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The Jazz King (Part 2) - Runaway Prince

In our last instalment it was observed that the September 23 1892 death of Kgosi Sechele I in Molepolole had coincided with the birth of his great-grandson and eventual heir Kelebantse Sebele-a-Kealeboga a-Sebele a-Sechele.

This alignment of the royal birth and death notices was further said to have been accompanied by ominous signs that the morafe would be plagued by future strife if not downfall.

The collective decision during the mourning period to have Kealeboga occupy the late king’s house so as to literally sleep on his bones is also noteworthy in the context of his father, Kgosi Sebele I’s subsequent efforts to groom his third son, Moiteelasilo for bogosi.

Moiteelasilo along with his brothers Tidi and Sejaro and sister Mosekaphofu, were born to Sebele’s junior wife Ikaeng, while Kealeboga along with his younger brother Kebohula and sisters Tsholofelo, Khudubame and Olefile were born to his senior wife Kgosikgadi Gorileng. To complicate matters further, both Gorileng and Ikaeng were daughters of the Sechele’s (half) brother Kgosidintsi.

Through his leadership at Kgosing in Sechele’s wake Kgosidintsi had not only acted to ensure the smooth succession of his son-in-law as Kgosi Sebele I but had also re-affirmed the rightful seniority among his nephews of Kealeboga as next in the line of succession. For his part, as a boy Kelebantse Sebele is said to have demonstrated a quick wit and quick temper. The latter became a matter of concern among those tasked with assisting in his upbringing. They warned him against his penchant for headstrong and arrogant behaviour, while seeking to instil in him the values of traditional states craft, diplomacy and what we would today know as Botho.

As was then the norm for Bakwena princes, certain members of his uncle’s mephato were designated to administer corporal punishment should the need arise, though it is not clear to what extent such chastisement actually occurred.

After he completed his primary education at Bakwena National School, it was arranged for young Sebele to be enrolled for secondary studies at Tiger Kloof (Old Moeding), which by then had already hosted the sons of other leading men of the morafe including his uncle Moiteelasilo. This occurred in 1911, shortly after his father had assumed the throne as Kgosi Sechele II.

Despite earning good grades, Sebele did not remain long at Tiger Kloof. While back in Molepolole on school holiday in August of 1912 he informed his father and uncles of his refusal to return. Why he took this stand is not clear. His age, he was soon to turn 19, may have been a factor in his otherwise reported boredom.

At Kgosing his father, backed by members of his kgotla, threatened to

exile the young prince if he persisted with his stubborn behaviour.

Kgosi Sechele II was personally determined to ensure that his heir benefited from the higher education that had eluded him. In this respect, he was bitterly aware that his regional peers such as Sekgoma II, Seepapitso III and Isang Pilane as well as younger brother Moiteelasilo had all benifitted from their advanced studies in the Cape Colony.

Kgosi Sechele II’s appreciation of higher learning was undoubtedly further reinforced by his reliance on his well educated Tribal Secretary, Richard Sidzumo and leading baruti George Mashwe.

There was apparently a great deal of shock as well as disappointment when Sebele responded to the elder’s threat of banishment from Kgosing by one morning packing his bags and departing for the Gaberones rail depot. He did not board the train, however, instead being enticed to spend some days in Tlokweng and Mochudi. At the latter location Isang Pilane with the support of his father Kgosi Linchwe I of the Bakgatla bagaKgafela, was able to eventually convince Sebele to return under escort to his father.

But hopes that Sebele would see the error of his ways by, returning to school failed to materialise. Instead, the prince continued to resist the advice and pressure from his friends, family and schoolmates, the latter notably including an attempted intervention by Kgalemang Motsete.

Eventually Sebele departed once more, this time with his sights set firmly on reaching Gauteng, where many of his age mates along with older males from the village were employed as migrant labourers in the mines.

With his relative education, which included fluency in English as well as Afrikaans, Sebele was able to find employment as a clerk, which resulted in his being employed by at least two mines between 1912 and 1917.

It is said that when in the compounds Sebele mixed freely with his fellow Batswana, to the extent of joining them in physically resisting bullying by other groups such as the Basotho and Amazulu. It is also said that in the townships Sebele was hardened through his rubbing shoulders with other members of the emerging urban underclass.

On the rand as well as inside the Protectorate Sebele’s unprecedented behaviour raised more than eyebrows given his status as Crown Prince in what had long been regarded as Botswana’s senior dynasty. Sebele however insisted that he had not abandoned his country as all the land west of Johannesburg rightfully belonged to Bakwena and other Batswana.

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