grandfather Sechele I’s kgotla, while a minority that included many leading members of the LMS remained behind at Borakalalo, where Sebele I had established himself in 1903.

Sebele’s self-exile came to a sudden end when members of his Mathubantwa regiment came to him with the news that the mophato was being called upon to join the war against the Kaiser in Europe.



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