We last left off by noting that some have suggested that the early 19th century upsurge in regional violence, commonly labelled Difaqane/Mfecane, may have to a great extent been set off by slave traders.
In this respect, there is clear evidence of the disruptive effects of slave raids on the Sotho-Tswana and Khoe communities living along the Orange River during the period.
South of the river, the Dutch Cape Colony had emerged as a plantation economy dependent on slave labour. As of 1790, the Colony’s total population of some 77,000 was divided between 25,000 slaves who traced their origins to other parts of Africa and Asia, along with another 20,000 virtually enslaved indigenous Khoe (derogatively referred to as “Hottentots”) and 22,000 white settlers or Boers.
In 1806 the Colony was taken over by the British who in the following year banned the further import of slaves from overseas. This development was part of a British Empire-wide decision to abolish the slave trade that was also adopted at the time by the USA (despite the fact the institution of slavery itself persisted in the country’s southern states until the 1860s), and shortly thereafter by other European powers.
With slave ships no longer welcome in Cape ports, the Boers in the interior began to increasingly acquire forced labourers, mostly women and children, from across the Orange River, which then formed the Colony’s northern border. At the time the victims of this early example of human trafficking in the region, were often captured in raids carried out by Griqua and Korannas, both groups of predominately mixed European and Khoe descent who had acquired guns and horses.
Most of the resulting captives were either Basotho or southern Batswana, e.g. Batlhaping, though Khoe were also seized, as is confirmed by written eyewitness accounts. A missionary writing in 1829 thus noted:
“Amongst the Griquas and Bergenaars [a breakaway Griqua group], who are in considerable connection with the Cape, slaves obtained by barter, or by capture from Bootchuanas [Batswana] and Bushmen [Khoe], are a common article of saleable property.” In 1834 The Grahamstown Journal newspaper further reported:
“Among the Basotho cattle have now become scarce, and commandos do not now as usual go out in search of them so much as of children, whom they carry off in great number, and dispose of them to farmers, who readily give a horse or inferior gun for each.” Slave trading across the Orange went hand in hand with the expansion of commercial hunting for ivory and other game products, as well as cattle raiding, causing further distress to local communities.
To counter the slavers, some Basotho and southern Batswana communities
Other communities, however, sought to secure their future by migrating northward. Among the latter were the Bafokeng baga Patsa of Kgosi Sebetwane, who would become the core of the Bakololo.
While communities in Botswana were not directly affected by slavers, refugees from the conflicts to the south and east ultimately affected every corner of the country. One unfortunate Motlhaping warrior from the period suffered a special fate. A member of the Sehunelo clan of Kgosi Makane, who then lived in a village known as Kgatlane situated near the confluence of the Orange and Vaal Rivers, the man died and was buried by his people sometime in July 1830.
On the evening of his internment his grave was robbed by two French brothers, Jules and Edouard Verreaux (as in the “Verreaux eagle”). The notorious pair subsequently preserved and from 1831 exhibited the stolen corpse as ‘Le Betjouana’ at their taxidermy shop in Paris, France, along with a large collection of stuffed fauna they had collected during their southern Africa hunting expedition.
Surviving pictures from the Verreaux’s exhibition programme show that the body was from the beginning adorned with the spear and shield of Setlhaping design as well Setswana clothing and accessories.
In 1880 much of the Verreaux brothers collection acquired by a Spanish naturalist named Francesc Darder, who featured the human remains as ‘El Betjouanas’ at the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exhibition, before putting him on permanent display at what since 1916 has been know as the Darder Natural History Museum in Banyoles, Spain.
By the 1990s the Museum’s stuffed human display had been generically re-labelled as “El Negro”, while still being adorned with its original shield and other Setlhaping apparel. These facts undercut the Museum’s insulting attempt at the time of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics to rebrand “Ell Negro” as “il Bosquimano” (“the Bushman”) in the face of international and domestic public outcry.
None of so-called El Negro’s associated artefacts nor, even more inexplicably, his preserved skin etc were to be found in the box that was sent from Spain to Botswana in 2000 for burial. Instead what was received was a set of apparently washed bones, which now lie buried in Tsholofelo Park. To this author’s knowledge neither the Spanish authorities nor the Museum have ever provided an explanation for this additional outrage.