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The Orphan And The Ants Part 20 – The Rod Of Moleta

We left off with the Barolong booRatshidi fleeing to the Batlhaping of Kgosi Mahura following their stout but failed defence against the Amandebele at Khunwana.

During their retreat the Barolong were harassed by brigands under Mahura’s renegade brother Kenakamorwa, who made off with the remaining BooRatshidi cattle in the process killing Tawana’s eldest son Tlala. Although Mahura welcomed Tawana, condemning Kenakamorwa as an outlaw, the BooRatshidi decided to press on, joining kgosi Moroka’s Barolong beeSeleka at Thaba Nchu. There they were also soon joined by Barolong booRatlou under Gontse.

With the Barolong routed the Amandebele Nkosi, set out to subordinate the other merafe along his western border, beginning with the Bangwaketse of Kgosi Sebego, who like the Barolong had also earned the Tautona’s wrath by executing his tribute collectors.

 In the immediate aftermath of their Khunwana victory at least part of Gundwane’s army set about pillaging Bangwaketse farms and cattle-posts. Those in the raider’s path, who were not killed or captured, fled into the Kgalagadi. Sebego himself gathered his forces at Letlhakeng. The Amandebele, however, did not pursue him being content to leave a military camp at Lwale.

The Bakwena then living along the Limpopo suffered a worse fate when their Kgosi, Khame, and most of his headmen along with warriors were killed. The saviours, mostly women and children were incorporated as “Zansi” among the Amandebele.  Further to the north the Bangwato under Sedimo and later Sekgoma, along with the Bakwena of Sechele, maintained their precarious independence from remote headquarters at Mosu and Lephephe respectively.

Notwithstanding his own people’s suffering, Sebego remained the most formidable leader among the western Batswana holdouts. In anticipation of a renewed Amandebele attack the Mongwaketse kgosi decided to move most of his people and livestock further west to Dultwe pan, with the intent of drawing the Amandebele into the inhospitable expanse of the central Kgalagadi.

From his network of spies Sebego may have been aware of the Amandebele preparations. It is said that junior Amandebele regiments, who had not participated in Gundwane’s expedition, were especially eager to prove themselves against the “Rod of Moleta”. They did not have to wait long. In the winter of 1833 the Bangwaketse were given the choice of either finally submitting to the Tautona or suffering the same fate as the BooRatshidi.    

Sebego’s own disposition was, however, a mystery to the warriors who assembled at Mzilakazi’s kraal at eGabeni. Their assumption was that he was still at Letlhakeng, which was thus their initial target.

As to who were the expedition’s commanders and what were the names of their regiments no known

memory survives. Such details were lost with an ignominious defeat so complete as to have subsequently become unmentionable at the Tautona’s court. Besides some scattered European references, details of the Amandebele invasion has, however, been remembered by local Baloongwe and Kua (Basarwa) as well as Bangwaketse sources. 

Finding Letlhakeng abandoned, the invaders encountered and gave chase to Bangwaketse units whom Sebego had ordered to act as bait, luring the enemy into his trap. The Bangwaketse along with their allies, thus played a cat and mouse game, appearing only to vanish, all the while drawing the Amandebele after them ever deeper into the sandveld.

With each passing day the pursuing Amandebele grew weaker. They were unfamiliar with the local melons and tubers used by the locals to refresh themselves, as well as watering points and other aspects of the environment. When water points were reached, they were invariably poisoned.

According to Sengwaketse accounts Sebego employed Basarwa, i.e. Kua, to misguide the Tautona’s men away from any sustenance. In this respect the Setswana and Shekgalagari traditions are consistent with until recently overlooked Kua folk memory, which further confirms that they played a critical role in Sebego’s broader scorched earth strategy.

Beyond any links to the Bangwaketse via the Baloongwe, the Kua would have undoubtedly had their own motives for frustrating the Amandebele trespassers, who they remember as the “Kibere” of “Musiyacheche”.   

In his “Tears for My Land”, Kuela Kiema provides an account of a great hunter named Tchaanqabo who launched a solo attack on the Amandebele to divert them from his village. Captured, Tchaanqabo guided the invaders away from his people for several days before making an escape. Kiema also relates an additional tradition of the invaders being lured to their death during a trance dance, while the Japanese scholars Nakagawa and Osaki further cite a Kua hero of the conflict named “Guru”.

Eventually, the Amandebele found their way to the outskirts of Dultwe pan, where Sebego had brought his mephato together. As a final lure herd boys were sent out with beasts to entice the exhausted and famished invaders, who obligingly gave chase towards a solid phalanx of grey-white shields. Out of the enemy’s sight Sebego’s horns were already coming together.

The Bangwaketse attacked the Amandebele on all sides. Few, if any escaped. A handful of Bakgalagari families, who claim Amandebele descent, may be a legacy. Otherwise, it is said, none ever returned to eGabeni.

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