As part of the Gaborone at 60 years #Gabs60 series, Mmegi Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES tours the Three Dikgosi Monument and returns disappointed and uninspired by the country’s biggest and crucial national monument
Visiting the Three Dikgosi Monument in Gaborone, which has been positioned as the country’s main Nation Monument, is very disappointing and shameful, especially for students of history of Botswana.
“Historical resistance figures who opposed colonisation and conquest have been forgotten, while “collaborators” have been enshrined as founding figures of the nation,” this statement made by historians Jeff Ramsay and Barry Morton in their paper published in Academia titled The Invention and Perpetuation of Botswana’s National Mythology, 1885-1966, sums up a visit to the monument.
Located on the northern end of CBD, next to the Gaborone High Court, the Monument comprises a 5.1m bronze statues of three dikgosi namely, Khama III of the Bangwato, Bathoen I of the Bangwaketse and Sebele I of the Bakwena.
Although the monument has three figures, it attempts, in vain, to tell the whole history of Botswana between 1820 and 1966 using six themed plinths.
The choreographed guided tour, by one of the guides (names withheld) starts with an explanation of the first plinth called ‘Botshabelo’ (refuge) bearing a warrior with an axe together with arrow and shield on other hand. It says “Botswana kingdoms expanded out of Difaqane wars by attracting refugees [in] 1820s – 1830s”.
It is unclear why a country that boasts of having the first people of the Kalahari would choose to omit the sons of the soil and begin the story of the formation of the country at such fairly recent period.
The second plinth showing a king relaxed on a chair talks about ‘Bogaka’ (heroism) of the dikgosi that ‘bravely resisted the Ndebele and Boer invaders between the 1830s and the 1880s’.
But an explanation from the guide about these resistance battles could not list any specific chief involved in such heroic acts.
However, history is clear that the Battle of Dimawe between Kgosi Sechele I and the Boers is a notable one in the Tswana-Boer war which led to the formation of the current southern borders of Botswana.
It is disappointing and shameful that the bravest and heroic Motswana Kgosi with widely documented resistance against the Boers, Kgosi Sechele I is nowhere mentioned at the monument.
On the third plinth is ‘Tshireletso’, protection, ironically displaying a chief with a clenched fist in the air, which is normally a symbol of resistance and power. The plinth vaguely says, “from the beginning Batswana had different ideas about the Protection”.
Both the guide and plinth omit that the so-called “Protection” was in actual fact an annexation that the chiefs initially rejected.
Ramsay and Morton write: “During May 1885 three of the Tswana chiefs, Khama III of the Bangwato, Bathoen I of the Bangwaketse, and Sechele I of the Bakwena, were cajoled or induced to sign treaties with the English by [General Charles] Warren and [London Missionary Society preacher John] Mackenzie. Of the three, Khama was the most accommodating, while Bathoen and Sechele were less than enthusiastic. No exact laws or binding agreements were negotiated since the British wished to confine ourselves to preventing that part of the Protectorate being occupied by foreign powers.”
Historical records show that in 1885 on September 30 [remember this date?] the British decided to officially split Batswana groups when they placed groups south of the Molopo River (present day North West, South Africa) under Cape Colony and
The Three Dikgosi Monument chooses to only tell a story that happened 10-years after the British annexation/division/protection of Batswana groups, when the Dikgosi travelled to England in 1895 to lobby for the British government against surrendering the Bechuanaland Protectorate to the notorious Cecil John Rhodes’ British South Africa Company.
“The journey of Bathoen, Khama, and Sebele to England to protest their transfer into Rhodes’s empire has assumed mythical proportions in Botswana’s historical consciousness,” Ramsay and Morton report.
It is that journey that has earned the three dikgosi some heroic nation builders’ status, leading them to appear on the P100 note and having a national monument erected in their honour.
This is despite the records showing that the chiefs did not get concrete assurances from the Secretary of Colonies, Joseph Chamberlain other than agreeing to make “some concessions regarding the integrity of their territories, and that the potential of land losses was mitigated”.
In their brief meeting with Queen Victoria, she is quoted as having said to them, “Chiefs, your duty is to obey my laws and respect the officers who are put amongst you as my representatives.”
So it was only a stroke of luck that after the Dikgosi’s return, Rhodes was later implicated in the Jameson Raid and therefore could not be handed the Bechuanaland Protectorate.
The fourth plinth bearing a bare-breasted woman carrying basket full of corn with a baby on back talks about ‘Boitshoko’, Endurance – 1900 to 1930s. It says, “Bechuanaland was poor, times were tough, but communities built schools and dams.”
It however does not tell of the real threat of the country to be incorporated into the new Union of South Africa that was formed in 1910.
Later in the 1930s the threat to incorporate Bechuanaland Protectorate into the Union was said to be at its most ominous because of the Great Depression and the booming economy of the Union of South Africa due to the gold mines.
Ramsay and Morton said, “Leading the campaign against incorporation was Khama III’s youngest son, Tshekedi Khama, who served as Bangwato regent from 1926-52.
The young regent, as Ronald Hyam noted, “played a larger part than any other African in anti-transfer publicity.”
Furthermore, the Three Dikgosi Monument does not acknowledge any defender of iIncorporation as if it was not an important struggle in the history of Botswana. The fifth plinth titled Maikarabelo, 1930s – 1940s with an image of a soldier operating a cannon is about Global Responsibility and recognises “Batswana who fought alongside allied forces for freedom and against racism”.
The last plinth is about Boipuso, Independence 1950s to 1960s. It shows an image of a young woman raising the flag with words, “Political independence from Britain was achieved in 1966. The process of nation building and development commenced”.
Ironically, during the unveiling of the Monument on September 29, 2005, the then President Mogae praised the chiefs for leading the prevention of Bechuanaland’s handover to South Africa.
With all its disappointing omissions, most local historians agree that the Three Dikgosi Monument needs to be re-curated to factually tell country’s history because as Seretse Khama said, “a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul.“