News and Information

Builders of Botswana - "White Slaves of Molepolole" (6)
October 29, 2004
29 October, 2004

Last week's episode noted that notwithstanding the 1892 imposition of racist colonial state control over commercial trading in the "Native Reserves", dikgosi such as Bathoen, Khama and Sebele, along with their successors, continued to use their legal claim of being the "sovereigns of the soil" to charge rent to non-Africans for the occupation of land and use of other resources in their territories.

These powers, as well as their influence over their subjects, allowed them to continue to exert considerable control over the economic activities of Europeans and Asians in their territories. In this respect they favoured those who were prepared to work with them.

Thus dikgosi Sebele I (1892-1911), (Kealeboga) Sechele II (1911-18) and Sebele II (1918-39, but banished from 1931) continued to derive considerable income from commercial interests operating in Kweneng, while often neglecting to enforce the payment of Hut Tax by subjects.

Inevitably some traders looked to the colonial state to protect their interests against assertive dikgosi. This became a source of considerable tension in Molepolole during the reigns of Sechele II and Sebele II.

A few months after his father's death, Sechele II caused a stir when he publicly presented a petition to the visiting Resident Commissioner in the name of the "Bakwena National Council." In it he condemned those traders who paid Bakwena and Bakgalagadi in "goodfors", that is credit coupons redeemable for goods at their shops, rather than cash for local produce.

While praising Raphalane Hirschfeldt for always paying in cash and being otherwise fair in his dealings, he stated that those who failed to follow his example should go - "we don't want goodfor shopkeepers but men who can pay us cash". He further castigated those traders who "have secret meetings to fix the prices of our stock," adding "now I shall fix the prices according to my judgment".

Kgosi Kealeboga Sechele also affirmed that all traders who wished to do business in the Kgalagadi would henceforth have to be accompanied by his representatives.

On education, he noted that he intended to preserve his father's two-shilling levy so that "Bakwena, Bakgalagadi and Masarwa" children could attend the Bakwena National School free of charge.

He further expressed his desire for the establishment of an "Agriculture School" in the Protectorate "where young men would be taught manual labour such as ploughing, irrigation and dry farming" adding: "There are many young men who ought to be taught all these works so that they might become useful to their fellow country men. There are many boys going out to the Gold and Diamond Mines instead of which some of them should be taught at home." In the petition, Sechele II also turned his attention to social relations, insisting that "if a white man wishes native women let him marry her legally according to European law".

This was a double-edged complaint. On one hand it was aimed squarely at the exploitation of local women by white male philanderers. On the other hand he was equally if not more concerned about securing the inheritance rights of children of mixed marriages.

A small but significant number of stable inter-racial marriages did in fact exist, despite being frowned upon by the missionaries as well as white settler/colonial society in general. In this respect, the Mokwena was apparently motivated by the unfair confiscation of property of the offspring of one such marriage, which had been sanctioned under customary law.

As a result, after legal consultations, the imperial authorities in Mafikeng acknowledged that customary law marriages, including those between races, did in fact have legal standing in the civil courts.


    Support Caprivi Freedom
Fill out the form below to become a member of this site and receive our regular newsletter.

First Name
Last Name