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The Expulsion Order

By the end of our last episode the Bechuanaland Resident Commissioner, Charles Rey had during the first week of June 1931 lured Kgosi Sebele II to Mahikeng, supposedly to discuss water projects, only to have him detained without charge and subsequently confined to Ghanzi.

In so doing, the Resident Commissioner had exercised the delegated authority of the High Commissioner, which allowed for indefinite detention without the requirement to show just cause (the fundamental legal principal of ‘habeas corpus’) of any and all “British Protected Persons” in Bechuanaland (i.e. all non-whites in the territory).

This unbridled power was provided for by the 1907 “Expulsion Order”, an instrument that had been originally been proclaimed to retroactively legitimise the prolonged detention without trial of the Batawana Kgosi Sekgoma Letsholathebe. It was thereafter wielded as a political weapon against numerous Batswana during the colonial era, including Dikgosi such as Gobuamang, Tshekedi Khama, John Nswazwi and Molefi as well as perhaps most famously Seretse Khama.

With Sebele’s younger sibling Kgari recalled from his studies to act in brother’s absence, it initially appeared that Rey’s plan to impose a new order in Molepolole was well on track. Indeed, in his assumption that the matter had been put to rest, in August 1931 the Colonial and Dominions Secretary, the Baron Passfield, forwarded his personal congratulations to Rey and his staff for a job well done.

But, the struggle over Sebele’s detention was by then far from over. For their part, the overwhelming majority of the Bakwena still regarded Sebele as their Kgosi. When Kgari refused to discuss his brother’s return, he quickly lost his hold over the people.

As consistently revealed in their confidential correspondence from the period, for the next eight years the British observed that their appointed chief’s authority was ignored and increasingly despised by the majority of the morafe, e.g.:

1932: “Sebele will always be their real Chief. To the great majority of these people, imbued as they are with traditional superstition, the Chief means a good deal more than a mere individual.” 1933: “The Headmen also say that Kgari is now looked upon as a Government employee. It has been noticeable of late that he will not come to the office at the end of the month for his pay, he always waits a few days.”

1935: “Kgari’s neither strong nor intelligent enough to cope....In other words this is now a government controlled tribe.”

1936: “Acceptance of the Native Tribunals Proclamation is Fait Accompli although all but the chief are suspicious. Kgari is not chief in his own right which is why he accepted.”

1938: “The Chief is not popular. Ninety percent of the Bakwena would welcome the return of his brother Sebele from Ghanzi.”

1939: “He has

no personal prestige and very little authority. His tribe do not regard him as the rightful Chief, but knowing he has the backing of the Government they do not openly defy him. They show their lack of respect by passive resistance, e.g. by failing to satisfy his judgements”

To the outside world, however, the situation was presented differently from what was recorded in the above reports. For example, in 1935, a circular from Rey’s office spoke enthusiastically about Kgari’s “experiment” of paying the members of his Senior Tribunal.

Given the perception “that the Bakwena, the Senior Tribe in the territory, have almost more than any other been wedded to native custom,” this step was put forward as not only evidence of local progress, “since the removal of Sebele II,’’ but as a model reform for the other reserves.”

 A ‘’BoSebele’’ movement, calling for the Kgosi’s restoration, soon took shape. While he was still in Mahikeng, Sebele had sent his subjects the message “Retlasetswe !” (“We have been attacked or invaded”), which thereafter became a rallying, cry of his supporters. As previously noted mophato formed that year was thus graduated as the Matlaselwa.

From the beginning, the BoSebele party was made up of two mutually co-operative groupings, an internal faction centred at Ntsweng and an external faction made up of labourers at Johannesburg. Both halves pursued a common strategy based upon the drawing up petitions and fund-raising for a possible legal challenge. The Johannesburg party further refused to pay their Hut Tax.

From the beginning, the movement also enjoyed strong support from the Bangwaketse Kgosi Bathoen II. At his prompting, Tshekedi Khama and, to lesser extent, the other Protectorate dikgosi also became actively involved in efforts on Sebele’s behalf.

All of these parties appear to have initially been called to action by Sebele, himself, who thereafter struggled to maintain contact with them, while pressing his own appeals.

The initial protests of Bathoen and Tshekedi and the emergence of rising BoSebele agitation within Kweneng convinced Rey that Kgari should be quickly enthroned as a full Chief. This move was justified on the alleged intent of the Bakwena, who had only agreed to Kgari’s appointment in an acting capacity, and the fact that Sebele had never been confirmed by London.

Thus on September 1, 1931 before Rey and reported 3,000 other onlookers, Kebohula placed a leopard skin on Kgari’s shoulders in a ceremony designed to signify his assumption of bogosi.

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