Yawning information gaps in Tawana’s parley debate

30 Jul 2018

While the Maun West MP, Tawana Moremi was right that there was never any bloodshed in the centuries-long interaction between Wayeyi and the Batawana, he also left out some very important contextual details.

“Batawana arrived in Ngamiland in 1750 and it is said that they subjugated the Wayeyi. In this subjugation, however, there is no mention of any blood shed or of any fatalities of that period,” said Tawana when responding to a motion by the Leader of the Opposition, Duma Boko, to adopt the report of the 138th inter-parliamentary union assembly that Boko had attended.

The larger point he was making was that all other tribes should be able to resolve their differences without resorting to violence. In the particular case of the Batawana and Wayeyi, the MP said that the latter managed to secure recognition as a tribe through a peaceful process.

It could well have been for valid reasons but Tawana didn’t mention a very important blood-shedding detail that should have obviated such subjugation. While there was no bloodshed, the Wayeyi saved the Batawana from an invading army of the Kololo, a Sotho-stock tribe that fled into present-day after being displaced by the Mfecane.

When the Kololo attacked the Batawana, help came from the numerically stronger Wayeyi who used mekoro (dug-out canoes) to take Batawana to a relatively safe island. The Wayeyi then rowed back and successfully fought off the Kololo in the river at a place called Mathabanelo, near Nokaneng.

As other Tswana tribes before and after, the Batawana returned the favour by maintaining a master-servant relationship with the Wayeyi. While there was no bloodshed, the latter were subjugated and in the process, lost a lot of their cultural identity to their Batawana masters. Having waged a successful legal battle to have sections of the constitution that recognised only eight Tswana tribes repealed, the Wayeyi, through Kamanakao Association, became direct beneficiaries of such repeal in May 2016 when they were finally recognised as a tribe. Six months later, the government recognised the tribe’s paramount chief – Shikati in ShiYeyi. However, in itself the recognition amounts to nothing.

All paramount chiefs have tribal territory they call their own but the government has rebuffed the Wayeyi’s demand for their own territory. They have laid claim to land between the villages of Sehithwa and Seronga. Additionally, the Wayeyi paramount chief doesn’t sit in Ntlo ya Dikgosi, the house of traditional leaders which serves as the lower house of parliament. Despite the repeal of the constitution to make it tribally neutral as well as the recommendations of a consequent commission of enquiry, Ntlo ya Dikgosi retains a tribal caste system that puts tribal leaders from the eight tribes at the apex and all the others down below. The octet are called paramount chiefs and enjoy automatic membership while those from other tribes have to stand for elections.