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baTlhaping


Title Morafe Chiefdom
Other Names
Date of Birth 0000-00-00
Date of Death
The origins of the baTlhaping are uncertain. The baRolong claim that they were originally part of their chiefdom but this is unlikely, though they have the same totem (tholo, the Kudu). The name ba 'Tlhaping,' "people of the place of the fish" derives from the fact that they at one time ate fish during periods of hardship. It also indicates residence along the Vaal-Harts river complex, the only viable source of fish in the region south of the Molopo river. Oral traditions suggest a link with the Kora through a series of marriages over three generations. The Tlhaping dialect also indicates this through its affinity to Kgalagadi languages.
 
The baTlhaping were subjugated by the baRolong during the rule of Tau sometime during the 15th century, but in alliance with the Kora, defeated Tau who may have been killed in one for the ensuing conflicts. Indeed, the Kora-Tlhaping alliance may have been based on a common desire to displace the baRolong. The baTlhaping then occupied the Taung region where Tau had resided, moving to Dithakong firstly, then to the Kudumane (Kuruman) region, both containing good sources of water. The baTlhaping traded in cattle and karosses  across the Orange River with the Cape Colony, relying on Kora and Griqua intermediaries. In 1801, they made direct contact with Europeans -- the Somerville/Truter botanical expedition of that date. In 1812, the traveler Burchell encountered the baTlhaping at Dithakong, then a thriving centre of about 16,000 inhabitants. 

In 1816, Robert Moffat the first of the London Missionary Society (LMS) missionaries made contact with Mothibi, their kgosi, and established the mission station at Kuruman (Kudumane). Probably one of the fullest accounts of a baTswana society emerging from the pre-colonial period is provided by the missionaries and several visitors to the baTlhaping towns before 1820.
 
The difaqane period (see Difaqane), was a hard one for the baTlhaping. It was a time of dislocation, diffusion and economic hardship, as well as conflict. The most famously recorded encounter was in 1823 when a battle occurred at Dithakong. In that year, bands of displaced people descended on Dithakong, in all probability seeking food. When the missionary Robert Moffat heard of the impending attack, he enlisted the support of gun-bearing Griqua horsemen, and the Griqua/Tlhaping alliance fought off the invaders. In the late 1820s, however, the baTlhaping were attacked by the Kora and "Bergenaar" Griqua, ironically their considered allies. Mothibi then led his followers to the confluence of the Harts/Vaal rivers. His brother Mahura, for reasons not readily apparent, remained with the majority of the chiefdom in the Kudumane district.
 
Further division of the baTlhaping occurred in 1839, also due to  missionary intervention. The missionary Hollway Helmore, who had arrived among Mothibe's people in  1837, persuaded his son, Jantjie, to move with about 600 followers to Ditlhakong (not to be confused with Dithakong), further north along the Harts river. Mothibi, by this time elderly, responded by moving also, to Borigelong, some 60 kilometres further north from Jantjie. In the meanwhile Mahura's faction, of about 12,000 people, numerically the largest, also left Kudumane, and moved to Taung in the Harts valley.

 Effectively, the baTlhaping were therefore divided into three factions.  Mahura ruled to 1869 and was followed by Mankurwane, who ruled to 1892 (see also Mankurwane). The baTlhaping were affected by the intrusion of the Voortrekkers in 1838 and the discovery of diamonds in what became Griqualand West in 1868. Gasebonwe, son of Mothibi and the kgosi of the baTlhaping now residing at Phokwani, took advantage of a border conflict between the Orange Free State and the baSotho in 1858 to loot a few hundred head of cattle from unoccupied Boer farms. In the face of Boer retaliation he moved to Taung, believing it to be a better position defensively. In the same year Taung was attacked, Gasebonwe was killed, and Mahura, though he had not directly participated in the raid, had to surrender nearly 3000 head of cattle and numerous other stock, as well as 23 wagons and about a hundred children who were taken as captives.
 
In response to diamond discoveries, a number of baTlhaping invested in wagons and oxen to provision the diggers at Kimberley and the diamond fields. 

In the 1870's, following the dispute over ownership of the diamond fields, the rights of the baTlhaping were overridden and they were placed under colonial control through the declaration of the Crown Colony of Griqualand West. The loss of their autonomy and deteriorating economic conditions caused most of the baTlhaping to revolt against the British in 1876-78 in the so-called Griqua rebellion. Mankurwane's people more or less avoided the conflict, and a number of the other factions fled to Taung, thus augmenting the size of Taung and Mankurwane's authority.
 
Mankurwane, however, could not avoid becoming involved in what became called the "Bechuanaland Wars" of 1881-83. In 1881 they became involved in hostilities with the Kora under the authority of Massouw. A number of Boer mercenaries came to the assistance of Massouw, a means of indirectly attacking Mankurwane. The Boers laid siege to Taung in 1882. Nearly starving, the residents surrendered, giving up between forty to sixty thousand head of cattle to the invading force. As the tide turned against him, Mankurwane, disillusioned with the British, appealed to the Transvaal authorities for help. The Transvaal did restore peace -- but at a price. The Batlhaping were forced to cede a large tract of land, which was called the Republic of Stellaland, and which was occupied by a number of Boers.
        

 The baTlhaping were now made to reside in reserves. Mankurwane lost of many of his former villages which now fell outside his jurisdiction. Following the Rinderpest epidemic of 1896, in which a large number of baTlhaping cattle were shot, to avoid the spreading of the disease, the baTlhaping, and other southern baTswana chiefdoms, mounted one last act of resistance, the so-called Langeberg Rebellion of 1896-97. The rebellion was crushed and rigid control over the baTlhaping was imposed by the British.
 
Molale succeeded his father Mankurwane and ruled until 1920. His heir would have been Thampana, but he predeceased his father. Thampana's son, Kgosietsile John Mankurwane was too young to assume chieftainship and a regent, Henry Radibogelo, ruled until 1948. Kgosietsile then assumed leadership until 1962. After another short regency, Scotch Mankurwane took over in 1966. 

Scotch died in 1987, and his son being too young to assume power, another regent took over. However Scotch's heir, Samuel, was not to the liking of Lucas Mangope, the then President of Bophuthatswana, under whom the baTlhaping now fell. This was because Samuel did not support the homelands system. He had attended Natal University and had allegedly become a member of the United Democratic Front, vehemently opposed to the apartheid system.  Samuel was deposed by Mangope, and went to live in exile. Mangope installed his own appointee, one Stephen Molale, to the anger of many of the merafe (Chiefdom).  Samuel  Mankurwane was arrested when he attempted to return to Taung to meet with his followers. A number of his adherents were rounded up and detained. In 1990 he then went into exile in Botswana, only returning in 1994 to assume his rightful position.     
 
  
 


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

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