"I recall Chief Sebele [II], who had served in the Native Labour Contingent during the First World War...Build on light lines, and wearing spectacles Sebele looked more than anything else like a highly strung student.His house and huts in Molepolole were furnished in European style and he is very proud of his armoury of many different types of guns and rifles. When he felt the mood he played his expensive piano with some feeling." - Julian Mockford (South African journalist & author)
We left off with the February 12, 1918 installation of Sebele II as Kgosi, which occurred only days after he had arrived back in Molepolole from the war in France, only to find his father, Kealeboga Sechele II, on his deathbed.
From the beginning Sebele’s reign was plagued by internal opposition as well as British hostility, which in each case was rooted in the unsettled political environment he inherited, as well as perceptions of his own fitness to rule.
Kealeboga had died leaving the morafe polarised by his long-running dispute with a group of self-styled leading headmen led by his uncles Kebohula and Moiteelasilo.
Kealeboga Sechele II’s opponents had resented his policy of promoting more junior dikgosana and commoners as his advisors, as well as his revival of bogwera and promotion of the Anglican Church, which had ended the LMS monopoly in Kweneng.
Encouraged by LMS missionaries, some of the aggrieved headman had fought back by petitioning the British to remove Sechele II prior to his death.
It was in the context of the above tensions that Sechele II had removed his home to Ntsweng, on top of the hill overlooking Molepolole and where his grandfather, Sechele I had once lived. Most of the morafe had followed Sechele II to settle on the hill.
The anti-Sechele II faction had, however, remained behind in the Borakalalo Valley, five kilometres away. Their compounds were thus adjacent to both main LMS church and the local headquarters of the British Resident Magistrate.
In 1916 the Borakalalo faction got the British to establish the first Bakwena “Tribal Council”, dominated by themselves. Although Sechele II had succeeded, immediately before his death, in getting the British to abolish the Council, the residents of Molepolole remained divided, between Ntsweng and Borakalalo.
Once on the throne, Sebele II tried to reduce tensions by reaffirming the right of his people to live and worship where they pleased.
He, with a large majority of Bakwena, remained at Ntsweng.
The Borakalalo leaders, however, were determined to regain control over the young Kgosi and forced him and his followers to resettle in the valley. They thus refused to recognise Sebele’s rights to rule from the hill and lobbied for official support by questioning his ability to judge cases and otherwise govern without their advice.
In May 1920, the Resident Commissioner, James MacGregor, once more visited Molepolole, where he called upon Sebele, in front of a large kgotla gathering, to relocate to Borakalalo.
When Sebele refused point blank, MacGregor fumed that this “Native chief” would dare to oppose him in public. Macgregor threatened to depose Sebele unless the Kgosi agreed to follow his “advice.”
Sebele then tried to avoid a showdown with administration. After MacGregor departed for Mahikeng, he sent his apologies and agreed to move. He and his followers, however, remained in Ntsweng and made no actual effort to shift to the valley.
After several months, the British tried to coerce Sebele by withholding his ten per cent commission for hut tax collection, knowing he was under pressure to pay off mounting personal debts. Sebele responded by avoiding contact with the administration. When called to meetings, he absented himself with some excuse.
Sebele II also boycotted the annual sessions of the Native Advisory Council (NAC). The Borakalalo faction, however, did attend the NAC and attempted to use this body as a tool against the Kgosi.
In the 1921 session, the NAC chairman, MacGregor, tabled an anti-Sebele petition sent to him the days before by the Borakalalo faction.
The petition, which complained that Sebele listened only to the advice of commoners and not his royal uncles, was well-timed as the 1921 session was unusual in that it was attended by not a single fully-fledged Kgosi. While two Regents were present, but the majority of the delegates were drawn from royal relatives who were sympathetic to the Borakalalo faction.
The petition, which demanded that Sebele be put on trial, thus also gained support from some members of other merafe, who perhaps saw a chance to put the senior Batswana Kgosi “in his place”. In the end, Macgregor, however, accepted the motion of the Bangwaketse regent Tshosa to form a new Tribal Council in Molepolole to act as the Resident Commissioner’s “herdboys”.
The administration welcomed the council as means of bringing Sebele under control. The councillors chosen were Kebohula and Moiteelasilo, Sebele’s uncles who had served on the first council in Sechele II’s time, and Gaashugelwa Kgosidintsi. All were prominent foes of Sebele.
When MacGregor confirmed the Council at a kgotla meeting held in Molepolole in May 1921, he also gave Sebele a final warning to resettle in Borakalalo along with the other residents of Ntsweng.