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The Jazz King - Bogwera (Part 9)

JEFF RAMSAY
"When I came first to Molepolole the (Anglican) church was known as the 'Chief's Church’, and I found that quite a number joined it simply because the Chief had done so.

When I was not prepared to sanction the Initiation School and other measures introduced by the Chief (Sebele II), he was reported to have said that the Church now existed no longer since it did not obey him.” Rev. W.J. Clissold

We last left off in May 1921 at a meeting in the Molepolole kgotla, where the resident commissioner, James MacGregor, confirmed that a triumvirate consisting of Sebele II’s uncles Kebohula and Moiteelasilo, along with Gaashugelwa Kgosidintsi would serve as new “Bakwena Tribal Council” to work alongside the Kgosi. Sebele was also given a final warning to comply with the Resident Commissioner’s instruction to resettle in Borakalalo along with the other residents of Ntsweng.

Sebele, however, remained put while augmenting his overwhelming local support by recruiting allies in the European and Indian business communities. The most prominent of these B.I. Vickerman, who in addition to his business interests, was as influential member of the “European Advisory Council” (EAC).

Vickerman (commonly known to Batswana as “Bigman”) convinced several of his fellow EAC councillors to support him in protesting against the proposed forced removal of Ntsweng residents.

Together they claimed the Protectorate administration had no authority to tell a Kgosi where to live and no business interfering in Sekwena politics by backing a “rebel faction.”

Perhaps more pointedly Bigman questioned whether the Protectorate regime was in a position to financially and materially compensate both Ntsweng’s indigenous and non-indigenous residents for the great expense in moving; with the then considerable figure of 21 000 pounds calculated as the amount that would be due to the traders alone.

MacGregor was further reminded that his predecessor, Charles Garraway, had authorised Sebele’s father, Sechele II to resettle in Ntsweng.

In the end MacGregor had to back down. The High Commissioner in Cape Town further sent instructions that any future attempt to depose Sebele must have the backing of a “substantial majority” of the morafe. This was something that neither MacGregor nor any of his successors would ever have.

In the wake of the turn of events MacGregor’s Tribal Council quickly collapsed, with the Molepolole Magistrate describing it a “broken reed”.

Finally free from Macgregor’s threats Sebele confidently remained in Ntsweng, where he built a new “Bakwena National Office” next to his kgotla. It’s now crumbling remains, often referred to as Mmakgosing by Bakwena, are adjacent to the royal cemetery.

With the Borakalalo faction humiliated, Sebele also felt secure enough to finally undergo bogwera. 

It had been the custom for one to be initiated

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before assuming bogosi, but in the second Sebele’s case this had not been possible.

As previously noted, in 1901 the Christians had pressured Sebele’s grandfather into abolishing the rites of initiation. As a result his regiment, Mathubantwa had not undergone bogwera at the time of its formation in 1911.

So, in 1922, Sebele put aside his duties in order to submit to the rigours of bogwera, the last thing that stood in the way of his becoming an effective ruler. After several weeks of confinement at Bopatlhapatlou, an absence that further strained his relations with the local British magistrate, he re-emerged with the Malatakgosi (“those who follow the Kgosi”) regiment.

In accordance with protocol, however, Sebele continued to lead the Mathubantwa, some of whose members had also joined him at initiation school.

It was after this ordeal that Sebele became a true champion of bogwera and unlike his father, bojale.

 The colonial authorities along with some domestic opponents of the practice would later charge that in his zeal Sebele enforced attendance.

But this appears at most to have been an exaggeration. While examples of coercion on the part of proponents of traditional initiation did occur, Sekwena law continued to uphold the right of free choice in the matter.

In the above context, controversy inevitably arose within divided lineages over who was entitled to decide whether a particular boy or girl attended.

Within the royal family itself Sebele’s younger brother Mosarwa, who was to have been the leader of the Malatakgosi, may have gone to Kimberly to escape the pressure of his senior sibling.

But, evidence indicates that his younger brother Kgari willingly accepted the leadership of the Mayakathata in 1924 despite the, disputed, tradition that the regiment’s name signified “those who went under compulsion” rather than the alternative “those who went in large numbers”.

From 1922 with the arrival of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) missionary the Rev. W. J. Clissold, the Anglican as well as LMS missions were opposed to initiation and encouraged their congregations to take punitive measures against the parents of initiates.

The LMS also sponsored the formation of the first Boy’s and Girl’s Life Brigades, a Christian youth movement patterned after the Scouts, to provide a moral alternative to the “revival of heathenism”.

Another policy of the missionaries was to prevent bogwera and bojale graduates from attending their schools. In 1923 Sebele responded by unilaterally appointing Bakwena to become members of the School Board, thus diluting mission control.



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