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The Jazz King (Part 10)

JEFF RAMSAY
We left off in 1923 when, in response the missionaries policy of preventing bogwera and bojale graduates from attending their schools, Sebele established tribal authority by creating a new School Board consisting of three of his subjects, Gokatweng Gaealasfshwe, David Kgosidintsi and Martinus Seboni along with a representative from each of the Anglican and LMS missions.

Thereafter, the mission societies cooperated with the Kgosi’s representatives in the running of the schools, but not without some misgivings. From LMS missionary Haydon Lewis’ 1929 annual report of Molepolole: “The whole influence of the male teachers in the schools is against the teachings of Christ, and young men of education are following in the steps of their dissolute Chief and at present there seems no way of making the alternative needed in order to win back the schools to the influence and control of the right people...Our Christian children are being taught by anti-Christian and morally corrupt teachers.”

In the aftermath of imposing a balance between thuto and bogwera, Sebele moved to further consolidate his authority. His financial problems, which at one point had led to threats of civil imprisonment, were effectively reduced. His position was enhanced by the return of a group of dissident Bakwena under Jacob Kgari, who had fled Kweneng during the time of Sebele I. With public backing, the Kgosi was also able to get the British to replace a troublesome Magistrate.

From his position of relative strength, Sebele took a number of steps to advance public welfare through municipal improvements. He imposed strict standards on the building of houses and fences and had streets kept clean and well maintained.

Rubbish pits replaced garbage heaps. He further instructed his people to bury their dead in the graveyard rather than in their lolwapa as had up until then been the common practice. New roads were built, and dam construction was attempted (though with limited success).

Aware of the pioneering public health efforts then being carried out by the SDA medical mission in Gangwaketse, Sebele further welcomed the establishment of a medical clinic by medical missionaries of United Free Church of Scotland, which grew into the Scottish-Livingstone Medical Hospital.

Sebele II also took a keen interest in public entertainment. During his reign, Molepolole became a centre of popular events, some traditional and some not. During such occasions, Sebele was apt to show off his own skills as a pianist, singer and ballroom dancer.

But for his pedigree, the Mokwena might have indeed remained in Johannesburg to pursue a career as a musician. Besides his collection of various musical instruments he owned two phonographs along with an extensive collection of discs.

Sebele II loved good times. He was, however, impatient, with those whom he perceived as public

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nuisances. Like his contemporary in Mochudi, Isang Pilane, he was infamous for riding about on his horse at night with riding crop in hand, ready to mete out instant punishment to hooligans.

The second Sebele was a complex and often contradictory person who was capable of extreme behaviour. He could be both generous and greedy to the point of extravagance. He acted responsibly as a provider for his people; looking after the destitute and others deserving support. Bakwena are said to have willingly ploughed his masotla, knowing the grain would feed those in need.

He established long periods for the people to reclaim matimela cattle and used at least some of the beasts left over, or those collected as fines, for public purposes. The poor, particularly amongst his Bakgalagadi subjects, were also often exempted from paying Hut Tax, to the annoyance of the British.

Yet, Sebele could be as harsh as he was considerate. Known as “Kgomoyatlhaba” on account of his bad temper, often made worse by overindulgence in alcohol. According to the oral accounts of some who knew him, he exhibited something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde pattern in his behaviour. When intoxicated he was capable of being violent and cruel. But, more often than not, he would, later apologise and even compensate the target for such excesses.

The Kgosi’s womanising was another cause of public concern. Even his friends worried at times when Sebele allowed personal pleasure to interfere with the performance of his public duties.

 But, Sebele II was faced with enemies more daunting than drink and women. Quite apart from his personal shortcomings, the Kgosi’s eventual downfall was the result of his strained relations with the Government and with some of the white residents of Kweneng. Officials regarded Sebele as uncooperative, particularly with regard to the collection of Hut Tax.

Their attitude was also influenced by external racial perceptions. When Sebele imposed price controls on predominantly white Afrikaner (Boer/Maburu) and “coloured” blacksmiths in Molepolole, the matter ultimately became something of an international sensation.

Sebele, who was convinced that the blacksmiths were overcharging, required them to buy wood for their furnaces from Bakwena and imposed on them a set of fees. As a conservation measure he further banned Kweneng residents of all races from commercially cutting green wood, while raising the fees on outsiders engaged in the commercial gathering of deadwood.



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