The Vekuhane, Makololo And Malozi

Previously we noted that during the late seventeenth century reign of the Muitenge or ruler Queen Mwale the Vekuhane of Itenge experienced at least two breakaways.

One group, led by Cheete migrated across the Zambesi, settling in the region of Mosi-oa-thunya or Victoria Falls, while another faction led by Sikute settled nearby on the fall’s south bank.

Mwale was succeeded as Muitenge by Shanjo.

Shanjo’s son Mafwila or Mafwira I came thereafter and was then succeeded by his younger brother Nsundano I.

The Vekuhane are said to have prospered under Nsundano. Praised as “Liberenge” (“the Peeler”), “Cisundu manyika” (“the pusher of countries”), Nsundano is credited with having captured many cattle while successfully defending his subjects from neighbouring Thoka and Aluya. Such traditions are significant in countering the belief that Vekuhane did not keep cattle until relatively recently.

Nsundano is said to have been ultimately killed fighting the Aluya. He was thereafter succeeded by his nephew Liswani I, the son of his sister Mwaale and a man named Sikarumba (or Raliswani).

At least from this time such matrilineal descent became the norm among the Vekuhane.

It seems likely, however, that the earlier Munitenge had also been the matrilineal nephews, rather than the biological sons of their predecessors. This system of matrilineal royal succession survived amongst the Vekuhane until the colonial era. Although the Vekuhane remained united until the late 19th century under the descendents of Ikuhane, from Liswani I’s reign successive Munitenge were forced to accept the suzerainty of, first the Makololo and then the Malozi (Barotse).

As a result Liswani moved his capital from Luchindo to Isuswe, both in the eastern Caprivi. Isuswe was the name of a Mokololo who was made the Vekuhane overseer.

Other prominent Makololo indunas who were placed over the Vekuhane whose place names survive include Banyai, Mukumba, Kabulabula, Mutwametzi, Kwenani and Sebetwane’s son and successor Sekeletu, who stayed at Sesheke. At its height the Makololo kingdom extended beyond the Zambesi-Linyandi to incorporate many Matotela, Matoka, Maila, and Mashanjo communities.Sometime during the 1840s the Makololo ruler, Sebetwane, suspected Liswani I disloyalty. As a result the Munitenge was summoned to his court at Naliele, in what is now Zambia, where he was executed.

The Makololo Kingdom had steadily declined during the reign of Sekeletu, who had succeeded his father (d. July 1851) following a brief regency by his elder sister Dikuku or MmaMotsisane (Mamochisane). Sekeletu suffered from leprosy, becoming a recluse, while many of his father’s original followers died of malaria at Linyandi.

A Makololo general named Mpololo tried to assume power following Sekeletu’s death in 1863, but, his heavy-handed attempt to suppress the Malozi led to a wider uprising under the leadership of Njekwa.

Unlike the Matoka, the Vekuhane are not known to have played any significant role in the rebellion. Most of the Makololo men were either killed or fled as refugees to the Batawana, though the majority of their woman and children remained behind, becoming part of the new Malozi social order.

While the Makololo kingdom itself was thus short-lived, its political structures as well as language survived. Amongst the Vekuhane, Makololo are said to have introduced patrilineal inheritance, which began to supersede older matrilineal customs.  This shift may have been further consolidated as a result of subsequent Malozi and Batswana influence. Njekwe installed Sipopa as the new Malozi Lintungu or King.

A descendent of earlier Aluya rulers, Sipopa had grown up as a privileged member of Sebetwane’s court, before escaping from Sekeletu to establish himself as an independent ruler on the upper Zambesi prior to the rebellion. His reign lasted from 1864 until 1876.

The Malozi kingdom was governed by a sophisticated aristocratic order which survived into the colonial era. At the top was the King or Lintunga assisted by a traditional Prime Minister known as the Ngambele. The Litunga ruled through a kuta (jaaka Kgotla) or court at the capital Lealui, whose membership included a nobility made up of indunas and commoners.

The Lintunga was assisted by a cabinet which was appointed from distinguished commoners as well as the indunas. In addition the State had a parallel junior dynasty of the “Mulena Mokwe of Nalalo, which had its own indunas posted at various places throughout the kingdom.

While the royal kuta was the senior political and judicial forum of the land, most of the day to day administration was carried out through junior kuta at the provincial, district or silalo, village and sub-village level.

All of the modern Vekuhane rulers, in both Botswana and Namibia, are descended from either Liswani I or his sister Nsanzwe. After Liswani’s execution by the Makololo the throne passed, in accordance with matrilineal succession, to Nsanzwe’s son, i.e. Liswani’s nephew, Nkonkwena I, who was also known as Liswani II.

Munitenge Nkonkwena/Liswani II was the last ruler to unite Vekuhane. For a while he ruled from Impalila island at the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers.

But, hearing that the Malozi ruler Sepopa wished to kill him, in 1876 he fled from the Chobe region with most of his followers. By 1878 he had resettled at Rakops under the rule of the Bangwato Kgosi Khama III.

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