“Tuwa Ntebele: Kombani is not correct when he says we came from Rhodesia.
Kombani should have explained that after the Europeans fought against the Matebele, they cut off a strip of land which they gave to the Bamangwato; this is how we came into the Ngwato Reserve. Some of our villages were in this strip of land and some on the Rhodesian side; I think of the villages of Mswazi. When we found that our villages were on Khama’s side of the boundary we appealed to him.
“When the boundary had been fixed, Mswazi himself was on this side of the boundary. The people of Mswazi who were on the other side of the boundary decided to come over to this side to be with their Headman. They then went to see Chief Khama. Before this boundary was fixed, we were under the Matebele. I was big and herded cattle at the time. Before the Europeans came an impi was sent towards Lewanika’s place. - - - I want to make it clear that we did not come from Rhodesia, but have always lived in the area we are now in. By saying this I do not mean it as a claim to any part of the land which was given to the Bamangwato; I only say we were in the same area as the Matebele.”
“Kombani Chepete: Yes, the people of Mswazi proper are Bapedi. Some of them are Makalaka such as Tuwa who has spoken here and has his people in Rhodesia. We had come from the country of the Bapedi and came through the Tswapong country. There were two people of importance then, the Bamangwato and the Matebele, and I do not know to whom the Bokalaka country belonged. We did not regard ourselves as Bamangwato when we were attacked by the Matebele. I have been told that we were living at Meitengwe (sic) when we were attacked by the Matebele.”
“Mmusi Lesetedi: Kombani stated that we crossed from Rhodesia into Bamangwato country; I agreed with what was stated by Tuwa; we did not live in any other country, we lived in the area in which we live today. After the Europeans had fought against the Matebele, with the help of Chief Khama and after they had defeated the Matebele, the Europeans made a boundary, giving more territory to Chief Khama. That boundary divided the villages of the people of Mswazi into two groups; more villages remained on the other side. The Headman’s village and a few others fell on this side of the boundary. The country in which we lived when we were under the Matebele was given to Chief Khama. Kombani said we ran away from the mines; but we did not. When we lived at old BB1 we went to pay tribute to Thomas. We only did this one year. What frightened us was that Thomas said we must pay our tributes to the Matebele. We refused and said we did not feel we should pay our tributes to the Matebele. After the Europeans had defeated the Matebele, we went to see the Europeans, who said everyone must find his own way out of his difficulties. Mswazi send (sic) his own messenger to the Europeans. My father was one of those messengers, and another man called Muzunda. We refused to give out tribute to the Matebele. We came over to this side of the boundary because our Chief was on this side. Kombani is telling the truth; we did come to the Bamangwato. We originally came from the country of Bapedi, just like other tribes which had come from different places, and we reached that area, that is the Bokalaka. We were not under any people, because if we had been, they would have followed us and stopped us. Our fathers have told us that they settled at a place called Nchindigwe, between Nyamambisi and Legagana. They were together with the people of Selolwane, who was our Headman. It was there that he broke away from our grandfather Shabalome (sic). Shabalome went to Dombashava. (sic) There were no Matebele there at the time. The person who owned that country was Nyai and we fell under him. He also was assailed by the Matebele and they broke his power. His chief village was at Zimbabwe; he was known as Mambo. When the Matebele broke up his power they found him living at Ntabazakamambo. It was as a result of this that we fell under the power of the Matebele. We fell under Masilikazi (sic) who was ruler then. Amongst the Makalaka the first regiment he ruled was the Masikatshani, and the second was Zigwaba. Lobengula followed Masilikazi. The first Makalaka regiment under Lobengula was called Indutshwa. After that regiment there was another called Inhlaka. We were Makalaka under Lobengula and we lived in the area in which we are living today. We went to the Bamangwato to seek refuge because the Matebele had been attacking neighbouring tribes, we did not all go. Some of our villages remained in that area. The people of Masunge remained there, also the people of Mposi. The latter was Headman of the people who remained. I heard Kombani say that those who went broke away from the Bamangwato during the fighting with Macheng. I deny this. We have learned from our fathers that our people went back to that area during the civil war between Khama and his father Sekgoma. I mean back to the Bokalaka area. All that country belonged to the Matebele. The Matebele stated that their boundary with the Bamangwato was the Macloutsie.” (sic)
The Macloutsie refers to the Motloutse River. Thomas refers to W.E. Thomas, who was the native commissioner for the Bulilima-Mangwe District (near Plumtree) in Southern Rhodesia in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Peters has observed that “a sort of tacit agreement had grown up that the Macloutsie was the dividing line” between Lobengula and Khama. However, upon hearing of the imposition of a protectorate, Lobengula blew his fuse. “Lobengula’s reception of the news of the Protectorate was not wholly favourable. He expressed resentment that Khama should fix the border line without consulting him and would not believe that the 22 limit had been fixed in London. The Matebele had a traditional attitude of contempt for other native tribes and Lobengula now stated that Khama was “but a slave of Umzilikazi and had no country. If he wanted protection why had he not come to me” (Peters).
In a meeting with British officers on June 28, 1885, Lobengula was still angry and went further to claim the whole of Bechuanaland.
“Nevertheless at an interview next day, 28th June, Lobengula, who was supported by his indunas, again denied that Khama had a country of his own. He claimed the whole of Bechuanaland and said that Sechele and Lenchwe had also been tributaries of Umzilikazi. Khama himself did not pay tribute, but his father Sekgoma had paid in skins. Lobengula in fact felt slighted because the Protectorate had been proclaimed without his consent, and he also resented the fact that General Warren had not visited him in person, although he had visited chiefs he considered inferior like Khama and Sechele.” (Peters)
In The Land of Gold, Diamonds and Ivory, written in the 1870s, it is noted that:
“The Matebele country at present extends from the Macloutsi (Motloutse) river on the south to within about 40 miles of the Zambesi in the north, and from the Nata River and the Makari-kari (Makgadikgadi) in the west to the dominions of Ingongonyon, the son of Umzila, in the east, where are situated the ancient ruins described in the previous chapter.” (sic)
This therefore meant that the whole of Bakalanga was within Lobengula’s Ndebele kingdom, and any debate about this would be the extent of Lobengula’s actual control over all Bakalanga themselves. This is underscored by Hepburn, who said in 1893: “Again Khama gathered all the property of the Makalaka together, and handed it over to the men, who had been brought as prisoners to the town, and sent them away to their country. He sent messengers to explain the misunderstanding by which the Makalaka trading party had been so cruelly murdered, and to ask the Makalaka not to regard it as his act.
That the Makalaka accepted his explanation as made in good faith is evidenced by the fact that they are coming out in great numbers (the Makalaka were subjects of Lobengula) to take up
Hepburn was a resident at Khama’s capital, Shoshong, at the time. The greatest mystery, then, is: how did Khama manage to incorporate Bokalanga into his territory immediately following the defeat of Lobengula by the BSAC, and subsequent establishment of Rhodesia?
In 1885, the British claim to
the Bechuanaland Protectorate could be viewed through
this prism:“But the most sustained pressure came from the High Commissioner. At this stage, [Sir Hercules] Robinson’s interest was not in Matabeleland/Mashonaland but rather in pushing Britain rapidly to the Zambezi, which could be achieved by adding to the Bechuanaland Protectorate the balance of the territory claimed by Khama. As has been seen, such a forward policy was not welcome to the Colonial Office. Although Robinson’s 1885 proposal was submitted to Cabinet, no decision eventuated. Khama’s territorial claims were disputed by Lobengula, whose counterclaim covered the whole of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and Britain had no desire to become embroiled in this local dispute. Moreover, Salisbury was concerned lest a takeover of northern Bechuanaland lead to a clash with the Germans who were expanding in the direction of Lake Ngami.” (Warhurst)
Reference in the above passage to “northern Bechuanaland” is misleading since the Bechuanaland Protectorate went up only to the 22nd parallel. Beyond that lay territory acknowledged to be under the jurisdiction of Lobengula. It will be for researchers in the future to pinpoint exactly at which juncture the British brought this area under the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and thus incorporated it into Ngwato territory; and which legal instrument was deployed to achieve this. Nonetheless, although not in any way conclusive, Peters sheds lights on this. Although it had long been acknowledged as Lobengula’s territory, the actions of the colonial administration strengthened Khama’s claim to all land between the Shashe and Motloutse Rivers. As a result, this area officially became known as “the Disputed Territory”. The colonial administration wanted the Protectorate to stretch up to the Zambezi River.
“To Sir Charles Warren, Khama had made extensive claims in the direction of Matebeleland but subsequently concentrated on obtaining the Shashe River as a north-east boundary. On the other hand Lobengula claimed the territory far south of the Shashi, though tacitly acknowledging Khama’s authority south of the Macloutsie River (Motloutse). The area between the Shashe and the Macloutsie (Motloutse) became known as the Disputed Territory. It was bush country, uninhabited except for a few Bushmen and servile Makalaka.” (Peters)
The colonial administration suggested that Lobengula and Khama should negotiate to settle their competing claims over the Disputed Territory. “Lobengula, however, was unwilling to negotiate with Khama on a basis of equality. To him, as to all the Matebele, the Bechuanas were mere “dogs” and it was beneath his dignity to confer with them”. (Peters)
Robinson was relentless and insistent however, and could even be construed as Khama’s envoy, as “[t] he result was a detailed memorandum in which Robinson pointed out that Khama had offered to place northern Bechuanaland under Britain”, but was informed by his superiors that “′An extension of protectorate [sic] to the Zambesi (sic) would be a formidable undertaking’.”
This was formidable because the area under discussion was Matebeleland, which included Bukalanga, although ostensibly Khama disputed that. This emanated from the fact that the Bechuanaland Protectorate stretched up only to the 22nd parallel. In turn, to satisfy his own expansionist tendencies, Lobengula claimed the whole of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, including Khama’s total land mass. Lobengula was angry that he had not been consulted before a protectorate was imposed over Bechuanaland.
However, “Robinson did not give up. On July 13, 1887, possibly angered at not receiving any response to his memorandum of May 1886, he wrote to the Secretary of State rehearsing his arguments for an extension of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. - - - On 10 August, the Colonial Secretary made it clear to Robinson that Britain was not going to extend the Protectorate.- - - Robinson’s persistent agitation had failed utterly.” (Warhurst)
Nonetheless, Robinson did not give up. He joined forces with John Smith Moffat (son of Robert Moffat), and on February 11,1888 Lobengula signed a treaty with Britain (the Moffat Treaty). The treaty whittled Lobengula’s powers, and essentially “gave Britain virtual control over Lobengula’s foreign affairs.” (Warhurst) Importantly, it acknowledged Lobengula’s sovereignty over Bukalanga, as its preamble read:
“The Chief Lo Bengula, ruler of the tribe known as the Amandebele, together with the Mashuna and Makakalaka, tributaries of the same, hereby agrees to the following articles and conditions:- ” (sic) (Harris)
After Robinson left
South Africa his successor,
Loch, picked up the baton.
“In South Africa Robinson’s policy of expression was continued by his successor though Loch was an advocate of direct imperial rule, as against colonial. In March [4 March 1890] Loch proposed that the existing protectorate – the Bechuanaland Protectorate – be annexed outright. Although this was rejected by Knutsford, on the grounds that it was reserved for the British South Africa Company and that such action would be a provocation to Lobengula, Loch tried again in May. He succeeded in getting the Protectorate extended to the Zambezi (‘west - - - of Matebeleland; east of the German Protectorate’), thus consummating the idea Robinson had fought so hard to achieve.” (Warhurst)
It is not apparent from the above description what the coordinates of this territory “west- - - of Matebeleland” were, since Lobengula’s kingdom stretched up to the Makgadikgadi Pans. In fact, the 1888 Moffat Treaty had explicitly included Bukalanga in Lobengula’s jurisdiction. By this extension of the Bechuanaland Protectorate to the Zambezi River was Bukalanga now being brought under Ngwato domain? This creates a puzzle. For a long time after this Bukalanga was administered as a part of the Ndebele state, and later as part of the erstwhile Ndebele state. The exception was the Tati District, where the British South Africa Company had clear, vested interests. Section 2 of the Concessions Land Act (Cap. 32:05) reads:
“The Tati Concessions, Limited, its successors and assigns, is hereby confirmed in the full, free and undisturbed possession as owners of all the land within the Tati District, the limits of which district are as follows, viz: From the place where the Shashe River rises to its junction with the Tati and Ramokgwebana Rivers, thence along the Ramokgwebana River to where it rises and thence along the watershed of those rivers, subject to all the terms and conditions of this Act and in accordance with the laws now or hereafter in force within Botswana.”
The Tati District is the current North East District. For its part, section 9 of the Act provides:
“Nothing in this Act shall affect or interfere with any of the provisions of Her Majesty’s Charter granted to the British South Africa Company, but the said provisions shall in so far as they relate to or affect the Tati Concessions, Limited, or the Tati District be and remain operative.”
It appears though that Loch was prepared to take a very narrow view of the extent of Lobengula’s jurisdiction.
“Sir Henry Loch in a despatch dated November 18, 1894, says: From the information collected by me before the war, I am of the opinion that a circle drawn at sixty miles radius from Bulawayo would have embraced the whole of the land in actual beneficial occupation by the Matebele nation and their slaves, and though the limits of sovereignty claimed by Lobengula were held by him to extend to any point south of the Zambesi where he had carried a raid, nevertheless, in speaking of the Matebele nation and of the people ruled by Lobengula, it was usual to refer only to those people who were in the immediate vicinity, and under the immediate and personal rule of Lobengula.” (Harris) (sic)
The Ndebele slaves were Bakalanga to the west and south-west of Matebeleland, and the Shona to the east in Mashonaland, and were collectively referred to by the Ndebele as “amahole” – the lowest in the three tier Ndebele caste system.
The above passage has to be treated with circumspection – Loch was justifying the expropriation of land, but it also shows the federated nature of the Ndebele state. However, for Khama the extension of the Protectorate to the Zambezi by the British strengthened his claim over Bukalanga.
*Malebeswa holds a Master of Laws (LLM) University of Sheffield (United Kingdom) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB) University of Botswana. Mmegi is serialising excerpts from his note entitled ‘Tribal Territories Act, indirect rule, chiefs and subjects’