David Livingstone

Title Missionary
Other Names
Date of Birth 1813-03-00
Date of Death 1873-05-00

Updated 14 Oct 2016


 The famous missionary and explorer spent four years in the region, from 1843 to 1847, and several more close by, in what was to become Botswana. Despite the brevity of his stay, he made a significant mark on the history of the emerging Transvaal.
He was assigned to the Kuruman station of the London Missionary Society (LMS), and arrived there in 1841. He was intent however in founding other LMS stations further north, and in 1841 was sent to Mabotsa to work among the baKgatla ba Mmaanana under Mosielele. He was accompanied by the Reverend Roger Edwards. Mabotsa was described as being "like an ampitheatre of mountains", and was a district infested with lions. Livingstone wrote, on his arrival, that the "people here are as raw as can be imagined; they have not the least desire but for the things of the earth." At Mabotsa, Livingstone nearly met his end, being mauled by a lion which seized him by the shoulder, tore his flesh and crushed some bones. He was saved by his servant and aide, a man named Mebalwe, who diverted the loin's attention, being bitten badly himself, before the beast was shot. It left Livingstone with a permanently maimed limb-he could never lift his rifle above the level of his shoulder from henceforth. Mebalewe's intervention was praised by Livingstone, who wished the LMS "had many such agents" [as Mebalwe].

During his stay in Mabotsa he married Mary Moffat, the daughter of Robert Moffat who was based in Kuruman. He built a house at Mabotsa where he hoped he and Mary would set up a permanent home. Mary established an infant school during her time at Mabotswa. He fell out with Edwards during his time there, something of a scandal ensuing when Edwards allegedly had "the intention to impose upon my [Livingstone's] wife".
Livingstone subsequently moved to Chonuane to minister to the baKgatla under Setshele. However he retained contact with the Bechuana people living in what beacame the Transvaal. He organized for the LMS to establish a station with the baHurutshe, firstly at his former site at Mabotsa and later at the Mangalo river, close to the old baHurutshe capital at Kaditshwene. He also visited the Boers close to Rustenburg, and strongly condemned their practice of seizing and apprenticing young children. (See Oorlams). He was not popular with the Boers who countered with allegations that Livingstone was a "well known gun runner". This feud contributed to the decision by the authorities of the South African Rebuplic to expel the LMS from the territory then under their control.           

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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