Previously, we noted that David Livingstone was initially inspired to come to Southern Africa by Thomas Buxton’s passionate call for continent’s transformation through the supposedly ‘civilising’ influence of commerce and Christianity, coupled with Robert Moffat’s vision of a vast plain north of Kudumane where there were “a thousand villages where no missionary had ever been.”
A second turning point in Livingstone’s transformation from the conventional archetype of passive missionary to his proactive role in facilitating the arming, as well as advocacy, of Batswana vis-a-vis the Boers emerged in the aftermath of his 1848 journey into the by then settler dominated Transvaal region in what is now South Africa.
While the history of the subjugation of South African Batswana by the Boers is still being written, indigenous evidence has long contradicted the settler myth that the merafe who had fallen under the Amandebele in turn meekly accepted the Voortrekkers as liberators from the Tautona’s tyranny.
It is true that some, including Sechele, initially welcomed them as potential allies against Mzilakazi. But, from the very beginning there was resistance to Boer pretensions of being a new master race. In this respect it was at the time observed that:
“Mzilakazi was cruel to his enemies but kind to those he conquered; but that the Boers destroyed their enemies and made slaves of their friends.”
With their military advantage of possessing guns and horses, the Boers were from the very beginning determined to exploit black labour, as well as expropriate of black land and livestock.
An early example of resistance to this advancing wave of white settler hegemony was the Baphiring Kgosi Mabalane’s participation in the 1836 attack on the Boer laager at Vegkop.
After Mzilakazi withdrew to the north in the following year, Mabalane continued to hold out against the Boers, initially from his sanctuary in the Lepolong caves. These caves could only be reached by ladders, which were removed whenever the enemy approached. But, Lepolong was abandoned when larger numbers of Boers began settling in and around their first headquarters in the region – Potchefstroom (“Chief Potgeiter’s stream”).
The Baphiring then went to Lomawe, only to move again when Andries Cronje’s Boers began coercing labour in the area. After additional wandering Mabalane, in 1870, finally settled his people on a small “location” where they have since remained.
Such was the emerging social landscape of the Transvaal when Livingstone travelled through the area in July of 1848. He informed his sponsors that during the expedition he visited very many communities who had never seen a missionary, further reporting that:
“The country is more populous than anywhere else in Bechuanaland. The nearer we approach the coast the population becomes the denser and more civilized too, for many weave cotton, work in iron, tin, copper, and brass.”
Livingstone’s excitement was dampened, however, by other things he observed along the way. He had intended to install one of his Motswana assistants as a moruti among the Bafokeng and Bakgatla bagaKgafela. But, the local Boers rejected the idea.
As it was evidence of the rule of sjambok was everywhere. The Bakwena bagaMogopa Kgosi Mmamogale showed him the scars on his back, which had been inflicted by the Boers. His morafe had begun to recover from their losses to the Amendable when Mmamogale, was sjambocked for refusing to supply labourers. Being without guns, he subsequently moved south to join Moshoeshoe’s well armed Basotho in their wars against both the Boers and British. It was only after the 1868 British annexation of Lesotho that he returned to Transvaal, where his descendants continued to struggle.
Livingstone encountered a far worse atrocity when a Boer commando attacked another Bakwena community led by Kgosi Moletse, known to Livingstone as Melecho.
Moletse, whose people had broken away from the Bakwena of Botswana about a century earlier, had escaped Mzilakazi’s overrule. As a result his morafe possessed many cattle, which was a temptation for the Boers.
The pretext for the Boer attack was an incident when some Boers killed an elephant in the BagaMoletse territory. A crowd surrounded the hunting party to demand a tusk and half of the meat as sehuba for their Kgosi. The Boers ran off unharmed.
The attacking commando was made up of 107 Boers and a larger number of black auxiliaries, who had been forced to accompany them. Livingstone reported:
“On arriving on the hill on which Melecho was posted, the Boers placed their native auxiliaries in front, and thus protected, sat on their horses and coolly fired, for six hours, over what the natives called a ‘shield’, that shield being themselves. The people of Melecho made many desperate efforts to break through the ranks of their fellow-countrymen, and reach the Boers, but unsuccessfully.”
Surrounded, the bulk of the BagaMoletse fought to their death, their battle axes being no match for the enemy’s guns. Some 3,000 were massacred. Another 400 or so children, of both sexes, along with more than 10,000 sheep were captured so that “each of the 107 Boers received 100 sheep and 4 children besides cattle as his share.”