The Orphan And The Ants Part 19 ’ The Tautona

We last left off with the c. 1827 defeat of Kgosi More’s Bakwena bagaMagopa, who were the mother morafe of Botswana’s Bakwena, Bangwaketse, and Bangwato, by Mzilakazi’s Amandebele.

Thereafter other merafe were forced to submit. Among these was the Bakgatla bagaKgafela, who paid tribute and herded the cattle of the Amandebele Nkosi.  The BagaKgafela ruler, Pilane, tried to break out of this subservience by forging an alliance with the Griqua. In June 1831 the Griqua Kaptien Barends Barends had quietly scouted Mzilakazi’s domains, while courting allies. Finding that many of Mzilakazi’s regiments were occupied in raids west of the Limpopo, Barends rallied a commando of over 400 armed Griqua horsemen who pushed north to link up with Pilane’s Bakgatla and others. Meeting little resistance as they advanced, the commando captured great herds of cattle, a feat that distracted them from their military mission.

The Griqua believed that the Amandebele were afraid to challenge their guns. Indeed, Mzilakazi had no intention pitting assegai against musket fire in daylight. Having initially been taken by surprise, he instead he lured his opponents into complacency, while shadowing their every movement.

With each passing day the number of unobserved Amandebele circling the Griqua grew. Finally as the invading enemy began break up, with most of the Griqua driving their captured cattle towards the Vaal, the Amandebele prepared to attack. Some of the captured Amandebele women had futilely tried to warn the Griqua not to underestimate the Tautona’s capacity to strike when they least expected; advising them to picket their encampment.

Finally, as the Griqua slept off an evening of excessive feasting, their camp was fully surrounded by Amandebele, who attacked before dawn. An alarm was sounded, but it was too late. A witness recalls: “Many reached for their guns only to have them wrenched from their hands before a shot could be fired; many grasped their muskets but were so overcome with fright that they fired indiscriminately, and killed not only Matabele warriors but also their own people. By sunrise the entire commando lay slain at the foot of the lonely conical hill. Only three men had escaped to gallop away to Makwassie, there to break the tragic news to old Barend Barends.”

The Amandebele next set out to punish the BagaKgafela; killing about a thousand while capturing their cattle, along with many women and children. Kgosi Pilane escaped to the north, where he found refuge with Kgosi Mapele of Bapedi-Balaka.

In 1832 Mzilakazi moved into the Lehurutshe region, making his new headquarters at eGabeni near Mosega, while establishing other settlements along the Madikwe.  Having by then swallowed over two dozen merafe, the Nkosi was now being addressed as the ‘Tautona’. Not content, Mzilakazi further demanded the submission of the merafe facing him along his western border. Thus it was that two of his representatives- Bhoya and Bhangele- were dispatched to Barolong boo Ratshidi of Kgosi Tawana at Khunwana to collect tribute. According to Serolong traditions, the emissaries came upon the bogwera camp of the mophato of the Kgosi Tawana’s heir, Montshiwa, who was also known as Seja-Nkabo. At Montshiwa’s command the initiates slew the pair. Thus the mophato was named ‘Mantwa’ or ‘Mayakantwa’, while its audacious leader was praised: “Re kile ra ineelela dichaba, Ra ineela, ka lebogo, merafe; Seja-Nkabo [Montshiwa] a sale mmotlana, A sale mo tharing yaga Sebodio. Jaana ke mmonye a tlhatlosa motho lekgabana, A mo pega ntswe ja Ga-Khunwana tlhogo, A nale mmaba, aya go bolaya, Seja-Nkabo-a-Tawana!”

Enraged, the Tautona ordered three of his elite regiments, under the command of Induna Gundwane, Nombate and Gobuza, to destroy Khunwana and all of its inhabitants. Messengers from Kgosi Mokgatlhe of the Bahurutshe at Mosega arrived to warn the Barolong of the Tautona’s command. A few days later two Barolong scouts, Sesedi and Motswapong Lekgatla, reported that the enemy was already pillaging the outer settlements along the Molopo River. The mephato were thus summoned: “Bii- Bii- Kgomo e bonnywe! Matebele a ga Moselekatse! Sekhutlonh sa ga Molopo! Bii- Bii- Mephato yothle ya Marutuba le Matlhogela- Kwa Kgotla- Ka Ponyo ya Leithlo: A rialo Morolong!”

Arriving at Khunwana, on the 6th of August 1932, the Amandebele began to encircle the village. With Nombate holding the centre on the eastern side if the settlement the left horn of Gundwane moved in a south-westerly direction, while the right horn of Gobuza came around from the north.  But, before Gundwane and Gobuza could bring their ranks together, the battle began. The Amandebele encountered stout resistance from the Morolong’s mephato with the Maabakgomo of Motshegare aTawana and the Malau of Phetlhu Makgetla aMokweetsi distinguishing themselves. The hero of the battle, however, was the leader of the Magalatladi, Sebotso Montshosi, who pushed back Gundwane’s forces.

Gobuza rushed to Gundwane assistance, once more threatening the Barolong with encirclement.  At this point the Barolong fell back, pushing through the Amandebele horns to fight another day. The Amandebele captured many cattle, and mercilessly slaughtered those Barolong who failed to escape.  Five of the royal wives, including Montshiwa’s mother Sebodio, were among the fallen.  Those who escaped moved southward to join the Batlhaping of Kgosi Mahura.

Editor's Comment
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