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Barolong


Title Morafe (Chiefdom)
Other Names
Date of Birth 0000-00-00
Date of Death
According to oral tradition, the baRolong derive this name from their chief, Morolong, under whom they migrated southwards, presumably from the Great Lakes region in about the year 1400 A.D. Some four generations later, they reached the Molopo river in the area of the present-day Mafikeng where they made their parmanent home. It was here that the baHurutshe separated and became independent. Many chiefs ruled the baRolong and they enjoyed peace, increased in population, became stronger and wealthy. 

This general welfare reached its peak during the reign of their best remembered king, Tau, about the 14th in descent from Morolong. Groups such as the baTlhaping, baTlharo and others submitted to Rolong rule. In the territory claimed by the baRolong were groups like the Korana and baSarwa who did not always acknowledge Rolong supremacy. Rolong trade links by the mid-seventeenth century stretched to the Cape and to modern Namibia.
With the death of Tau on the Harts river in c.1760 A.D. feuds and civil wars set in and Rolong power waned. The divisions resulted into four clans, each under a son of Tau. These sons were Ratlou, Tshidi, Seleka and Rapulana. Consequently, groups earlier forced into Tau's kingdom, such as the baTlharo, broke away and declared their independence. The baRolong clans, each under its own leader, made Khunwana their headquarters. They remined here until the early 1830s when firstly they were raided by the baPhuting and Hlakwana who had been displaced from south of the Vaal river in the period of turbulence known also as the difaqane.  

Later they were attacked by the amaNdebele under Mzilikazi from the north-east and fled the region.
The scattered clans wandered from place to place in search of security. The Seleka clan, for examle, moved to Makwasie near Wolmaranstad, where the Wesleyan missionaries, Broadbent and Hodgeson, joined them. Evetually, they ended up in Thaba Nchu, which became their permanent home. They were joined there by the Tshidi and Ratlou. In 1849 the Barolong factions decided to trek back to the original homeland, the Ratshidi moving to Lotlhakane and the Ratlou clans back to Khunwana. The Rapulana group, under Matlabe, were permitted by the Voortrekker leader, Hendrik Potgieter, to settle in what later became known as Machaviestad, near Potchefstroom, in 1839. Here, Matlabe was joined by Moshoette and his Ratlou clan as well as Tawana. By geneology, Moshoette was the Paramount Chief of the Barolong. 

In 1847, Tawana and the Ratshidi moved to Lotlhakane on the Molopo river, not far from modern Mafikeng. Their young kgosi, Montshiwa, chose to move north and lived for a while among the baNgwaketse, leaving the district around Mafikeng in the charge of his younger brother Molema Tawana. (See also Montshiwa and Molema Tawana). He returned in the 1870's, but faced continued attempts by groups of white mercenaries to lay claim to his lands along the Transvaal border. In this they were assisted by the Rapulana and Ratlou factions of the baRolong, who contested Montshiwa's right to the land he claimed.
Shortly after Tawana's departure for Lotlhakane, Moshoette and his followers left Machaviestad for Khunwana where they have lived permanently to this day. Meanwhile, Matlabe and his people were granted the farm Polfontein in the Lichtenburg district. The Ratlou clans today live separately and independent of each other in Khunwana, Madibogo, Morokweng/Ganyesa and Makgobistad. There was a good deal of enmity between the Rolong groups in the early decades of the early 20th century, and the Ratshidi and  Rapulana clashed in paticular over control of the important water source of Lotlhakane. (See Bechuanaland Reserves) 

There were two major families or centres of power among the Ratshidi baRolong, represented by the Motshiwa and  Molema senior lineages. This was a complex issue as the two were also inter-related .  The Molemas were very influential in the decades after the South African war. In 1919 however, Lotlamoreng Montshiwa was controversially appointed as Kgosi and the feud betwen the two factions was intensified. In 1933 Lotlamoreng publicly accused the baRolong National Secretary, Sebopiwa Molema, of misappropriating Rolong funds. It was a crude attempt to discredit the Molemas but was part of a strategy that led to the eventually eclipse (not entirely) of the Molema clan, who represented an intellectual and wider national perspective to Rolong politics. (See also Dr Modiri Molema)     


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

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