It took another 18 years, however, for Sechele to consolidate his rule as undisputed King of the state of Kweneng. First, he had to neutralise the Bo-Tshosa separatists, who were intent at forging their own morafe under Bubi and subsequently under Kgakge. Second, he had a perennial haunt in the dreaded Mzilikazi of the AmaNdebele. The state of Kweneng enjoyed stability only after the Maburu tamed Mzilikazi from 1842 onwards. The irony of the matter though was that it was the very Maburu who after having rid Sechele of the menace that was Mzilikazi became a thorn in his side.
The Maburu were always spoiling for a fight with Sechele, who was emerging as the most powerful King of all Tswana-speaking lands. They reckoned that once Sechele was subdued, the rest of the Tswana domains would be toast. They would be easily assimilated into South Africa. Moreover, the expansionist designs of the imperialists led by Cecil Rhodes (himself British) was to bring the whole of Southern Africa in their political orbit. The countries north of Botswana were particularly rich in minerals, notably gold and copper. A mighty Sechele would therefore stand in their way. If Sechele was neutralised and Botswana was appended to the Transvaal, that would easily pave the way for the annexation of modern-day Zimbabwe and modern-day Zambia.
As early as 1844, therefore, the Maburu were demanding that Sechele voluntarily cede all Kweneng territory to them, failure to which they would move in forcefully and rout him hard and good. Sechele stood his ground and dared them to initiate hostilities against him.
Meanwhile, Sechele was amassing a mighty arsenal arms and moulding BaKwena men into a formidable fighting machine. Sechele himself was acknowledged as his people’s most proficient marksman, a feat for which he became the renowned Rramokonopi. By 1849, he was sourcing custom-built weapons from Birmingham in the United Kingdom, including rifles that were suitable for hunting elephants but which he wished to deploy in a future war against Maburu encroachers. He also acquired a canon, which even today is on display in the Mafikeng Museum, and fortified his then garrison town, Tshonwane, with a wall of stones, leaving only a few loopholes along it through which to fire upon the advancing enemy.
Early in February 1852, the Maburu called for a meeting to which all Tswana Kings, including Sechele, were invited to come and pledge allegiance to the Transvaal government. Of the ten Tswana Kings, Sechele, Montshiwa of the BaRolong and Mosielele of Bakgatla ba ga Mmanaana declined the invitations. Other Tswana kings prostrated themselves before the Maburu and still others were cowed into involuntary submission. On August 17 1852, the Maburu attacked Maanwane, Mosielele’s capital, killing 90 people indiscriminately. Mosielele was forced to flee to the safety of Sechele in Kweneng. The Maburu reacted by issuing an ultimatum to Sechele – that either he surrendered Mosielele to them or they overrun the state of Kweneng.
A headstrong Sechele dismissed the ultimatum with the contempt it deserved. In a message to the Maburu general, Sechele said: “I shall not deliver up Mosielele. I have swallowed him into my innards like a child unborn. If I am to deliver him up, I shall have to rip up my belly.” In other words, what Sechele was saying was that the Maburu would only have Mosielele if they succeeded in killing him, Sechele. That was how determined Sechele was to protect the dignity and sovereignty of all Tswana peoples. He was their very last line of defence: if he fell, they would all fall.
On August 30 1852, a formidably equipped Maburu forces, who were 1200 strong men including 500 mounted Maburu and 700 BaHurutshe auxiliaries in the main, clashed with Sechele’s forces at Dimawe. The battle has gone into the annals of history as the Batswana-Boer War of 1852-53. This, however, is an over-generalisation. Although Sechele’s BaKwena forces were reinforced by BaNgwaketse, BaKgatla ba ga Mmanaana, and BaKaa, the latter three tribes all fled at the very outset of the war, leaving Sechele to face the music alone, with only 36 men on a Dimawe ridge. With these 36 men, Sechele, with his wife Selemeng and his brother and general Kgosidintsi alongside him, fought off the entire contingent of the Maburu for six straight hours and repelled them. Although he lost one finger during the battle, Sechele continued firing on all cylinders as Selemeng busily loaded his guns with bullets.
Although the Maburu did not surrender, they retreated in ignominy. However, there was no let up as far as Sechele was concerned. For the next six months, Sechele conducted a guerilla warfare against the Maburu. His forces made sporadic raids into the region of Transvaal that bordered Botswana and struck mortal terror into the people there. In the event, the Maburu were forced to abandon their farms west of Rustenburg and Potchefstroom. The name Sechele became the most feared frame of reference in the Transvaal as a whole. Sechele only relented after the Maburu themselves pleaded for peace with him. After Sechele’s defeat of the Maburu, they never pestered Botswana ever again.
What would have happened had Sechele not repelled the Maburu? The question is best answered by the late Professor of History Thomas Tlou. This is what he said: “Had Sechele’s state fallen (that is, Kweneng), it is likely that itself and other Tswana groups would have fallen prey to the Boers and become part of the Transvaal. So the battle of Dimawe was an epic event in the history of Botswana, which contributed immensely to the emergence of independent Botswana … Kgosi Sechele I was the earliest defender of Tswana territory against the Boers of the Transvaal … Sechele I is indeed the founding father of this nation.”
After the Battle of Dimawe, Sechele’s marks of respect grew throughout all Tswana lands. It was he who dominated regional politics. Every time there was an impasse in GammaNgwato, for instance, it was Sechele who was called upon to dictate the tone and tenor of events there. It was through Sechele’s influence that Khama III rose to power in GammaNgwato in 1872. Sechele also mediated the reunification of the BaNgwaketse under Gaseitsiwe. He also provided sanctuary to other Tswana tribes such as BaKgatla; BaLete; BaHurutshe; and BaTlokwa, although they later turned against him and began to fight him when he was in the twilight of his years.
When he died on November 29 1892, his fame was established in Europe and North Africa as well as throughout Southern Africa. Sadly, that reputation is no longer invoked in his own country. He has been almost completely forgotten as if he was a mere also-ran who did hardly anything worthwhile for his country. This amounts to spitting in the face of a man who is undoubtedly Botswana’s greatest son.
Thus while it is appropriate that BaKwena are mobilising to build a monument park in honour of Sechele, his legacy belongs not only to BaKwena but to all Batswana. In deference to this truism, I propose that Sechele be honoured in one or several of the following ways:
For those who wish to know more about Sechele and what he did for this country, I have provided a detailed chronicling of his exploits in my biographical sketch, The Magic of Perseverance.
Speech by David Magang
at Dithubaruba Cultural Festival held at Ntsweng, Molepolole
Saturday, September 5 2015