I have been asked to talk about the role of the BaKwena in the forging of the nation state we call Botswana. It is common knowledge that hierarchically, the BaKwena sit at the apex of the Tswana race, who straddle six countries, namely Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Few people are aware that there are Tswana-speaking peoples in Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In Zambia, they are called Lozis and constitute one of the country’s four largest ethnic groups. In Zimbabwe, the Tswana-speaking people are said to number 35,000. The Tswana-speaking people of Namibia are less known even in their own country in that they constitute the smallest cultural group, about 6000 in all if Wikipedia statistics are anything to go by.
Maybe I should put the seniority of the Bakwena in context. All Tswana-speaking peoples trace their origins to the iconic Phofu dynasty which reigned supreme in today’s Transvaal between the 12th and 14th century. The Phofu Dynasty achieved greatness under the rule of Masilo, who had two children, namely Mohurutshe and Malope. Mohurutshe, though senior, was female. Thus, it was her brother Malope who became heir to the throne. Malope had three sons. They were Kwena, Ngwato, and Ngwaketse. Kwena’s progeny became the BaKwena and since he was the heir to Malope’s throne, his descendents occupied a seniority tribally that endures to this day and to which all other Tswana tribes defer.
Like every other ethnic group, the BaKwena have had their luminaries, figures who carved a larger-than-life socio-politico profile. Besides the founding patriarch himself Kwena, they include Kgabo II, Sechele I, and Sebele I. Of these, arguably and demonstrably the greatest is Sechele I. As BaKwena we are euphemistically referred to as the Sons of Kgabo. I wish to submit that with the benefit of hind sight, maybe that is a misnomer. I think it is time we were called the Sons of Sechele instead of the Sons of Kgabo. Certainly, the history of the BaKwena is intertwined not so much with Kgabo II as with the great Sechele. Although it was Kgabo II who brought the Tswana-speaking people into this country in the 17th century and established Kweneng, the first Tswana state in the country, it was Sechele who anchored it and turned it into a military power that preserved the sovereignty of today’s Botswana.
Let me at this juncture voice forth what I feel is a monumental disservice to Botswana’s greatest son and indeed the very colossus of the Tswana race as a whole. In September 2005, three bronze sculptures were unveiled at Gaborone’s Central Business District. The sculptures, which collectively go by the name The Three Dikgosi Monument, spotlight giant-sized simulacrums of Botswana’s most famous kings of the colonial era, namely Sebele I of the BaKwena, Khama III of the BaNgwato, and Bathoen I of the BaNgwaketse. When the monument was unveiled, I was one of the first to publicly voice displeasure and in fact took umbrage. What was conspicuous was the absence on the monument of the one man who was by far more accomplished and much more fundamental to the evolution of our nation state than the Three Dikgosi. This was Sechele. That is not to say the Three DiKgosi are peripheral. Their role in warding off the expansionist designs of imperialists like Cecil Rhodes was pivotal but the foundation of the country that they sought to safeguard against seizure had already been established by Sechele. In any case, the British protectorate, which was imposed on us rather than asked for, was a ruse. The same British who said they wanted to protect Botswana had conquered several Tswana tribes in South Africa and bundled them under a colony they called British Bechuanaland.
Now, in case you think I’m delusional and therefore hallucinating, I’ll refer you to Botswana historians of note such as Thomas Tlou, Jeff Ramsay, and Janet Wigner Parsons, to name only a few. All these historians have underscored that had it not been for Sechele, there would have been no Botswana. Perhaps we would be gathering the way we have done today, but not in the Republic of Botswana but in the Republic of South Africa, and in all probability addressing you in Afrikaans and not in English. Much of what we today call Botswana would simply be an extension of Mzansi because that was the intention ultimately of the British: they wanted the whole of today’s Botswana to be incorporated into South Africa. Infact, the idea and intention evaporated in the 1950s
What is sad about this issue, is that even among the BaKwena themselves, the name Sechele hardly rings a bell. Trust me, there are more BaKwena who know about Khama III than those who know about the accomplishments of Sechele I. Yet this country was not founded on the feats of Khama III and other Dikgosi: it was founded on the labours and instrumentality of Sechele, who fought and repelled the boers (maburu). It is Sechele who laid the foundation for Botswana and not Khama III; Sebele I; or Bathoen I. Let me call your attention to a letter Sebele I wrote to his counterpart Bathoen I on July 8 1908, sixteen years after Sechele’s death and 58 years before Botswana became independent. Part of the letter reads as follows:
“Who is the owner of this country? Who gave you all these places? Who could speak with President Paul Kruger (of Transvaal)? If father Sechele was not here, this country should have now been the Transvaal capital today! Who protected and defended all the Batswana Kings against the Boers? Was it not my father? Who was the Governor of this country? Was it not my father? That protected you and fought for you against the Boers? Was it not my father? You must remember that my father was your Governor. There were nine Kings – Mokgosi, Masege, Menwe, Matlapeng, Mosielele, Moabi, Mangope, Letsebe and Mosinye. My father was tenth. Did not my father protect all these from their enemies? Was he not the Paramount King in the sense of the word?”
I hope you follow my point bagaetsho. In the quoted letter, Sebele I is underscoring to Bathoen I that Sechele was the Tswana peoples’ King of Kings! He was the Emperor of Batswana people both in modern-day South Africa and modern-day Botswana. At the time Sechele enjoyed such a stature, Khama III, Sebele I, and Bathoen I were no more than spring chickens: they were in their teens. How ironic, therefore, that Sechele has been completely eclipsed by them, particularly by Khama III, in the reminiscences of the entire nation.
Sechele was born at Shokwane in 1910 to Motswasele II and his wife Sejelo. Although he was not Motswasele’s first-born son, he was heir to the throne, having been born in the senior house. Sechele’s ascendancy to the throne in the fullness of time, however, was a chequered one. To begin with, his father Motswasele was dethroned and assassinated by his own brother Segokotlo and his cousin Moruakgomo in 1821. In the power struggle that ensued, Segokotlo was driven away, taking the youngsters Sechele and his elder half-brother Kgosidintsi with him.
Segokotlo sought refuge with Kgosi Kgari of the BaNgwato. In 1828, Segokotlo and Moruakgomo reconciled after mending fences and the same year went to war with Sebetwane of the BaKololo. Sebetwane was triumphant. Not only was Moruakgomo killed but young Sechele was taken into captivity by Sebetwane. While Sechele was in captivity, the BaKwena splintered into three factions. One faction was called Bo-Mosima. It was led by Molese and was based at Lephepe. The second faction was called Bo-Tshosa. It was led by Bubi and was based at Dithubaruba. The third faction was led by Kgame. It was based east of the Madikwe River.
In 1833, Khama II, who as a kid had been a playmate of Sechele at the BaNgwato Kgotla and who had taken over as King of the BaNgwato, approached Sebetwane and ransomed Sechele. Ironically, that did not spell the end of Sechele’s woes. Sechele was rejected by the leaders of all the three factions of the BaKwena. Since they wanted to be kings in their own right, Sechele was regarded as a veritable threat to their usurpist designs. For a time, Sechele and his mother Sejelo enjoyed citadel granted them by Moilwa of the BaHurutshe. However, when Sejelo parried matrimonial advances from the Kgosi, she was expelled from the morafhe together with her son Sechele. For months on end, Sechele and his mother and a few undying loyalists led a vagrant life in the veldt. The boy who was born to be King was forced to live like a destitute, without a place to call his home.
Be that as it may, the spirit of his departed father hovered around Sechele through and through. At some stage, he encountered a group of white hunter-traders at a place called Moselebye, where he had been staying by courtesy of Kgosi Sebego. The party hired one of Sechele’s minders called Mothei. In their peregrinations, the party ran into BoMosima at Matsheng and soon word on the whereabouts of Sechele reached Senese, a sympathising uncle, at Lephepe. Senese immediately detailed Mothei and Segakisa to fetch Sechele. Meanwhle, Molese was put on notice that the real King of the BaKwena was on his way and he had better give way. Molese dug in his heels but when Sechele arrived, he was nevertheless ultimately deposed without much ado and with no bloodshed. Sechele had reclaimed the throne which had been usurped from his father 12 years before. The year 1833 therefore marked the founding of the state of Kweneng.
Speech by David Magang
Dithubaruba Cultural Festival held at Ntsweng, Molepolole
Saturday, September 5 2015