Monday, July 15, 2024

The Elephants of the Khama Dynasty

By Richard Moleofe

Entering the main hall of the museum in Mafikeng the provincial capital of the North West in South Africa, you would be ushered in by the largest elephant tusks one can ever wish to see.  These were donated as a gift by Khama III of the Bangwato, an influential tribal grouping in Botswana.

Housed in an old Victorian building, the Khama tusks overshadow all the other artefacts except one thing; the Sechele canon. The size of these elephant tusks says a lot to the visitor. Mafikeng is a former capital of Botswana even though it’s a city found in South Africa.

The Khama family has a very long history of dealing in anything elephant. Ivory was ever at the top of the list. They did their ivory business from Shoshong which was their tribal capital.

Based in Shoshong were the likes of John McKenzie who was a resident missionary and David Livingstone was a frequent visitor to this tribal town. It is interesting that at the time Botswana received the protectorate status from Queen Victoria in 1885, there were slightly more than twenty European traders in Shoshong.

What brought all these traders to an African outpost? It was all about ivory. At the time, this commodity was in the same class as precious minerals such as diamond and gold.

Khama III had control of a vast country often referred to as Khama’s Country. It included parts of the Chobe which was the primary source of ivory at the time. This was not called Khama’s Country for nothing, he treated it like a personal fiefdom and his subjects obliged.

Khama III had just come on the throne as the Ngwato King after successfully overthrowing his father, Sekgoma I. At the heart of this feud lay the value of the “white gold.”  

Khama III had to trade in ivory because he was badly in need of firearms in order to deal with threats from the Ndebele in the north and the Boers in the south. He forged an alliance with the British that culminated in the proclamation of the protectorate in 1885. It must be said that at the time, Khama’s currency was ivory and ostrich feathers. And the demand for these commodities in Europe was sky high.

It is from this background that Ian Khama derives his eternal ownership of every elephant in this country. While Commander of Botswana Defence Force, Ian Khama had on his table a display of miniature elephant tusks. These were derived from real ivory harvested from young elephants that died prematurely. Little did we know that he was pronouncing and asserting himself on the wildlife of Botswana.

The modern Khama has not only had his eye on ivory. It is on all animals and particularly the so called the big five. The animals are the basis for the tourism business and Khama is looming large in this area.

Once military conflict with South Africa was over, Khama became commander of the military in Botswana 1989. He concentrated the efforts of the military into securing all the wildlife areas in Botswana. In the process, he entrenched himself deeper into the tourism business.

In 1998, while a section of cavalry soldiers were patrolling the Moremi National Park, they had a bad encounter with a pack of lions. Unfortunately as the horses bolted, one of the soldiers fell from his horse. He became dinner for the family of lions that evening. It was twilight and rather too late for his colleagues to track and find the lions.

Khama had been informed through his Duty Field Officer about the incidence. The message to BDF HQ had outlined the steps to be taken the next day. The next morning a team of soldiers and wildlife rangers tracked and killed the whole family of the lions that had eaten up one of their comrades. Khama was infuriated at this act of “barbarism” as according to his own description on the killing of the lions. He was incensed with anger but it was game over.

In Ian Khama’s narrow narrative, all animals still belong to the Khama dynasty. That was the tradition with all chiefs before independence. All flora and fauna was at the behest of the chief. All stray animals belonged to the chief and had discretion over that loot. Now Botswana has become a republic.

Going back into history, one gets to learn that all the Khama generations had this entitlement mentality that their son, grandson and great grandson is having. This entitlement mentality has a very long history but unfortunately it has now been overtaken by events.

Khama is fighting to save the dynasty. It is beyond what we see on the surface. He has just come to realise that the dynasty is finally dying in his hands. Does anyone think Ian Khama succeeded in getting all these prime positions by chance? No! This was planned and his father made sure that he enables his son to ascend to all these prime positions.  

The attempt to save the dynasty is causing unnecessary rumbles in the country. Every day we are hearing from one man who has made his number one mission to discredit the president. Clearly Masisi became the wrong piece in the puzzle of the Khama dynasty.

Ian Khama was raised at State House as the ultimate future successor to his father. This is what was drilled into him by his mother over the years. When Khama was finally roped in to become vice president, it was part of the unwritten deal to elevate Seretse’s son.

Ian Khama’s time is over. He also has realised that he is totally finished. This is why he is running from one media house to another to try and state his case. Recently he has found a haven in South African media. He is scampering from one station to another.

I have listened to my former boss on more than one instance but I cannot understand what his real issues are. For some of his soldiers, they say they would rather go play a game of pool than to listen to this enraged man.

Richard Moleofe is a security analyst


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