Chobe District (6)

This week we continue our historical examination of Chobe District, which over the centuries has served as a crossroads linking the wealth of central and southern Africa across the Chobe and Zambezi rivers.

In our last instalment, we had noted that in 1896 the Chobe area was rocked by the arrival of Rinderpest from East Africa. While this resulted in an immediate decline in hunting and pastoralism, it also had the short-term positive effect of reducing the prevalence of tsetse fly, which opened up new areas for grazing.

Between 1896 and 1902 the Swiss missionary the Rev. Edouard Jacottet published a three-volume collection “Études Sur Les Langues Du Haut-Zambèze” (“Studies on the Languages of the Upper Zambezi”), which provided grammars and extensive folklore collections in Chikuhane and Silozi languages, with French translation.

Surprisingly Jacottet, who was also prolific early publisher of Sesotho, never came to the Chobe-Zambezi region, carrying out his research of Chikuhane and Silozi through his engagement with students from the region at his base in Morija, Lesotho.


During this period the British colonial agents became engaged on the ground in Chobe through their efforts to mediate territorial disputes between Sekgoma Letsholathebe’s Batawana and Lewanwanika’s Malozi.

It was partially to facilitate the separation of the two groups that the British further encouraged the Germans to actively assume their administrative responsibilities in the Caprivi Strip. The 1909 arrival of the Germans in the Caprivi reportedly resulted in “remarkable immigration of Marsubias [Vekuhane] which is now taking place from German Territory to our bank of the Chobe”.

Another development that had a long-term impact on the region was the 1905 completion of the rail bridge at Victoria Falls, which resulted in the diversion of much of the commercial traffic away from Hunters Road and Kazungula crossing. In 1907 the Hunter’s Road was demarcated as the boundary between Bechuanaland Southern Rhodesia.

Between 1912 and 1914 nearly half of Ngamiland’s population temporarily moved to the Linyanti to join Sekgoma Letsholathebe, whom the British had earlier deposed as the Chief of the Batawana (Ngamiland) in favour of his nephew Mathiba. In 1914, Sekgoma Letsholathebe died and was succeeded by his adopted son David Letsholathebe who died in 1917. Thereafter, between 1917 and 1923, Monnamaburu assumed leadership of the community. In 1924 Monnamaburu along with most “BaSekgoma” returned to Ngamiland.

Those that remained behind settled at Old Kachikau but holdouts remain at Kachikau Mohumagadi Motshabi Letsholathebe or “MmaKgabo”, the elder sister of the late Sekgoma Letsholathebe, who ruled until 1934. Following her death, there was a further migration back to Ngamiland.

In 1916 the British also encouraged the Ovambandero leader Nicodemus Kahememua (d. 1945) to migrate from Ngamiland into the Chobe region after he had forwarded a petition against the Batawana Kgosi Mathiba II. But, due to poor grazing, in 1922, he and his followers migrated to Boteti with the permission of the Bangwato Kgosi Khama III.

In September 1914 the Eastern Caprivi was occupied by paramilitary police from Southern Rhodesia, while in the same month the Western Caprivi was secured by Bechuanaland Protectorate police and local Batswana under the direction of the British Resident Magistrate for Ngamiland.

In November 1914 the High Commissioner provisionally placed the entire Caprivi under the jurisdiction of the Resident Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Until the end of 1929, the Western Caprivi was administered from Maun, while the eastern Caprivi was administered from Kazungula-Kasane.

In 1930 the entire Caprivi was administratively reintegrated into South African administered South West Africa (Namibia) through the High Commissioner’s Caprivi Zipfel Proclamation no. 27 of 1930.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Rhodesian Native Labour Bureau (RNLB) operated a ferry at Kazungula to encourage labour migrants from Central Africa to work at the nearby Wankie Colliery and other Southern Rhodesia mines. In 1926 five RNLB agents were permanently stationed at Kazungula.

From the 1920s through to the 1960s Kazungula also served as a veterinary inspection and crossing point for Ngamiland cattle exports to the town of Livingstone in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), via the Zambezi River. Once the cattle were landed at Livingstone most were slaughtered before being exported to the Belgium Congo and Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt.

The river crossings were facilitated by tying the cattle to a barge. A Ngamiland Cattle Exporters Association was formed whose principal member was the Susman Brothers owned the Ngamiland Trading Company.

The Susman’s also owned the largest abattoir in Livingstone. Other prominent exporters included the firm of Basher & Kays, and a grouping of Greek Cypriot traders, e.g., the Deaconos brothers and Christos, Orphines brothers, and L.G. Deaconos. By 1949 over 25,000 head of cattle were being annually crossed at Kazungula. Traffic along the Chobe cattle corridor declined from the mid-1950s with the re-opening of the Lobatse abattoir.

In 1935 the Susman Brothers began exploiting a timber concession in the northern quarter of the Chobe District with a sawmill and operational headquarters located at Serondella. The Susman Brothers ceased their logging operations in 1938. They subsequently sold their timber rights to what became Chobe Concessions Ltd, which was active in the region from 1944 to 1956.

Editor's Comment
Where Are The Vaccines?

The government has without a doubt come up with good initiatives such as partnering with private medical practitioners in the vaccine roll-out. This was indeed a welcome development that reduced congestions at government vaccination centres.Well, unfortunately, the celebrations were short-lived. People flocked to the vaccination centres in large numbers and most of the private clinics are currently left with no vaccines and unending telephone...

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