Monday, September 25, 2023

Regency of Bangwato bogosi entered its 97th year in 2022

Some had hoped that upon retiring from presidential office in 2018, Khama would become the first substantive kgosi to sit at the kgotla since 1925

A spirited debate on the saga unfolding in Serowe and centred around Bangwato’s main kgotla forced an embarrassing detail that most are in denial about to tumble out.

The battle between Bangwato Kgosikgolo and former president, Ian Khama, and his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, has overspilled onto that kgotla and those who control it. On Friday, as parliament closed for the year, the issue came up courtesy of a question by the Gaborone Central MP, Tumisang Mangwegape-Healy. One aspect of the question related to the Acting Bangwato Regent, Kgosi Serogola Seretse, who is holding the fort after Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane stepped down.

In answering the many questions that he was peppered with by MPs, the Minister of Local Government, Kgotla Autlwetse, happened to mention that the regency of the Bangwato bogosi (inherited tribal leadership) is in its 97th year.  

This ahistorical run of regency began in 1925 when Kgosi Sekgoma died, having ruled for only two years. Fortunately he had already produced an heir, Crown Prince Seretse, four years earlier. Sekgoma’s brother, Tshekedi Khama, was recalled from the University of Fort Hare in South Africa to act as Regent.

Some 23 years later, Seretse (later Sir Seretse) was a grown man and studying law at the University of Oxford in Britain. Against Tshekedi’s wishes, he married a white woman, Ruth Williams. The fallout between Tshekedi and Seretse led to the former’s ouster and from 1950 to date, there have been six regents: Serogola GagoitsegeKeaboka KgamaneRrasebolai Kgamane,  Leeapeetswe Tshekedi, Mokgacha Mokgadi and Sediegeng Kgamane.

Seretse, who became Botswana’s first president, had four children: Jacqueline, Ian, Tshekedi and Anthony. As the first-born son, Ian became kgosi in 1979 but never assumed royal duties at the Serowe kgotla. At the time he was the Deputy Commander of the Botswana Defence Force, His star shone even brighter: he became Commander nine years later and upon retiring into politics at the rank of Lieutenant General, became vice president and later president. The start of Ian’s reign coincided with Kgamane’s assumption of the regency.

Some had hoped that upon retiring from presidential office in 2018, Khama would finally relocate to Serowe and become the first substantive kgosi to sit at the kgotla since 1925. However, that didn’t happen and as a regent stepped down three months ago, another is about to be appointed. In 2025, the Bangwato bogosi will enter its centenary, something that has never happened in the history of not just Bangwato but Batswana in general.

Something acultural has also been visited upon Bangwato bogosi. For the entire period that he was vice president and president, Khama mixed the chalk of politics with the cheese of bogosi. He never stepped down as Bangwato Kgosikgolo and in that capacity, got to ceremonially garb the kgosi of another tribe (Kgosi Kgafela II of Bakgatla) with the royal leopard-skin coat. The garbing marks formal investiture of a Motswana kgosi.

Politics appears to have permanently insinuated itself into Bangwato’s bogosi. On account of political horse-trading, Leapeetswe’s son, Peter Seretse Khama, is waiting in the wings to continue the regency. Ahead of the 2019 general election, he threw in his lot with the Alliance for Progressives (AP) and planned to leverage a name that carries a lot of weight in Serowe to contest for the Serowe North parliamentary seat. That same seat was being eyed by a relative of his, the late Dikgakgamatso Ndelu Seretse. More commonly known as Ndelu, the latter is the son of Botswana’s third vice president, Lenyeletse Seretse, who, himself a member of the royal family, was married to Naledi, Sir Seretse’s sister. Having lost to Kgotla Autlwetse in the 2014 primary elections, Ndelu wanted a second bite at the cherry but this time not as a Botswana Democratic Party but independent candidate.

To prevent a situation where members of the Bangwato royal family would have vied for the same parliamentary seat, Seretse Khama was – with Gen Khama’s full endorsement – enticed away from politics with an offer of the Bangwato regency. Resultantly, Seretse Khama quit politics and prepared to join the Bangwato tribal administration. However, he never took up post at the kgotla because the formal processes that would have enabled him to do so were never followed through. Some of Seretse Khama’s relatives also dug up dirt on him and used it to block his ascendance. The dirt was in the form of information on his youthful indiscretions – which indiscretions he made clear he had outgrown and were no longer a factor in his adult life. At this point, plans had already been made to deploy Seretse to the Kanye kgotla where he would have learnt the ropes under the tutelage of Kgosi Malope II of Bangwaketse.

Long having dragged his feet in the process of putting his father’s namesake in the kgotla, only now has Gen. Khama warmed to the idea. Theoretically, he has toppled Serogola and announced that he is replacing him with Seretse Khama. However, there is a legal complication: the Bogosi Act reserves powers to do so for the Minister of Local Government. For now at least, the government seems determined to resist Seretse’s ascension but he appears to have enough backing both within the royal house and the tribe to become the next Bangwato Regent.

There is an even more intriguing scenario that also portends an even longer regency.

Going back to 2019, Khama has continually alleged that there is a state plot to assassinate him. The government, notably the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, has dismissed such allegations and some have come to view Khama’s consistent pronouncements about such plot as an inept play for public sympathy. Whatever the case may be, in late 2020, Khama, Tshekedi and Kaedi (the latter’s only son) visited the Serowe main kgotla and met privately with Kgamane. The purpose of this meeting was to formalise transfer of royal power.

“Khama told Kgamane that ‘should anything happen to me, Tshekedi should replace me as kgosi’,” says a royal source with knowledge of the 2020 meeting.

Nothing suggests that as kgosi, Tshekedi (or Kaedi, who doesn’t even speak Setswana), would deviate from the regency norm. However, some senior members of the royal family are irked by this norm and want it to change.

“We want someone who can revive the main kgotla,” another royal source told Sunday Standard following the 2020 meeting at the Serowe kgotla.


Read this week's paper