Monday, July 15, 2024

The forgotten history of Bangwato and Bakwena

Each time Professor Part Mgadla appears on television screen explaining factors which led to Gaborone being chosen as the capital of Botswana, something of historical importance crops on my mind. In his television message, the professor states that there were nine sites selected for consideration for the capital of the country. They include Lobatse, Gaborone, Bokaa, Mahalapye, Tuli Block, Dibete and Francistown.  When the final selection was made Gaborone was the favorite because the overriding consideration was the potentiality for water sources. Presumably it was because of the Notwane River which runs through the city on the eastern site on its way to the Limpopo River. There may have been other factors which were tabled for consideration but water availability was the focal point.

One would have thought that since Mahalapye has a river which is even larger than Notwane, the capital should have been located there. The only thing which would disqualify that area from being the capital would have been its proximity to the apartheid South Africa’s boarder. That would equally apply to Lobatse, Gaborone and Bokaa. Looking at the security situation, Francistown would have been better because the South African border is a distance away and would make any attempt by the apartheid regime to attack, not as easy as the other four places chosen for consideration. In terms of water sources, Francistown also has larger rivers in the name of Shashe and Tati. The inclusion of Tuli Block in the list was a joke. How could the capital of a democratic country which was a strong opponent of the apartheid system be located right on the backyard of an apartheid system like South Africa? Tuli Block is a stone throw away from the other side of the border. Again the area is congested with farms lining up from Dovedale up to a point beyond Sherwood. What would authorities do to those farms in the area?

Most of those farms are owned by absentee land lords. Would they have been repossessed and if yes, why have they not been repossessed to date when the indigenous people are landless and there is no hope of them ever getting suitable arable land for either crop farming or cattle rearing?/There may be a handful of indigenous Batswana who owned farms in the Tuli Block. Sir Seretse Khama did. I am not sure about Gaealafe Sebeso and Pheto Sekgoma. But I used to occasionally meet them on the routes connecting Martins Drift, Palapye and Mahalapye when I was stationed in Mahalapye in the late 70s. Anyway, these are just side issues.   The gist of my article is that Gaborone or the dam in particular may be sitting on graves of Bangwato and Bakwena.

Alternatively, their graves may have been exhumed when the dam was constructed. It is also possible that nobody noticed any human bones being unexpectedly exhumed and reburied during excavation work because heavy machinery was involved. The story of the war between Bangwato and Bakwena, particularly in the Kgale Hill area, may be one of those forgotten historical events. He who wants to understand it better, Professor Isaac Schapera did something in the book, “Traditional Histories of the Natives Tribes of Bechuanaland Protectorate”. It is good reference material. Written in Setswana, the book contains chapters on Barolong, Bakwena, Bangwato, Bangwaketse, Bakgatla ba-ga-Kgafela, Balete and Batlokwa.  It was used as reference material during court cases on bogosi matters in South Africa in the past. One such case was the Kgosi Tidimane versus Kgosi Linchwe II during the Moruleng chieftainship dispute in 1995.  Professors who testified for Tidimane made no reference to it while introducing the issue on traditions of Tswana tribes.

However, it came to light when lawyers representing Kgosi Linchwe referred to it. It is a book every Motswana should read in order to understand their histories. It is a book which tells each and every tribe who they are and how they originated.  Unfortunately it is not available in the book shelves anywhere in the world. It was first published by Lovedale Press in 1954. The last copy the publishers had in their shelves was donated to me way back in the earlier 90s upon receiving my enquiry about it. The publishers were generous.

Instead of selling me a copy, the publisher sent it by registered mail free of charge. I had told them that as a journalist, I needed the book for research purposes. Perhaps that was what influenced their decision to donate it to me. They told me that they had one copy left in their shelves. Writing this story is therefore in fulfillment of that promise that I needed it for research purposes. This article is therefore, an attempt to share with the public some of the stories the book contains. According to the book, led by Kgosi Ngwato, Bangwato settled near Kgale Hill where the Catholic Church or mission is today.  That is where Bangwato and Bakwena fought a bloody war. The war was concentrated along the Notwane River at a place called Morula-o-esi.  It is reported that during the war, Bangwaketse joined the war on the side of Bakwena and a bloody war ensued. Bangwato were driven out of Kgale area to as far as Kgope where they settled. At that time, Bakwena were at Dithejane.

Kgale then became ruins until the Catholic Mission came in. It is also highly possible that the Catholic Mission may be seating on graves of peoples of these two tribes. It is equally possible that they too may have exhumed some human bones during construction of the mission and the St Joseph’s College and reburied them elsewhere. During tribal wars in the past, bodies were buried in mass graves or shallow graves. For instance, during construction work in Mochudi in the 70s and 80s, workers exhumed human bones believed to be either of Bakwena or Bakgatla who were killed when the two tribes were at war with each other around 1876.  The bones were exhumed right in the centre of the main kgotla and on top of the Phuthadikobo Hill. From Kgale it has been generally believed that Bangwato proceeded to Shoshong. But Schapera says they went and settled at the foot of Kgope Hill.

The hill forms part of the boundary between Kgatleng and Kweneng Districts. It is the tallest mountain in the area. While at the peak, one is able to see part of Malotwana, Rasesa and Lentseletau villages. Even at Kgope, Bangwato did not enjoy peace. It was there that they fought among themselves for leadership position. During history lessons at primary schools, pupils were taught that it was while fleeing from Mzilikazi’s warriors that Khama’s life was saved by a fleeing  duiker. But in this book, it is said the incidence took place during the war with Bakwena. That was when Ngwato and NOT Khama asked his relatives to regard the animal as their totem.  Bakgatla may also have harvested from the graves of Bangwato and Bakwena. In 1900,  Bakgatla ox-wagons were driven to the Kgale Hill to reap thatching grass for the construction of Mochudi’s first ever primary school.

The Dutch Reformed Church Mission had been offering classes to pupils but the lessons were considered inferior as they only taught religious knowledge and a bit of reading and writing . Because of the evil policy of apartheid which found its way into Mochudi through the church, it was not permissible for pupils to know the outside world. As such, subjects such as arithmetic, geography, history and nature study were not allowed in the church’s teachings.

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