Thursday, April 25, 2024

History of the Bangwaketse Part 17 ÔÇô The fall of Sebego

While the November 1837 retreat of Matebele across the Madikwe River at Sikwane removed what had hereto been the greatest threat to the survival of not only the Bangwaketse but perhaps Sotho-Tswana civilisation in general, in the wake of the ordeal the morafe were left divided and relatively impoverished.

A decade and a half of virtually no harvests, declining livestock numbers and disrupted trade, as well as battlefield losses, had drained the wealth of Makaba II’s once prosperous kingdom.

Politically, the Bangwaketse remained divided between the followers of Sebego, still at Lehututu, and those loyal to Segotshane, who was supported by among others Diatleng’s Dultwe outpost.

Besides his status as the regent for the rightful heir, Gaseitsiwe, in the wake of the Mzilakazi’s evacuation Segotshane had the strategic advantage of being able to disperse his followers into the eastern Gangwaketse hardveld with the acquiescence of neighbouring merafe, the Barolong, Batlhaping and then also divided Bakwena.

Faced with a growing desire on the part of his own subjects to return to their masimo, in 1839 Sebego approached Segotshane and the other dikgosi asking for peace as a prelude to his return. But the others were suspicious and rebuffed his overture.

Sebego then sought to involve the LMS missionaries as mediators and likely sympathisers by speaking of Moffat and Makaba’s shared vision of the south western Batswana coming together as a peaceful confederacy.

Of his desire to engage the missionaries, it was also noted that: “Sebego, like many of the other people in the country, had the notion that if he got a single White man to live with him he might be secure”. Undeniably where Makgoa resided the flow of guns followed.

When Robert Moffat proved reluctant to become involved, Sebego reached out to his new son-in-law, the recently arrived Rev. Dr. David Livingstone. The latter had brought with him his own militant belief in the Holy Spirit made manifest in the fighting spirit of those struggling against oppression, more especially the sin of slavery.

Livingstone’s passionate views on righteous resistance are reflected in his early writings, including a number of polemics he published in the British Banner, a radical Christian periodical, under the pseudonym “a surgeon.” In one article he went so far as to interpret Napoleon’s downfall as divine symmetry for his treacherous capture of the leader of the Haitian slave rebellion, observing that: “Toussaint Louverture was sent to France to drag out his days in a dungeon, and the man who sent him thither was sent to rusticate on the rock of St. Helena.”

Sebego’s initial outreach to Livingstone is recorded in a July 1842 letter by the missionary. Livingstone had taken up temporary residence at Dithejwane (near modern Molepolole) among the Bakwena faction then under Bubi, who had succeeded his half brother Moruakgomo:

“On returning to the country of Bubi, I found 16 people of Sebego waiting for my arrival. He is the Chief of one half of the Ngwaketse tribe, and lives nearly ten days directly west of Bubi. He was driven to his present position in the sandy desert by Mzilakazi, and there he had the address to cut off many detachments of the forces of that marauder, while all other tribes fled before them. By superior generalship he managed to keep possession of his cattle. The others having lost theirs are envious, and have leagued together lately to purchase numbers of horses and guns in order to deprive Sebego of what he alone had the courage to defend.

“In order to that he might be more easy prey for them; they have been trying for some time to induce him to come out of his present situation, to the country near Bubi, where he could sow corn, etc. Sebego could not trust the tribes in this direction, for he knew that the individuals who had prepared to attack him belonged to all the southern tribes.

Even his own brother Segotshane, chief of the other half of the Ngwaketse, murdered the ambassadors that Sebego had sent to conciliate him.

The plundering expedition was to have left this quarter during the time I was in the Bakwena country. I, therefore, felt anxious to warn him of the danger.”
Sebego received Livingstone’s warning, but was nonetheless already determined to push forward, re-establishing his headquarters at Moshaneng.

Diatleng alerted Segotshane, who in turn recruited additional armed support from Kgosi Mahura’s Batlhaping.

With many of his own men, along with the Batlhaping, having guns, Segotshane together with Mahura attacked and defeated Sebego at Male. It was Sebego’s first in a series of military setbacks during the second half of 1842. He later confided to Livingstone that he had grossly underestimated the extent of his opponent’s firepower.

With his surviving following, Sebego found refuge with Bubi. But, soon thereafter he suffered further losses when Bubi was in turn attacked by Sechele in a bloody, but unsuccessful attempt on the latter’s part to forcibly reunite the Bakwena.

While Sechele had failed in his political objective, his men enjoyed greater success relieving Sebego as well as Bubi of their cattle.

A Matebele raid, which caught most of the merafe in the region off guard, continued the streak of misfortune. But some relief came when Sebego, escorted by a party of Griqua, visited Sechele who agreed to restore cattle to his former patron.

Sebego was then able to settle with a by now reduced following at Tlhasokwane where could count on the friendship of his nephew, the recently installed Bakgatla baga Mmanaana Kgosi Mosielele, who was based nearby at Maanwane. Mosielele had grown up under Sebego prior to the c. 1840 death of his brother Kgosi Pheko, when he was called to assume the throne.

In February 1843 Sebego was finally visited by Livingstone.

According to the latter’s account after some initial tension caused by Sebego’s suspicion about the role of the Kudumane mission in the arming of his opponents, the two were able to confirm their friendship. Notwithstanding the previous year’s humbling reverses, Livingstone remained convinced that Sebego could play an important role in the rebirth of local society. It probably did not hurt that Sebego went out of his way to cater to his visitor, as the missionary acknowledged:

“He, however, during the whole of our visit behaved in a most friendly way. It being Saturday when I arrived, I explained the nature of the Sabbath and requested an opportunity to address his people.

Next morning before daybreak I was much pleased to hear a herald proclaiming that, by order of the chief, ‘nothing should be done on that day but the praying to god and listening to the words of the foreigner’.

“He [Sebego] himself listened with great attention when I told him of ‘Jesus and the resurrection’, and I was not infrequently interrupted by him putting sensible questions on the subject.
He told me he once saw Mr. Moffat, but as Mr. M. was then young and did not know the language it was not remarkable that Sebego had forgotten all he had said.”

In another conversation the two debated the meaning of the appearance of a large comet then in the Southern Hemisphere skies. Ka Setswana comets are traditionally seen a portents of calamity and the passing of great rulers. The deaths of Kgosi Batheon I and Mmamosadinyana’s son King Edward VII along with the formation of the racist Union of South Africa were thus locally associated with the 1910 passage of Halley’s Comet.

Observing that he had seen a comet on the eve to the Matebele invasion, Sebego wondered whether the sky now singled their return. He was also privately eager to know whether the baloi he had directed against his nemesis, Mahura, had come to fruition. Livingston scoffed at anything that detracted from the will of God.

After two weeks Livingstone departed, determined to return the next year to establish a mission at Mabotsa that would bring light to Sebego’s Bangwaketse along with the area’s Bakgatla baga Mmanaana and Balete.

But, before the missionary’s return, Sebego was dead; killed in November 1844 by an apparent hunting accident near Kudumane, while on route to Griquatown to visit its leader Klaas Waterboer.
Some allege that the accident was really an assassination. Others that Sebego was on a journey to acquire the firearms he needed to once more make himself the most dreaded of all dikgosi. We can never know for sure. In the wake of his passing the Bangwaketse remained in two, albeit progressively less hostile, camps. Sebego was succeeded at Tlhasokwane by his son Senthufe, who subsequently moved first to Kwakgwe and later to Kanye proper. Among those who went with him was a local evangelist named Sebubi, who is credited as the man who truly introduced the gospel to the Bangwaketse.

Meanwhile, having for a time lived among the Batlhaping at Taungs, the Bangwaketse under Segotshane moved to Diphawana, just south of Kanye, where Gaseitsiwe was finally crowned.
The Bangwaketse were once more living in peace together, but under two crowns.


Read this week's paper