Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Evidence shows that Linchwe I was not a nincompoop

During the course of last week, I visited Gaborone for the first time since April. I was impressed by the level of compliance to the Covid-19 protocols that I saw at Rail Park Mall, Station and the CBD. Out of thousands of people that I came across at these places, not a single one was not wearing mask unlike those I meet in the streets of Mochudi. The other thing that attracted my attention is a visit to the Three Dikgosi Monument in the CBD. When I was still looking at the monument in admiration, five middle-aged gentlemen arrived. They were men with a sense of humour as one of them made fun telling others that he had heard that Sebele often disappears from the CBD dashing to Molepolole at night and returning in the mornings. On a serious note, one of them asked a very pertinent question about the role played by other dikgosi of the country when the three, Sechele, Khama, and Bathoen decided to go to England to seek protection from the Queen. He also wanted to know if there were no other dikgosi, what their role was if any? 

One of them replied acknowledging that there were some like in Mochudi, Ramotswa and Tlokweng but those “were small chiefs with nothing tangible to offer”.  “So these three were the masters of all” (dipabala), said another. I just listened and said to myself that these men are saying exactly what they had been exposed to during their history lessons at school. The impression that has been created in our minds has always been that the three dikgosi who went to England were to some extent, likened with the Biblical story of the three wise men from the east. They were seen by some as superior to the rest. The problem emanates from the fact that nothing or very little has been said about  the role Linchwe I or Montshiwa of Barolong may have played before the departure by the three dikgosi to England. As recently as last April, somebody posted in their WhatsApp post, an extract from a report by a high ranking member of the imperial government. That can be of help to some of our people to understand that Linchwe I was not a nincompoop. The extract referred to was lifted from an official report by High Commissioner Lord Milner. There it goes, “Linchwe made a particularly good impression on me. He is far superior, both in vigour and intelligence to either Bathoen or Sebele”.

This should be able to dispel the myth that the dikgosi who did not undertake the trip to England were collateral damage. When the immediate former British High Commissioner arrived in Gaborone at the start of her term of service, she visited Serowe, Molepolole and Kanye where the communities took her through their history. The visit to England by the three dikgosi dominated the discussions at each village kgotla. The High Commissioner did not visit Mochudi and other villages whose dikgosi did not go to England during that historic visit. The answer is obvious. She knew that the other dikgosi played no role in the visit to England. It is not clear as to why the rest of the dikgosi, especially Bakgatla, Barolong, Batawana, Batlokwa and Balete did not undertake the trip. However, in the case of Linchwe I, it is clear that he had been consulted and he responded positively to the idea.

Before I wrote this article, I asked the man who is one of the authorities on the history of the Bakgatla ba Kgafela, historian, author and columnist Sandy Grant to say if he knew why Linchwe I did not undertake the trip to England with the three dikgosi. He did not know. But he had heard unconfirmed reports that Linchwe I did not have sufficient funds to undertake the journey. That was not news to me. I had heard of it before and disbelieved it.  I am of the view that it could not be true that Linchwe I did not have funds to undertake the trip. There might have been other reasons that prevented him from going. My view is informed by the fact that Linchwe had had hundreds of cattle at Kgope cattle posts. They were known as MaRooibont. Rooibont is an Afrikaans word for red and white, the (tshumu or tshunyana) colour which was the dominant in Linchwe’s kraal. His kraal was not far from my great grandfather’s, Rakanyane Pilane’s kraal. Rakanyane was Linchwe I’s younger brother in the lower house of Kgamanyane. Rakanyane’s cattle regiment name was Dithubaruba. To date there is a hill in the area called Dithubaruba, named after our cattle regiment. Rakanyane’s decision to establish his cattle post at Kgope around 1877 was a strategic move aimed at repelling elements from the Kweneng who it is said used to sneak into the Kgatleng to commit atrocious acts of brutality on the farming community there.

This information of historical importance was passed on to me and my siblings orally by our parents and relatives. When I established my cattle kraal at Kgope in 1990, I wanted to build at my grand grandfather’s letlotla for sentimental reasons. My uncle, Thari Kgamanyane dissuaded me from doing that because there was a place reserved for me long time ago by the Kgosi when I was still growing up. His other reason was that the Dithubaruba Hill side was no longer a suitable place because of mogau plant. Besides the cattle at Kgope, Linchwe I had several properties in South Africa which boosted his economic activity. Had he wished to undertake the trip, he would have drawn funds from those properties.My reasonable assumption is that Linchwe did not join the three to England because he wanted to play it safe. Remember, the trip to England was in 1885.  The Bakgatla had just emerged from a bitter war with their Bakwena counterparts. That had taken place in 1876, one year after Linchwe I’s installation and two years after Kgosi Kgamanyane’s death ending in 1882 when Sechele surrendered and began peace talks.

These events especially the ceasefire which was only three years old, may have influenced the decision by Linchwe I not to join the three dikgosi to England because the healing process was still underway and his relationship with Sechele was still fragile. He wanted to nurture it. Imagine how it would have looked like had they been in the same voyage together and one of them mistakenly stretched his leg while the other one was trying to pass. Surely one would say as he passed, the other stuck out a leg and tried to trip him. That would most likely have a negative bearing on the London talks.So the answer to the question posed by the five gentlemen during their visit to the monument of the three dikgosi can be found on page 83 of  Dr Donald Denoon’s book  “Southern Africa  Since 1800”.  He was born in Scotland and moved to South Africa where he went to school and received first degree from the University of Natal. After obtaining PhD from Cambridge in 1965, he lectured at the department of history at the University of Makerere in Kampala, Uganda. Those who knew that university during those days can attest to the fact that it was the cream of Africa and remained so until Idi Amin destroyed it. I am thinking of Joshua Galeforwe, Fredie Modise and Dr Mompati who were at Makerere before they were transferred to Kenya fearing Amin’s atrocities. Dr Denoon was assisted by Professor Webster who also lectured at Makerere University’s department of history to complete that magnificent book. In the book, they wrote the following sentence, “in 1885, Khama set off to London accompanied by Sebele of Bakwena and Bathoen of the Bangwaketse, and reinforced by a letter signed by themselves and Lentswe of the Bakgatla”.

This is one piece of information which many Batswana are not aware of. It is not clear why that vital piece of information has not be included in the history books of Botswana and why even students of history were never told about.Was this an omission or concealment? We may never know. But it makes one wonder why nobody seems to be aware that Linchwe I played that role. As far as I can remember, nobody has ever mentioned that letter during history lessons at schools or anywhere during the discussions on how the country attained protectorate status. It would have been useful for one to have secured that letter from the archives. The National Archives in Gaborone does not seem to have a copy. May be the museum in London have one. Otherwise it may be one of the many documents which got lost.In this paragraph, focus is on the Anglo-Boer War of 1899. Did you know that this week, Wednesday November 25th marks 121 years since the battle at Derdepoort near Sikwane border gate? Did you know that around this time, villages of Sikwane, Mmathubudukwane and Malolwane, collectively known as “River Villages” were burned down and a large number of cattle stolen by Boer soldiers who attacked Bakgatla troops based at Sikwane? 

Yes it happened as Bakgatla had entered the war at the request of the British. Makoba, Majanko and Mantwane regiments were involved at Sikwane. The community at the three villages fled to Mochudi. The Boers were repelled and did not reach Mochudi where one of their prime aim was to destroy the railway line at Mosupabatho siding. In his book titled “History of the Bakgatla-baga-Kgafela in Botswana and South Africa”, Professor Christian John Makgala says before his people entered the war, Linchwe I performed what they called “go faka marumo ritual” whatever that means.

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