The baHurutshe are one of the largest numerically and historically important merafe (chiefdoms) in the North-West Province. Oral traditions indicate that their name derived from Mohurutshe, who was the daughter of Malope 1, one of the "founding" lineages of the baTswana. The "proto-baHurutshe" lived near the headwaters of the Madikwe (Marico) river in about the mid- to late thirteenth century. They seem to have been one of the dominant emerging lineages of the baTswana, whose seniority was recognized by ritual respect in ceremonies, where baHurutshe dikgosi (chiefs) were accorded the highest ranking. Traditions record that after the death of Mohurutshe, there was a rivalry between her two sons, Motebele and Motobejane. The former with his followers fled to Ootse, in present-day eastern Botswana, while the latter remained at the Madikwe river. Motebele's faction later moved to modern-day Shoshong district in Botswana, where they became known as the Khurutshe. Motobejane's faction established a capital at Tshwenyane about 15 kilometres north of today's Zeerust.
Here they lived without major disruption to the close of the seventeenth century. In about 1660 a number of baHurutshe living at Tshwenyane under Mangope moved away and settled at Borutwe, just east of present-day Groot Marico. After the death of Mangope, his brother Nong, moved to Mankgodi in Botswana to form another branch, the baHurutshe boo Mokibidu. Menwe, now leading the baHurutshe remaining at Tshwenyane, moved his capital to another site called Kaditshwene in today's Zeerust District. They adopted the totem of the baboon. This period of fission may have been related to a series of droughts which forced people to move to new grazing areas and sites of residence. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the baHurutshe, like most of their neighbours, became embroiled in a series of conflicts, usually referred to as the Difaqane. These were due to competition over land, cattle and particularly control of new trade items, especially ivory. This in turn was caused by demands from the expanding white trade frontier from the Cape. (See Difaqane.) The baHurutshe became particularly harassed by the baNgwaketse to the east. The baHurutshe were forced to form an alliance with the baTlhaping and baKwena to keep their opponents at bay, during which time their kgosi, Sebogodi, was killed.
Despite this, when the Missionary John Campbell, of the London Missionary Society (LMS), visited them in 1820, they were still intact and economically thriving at Kaditshwene. Within a couple of years, however, they were attacked by marauders from the Caledon river area, the Patsa-baFokeng of Sebetwane, and the baPhuting. They then dispersed in various factions, to eke out a precarious existence as refugees with their southern neighbours, the baRolong. A few remained at Madikwe, but became subjects of the amaNdebele under Mzilikazi, who were busy carving out a new and powerful kingdom on the western highveld. Some of these baHurutshe moved with Mzilikazi to modern Matebeleland.
In 1836 the amaNdebele were attacked and displaced by the white Voortrekkers (with the assistance of the Griqua and some baTswana allies -- among them the baHurutshe). The baHurutshe slowly returned in segments back to their former homeland. Here, they re-established themselves under the astute leadership of Moiloa. (See also Moiloa). They were supported by missionaries, first of the London Mission Society (LMS) (see also Livingstone) and the Lutheran Hermannsberg Missionary Society (HMS). They also reached a form of accommodation with the Trekkers who established the South African Republic, and to whom the baHurutshe were now politically subject. In the 1870s, they were described as "the most thriving of the Bechuana tribes" by a white visitor, on account of their extensive agricultural production, in turn due to the abundance of water sources in the area.
The baHurutshe henceforth settled in what became known as Moiloa's Reserve, later Lehurutshe. Between 1875 and 1884 the baHurutshe split into two autonomous factions, under Gopane and Ikalafeng. This was due to the lack of a clear successor to Moiloa, and was preceded by a good deal of civil strife among the baHurutshe. Gopane's followers moved to the northern portion of the Reserve. In 1882, a Boer commando was sent against Ikalafeng for having supported the British in the First Anglo-Boer War. He was severely punished by means of a fine and confiscation of cattle. Despite this, the baHurutshe generally supported the British in the later South African War of 1899 -- 1902. The baHurutshe managed to survive in their Reserve, though growing economic hardship forced many to move to the towns and cities of the Transvaal or to other parts of South Africa. Manyane's faction, which had earlier moved to Botswana to escape from white control, returned to the Reserve in the early twentieth century. In 1957-58 they were involved in widespread resistance to the pass system introduced by the National Party government during the apartheid era. (See also Abraham Moiloa.)
The more recent history of the baHurutshe has turned on opposition to the ruling Moiloa family in Dinokana, especially by residents of the two villages of Braklaagte and Leuuwfontein who claimed to be independent of the Dinokana faction and on this basis rejected incorportion into the Bophuthatswana homeland. This was the cause of considerable turmoil from 1985 to 1989. (See Braklagte).