Previously, we left Sebego at Lehututu, where having crushed local resistance led by a Morolong named Molebe, he had brutally consolidated his authority over much of what now constitutes the Kgalagadi and Ghanzi, as well as western Kweneng and Gangwaketse districts.
While “the hard hearted crocodile” was for a time able to live in relative peace as the lord of the sandveld, the seeds of his tragic downfall were sprouting all around him. Unable to openly challenge their tormentor, many locals, Bangologa, Khoe etc., sought relief by relocating into remote areas to wait for better days.
Among the Bangwaketse, there was also a collective yearning for better times, rooted in a deep desire to return to their masimo in the east. Meanwhile, to the south-east, at Tswaneng, the following of Sebego’s sibling rival Segotshane, acting as regent for Gaseitsiwe, continued to increase as dikgosana voted with their feet.
Notable among those who shifted their allegiance was Bome, another of the late Makaba’s sons. Back at Dultwe, Diatleng also re-aligned himself with Segotshane’s faction.
In addition to growing numbers of Bangwaketse, Segotshane was able to count on his longstanding ties with the Barolong and Batlhaping, who otherwise resented Sebego’s forcible usurpation of their Kgalagadi outposts. The Barolong were additionally disposed to act as the supportive maternal uncles (malome) of Gaseitsiwe.
Standing between the two Bangwaketse factions was the young Bakwena Kgosi Sechele who, from his base at Lophephe, was proactive in his quest to restore his father’s authority over Kweneng, at the ultimate expense of Sebego as well as Mzilakazi.
Through their commercial dealings with the Griqua and the traders like David “Taute” Hume, during the 1830s both Segotshane and Sechele began to acquire guns, greatly increasing their capacity to provide protection to both their core followers and the increasing numbers of refugees who joined them.
The two further cooperated in mutually securing their own positions by channelling the trade in firearms away from both Sebego and Mzilakazi. Notwithstanding his string of battlefield successes, Sebego was thus becoming uncomfortably isolated.
Further to the west, in today’s Namibia, the Nama had combined with the Orlams in also acquiring muskets, posing another potential threat to Sebego’s Bangwaketse as well as the Ovaherero.
In 1836-37 the regional balance of power was further altered with the Boer invasion of the South African highveld, otherwise known Afrikaan’s based accounts as the “Die Groot Trek” of the “Voortrekkers”.
The arrival of growing numbers of relatively well organised Boers into the region coincided with the sudden and devastating appearance of Dingaane’s AmaZulu from the south east, who launched a massive invasion across the Drakensburg in about June of 1837. Both groups targeted the Matebele.
On the walls of the Voortrekker Monument at Gauteng are portrayed in granite the leaders of the so called Great Trek. Only one black is included among them: Kgosi Moroka of the Barolong booSeleka.
The Morolong’s honoured appearance in Afrikanerdom’s hallowed hall of the immortals is a pre- (grand) Apartheid tribute to what the pioneer Setswana historian Sol Plaatje would later characterise as “the tragic friendship of Moroka and the Boers.” This relationship began with 1836 Batswana-Boer alliance against the Matebele.
While a handful of communities on his western and southern borders continued to holdout under the leadership of dikgosi like Sebego, Segotshane, Sechele and Moroka, it is said that the Tautona had by the time swallowed some 32 merafe. With many of their young men now being inducted into the Matebele regiments, as young women were taken as Matebele wives and concubines, the very future of the Batswana heartland was in real peril.
Recognizing that disunity was their greatest weakness, most of the unconquered southern dikgosi had already put aside their differences to form a pan-Batswana alliance, which also included the Griqua. Segotshane and Sechele were at least in contact with the southern front, with Sebego remaining in relative isolation at Lehututu.
Closer contact between the Batswana and Boers can be dated from 1834 when the pioneer trekkers began to pass by Moroka’s stronghold at Thaba Nchu, in route to hunt for ivory along and across the Vaal River. In their arrogance the Boers initially ignored warnings by the Batswana and Griqua about the danger of trespassing into the Tautona’s domain.
In September 1836 two hunting parties of Boers were nearly wiped out by the Matebele, while a month later a third, much larger, group under Hendrick Potgieter barely managed to survive an attack by one of the Tautona’s generals, Kaliphi, on their laager at Vegkop. The survivors were left stranded with little ammunition or food, having lost all of their livestock. Hearing of their predicament Moroka decided to rescue the Boers, who were escorted back to Thaba Nchu.
In December the fateful alliance was formed. Initially Dikgosi Gontse, Matlaba, and Tawana joined Moroka, the Griqua Kaptien Petrus Davids, and the Boer Commandants Potgieter and Gert Maritz in planning an attack on the principal Matebele settlements at and around Mosega. The joint Batswana-Boer-Griqua force, many armed with guns, struck at dawn on the 17th of January 1837. Daniel Lindly, an American Baptist missionary, reported:
“Sometime before sunrise we were aroused by a starting cry, a commando! a commando! In half a minute after this alarming cry a brisk fire commenced on a kraal of people a few hundred yards from our house. The fire of one followed that of another in quick succession, and at the thrilling report of every gun the thought would rush on our minds, there falls one, and another, and another of the poor heathen of whose salvation we had once had some hope. In a few minutes we were in the midst of the slaughter….
“The Boers attacked and destroyed thirteen, some say fifteen, kraals. Few of the men belonging to them escaped, and many of the women were either shot down or killed with assegais.”
Mzilakazi, along with most of his warriors, had been further north when the attack occurred. The massacre at Mosega was, nonetheless, a heavy blow. Some 1,000 Matebele had fallen. The attackers suffered only two casualties, both Batswana. One of these had been a victim of “friendly fire” by a Boer, who mistook him for the enemy.
The Matebele position in the greater Madikwe region now became increasingly desperate. On all sides a “perfect storm” was gathering around the Tautona. To the north Batswana refugees, including the exiled Bakgatla bagaKgafela Kgosi Pilane, coalesced around the powerful Balaka ruler, Mapela.
Meanwhile, the advancing AmaZula defeated a large Matebele force along the Elands River in August 1837. In the aftermath of this engagement AmaZula raiders swept as far west as Gangwaketse, in the process destroying Matebele communities while making off with large herds of livestock.
In the south-west the Bafokeng also went on the offensive, having earlier killed Mzilakazi’s tribute collectors. Meanwhile, Segotshane and Sechele raided the Tautona’s cattle posts in the west. As the anti-Matebele forces rapidly gained the upper hand, previously conquered Bahurutshe, Bakgatla, and eastern Bakwena communities became rebellious.
At Thaba Nchu, Moroka and Boer commandants planned a second big attack. In November of 1837, some 330 Boers under Potgieter and Pieter Uys, accompanied by a greater number of Barolong under dikgosana Mmui, Mongala, Seatlholo and Motuba, burned Mzilakazi’s capital eGabeni and began attacking the other Matebele military settlements along the Madikwe and Tholwane rivers.
As had been the case at Mosega, the Tautona had eluded the attackers. As eGabeni burned he, along with much of his army, was mobilized against the northern threat posed by Kgosi Mapela. Other Matebele had already been sent under the command of Kaliphi, to scout out the possibility of migrating into north-eastern Botswana.
Upon hearing of the new Barolong-Boer offensive, Mzilakazi decided to retreat with the rest of his people and link up with Kaliphi. Thus, on the 12th of November 1837, the Boers and Barolong, now joined by other Batswana, rested atop the Dwarsburg hills, while watching tens of thousands of Matebele cross into modern Botswana at Sikwane.
The Batswana of what is now South Africa were thus liberated from the Matebele, though for the Batswana of Botswana the struggle had simply entered a new phase. Unfortunately, in the white settler historiography of this region, which has found general acceptance in local school texts, the indigenous African contribution in expulsion of the Matebele has been largely ignored. In 1964 Dr. S.M. Molema observed:
“The historians, Theal, and many others before and after him, have wasted much ink and time in trying to belittle the African contribution.”
Still earlier, in 1930, Sol Plaatje, having interviewed a patriarch about how “Barolong blood was spilled by the gallon” in the early wars alongside the Boers wrote:
“The ingratitude of the sons of their White allies made him feel bitter beyond expression. He could find no words to describe it, beyond the karossmaker’s maxim: “Ga ba na phokojane wa morokagangwa nabo.”