A specially elected councilor in the Kweneng District Council, Kabo Sebele, says that he will not give up in his quest to have the Thebephatshwa Airbase west of Molepolole renamed Sechele I Airbase.
“I am going to retable the motion at the next full council meeting,” says Sebele, days after the council rejected that motion by a 27-25 vote.
The first hurdle that the councillor says he had to contend with was the council secretary telling him that he was not the right person to bring the motion because he is an “interested party.” Sebele is the great-great-great grandson of Sechele I, the legendary Bakwena kgosi who ruled the tribe from 1829 to 1892. He was also a king maker who gave Bangwato and the future nation of Botswana the present-day Khama dynasty.
Research that Sebele gathered would suggest that decades before he became a councillor, there was already a feeling within the tribe that the airbase, which is built on tribal land, should be named Sechele I. This was confirmed by 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. While some councillors argued that it would be unseemly to rename the airbase, one counter-argued by pointing out that in post-apartheid South Africa, the Jan Smuts International Airport was renamed to honour an African National Congress freedom struggle hero, Oliver Tambo.
Councillor Sebele’s 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 what will be a multi-million pula monument park in Ntsweng, which served as the Bakwena capital from 1864 until 1937.
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┬¼sielele. In 1852 a Boer commando invaded the Kweneng, de┬¼manding that Sechele turn over Mosielele and accept Boer su┬¼zerainty. 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┬¼quest 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’├®tat. Had this not happened, Botswana’s history (and future) would have been vastly different.
Sechele was succeeded by his son Sebele I, who together with Khama III and Bathoen I, made the historic journey to England in 1895 to prevent the take-over of their territories by Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company.
The Three Dikgosi Monument at the new CBD in Gaborone honours the trio for this feat.