In our previous episode, we left Sebego at Dultwe, having won a great victory over the Matebele, while losing a wife and a nephew. Recognizing that prolonged residence in the central Kgalagadi sandveld could not sustain a large concentration of his subjects along with their livestock, while the Matebele remained too great of a threat to allow for an immediate return to the eastern hardveld, he decided to conquer the lands to his west.
Leaving a segment of the Bangwaketse behind at Dultwe, under a royal cousin named Diatleng, in 1834 the Kgosikgolo shifted the main body of his followers to Monnyelatsela Pan, near Ghanzi, where he expected to find opportunity as well as opposition from the “Matlamma” or Tjiherero speakers already there.
Sebego was not moving into unfamiliar much less empty territory. The sons of Masilo aMalope, including the descendents of Ngwaketse, had known the place for generations.
This was the case notwithstanding the official myth of the British colonial occupation that before the late 19th century arrival of a few Boers, Ghanzi was an empty land – “nullius terra” in their legal Latin ÔÇô on the basis that it had supposedly only occupied by “roving Bushmen”, i.e. the Khoe or Kua (Basarwa).
Needless to say, Mmamosadinyana’s agents then and thereafter further assumed that, as Bushmen, the Khoe were by their nature a landless people. It was on the basis of this assumption transformed into convenient legal fiction that, in 1898, the Ghanzi District was handed over as “Crownland” to Cecil Rhodes British South Africa Company by the then British Tautona, Lord Milner; the beginning of a very long story.
The local Khoe, most notably the Naro-khoe (//Aikwe) and historically intertwined Auen (Au/ai), but also Dcui-khoe (IGui), Dxana-khoe (IIGana) and others, have of course never understood much less accepted themselves to be landless. By 1800 the Naro and Auen in the region were organised under three traditional leaders or Xhaihasi (a title that itself can be roughly translated as “Land Lords”), located around modern Rietfontien, Ghanzi and Kobis Pan.
The Naro are further said to have absorbed into their communities during the period parties of Nama-khoe who came into the region from Namibia. Thereafter, in the mid-19th century, the Naro and Auen were for a period united under an Auen paramount named Dukiri, but that too is another story.
The Tjiherero speakers in the region, i.e. Ovaherero in this case more precisely OvaMbandero, had by the early 18th century established their cattle posts throughout the area that now constitutes the Ghanzi Farms under the protection of a ruler named Mutjise. There is, so far at least, little evidence of the OvaMbandero and Khoe having come into conflict at the time.
The OvaMbandero presence was, however, ultimately challenged by Setswana/Shekgalagari speakers who were also already in the area. By the early 18th century many of the peoples in of western Kgalagadi, including Ghanzi, who claimed common descent from Matsieng of Lowe, were further united by their identification with a Morolong ruler named Mongologa, whose followers came to be collectively known as the Bangologa.
Here again while the OvaMbandero and Bangologa became rivals, the admittedly limited available evidence suggests that before the 19th century there was little conflict between the Bangologa and Khoe in Ghanzi, unlike elsewhere. In this respect the relative status of the Naro at the time is perhaps reflected in the fact that they were often referred to ka Sengologa as “Bakgotjhu” (“Makgothu”) rather than “Basarwa.”
Throughout the 18th and early 19th century the Ghanzi region was somewhat better watered than today. It was also attractive for its abundance of game, as well as good grazing. Written accounts by the earliest Europeans visitors further testify to the widespread existence of wells among all of the region’s communities, which were already drawing on the area’s underground aquifers.
By the 18th century Ghanzi was in addition a major nexus of trade, from whence copper from Otavi and iron from the Kwebe Hills as well as cattle and game products were carried south to the Cape Colony via the Barolong and Batlhaping. In the decades prior to Sebego’s migration, Barolong predominance in the wider western Kgalagadi trade had been contested by the Bangwaketse and Bakwena, as well as OvaMbandero.
For OvaMbandero and Barolong-BaNgologa what had started as tit for tat cattle raids escalated c. 1750 into open warfare. As recorded a century and a half later by an interested Protectorate Police NCO named Moses Malata:
“Both Herero and Bandero [Ovambandero] were fighting with the Barolong and they were strong on both sides. The war lasted some months because the Damara [Tjiherero speakers] used to get fresh regiments from SWA [Namibia] & the Barolong were getting mephato from the south. However later the Barolong pushed the Herero and Bandero out.”
The OvaMbandero then withdrew into Namibia, but c. 1780 they returned in larger numbers under the leadership of Mitjise’s son Tjrua, causing many of the Barolong in turn to retreat to the south.
During the 1820-30s the OvaMbandero, by now led by Tjrua’s son Tjamuaha, proved resilient in also turning back successive challenges by the Bakololo, Moruakgomo’s Bakwena and Motswakhumo’s Batawana factions, and a party of Matebele, who appear to have been separated from the victims of Dultwe, as well as the Bangologa. But, their good fortune ended with the arrival of Sebego’s Bangwaketse.
From his base at Monnyelatsela, Sebego moved forcibly to impose his hegemony, sending out his mephato to collect tribute in the form of cattle from both the OvaMbandero and Bangologa. The OvaMbandero rallied against the Bangwaketse. But their resulting defeat was so decisive as to cause Tjamuaha to once more abandon the region. They only returned decades later, during the reign of his grandson, as refugees fleeing the genocidal German occupation of Namibia.
Besides removing the OvaMbandero as competitors, the Bangwaketse victory is said to have been amply rewarded in captured livestock; from Sebego’s praise poem:
“Ketswa lemotlasedi Tlammeng [Matlamma=Tjiherero], ketswa gobona kaditlhaba dilwela, banna bajana kaseputlela salerumo. Dikgomo tsabokone magolonkwane; digolo maoto, dinaka gadigole, magolonkwane ooRrakgaodi.
“Letsibogo lemeswangswang, lematlhatsa adikgomo leabatho. Kelela fela, gakeare nkgapang, Kelele ketsosa beng-gae; lopotologwa kemadi atlhokweng kekwena eepelo ethata, Sebego aMmaKhuto a Mokwena.
“Thamaga dididibolbola; dikgomo diditsubaba Rramaomana, Rramaomana aMokube. Keile lemotlhasedi Tlammeng, ngwana wa namane tseditlhaba, mmusi, tseditlhaba tsamotse wa Matlamma; rediraetse molamu watshukudu, rere tlhaba dikhubame kamangole, dilebe goene, moabi aKhuto. Kegoreetseng kare omoabi? Nkabo kerile motlhasedi, nkabo kerile motlhasela-batho.”
Another alleged legacy of Sebego’s short residence in Ghanzi was the introduction of the ivory trade and large scale commercial hunting into the region. There at least can be little doubt that his mephato’s communal hunting practices, e.g. encircling game over a wide area, were of an altogether different scale and nature to the traditional, environmentally sustainable, practices of the local Khoe.
The arrival of the Bangwaketse was also a burden for the Bangologa who fled south to join their comrades, including a number of OvaMbandero breakaways, in the Matsheng area [Hukuntsi-Lehututu-Lolgwabe-Tshane]. But this flight brought them little respite. With malaria beginning to take a toll at Monnyelatsela and more pillage beckoning, in the summer of 1835-36 Sebego followed them south.
Setting up his new headquarters at Lehututu, he demanded the subserviance of the Bakgwatheng and Bariti as well as Bangologa in the region, raiding the villages of any who dared to resist, seizing their livestock, including small stock, in the process.
From Hukuntsi the Bangologa sought reinforcements from the Barolong. But, Sebego defeated the combined force when they attacked his position at Lehututu. He then pursued the Barolong survivors, catching up to them at Kurutlwe. There, in the manner of the Matebele at Moordkop, the Bangwaketse attacked at night, slaughtering most of the Barolong.
Sebego’s retribution against any who thereafter resisted is said to have been cruel. The French missionary Prosper Lemue reported of one incident: “Having confiscated their goats Sebego had men women and children put into their huts, which were then burned down.”
Through such means for a period Sebego terrorised much of what is now western Botswana, more especially in today’s northern Kgalagadi District, into temporary submission. To the extent that his legacy is still remembered in the region, he is thus recalled as a despot who perhaps represents a historical nadir of Batswana exploitation and oppression of “Bakgalagadi”.
By the late 1830s, Sebego’s extreme methods in maintaining his power were alienating many among his own Bangwaketse, as well as those he had reduced to vassal status, botlhanka. At the same time his reputation was growing elsewhere. In the pages of the Gramhamstown Journal (Eastern Cape) newspaper he was glowingly described as:
“…being the most intrepid and intelligent chief of South Africa–possessing great energy of character, and so well affected by the white man, that it is thought he would readily cooperate in any measure having for its objective the maintenance of peace, and the advancement of the natives of the extensive region he inhabits in the scale of civilisation.”