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Ghanzi In History (PART 1)

This week we begin a new series focussing on the rich albeit controversial history of the area we now know as the Ghanzi District. The population of the District has long been ethnically mixed, with evidence of Ovambandero, Bakgalagadi and Batswana as well as Khoe (Basarwa) communities, all having lived in the region prior to the late 19th century arrival of European settlers.

This was the case notwithstanding an enduring myth, which was officially perpetuated during the period of the British colonial occupation, that before the settlers’ arrival Ghanzi had been a so-called empty land - “nullius terra” in their legal Latin – on the basis that it had supposedly only occupied by “roving Bushmen”, that is various Khoe communities.

Mmamosadinyana’s agents then and thereafter further assumed that, as Bushmen, the Khoe were by their nature a landless people. It was on the basis of this convenient legal fiction that, in 1898, the Ghanzi District was demarcated and handed over as “Crownland” to Cecil Rhodes British South Africa Company by the then British High Commissioner Lord Milner; an act of administrative grand theft that was the beginning of a very long and sadly still relevant story.

Ghanzi’s Khoe communities, most notably in terms of size being the Naro-khoe (//Aikwe) and historically intertwined Auen (Au/ai), but also the Dcui-khoe (IGui), Dxana-khoe (IIGana) and others in the region, have of course never understood much less accepted themselves as being landless.

By 1800 the Naro and Auen in the wider region are reported to have been organised under three traditional leaders or Xhaihasi (a title that itself can be roughly translated as “Land Lords”), located around modern Rietfontien, Ghanzi ridge and Kobis Pan.

The Naro are further said to have absorbed into their communities during the period parties of Nama-khoe who came into the region from Namibia. Thereafter, in the mid-19th century, many of the Naro and Auen were for a period united under an Auen paramount named Dukiri.

The Tjiherero speakers in the region, in this case more precisely Ovambandero, had by the early 18th century established their cattle posts throughout the area that now constitutes the Ghanzi Farms under the protection of a ruler named Mutjise. There is, so far at least, little evidence of the Ovambandero and Khoe having come into conflict at the time.

The Ovambandero presence was, however, ultimately challenged by Setswana and Shekgalagari speakers who were also already in the area.

As previously noted, by the early 18th century many of the peoples of western Kgalagadi, including Ghanzi were further united by their identification with a Morolong ruler named Mongologa, whose followers came to be collectively known as the Bangologa.

Here again while the Ovambandero and Bangologa became

rivals, the admittedly limited available evidence suggests that before the 19th century there was little conflict between the Bangologa and Khoe in Ghanzi, unlike elsewhere. In this respect the relative status of the Naro at the time is perhaps reflected in the fact that they came to be referred to ka Sengologa as “Bakgotjhu” (“Makgothu”) rather than “Basarwa.”

Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries the Ghanzi region was somewhat better watered than today. It was also attractive for its abundance of game, as well as good grazing.

Written accounts by the earliest Europeans visitors further testify to the widespread existence of wells amongst all of the region’s communities, which were already drawing on the area’s underground aquifers. 

By the 18th century Ghanzi was in addition a major nexus of trade, from whence copper from Otavi and iron from the Kwebe Hills as well as cattle and game products were carried south to the Cape Colony via the Barolong and Batlhaping. During the period the predominance of the Barolong in the wider western Kgalagadi trade was, however, already being contested by the Bangwaketse and Bakwena, as well as Ovambandero. For Ovambandero and Barolong-Bangologa what had started as tit for tat cattle raids escalated c. 1750 into open warfare. As recorded a century and a half later by an interested Bechuanaland Protectorate Police NCO named Moses Malata:

“Both Herero and Bandero [Ovambandero] were fighting with the Barolong and they were strong on both sides. The war lasted some months because the Damara [in this context Tjiherero speakers] used to get fresh regiments from SWA [Namibia] & the Barolong were getting mephato from the south. However, later the Barolong pushed the Herero and Bandero out.”

The Ovambandero then withdrew into Namibia, but c. 1780 they returned in larger numbers under the leadership of Mitjise’s son Tjrua, causing many of the Barolong in turn to retreat to the south.

During the 1820-30s the Ovambandero, by now led by Tjrua’s son Tjamuaha,  proved resilient in also turning back successive challenges by the Makololo, Moruakgomo’s Bakwena and Motswakhumo’s Batawana factions, and a party of Amandebele, who may have been separated from the victims of the Bangwaketse Kgosi Sebego’s great victory at Dutlwe. But, their good fortune ended with the tumultuous 1834 arrival of Sebego himself in the region.

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