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Livingstone Joins Sechele

“Wherever a missionary lives, traders are sure to come; they are mutually dependent and each aids the other.” - David Livingstone, 1857

In our previous episode it was noted that, notwithstanding the Reverend David Livingstone’s positive published account of his first meeting with Kgosi Sechele at Shokwane in 1841, the medical missionary only took up permanent residence with the Bakwena at their by then already fortified settlement of Tshonwane four years later. Thereafter, between 1845 and 1853, Sechele and Livingstone forged a partnership that ultimately transformed both of their personal destinies and that of the entire region.

Livingstone’s private correspondence further reveals that he was, in fact, at first wary and at times dismissive of Sechele, who on the other hand appears to have been eager from an early stage to recruit the missionary for his own ends.

Livingstone’s initial viewpoint was in part shaped by his relationship with two other Dikgosi – the Bangwaketse regent Sebego and the leader of the BooRatshosa faction of the Bakwena, Bubi.

As readers may recall, the missionary was immediately impressed by Sebego, finding in his martial bearing and past feats against the Makololo and Amandebele, as well as silver tongue, a natural leader and potential indigenous champion of Thomas Buxton’s call for Africa’s regional transformation through the ‘civilising’ influence of commerce and Christianity.

 It was a perception that the wily Mongwaketse was happy to encourage prior to his death in 1844.

In this context, the missionary was inclined to assign ill-motive to Sechele’s strategic support of Segotshane’s efforts to re-unite the Bangwaketse under Gaseitsiwe.

Initially naive to the prevailing politics of the region, the missionary had further believed that the emergence of an inter-merafe alliance to contain Sebego was motivated by nothing more than petty jealousy and greed.

Suspicions about Sechele were also bred during Livingstone’s 1842 stay among Bubi’s followers at Molepolole, where he had gone to complete his language training, while further exploring the road to the north:

“I returned to a spot about 15 miles south of Shokuane, called Lepelole. Here, in order to obtain an accurate knowledge of the language, I cut myself off from all European society for about six months, and gained by this ordeal an insight into the habits, ways of thinking, laws, and language of that section of the Bechuanas called Bakwains, which has proved of incalculable advantage in my intercourse with them ever since.”

At the time Bubi was holding out against Sechele’s efforts to impose his authority throughout his late father’s domain. He thus had motive to win the missionary over to his own wavering authority. With

time, Livingstone became sensitive to the subtleties of local royal politics,

During his Molepolole retreat, Livingstone was fortunate in have been, just barely, beyond Mzilakazi’s devastating 1842 punitive raid against Sechele and Sekgoma.

Initially, he was of the mistaken belief that the razing of Shokwane had been nothing more than an act of tit-for-tat banditry carried out by Kgosi Pilane’s Bakgatla bagaKgafela.

For Sechele the attack, which had occurred while he and his mephato had been away in the field, was both a personal tragedy and a crushing political setback.

Many women and children, including his brother-in-law, the young pretender to the Bangwato throne Macheng, had been carried away along with great herds of cattle.  

Among the dead was his own mother, Sejelo, who had always been his rock of support, more especially throughout the trying decade following his father’s assassination and his own exile.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1842 Amandebele attack on the Bakwena at Shokwane, Kgosi Sechele approached the Boers of Hendrik Potgieter, proposing in vain that they renew their common front against the Tautona Mzilakazi.

As it was, his relations with the Boers quickly turned sour as it became clear that they now looked down upon all Batswana as mere vassals to be exploited.

But, by then Sechele had begun to cultivate a set of powerful friends and contacts to help him arm his people against the Boers. In this endeavour he would leverage on Livingstone’s support. 

By 1844 Sechele was already beginning to emerge as the key player in the lucrative regional ivory trade, which provided him with a steady source of income for the purchase of munitions and other goods.

In addition to welcoming ordinary traders, at Tshonwane the Mokwena also increasingly played host to a steady stream of well-to-do gentlemen who passed through Kweneng for the thrill and profit of collecting big game trophies.

Tshonwane, as well as the subsequent Bakwena settlement at Kolobeng-Dimawe (1847–1852), was positioned as a strategic gateway to the then rich hunting grounds of the upper Limpopo Valley and Boteti regions.

This allowed Sechele to acquire firearms from those wishing to pass through his country as well as by trading in the ivory and other game products that he collected through his subjects.

By the end of 1840s, with the elephant population in his own domains dwindling, Sechele moved to secure access to the hunting grounds of the Chobe forest in collaboration with Dikgosi Letsholathebe of Batawana and Sekgoma of Bangwato.

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