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Throughout his long and provocative career Kgosi-e-kgolo Linchwe II of the Bakgatla bagaKgafela remained a man who was passionate about standing up for his beliefs and principles, while being dedicated to what he perceived as his duty to serve his morafe, country and wider region.
He was the last of the major local traditional leaders to have begun his reign under colonial rule.
His 44 years at the helm of Bogosi jwa Bakgatla thus bridged Botswana’s transition from an impoverished Protectorate to a modern Republic.
Given his many years of public service, it is hardly surprising that his own perceptions on many issues, as well as the perceptions of others about his role, evolved over time.
Some elders in Mochudi may still recall the late Kgosi as a young social maverick, while today’s youth are more likely to remember him as a staunch traditionalist.
Linchwe was installed as Kgosi-e-kgolo on the 6th of April 1963. Additional career highlights include his serving as Botswana’s Ambassador to the United States from 1969 to 1972, and as the President of the Customary Court of Appeal from 1991 until his death.
He was for many years the Chairman of the Kgatleng District Council, finally stepping down in 1982 to give others a chance.
During the late 1970s, he also led the Botswana National Football Association.
Kgosi Linchwe was born on the 2nd of May 1935 as the first and only son of the Bakgatla Kgosi Molefi II and his Mohumagadi, Motlatsi Pilane.
In 1966, he married a Bakgatla bagaMmakau princess named Kathleen Nono Motsepe – otherwise affectionately known to Batswana as Mohumagadi MmaSeingwaeng - who survives him. He is also survived by his four children: a daughter Seingwaeng (b. 1968), and three sons Kgafela (b. 1971), Bakgatla (b. 1976) and Mmusi (b. 1978).
Linchwe’s wedding was associated with the ending of a long estrangement within the Bakgatla royal family, and wider Bakgatla community, between supporters of the Dutch Reformed (DRC) and Zion Christian (ZCC) Churches.
For many decades the leader of the later faction was Linchwe’s grandmother Seingwaeng.
In 1947 Seingwaeng, along with other leading Zionists, was exiled from Kgatleng by her son, Kgosi Molefi. The group subsequently found refuge, in 1953, at Lentswe le Moriti.
After his installation, Linchwe restored Seingwaeng to Mochudi. Thereafter, he invited the ZCC Bishop Lekganyane and his band to be a part of his wedding celebration, although the Kgatleng District Council only finally and formally lifted the ZCC ban in 1968.
Over the years, Linchwe was called upon to play a mediating role in internal church disputes involving local Lutherans, as well as ZCC and DRC.
Linchwe II was initially educated at Linchwe I Primary School and Mochudi National School, before proceeding to St. Joseph’s College and Emmarentia Geldenhuys School (Warbaths, South Africa) for his secondary education.
He then went on to the United Kingdom for further studies, at Woodchester Park School and Southern Municipal College.
He was sent to the UK following the tragic death of his father as a result of an auto crash in 1958.
While completing his overseas education his uncle, Kgosi Mmusi Pilane, served as his regent.
As a young student in Britain, Linchwe’s peers included a number of Batswana who would also assume prominent roles in Botswana’s post-independence development, such as Festus Mogae, David Magang, and Louis Nchindo among many others.
It was while in Britain that Linchwe first came into long term contact with the prominent author and social activist Lady Naomi Mitchison, after being invited in 1960 to visit her estate in Carradale, Scotland.
Lady Mitchison’s subsequent popular writings about Linchwe and Mochudi, in particular her book “Return to Fairy Hill”, raised Botswana’s international profile.
For many years a frequent visitor to Botswana, Lady Mitchison also assisted the young Kgosi in establishing an impressive network of international contacts, which helped to enable him to undertake a number of innovative community projects during the early years of his reign. These included the establishment of the Mochudi Library, Linchwe II Secondary School, the Mochudi Community Centre (subsequently Kgatleng Youth Development Association) and the Refugee Centre.
Later projects, which Linchwe also supported, included the establishment of the Lentswe la Odi Weavers, Phuthadikobo Museum (Botswana’s first community museum, founded through the efforts of Sandy Grant) and the Botswana Work Camps Association (“Lekgotla La Baithaopi”).
The Refugee Centre, which was the only such institution in the region under a “tribal authority”, was established through Linchwe’s contact with Martin Ennals, who would later go on to found Amnesty International. Its existence was certainly a cause of discomfort to the apartheid regime, which was also mindful of Linchwe’s seniority among the Bakgatla bagaKgafela living in South Africa, as well as Botswana. This defacto authority was only legally recognised after the collapse of white minority rule, when the Kgosi, ably assisted by attorney Sydney Pilane, won a historic case in the South African courts.
Throughout the 1960’s Kgosi Linchwe raised eyebrows, and made occasional headlines, through his confrontational stance towards manifestations of racism in Botswana, as well as South Africa. Popular incidents included his accompanying Lady Mitchison to then racially segregated Mafikeng in 1963, his arrival, with a gun, into the still whites only bar at Mahalapye in 1964, after having first been refused service, his barring of an alleged racist from entering Mochudi in 1965, and his insistence in using the whites only entrance at the then Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg in 1969.
Linchwe came to the throne at a time when the future role of Bogosi was being questioned in the context of Botswana’s move towards democratic self-government and independence. He played an active and outspoken role, alongside Kgosi Bathoen II of Bangwaketse and Kgosi Mokgosi of Balete, in representing the views of Dikgosi at the 1963 Constitutional Conference at Lobatse.
During the 1960s, he remained vocal in his criticism of the House of Chiefs, turning down offers to be its first Chairman. As the British Resident Commissioner at the time, Sir Peter Fawcus, would later recall:
“Chief Linchwe said that he was personally not able to see that the House of Chiefs would be of value. He remained opposed to the idea but was nevertheless prepared to do his duty and serve in the House as a temporary measure…He thought the chiefs were the pillars which held tribes together and that if he relinquished the chieftainship in order to enter politics it would be a dereliction of duty.”
In his later years, however, Linchwe became somewhat reconciled to the role of the House. At the time of Botswana’s 20th anniversary of independence he observed that:
“I doubt if a House of Chiefs exists in other countries. But here, we Batswana have been led by chiefs from time immemorial and we have realised it would be wrong to get rid of chieftainship as such, so we decided to provide in our constitution for two Houses – The National Assembly and the House of Chiefs…I think this is a system unique in Africa, where chiefs really operate independently. I think in other African states the chiefs have survived by belonging to the ruling parties but here the chieftainship is absolutely independent from any political influence.”
Notwithstanding his consistently non-partisan public stance, throughout much of Linchwe’s career there remained a fair amount of speculation and suspicion, if not fear, in some quarters about his own perceived political influence.
In 1963, when the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) held its annual conference in Mochudi, Linchwe delivered a welcoming address.
Many of the then Kgatleng based BPP activists had earlier been associated with a local political movement of mostly young progressives, commonly known as “Mphetsebe”, which had advocated for Linchwe’s early installation.
He was subsequently suspected of being a tacit BPP supporter at the time of the first, 1965, universal suffrage election. This was, at least in part, due to the fact that his sister, Tshire, openly campaigned for the BPP Mochudi candidate, T.W. Motlhagodi, who won the seat.
From April to October 1965, Linchwe further hosted a series of meetings among opposition political figures in Mochudi which, on the 10th of October, culminated in the launching of the Botswana National Front. After opening this gathering, Linchwe withdrew on the grounds that his position barred him from active participation in partisan politics.
During the same period, Dr. Koma was allowed to use Linchwe’s office, where he wrote Pamphlet No. 1.
Yet also in 1965 Mochudi hosted the Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) 4th National Conference.
Never far below the surface, political speculation resurfaced during the 1984 election, when Linchwe was suspected of being sympathetic to Ray Molomo’s unsuccessful bid to unseat the then MP Greek Ruele in the BDP primary.
Thereafter, there was further controversy when Linchwe acquiesced, despite Ruele’s strong protests, to the use by an independent candidate, Sandy Grant, of the Bakgatla totem, a monkey, as his election symbol; (Grant, however, agreed to give up the symbol).
Shortly after the election the then Assistant Minister of Local Government and Lands, Lesedi Mothibamele, reprimanded Linchwe at his kgotla for allegedly meddling in politics. This incident angered many Bakgatla, resulting in a delegation comprised of the Kgosi’s uncles and senior tribesmen to subsequently lodge a formal protest against Government’s supposed interference in tribal affairs.
As a traditional leader Kgosi Linchwe was a staunch advocate of preserving and adapting, indigenous cultural practices. One of his first reforms, in 1964, was to welcome and encourage women to fully participate in kgotla meetings.
In 1975 he courted controversy with his revival of bogwera. Connected with this was his organising of hunts for initiates, which at times brought him into conflict with the Department of Wildlife. Linchwe was, nonetheless, a committed conservationist, imposing his own hunting ban on certain species.
In 1979 he won accolades when he raised paternity payments in Kgatleng from the then standard 180 pula to 720 pula to take into account inflation. Less universally appreciated over the years were his calls for the legalisation of dagga, the expulsion of allegedly corrupt local councillors, educational reforms and Bakgatla volunteers to assist in the liberation of Zimbabwe.
In 1991 he stepped back from the daily affairs of his morafe to become the President of the Customary Court of Appeal.
Perhaps Kgosi Linchwe’s biggest disappointment came about in 1994, when there was an upsurge of rioting in Mochudi, following the apparent ritual murder of a young girl named Segametsi Mogomotsi.
Kgosi Linchwe came to be known to many for his relaxed hospitality. This extended to outsiders, with many foreigners from such notables as Kenneth Kaunda to ordinary volunteer workers bearing testimony over the years to their delight in finding themselves in his company. One such individual, Alexander McCall Smith, recently noted of Linchwe:
“I sat there with him a few months ago and talked about his village and his country. I asked him what, in his view, was the secret of Botswana’s stability. He thought for just a moment before he replied: ‘’Respect for chieftainship.’’ Of course, he believes in the traditional values — as one would expect of a chief — and he laments many of the changes he has seen over the last few years, including the loss of respect for elders and an increased selfishness…But the old Botswana is still there, he agrees, and indeed the visitor sees it in the courtesy with which the tall, dignified chief himself receives a stranger.”
Robala sentle Kgosi-e-kgolo Linchwe II a Molefi II a Kgafela a Linchwe a Kgamanyane a Pilane a Pheto a Molefe a Kgwefane a Mare a Masellane a Tebele a Kgafela.
* Dr Jeff Ramsay, a Historian by training now works in the presidency as head of Government Information and Communication Systems