Tuesday, August 9, 2022

History of the Bangwaketse Part 9 ÔÇô The Assault on Dithubaruba

Sebego’s mephato had marched only a short distance on the morning of 27th of August, 1828 before they halted. Once more the regiments assembled in a semi-circular “buffalo head” formation. The sight of their upright spears was said to resemble “a thick valley of reeds” protruding from a sea of white shields.

As the Kgosikgolo rose, silence once more descended within the ranks of his army that with the arrival of further reinforcements was now estimated to number nearly 5000. Sebego waved a spear in the air, shouting out “Marumo!” The Bangwaketse warriors then exploded in a great outburst of whistled applause, as they waved their own spears and beat them against their shields. Then, almost at once, silence was restored.

In the face of the impending battle Sebego addressed his troops one more time; his words of motivation as recorded by Bain:

“Warriors! The honour of your country is now at stake and you are called upon to protect it. Long, long have the scum and dread of the earth had possession of our finest fields, driven us from our flourishing towns and are still feeding on the fattest of our flocks and herds. They have killed your late king, my father, who was the love of his subjects and the dread of his enemies. Shall we longer live in continual fear of such a scourge?

“No! The time has now come when we must rid ourselves of them forever, that we may again restore peace to the world and claim its admiration as we are wont to do.

“Fortune has favoured us by sending the Makgoa to our country just as we were preparing to strike this decisive blow; but let not the brunt of the battle fall on them. Their thunder and lightning [guns] will strike terror on the enemy, but it is on your bravery alone I trust. The Makgoa are great Captains and have passed through our enemies to visit us, let them be witnesses to your courage that the fame of your glory might reach the most distant of nations.

“The Makgare [Bakololo] are numerous as the locusts of the field, but let that not discourage you, for the Bangwaketse have hearts of lions! Yes the Bangwaketse alone have stemmed the torrent of the Makgare, which swept from the face of the earth our once powerful neighbours the Bahurutshe and Bakwena, whose very names are now almost forgotten. Let them no more enter the territories of Moleta, where they butchered my renowned father Makaba. Yes his glorious name must rouse our hearts to vengeance! Revenge! Revenge! Revenge!”

For the rest of the day the mephato maintained a tight formation, while scouts spread out in all directions. There was concern when one of these advance parties failed to capture a Mokololo woman who they feared had sighted them. Sebego’s battle plan called for the enemy to be taken completely by surprise. The Bangwaketse, nonetheless, pressed on.

When his army was within a dozen kilometres of Dithubaruba another halt was ordered. Concealed in thick tree cover, most of warriors rested till sunset, when a short further advance was ordered bringing the Bangwaketse now within striking distance of Dithubaruba. The army then halted again, dispersing themselves into appointed positions, waiting for their final orders to push on
Of Sebego, who had not slept the night before, Bain wrote on the eve of the battle:

“The King was, notwithstanding, always on his legs examining everything of consequence with his own eyes, and indeed we were astonished at the precautions, foresight and military skill used by this intrepid Chief, which indicated a practical knowledge of his profession that would not have disgraced any European general.”

After midnight, now in the early hours of 28th August 1826, Sebego ordered the final advance. Under cover of darkness his 5000 men passed quietly through the open valley between the Dithubaruba and Magagarape hills. It was potentially the most dangerous phase of the operation. Had the Bakololo been alerted they might have entrapped and overwhelmed the Bangwaketse.

As it was Sebetwane’s men slept peacefully as Sebego’s stealthily moved up the steep hillsides to surround the Bakololo settlement on the plateau just before dawn. Wrote Bain:

“Every pass was quietly taken possession of before we, with the main body headed by his majesty, commenced our movement in breathless silence down the valley….we passed through a small kloof and, on reaching its summit, the faint streaks of dawn now becoming visible dimly discovered to us the devoted town of Dithubaruba at our feet…One glance at the situation showed the wisdom of the general, for the Bangwaketse white shields were now plainly perceptible in every outlet with a large body in the rear, so it was impossible for anyone to escape.”

Fortified with war medicines, the mephato listened as their final orders were given. A gunshot followed by several thousand voices calling out in “a most hellish war whoop” signalled the start of the attack. While some warriors held back, securing the passes, the bulk of the army rushed forward swinging their two-handed ditshaka at everything in their way.

Sebego had strategically divided his seven armed visitors on elevated ground at opposite ends of the settlement. Their muskets killed few, while causing the desired panic in the ranks of the enemy. According to Bain:

“I had told our people by no means to kill any of the poor wretches except in self defence and therefore our balls passed over the town, which was now on fire in many places. The shrieks of the woman and children were most heartrending, for wherever they turned they were met by a bloody battleaxe or the dreadful sound of our thunder. Sebego stood by us calmly looking on and giving directions to his numerous aides du camp about securing the cattle.”

On all sides there was a pandemonium of smoke, dust, and bloodcurdling screams. In his journal, Bain further acknowledged that members of his party were drawn into the murderous exhilaration, despite their supposed prior understanding to limit their engagement. In one haunting image of the melee, he painfully records that in the heat of battle a small boy “of about eight years old” ran towards them, after losing his mother; when in an instant one of the Griqua beside him stepped forward and blew his head off at point blank range.

But for the fact that some of the mephato, in line with Sebego’s orders, broke off their engagement in order to round up the enemy’s cattle, the massacre of the Bakololo might have been complete. As it was many were allowed to escape with their lives, but little else.

The great wanderer Sebetwane ended up regrouping his surviving followers at Mochudi, where they remained for a few months in the summer of 1826-27, presumably for a harvest, before moving northwards against Kgosikgolo Kgari’s Bangwato.

In the aftermath of his victory, Sebego moved his own headquarters from Selokolela to Lwale hill north-west of Moshupa and west of Kakalashwe, which is not to be confused with the Lwale Pan that is closer to Lophephe. This coincided with the Bakgatla bagaMmanaana under Kgosi Kontle returning to their old headquarters at Mabotsa.

By then the Bakwena Kgosi Moruakgomo, in apparent fear of both Sebego and Sebetwane, had withdrawn his followers westward across the Kgalagadi to Lehututu, before moving them further northward into Ngamiland. Meanwhile, the rival Bakwena faction under Segokotlo, which included the slain Motswasele II’s legitimate heir Sechele and his brother Kgosidintsi, remained among the Bangwato.
Following the battle of Dithubaruba, Sebego’s Bangwaketse and their subjects were thus for a period left virtually alone in their occupation of south-eastern Botswana, where they were able to enjoy the spoils of their great victory for an all too brief of relative peace.

To their south were the then temporarily united Barolong booRatlou, Seleka and Tshidi merafe, with whom the Bangwaketse were now able to forge a lasting alliance. To their immediate north were the Bangwato, who were themselves about to be squeezed by the Bakololo from their south and Banyayi to their north. In the east the approach to Gangwaketse was for the time being guarded by Sebego’s BagaMmanaana in-laws.

Kgosikgolo Sebego’s well executed assault on Dithubaruba remains one of the bloodiest and most decisive military episodes in Botswana’s recorded history. While its total body count is unknowable, in terms of its magnitude may have only been surpassed by the great 1884 defeat by the Batawana of the Matebele (Amandebele) at Kuthiyabasadi inside the Okavango wetlands, as well as Sebego’s own massacre of the Matebele a half century earlier on the hot sands approaching Dultwe.


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