Sunday, March 7, 2021

Campaign to have national honour for Sechele I gathers steam

Former cabinet minister and businessman, David Magang, has added his voice to that of a chorus calling for a national honour to be bestowed upon legendary Bakwena kgosi and kingmaker Sechele I, who engineered the ascension of the current Khama dynasty.

“I propose that Sechele I be honoured in one or several of the following ways: that a stand-alone bronze statue of Sechele be erected, both in Gaborone and Molepolole; that his image feature on at least one denomination of the Botswana currency; that a prominent landmark be named after him; that one national holiday be re-named in his honour; that the Botswana history curriculum focus more on him as a pioneering leader; that Bakwena hold an annual ceremony at Dimawe Hills to commemorate Sechele’s defeat of the Boers, complete with mock re-enactment of the battle of 1852-53 and that the Botswana government approach the South African government for the return of the canon that Sechele used during the Battle of Dimawe which must be displayed in the Kgosi Sechele Museum,” Magang said when speaking at a cultural festival in Molepolole last week.

Three years ago, Sechele I’s great-great-great grandson, Kabo Sebele, used his platform as Specially Elected Councillor in the Kweneng District Council to table a motion that called on the government to rename the Thebephatshwa Airbase the Sechele I Airbase. The council rejected the motion by a 27-25 vote. This campaign goes way back to 2002 when the Bakwena tribe proposed that the airbase, which is built on tribal land, should be named after Sechele. This has indeed been confirmed by Kabo Sebele’s uncle, Kgosikwena Sebele, who at the time was Bakwena deputy chief. The latter’s recollection is that two names (Thebephatshwa and Sechele I) were proposed for the airbase at a kgotla meeting.

The campaign comes at a time that the museum that honours the late leader, the Kgosi Sechele I Museum in Molepolole, is posthumously adding another feather in his cap. The Museum is in the process of building of what will be a multi-million pula monument park in Ntsweng, which served as the Bakwena capital from 1864 until 1937. The park is a local effort and what Magang wants is something bigger: acknowledgement of Sechele I as a national hero from the central government.

Born in 1810 to Motswasele II, Sechele I was David Livingstone’s first convert to Christianity and also learnt how to read and write from the Scottish missionary. Under Sechele’s rule, Kweneng became a prosperous trading state.

His short bio in the project proposal for the monument park says that by the late 1840s, Sechele had gained control of the booming trans-Kgalagadi trade in ivory and, later, ostrich feathers. The bio reads: “After 1850 many BaTswana, sometimes whole merafe, fled the Boers in the Western Transvaal and took refuge with Sechele. The most numerous of these were the Mmanaana Kgatla of Mo┬¡sielele. In 1852 a Boer commando invaded the Kweneng, de┬¡manding that Sechele turn over Mosielele and accept Boer su┬¡zerainty. Sechele refused and an inconclusive battle, at Dimawe, ensued. In 1853 Sechele travelled to Cape Town and petitioned Queen Victoria to disallow the Sand River Convention and permit him to buy guns to defend himself against the Boers. His re┬¡quest was refused, but guns, and even a canon, were later smuggled into the Kweneng. The BaKwena and their allies also moved to Dithubaruba Hill, where stone fortifications were built, deterring a second Boer attack.”

Sechele also dabbled in the political intrigue of his time and in one important episode influenced the chain of events that gave Botswana its present-day leader. Having helped place Macheng on the Bangwato throne in 1857, Sechele switched sides 15 years later and assisted Khama III (President Ian Khama’s great-grandfather) stage a successful coup d’etat. Had this not happened, Botswana’s history (and future) would have been vastly different. 

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