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History of the Bakwena ba Mogopa

Traditions record that the Bakwena (The Crocodile clan), and the Bahurutshe were closely related, at one time sharing a common token, indicative of their having been one community. Like the Bahurutshe they trace their lineage back to the (largely mythical) figure of Masilo. Around 1600 they emerged as a more distinct lineage. They occupied territory around the lower reaches of the Odi (Crocodile ) river, at a place named Rathateng. They relocated to a number of different sites in the close vicinity, eventually settling at the Majabamatswa hills northeast of presentday Brits, between approximately 1730 and 1750. It is remembered that this occurred during the rule of Ditswe Tlowodi. Prior to this however, a number of the Bakwena moved with Malope to the Mochudi district of modern Botswana. This area was well served by a number of perennial rivers the Odi, Apies and Hennops. Another faction moved to modern Botswana under Malope.

Ditswe was succeeded by his son, More IX who ruled from about 1750 to 1770. This occurred during the period of conflict given the name difaqane. More IX centralized and controlled the Bakwena earning a reputation as a fearsome warrior. The Bakwena were locked in conflict with the Bakgatla and Bapo, a Transvaal Ndebele. Kgosi More was not the rightful kgosi,(chief) however, and when he refused to hand back control of the merafe to his brother Tsoku, a division of the community occurred, More moving away to the west of the Pienaars river. Tsoku however was not a popular ruler, earning a reputation for cruel treatment of his people. He allegedly demanded exorbitant numbers of cattle in the form of tribute from the Bakwena. He was also no match for the Bakgatla, and was forced to request the assistance of his brother More, who once more took control of the merafe. Tsoku was allegedly assassinated and his retinue fled to seek sanctuary among the baPedi. Around 1820 the Bakwena were attacked by a combined force comprising of the Bakgatla, the Bahwaduba and the Batlhako.

This was followed by a series of cattle raids by the Bapedi whether this was at the instigation of Tsokus followers, then resident with the Bapedi, is not clear. By 1822 the Bakwena were pretty well subjects of the Bapedi. In 1836 Andrew Smith the naturalist and traveller, was informed by the Bakwena that they had lost a lot of their cattle to the Bapedi. Worse was to follow, when Mzilikazis Matebele entered the western highveld. More, though now in a weakened state, attempted to resist, but the Bakwena were overrun and incorporated into the emergent Matebele kingdom. Traditions record that More was killed by the intruders. Smith recorded that when he encountered the Bakwena, they trusted for food entirely on game and cornthey had no cattle.

During the rule of Mmamogale X111 the Voortrekkers displaced the Matebele (with the assistance of various allies). Now impoverished, the Bakwena had to work for the Boers. Many of them were incorporated into Boer society as socalled Oorlams. Mmamogale, to evade the exactions of the Boers, relocated to modern Lesotho, where he remained until the War of Sequiti (the Basutoland Gun War) returning in 1868 to Mantabole (Bethanie). The Bakwena ba Mogopa were now divided into five sections. Bethanie in the Rustenburg district, Hebron and Jericho in the Pretoria district, and at Brits and Ventersdorp. Those at Bethanie, Jericho and Hebron were all under the aegis of the Hermannsburg Mission Society. The missionaries afforded them security and assisted them to obtain land. The different sections of the merafe were partly independent, but recognized authority of the Bethanie faction, under the rule Mmamogale family. During the rule of J.O.M. Mamogale in the 1920s however, the Jericho and Hebron residents refused to pay tax for the purchase of the farm Elandsfontein, from which they would derive no benefit. The South African authorities, in the form of the Native Affairs Department (NAD), had to resolve the conflict, and decide whether the different sections were autonomous or under Mmamogales authority. The matter went to the Supreme Court. Though even the NAD officials were divided, the court ruled in favour of Mmamogale. Even then the rebel factions refused to pay the levies, and to recognize Mmamogale. The unity of the Bakwena was shattered and to all intents and purposes they were made up of five autonomous sections.

Even within Bethanie, Mamogale lost control, and a civil conflict, the worst the Rustenburg district has experienced, ensued. A socalled Vigilance Committee was established, ostensibly to support the Kgosi, but it then turned against Mamogale. Supporters and opponents of Mamogale were engaged in a prolonged conflict, which spilt over to the Lutheran church. Many of Mamogale’s opponents, and those of his successor, Daniel More, joined the Bakwena Lutheran Church, a separatist movement. In 1941 they went on a rampage and burnt down the Hermannsburg mission church. This was followed by assaults on the missionary himself, on the police and some government officials. Daniel Mores uncle took over the reins after the former’s death in 1946, and some degree of order was restored to the Bakwena at Bethanie.

Source: Historical Encyclopaedia of People of South Africa’s North West Province.