Kgoši Sekhukhune of the Bapedi

  • by African Times
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In this instalment Kgoši Sekhukhune of the Bapedi is featured with an excerpt from the book, Until Lions Document Their Heritage, by Dr Tlou Setumu

KGOŠI Sekhukhune’s long and bitter struggle against the Boers between 1876 and 1878, distinguished him as one of the brave and shrewd black leaders in the same class as Shaka, Moshoeshoe and many others. During that protracted war, the Boers were defeated by the Bapedi of Sekhukhune, particularly at Thaba Mosego. However, the Bapedi were later defeated by the British in 1879 with a powerful force under Sir Garnet Wolseley, which included thousands Swazi mercenaries.

The Bapedi as we know them today, originated from the Bahurutse branch of the Bakgatla, a section of the Tswana branch of the Sotho. The creation of the Bapedi kingdom had its origin with a breakup of the Bahurutse.

Numerous rulers led the Bapedi after their break-away from the Bahurutse, in which they had landed and occupied the area around the Leolo Mountains in the current Sekhukhuneland. One of the most respected Bapedi rulers was Thulare, who died on the day of the comet, and that enhance his reverence by the Bapedi. Thulare was succeeded by Sekwati on the Bapedi throne.

After Kgoši Sekwati’s death in 1861, a succession dispute ensued between his sons, Mampuru and Sekhukhune. In 1862 Sekhukhune killed most of Mampuru’s opponents and forcefully took over the crown whereupon Mampuru fled. Mampuru fled with the royal dipheku, which are sacred ornaments for the ruling king. Sekhukhune pursued Mampuru, but spared his life after retrieving the dipheku. Ironically, it was going to be Mampuru who was going to take Sekhukhune’s life, the same Sekhukhune who is sparing his life now!

The relationship between the missionaries who had been working among the Bapedi began to deteriorate under Kgoši Sekhukhune.

Even though the missionaries had made considerable progress by converting many people into Christianity and having built a number of mission stations, things were falling apart between the missionaries and Kgoši Sekhukhune. The Bapedi monarch was complaining that the influence of the missionaries was undermining his authority. That had been a general dissatisfaction of the black monarchs where the missionaries were operating.

The black Christian converts no longer respected and observed some of the important customs as well as tribal obligations and duties. Some of the converts even deserted their people and settled around the mission stations.

One of such affected black rulers who also became wary of the missionaries during that era once lamented:

“I like very much to live with the teachers [i.e. missionaries] if they would not take my people, and give them to the Government [probably the Boer authorities]; for they are my people. Let these school people pray for me. How is it that the Government takes them to spill blood? How is it that you teachers take them away? Whenever one believes, he goes away from me. Why is it that you call them to live all in one place? Is it God who tells you to do so? I do not like your method of breaking up my kraal. Let the believing kaffir look to his own countrymen, and not go away, but teach others”.

An antagonised Kgoši Sekhukhune began to put stiff restrictions on the Bapedi converted Christians because of their disrespect of the traditional authority and customs.

Matters came to the head when Kgoši Sekhukhune eventually kicked out the missionaries together with his converted half-brother, Johannes Dinkwanyane, as well as many Christian converts in November 1864. The ousted lot settled at Botšhabelo (meaning “a place of refuge”). Dinkwanyane later left Botšhabelo and settled in the Lydenburg area with his followers. Kgoši Sekhukhune recognised Dinkwanyane as one of the Bapedi rulers.

Since the Boers established what they claimed to be their state in 1852 – the ZAR (Transvaal republic) – one of their main objectives was to subjugate black kingdoms and communities under their authority.

They therefore had a systematic plan of attacking and overthrowing all independent black kingdoms within what they regarded as their territory. It was against that background that the independent kingdoms such as the Bapedi were in the Boers’ plans of being subjugated. Various pretexts and justifications were then fabricated by the Boer authorities in executing their plan to vanquish independent black polities.

Eventually, on 16 May 1876 the Boers felt that the time was ripe for the implementation of their plan. They attacked the Bapedi of Kgoši Sekhukhune. It is alleged that war which was long brewing, was triggered when Dinkwanyane’s followers confiscated a wagonload of wood belonging to a certain Boer. When the Boers attacked Dinkwanyane, Kgoši Sekhukhune interceded on his half-brother’s behalf, as he had already recognised him as one of the Bapedi leaders.

The Boers’ attacks resulted in the assassination of Dinkwanyane. It was at Thaba Mosego that the Bapedi defeated the Boers mainly because of the Bapedi warriors’ power; Kgoši Sekhukhune’s tactics and leadership; and the impregnable Leolo Mountain fortress. The Boers later re-assembled and then marched to Sekhukhune’s capital, Tšate. This time around Kgoši Sekhukhune resorted to diplomacy as he sent Reverend Merensky to mediate. In February 1877 negotiations were held between Kgoši Sekhukhune and the Boers.

The outcomes of the discussions went against the Bapedi as they were expected to pay the war price with a lot of cattle. The Bapedi were also expected to agree to be the ZAR subjects, whereupon a specific location was set aside for their settlement. Kgoši Sekhukhune reluctantly signed that one-sided agreement in which the Boers intended to colonise the Bapedi.

Two months later, towards the winter of 1877, Britain annexed the Transvaal. Sir Theophilus Shepstone recognised the treaty between the Bapedi and the Boers. He thus expected Kgoši Sekhukhune to comply with its provisions which included the submission of the Bapedi under the colonial authorities. Kgoši Sekhukhune refused to comply.

The British then declared war on the Bapedi in 1879. By that time the British were in a good position as they had just defeated the Zulu monarch, Inkosi Cetshwayo. General Garnet Woseley was able to channel all the British military resources against Kgoši Sekhukhune. He also raised about 8 000 Swazi and Mampuru’s mercenaries.

A bitter war ensued between the Bapedi and the British. Both sides suffered substantial and heavy casualties.

While some of the British soldiers also fell in the battle, Kgoši Sekhukhune lost three brothers and nine children, including the heir to the throne, Morwamotšhe. Kgoši Sekhukhune eventually surrendered on 2 December 1879. He was taken to Pretoria as a prisoner. The Bapedi were forced to leave their Tšate mountain stronghold and were ordered to settle on the flat plains.

The Bapedi village on the flat plains was named Manoge and was given to Mampuru and Nkopodi to lead. A new Lutheran station was built next to Tšate. A young missionary, J.A. Winter, was sent to that station. He later tasted the African ways of life, and in 1889 he founded the Pedi Lutheran Church. He broke away from the traditionally European-oriented Christian teachings.

Kgoši Sekhukhune was released from prison according to the Pretoria Convention, following the 1881 retrocession in which the Boers regained the Transvaal (ZAR) from the British. He returned to the Bapedi who were stationed at Manoge and took over the crown. On the night of 13 August 1882 Mampuru, his longtime rival, assassinated Kgoši Sekhukhune. The Boer government went after Mampuru for having committed murder.

Mampuru then fled and took refuge with the Matebele ruler, Nyabele. The ZAR Boer government requested Nyabele to hand over Mampuru, but he refused. The Boer besieged Nyabele for about nine months.

On 11 July 1883 Nyabele surrendered and handed over Mampuru to the ZAR authorities. Mampuru was found guilty of murdering Kgoši Sekhukhune and was then sentenced to death by the ZAR government. Mampuru was hanged in a Pretoria prison on 22 November 1883.

Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp.; and also in Polokwane – Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).

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