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The Conspiracy

JEFF RAMSAY
Written on this very day eighty-eight years ago: “I want to let you know that I have already left, even though I do not like it. I just had to follow the Whiteman’s orders.

But I also want you to be aware that this does not just affect me, but you all as well, all the Chieftainships of the Northern and Southern Protectorate, and of the Union. Help! Help! Help! Our land and nation are going”- “Your elder brother” Kgosi Sebele II to Kgosi Tshekedi Khama, Mahikeng 10 June 1931, being the day of Sebele’s final departure for Ghanzi.

Previously, we noted that at the time of his 1929 appointment as the Resident Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Charles Ferdinand Rey was already determined to radically reduce the powers of local dikgosi, as a prelude to the territory’s anticipated transfer into the Union of South Africa.

In this respect Rey was mindful of the frustration suffered by his immediate predecessors not only in their dealings with the Mokwena but also the then Bangwato and Bangwaketse rulers as well. Of additional concern was the renewed political alliance between the rulers of the three tribal territories, which had increased in the aftermath of Ntebogang’s early retirement in favour of her energetic twenty-year old nephew, Bathoen II.  

Thus it was that, shortly after assuming his post, Rey noted in his diary: ‘’We have to frame rules for the powers of the Chiefs and the jurisdiction of their courts according to the Secretary of State’s instructions for all the territory. To do so for the Bakwena as long as Sebele is Chief would be a grotesque farce.”

Looking through his office records, Rey was outraged that Sebele had been allowed to repeatedly frustrate the better wishes of colonial administrators. An “indictment” was drawn up listing various infractions and examples of insubordination since his assumption of bogosi. Even more disturbing to Rey was Sebele’s suspected influence over Dikgosi Bathoen II and Molefi combined with what the Resident Commissioner described as his “unholy alliance” with the Bangwato regent Tshekedi Khama. The new Molepolole magistrate, Howard Neale, had observed: “Collaboration with Tshekedi appears to have had a bad effect upon him [Sebele II] and no attempt is made to listen to government instructions.”

For his part, Rey hoped that Sebele’s fall would send a strong message to the other dikgosi and Batswana in general. But he first had to gain the acquiescence not only from his superiors in the Colonial and Dominions’ Office in London and also a sufficient number of Bakwena.

In Rey’s discussions with Neale and his

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Deputy A.G. “Sekoanyana” Stigand, it was concluded that if the Kgosi could first be removed the Bakwena would accept a chosen successor. As Neale put it: ‘’Natives are to a great extent fatalists.”

The designated substitute was to be Sebele’s estranged brother Kgari. In April 1929 Stigand had secured a government bursary for Kgari on the basis that: ‘’The applicant is the only brother of Sebele who has impressed me as being a promising and steady young man and one who in the future has the making of a good chief”.

In picking Kgari, the conspirators passed over his elder brother Mosarwa. As it was Mosarwa was conveniently working outside of the country when Rey hatched his plan. Rey would subsequently, but unsuccessfully, try to bribe Mosarwa to stay away.

Also overlooked were the interests of Bonewamang, the son of a late elder brother Padi, and any, then potential, sons of Sebele.

In October of 1930 the Resident Commissioner received the then outgoing High Commissioner’s approval to banish the Mokwena. But he suffered a setback the following December when the new Dominions Secretary, perceiving a lack of urgency and noting Sebele’s continuing popularity, postponed any action until after the arrival of the new High Commissioner. Not to be defeated, Rey urged Neale to keep looking for a suitable moment

In early 1931, Rey seized on a minor incident to finally convince London that Sebele’s behaviour was becoming a danger to Bakwena. A bogwera, the third in the Kgosi’s reign, was held, and the usual complaints about boys being forced to attend reached Mafikeng.

Although investigations uncovered only one case of assault and another firm allegation of attempted coerced recruitment (the alleged victim escaped), Neale nonetheless, reported that:

‘’It is quite evident that Sebele, with who is associated Moiteelasilo, has deliberately sanctioned and supported an organised attempt to overthrow the influence of Christianised natives. Special attention is being given to those who attend schools and the various Christian denominations.’’

Rey then forwarded his own exaggerated account of the dangers posed by the supposedly “new development”.  On 7 May 1931 the new Colonial and Dominions Secretary, the by then elderly Sidney James Webb, 1st Baron Passfield, finally approved the order to banish Sebele.

Webb is better remembered for his youthful radicalism, when he was a pioneer of the Labour Party, Fabian Society and co-founder of the London School of Economics.



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