Letter from North West Province

Mafikeng Museum where Sechele cannon is on display. PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
Mafikeng Museum where Sechele cannon is on display. PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

Will Botswana ever want to annex South Africa’s North West Province? Maybe a farfetched thought, but as I travel through the province I constantly find myself thinking about it.

Probably it is Russia’s Crimea annexation that is continuously on my mind. But as we go further into the North West I discover deep connections with Botswana and realise that we share the same heritage.

Maybe if we had a Putin kind of president, he might just want to get adventurous and bring back Batswana of the North West Province to the mainland Botswana, especially now that the province is on a journey of self-discovery.

We arrive into a North West that is busy trying to find itself, which at times is confusing.

The road signs say we are in the town of Potchefstroom, but authorities welcome us to Tlokwe the main town of Dr Kenneth Kaunda District. Afrikaans, Setswana and Zambian names! Where the hell are we?

It turns out North West is getting back to its deepest roots and bringing out its black heritage to the fore. The black people in the province are tracing their heritage which was almost erased by the Boers who were mad at the British settlers and trekked from the Cape to find ‘their own’ land further in southern Africa in the mid-1830s during the so-called Great Trek.

During that Great Trek the fleeing Boers brought their own names to their new conquered territories. They chose to rename these places with their own white heroes with disregard of the existing local black names. Local black names were irrelevant to them. The black communities suddenly found themselves foreigners with no rights in their native land.

Like in any war, the victors had to write history and put up their own monuments and statues of their heroes. However, the black freedom struggle victory was recently realised when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and united South Africa into a rainbow nation. Now every South African wants his/her story in the history books. The black people won the freedom struggle so they are rewriting the history books.

Black people are retracing their heritage back to the 1830s ‘to find themselves’ by documenting their pre-white settlers’ religion, tradition and culture. They are reverting to the old town names that existed before the Boers conquered their land and are reviving their ancestral sites. Not only that, they also want the world to know this.

Our trip, comprising of media personalities from Botswana and South Africa, takes us to a revered ancestral site at Dinkgwaneng near the sleepy village of Manthe. Manthe is near Taung dam in the newly named Dr Ruth Mompati District Municipality.

Dinkgwaneng has San rock engravings, dating from thousands of years ago and we hear that black traditional doctors usually visit the site to petition the ancestors. White settlers saw it as just a river with big pools and rock formation. To the black people it is a revered shrine where gods drink - the pools are the ‘dinkgwana’ of the ancestors.

We then travel to a spot where the first hominid skull dubbed ‘Taung Child’ was discovered at Buxton limestone quarry in 1924. The Taung Child discovery catapulted Taung to the international acclaim as the discovery by Australian anthropologist Professor Raymond Dart later provided supporting evidence to Charles Darwin’s theory that humans are distant cousins to the African apes.

Our guide brought the replica of the small skull to touch and feel this little cousin that settled the warring evolution theories. Looking at this small skull fitting on the palm of my hand I remembered the evolution theory I was taught at Sunday school and the childhood wonder - were Adam and Eve African apes?

We take a break at Blue Pools at the Buxton Quarry where Taung Child was discovered and wonder how the contradicting white man’s science and religion must have been confusing to our great grandparents.

From Blue Pools our entourage travels to Mahikeng the capital city of North West Province. The city is on its third name change and capital status. We get the story at Barolong Boora Tshidi Kgotla who claim to be the native citizens of the area.

Legend says Barolong Chief Montshioa after a triumphant defence against the Boer attacks settled at Mahikeng – meaning ‘a place among rocks’. Montshioa is the chief that mysteriously ended up owning Kgosi Sechele’s iconic cannon that repelled the Boers at Dimawe.  When the British arrived they named the place ‘Mafeking’ (they still pronounce it that way).  Mafeking became the capital city of Bechuanaland Protectorate until 1965.

In 1977 the Bophuthatswana Bantustan under the apartheid regime established Mafeking as the capital and renamed it Mmabatho.  When apartheid fell in 1994 Mmabatho was changed back to Mafeking.  In 2009 Barolong sought the name change again and brought back ‘Mahikeng’.

The only heritage artifact I wanted to see in Mahikeng is Sechele’s cannon at the museum. Sechele’s cannon affectionately called ‘Kanono yaga Rramokonopi’ at Goo Mokwena is like the umbilical cord of Botswana. Unfortunately we find the museum closed for renovations.

The authorities refuse to badge even though my hosts try to highlight that I am a very important visitor from Botswana. I promise to return after the renovations because I am one of the people that support the repatriation of Kanono yaga Rramokonopi to Botswana.

At the Bojanala District Municipality the heritage trail takes us to Kgafela’s country – Moruleng. A stopover at Mphebatho Museum reveals quite a lot. Moruleng, former Pilanesburg, is the ancestral home of Bakgatla baga Kgafela. This is where Kgosi Kgafela II has fled.

Housed in the 1937 building that was constructed by Bakgatla mopatho, Mphebatho tells a story of Bakgatla as told by morafhe, their beliefs, traditions and wisdom of their ancestors. They tell stories of a supernatural being named Matsieng who has left his footprint on a soft rock near Mochudi in Botswana.

According to Bakgatla, there is a hole called ‘lowe’ at Matsieng’s footprint that fills in water and that is where in the beginning the first human beings emerged hence the saying, ‘gotswa go lowe’ (meaning in the beginning).

Inside the museum there are exhibitions of traditional doctors and display of their medicines. Motsosa (a natural Viagra) is getting a lot of attention as reporters from Botswana are reminded of Kgafela’s recent sensational writings.

Mphebatho Museum also teaches why Kgosi Kgafela II is the rightful Kgosikgolo of Bakgatla baga Kgafela in Botswana and South Africa.  “It is only the countries borders as charted by white settlers that are dividing Bakgatla,” says a Mokgatla at the museum.

The Crimea thought comes to mind yet again and I conclude; North West Province is the land of Batswana who failed to be part of Botswana.  We need a Putin to Crimea the North West – this wild dream refuses to leave my mind.

Editor's Comment
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