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The Tswana


The Tswana Confederation


The Ghaap region is home to the Thlaping and Thlaro, southern divisions of the Tswana who moved from the north during the early 1600s.  They settled in the Ghaap region  during the 1800s.  

The Thlaping were an off-shoot of a major kingdom, the Rolong, who lived around the Vryburg area around 1600. Chief Maswe led the Thlaping to independence, by first moving to roughly the Campbell area, and then moving westwards to the Langberg in the Ghaap Region.


The largest Thlaping settlement was at Nokaneng (also called Nokanna), south of Olifantshoek.


The Thlaping

By the time Western travelers arrived in the Kalahari, around 1800,  the Thlaping lived north of the Vaal River, roughly where Campbell, Danielskuil and Reivilo are today. They were cattlemen, agriculturists and hunters.

After about 1770, the Korana and the Tlhaping lived together peacefully, but then clashes between them broke out. The Thlaping left Nokanna around 1790. The Thlaping were also terrorised by Jan Bloem I, a German brigand who had become the head of the Korana tribe, the "Springbokke".


Under the leadership of Molehabangwe (the son of Chief Maswe), the Thlaping first moved northwards, and lived at Kathu. They then moved to Old Dithakong, north-east of Kuruman, around 1800. Old Chief Molehabangwe died at Dithakong in 1812.


First contacts between the Tlhaping and the whites

The first Europeans who became aware of the existence of the baTswana, were Hendrik Hop (an explorer from the Cape) and Carel Brink (a surveyor and map maker), in 1761. They heard about the Tswana confederation of the Kalahari while they were exploring the Namibian coast.

In 1801, the explorers Pieter Jan Truter and Dr William Sommerville visited the Tswana, at their capital, Dithakong. The explorers called the place Lattakoo. In those days, it took 16 days by ox wagon from the Orange River to Dithakong.

In 1805, Henrich Lichtenstein and the missionary/trader Jan Kok, visited the area again. He met the Thlaping Chief Molehabangwe at Dithakong (which is 2 km north-east of the present village of Dithakong). 

After that, numerous travelers and authors visited the Mission station, as well as the Thlaping and the Rolong.

The Thlaping and the Korana

The Thlaping and Thlaro developed close relationships with the Kora who were settled along the Orange. Chef Maswe took a Kora wife. His son by her, Molehabangwe, succeeded him. Molehabangwe would be the father of Chief Mothibi; both he and Mothibi both had Kora wives.


The Korana called the Thlaping “the people of the goat”, or “Briqua”, because of their livestock activities.  There was trade between the Tlhaping and Kora: Typically, the Kora would provide pack-oxen and riding-oxen who were skilled in the training of such animals; the Tswana would provide tobacco, ivory spoons, bracelets, copper and iron beads, glass beads, copper earrings, knives, barbed assegais and smooth axes and awls.

The Thlaro


During the mid-1700s, the baThlaro separated from the baThlaping.


They settled to the west and northwest of the Tlhaping. The Thlaro occupied the Langberg between Ditlou (where Olifantshoek is now located, and Deben). When the Thlaping moved north-eastwards, under pressure of the Korana, the Thlaro also moved in the same direction, and settled west of the Thlaping.

Old Dithakong - stone age kraal - from Kusel Kuruman report.png

The ruins of Old Dithakong today

How the Tswana lived ...

The characteristic Sotho-Tswana chiefdom has a large single settlement, of up to 10 000 residents, and possibly a few smaller outlying villages. Each political community was divided into wards under the overall authority of the chief.


Each community had a chief (Kgosi), who was its judicial, administrative, economic and political focus. The chieftaincy descended within the lineage according to fixed rules of succession. The heir was the eldest son of the chief wife.  Sometimes, disputes over succession tended to promote fissions of a lineage.

The communities were stratified.  The full members of the community were divided into royals, commoners and recent immigrants. There were also other subjects of the chiefdom, such as clients or serfs, who sometimes lived in outlying villages, cattle stations and hunting stations.  Some of these clients were Khoi (Korana) and San people, who did herding and hunting for the Tswana wealthy and chiefs. Some intermarried with the Tswana.


The Tswana communities met in a general assembly or pitso, where there was great freedom of discussion, and where all important decisions were made. The communities were strengthened by the age-regiment and initiation systems, which socialised the young adults into the culture of the tribe. Community members had important obligations towards the chief, such as first-fruits ceremonies, tributes, and military obligations; and the chief had to use his wealth for the benefit of the community.


The men focused on hunting and cattle-herding, while the women worked the fields, built the houses, did domestic work, and made pottery. Specific individuals specialised in traditional medicine, rainmakers, and blacksmiths.  The Tswana traded with groups in the interior, exporting ivory and importing beads. They also traded in iron, copper, sibelo (shiny and decorative mineral powder), and karosses (garments made of leather).

The BaThlaping under Kgosi Mothibi

A important BaThlaping chief came to power in 1812: That was Kgosi (chief) Mothibi.

Mothibi's capital was at Dithakong, about 80 north-west of Kuruman. Dithakong ("places of stone walls" in Setswana) was a vibrant settlement of about 10 000 people  - almost as big as Cape Town at the time. Dithakong was built on the northern edge of the Ghaap Plateau.  The town of Dithakong was called Lattakoo by the missionaries. 

Mothibi met his first European visitor in 1810. That was William Burchell, a botanist and scientist. He arrived at Dithakong on 13 July 1812, accompanied by hunters and an interpreter. Burchell described Mothibi as a mild-mannered man. But Mothibi was a very smart man too, and he negotiated the purchase of his first gun, from Burchell. Unlike his father, Kgosi Molehabangwe, Chief Mothibi wanted to build relationships with missionaries - because that was the only way to acquire guns. Arms were needed for hunting and self-defence. There was a growing problem of banditry along the Orange River, raiding cattle, hunting elephants for ivory, and even kidnapping children for the slave trade.


Over time, Kgosi Mothibi's kingdom (morafe) gradually began to fragment into smaller chiefdoms.

New Dithakong (New Lattakoo)


In 1817, Chief Mothibi moved his main site to Maruping (15 km north-west of Kuruman, along the Kuruman river). The actual site was near the hospital at Batlharos.  The missionaries called the place New Lattakoo, while the Tlhaping called it Kudumane.


This site enabled the Thlaping to give better access to water, and therefore to grow more crops. The missionaries were very glad, because they approved of the creation of a settled black community, where they could assist the local people in promoting agriculture.

But not all Mothibi's followers approved of the move to Kudumane. The Maidi group resented the influence of the missionaries, and they decided to remain at Dithakong.


Mothibi lived a long and influential life, but he had difficulties in keeping his chiefdom together. He died in 1845, having moved away from the Kuruman valley to the Harts valley to the east. Two of his sons, Mahura and Luka Jantjie, each became chiefs, ruling over only a portion of Mothibi's Thlaping kingdom.

Kgosi Luka Jantjie

Luka Jantjie was a son of Kgosi Mothibi.  He was born about 1797, roughly the same age as Reverend Robert Moffat. And he had had much exposure to the Christians at Kuruman.  In the early 1830s, Jantjie learned to read the Bible in Setswana, under the influence of Reverend Isaac Hughes, the British missionary at Griquatown. His main site was at Dikgatlhong ("where rivers meet"), where the Harts River joins the Vaal River - near the modern town of Barkly West.

Around 1854, Jantjie and his people began to cultivate land at Manyeding on the Ghaap Plateau, about 25 km east of Kuruman.

A growing problem, for Jantjie, was the instability in the region. There was growing competition for land between the BaThlaping and the Boers of the Free State, along the banks of the Vaal River, in 1858 Luka realised the need for better firearms and military skills - including the need to load and fire from the saddle. A few years later, in 1867, diamonds were discovered along the Orange River, and this totally transformed the balance of power along the Orange-Vaal area. Many BaThlaping became involved in the diamond trade, but it soon became clear that white prospectors would challenge the authority of the African chiefs along the Vaal River. The discovery of diamonds at the site of the modern city of Kimberley (in October 1869) and Klipdrift (now called Barkly West) stimulated a further diamond rush. In effect, the Tlhaping were gradually squeezed out of their lands.  In 1871, the Cape Colony annexed the diamond fields, and in 1872, banned all black people from holding diamond-mining claims.

Jantjie's people began to withdraw to their ancestral territories around Manyeding (30 km south-east of Kuruman). From there, they supplied the diamond fields with grain, meat and firewood. There was growing tension between the BaThlaping and the Cape Colony, which erupted in a Tswana rebellion in 1878, and again in 1897 in the Langberg. This was the decisive defeat of the Tswana kgosis Jantjie, Galeshewe and Toto.


The Battle of Kho, 1878

During May 1878, there was growing banditry and violence amongst people living north of the Orange River. The colonists believed that Kgosi Luka Jantjie of the BaThlhaping - then living at Manyeding, 30 km from Kuruman -  had something to do with this instability. In fact, he was trying to keep the peace in an increasingly volatile area.

The surveyor John Ford assembled a force of 75 mounted Europeans, ten white infantry-men and 25 Mfengu and Zulu men. They passed through Barkly West on 12 June where they raised more troops. Ford had had no military experience, but his force was keen to see action.  By 30 June, Ford's posse was at Boetsap, on the Harts River. He then entered independent BaTlhaping territory.

Luka and his men  managed to stem Ford's Force at the battle of Kho.

A local star in Dithakong

Dithakong is the birthplace of Matthews Batswadi, the first black South African athlete to be awarded national Springbok sporting colours, in 1977. Batswadi was born in the village in 1949 and has lived there ever since retiring from work at the Beatrix Gold Mine in the Free State and from active competition in 1986. 

He won his first national title, the South African men's Cross Country Championships, in Roodepoort in 1975, while he was still working underground in the Western Deep Levels Gold Mine. He went on to win a further eight national titles on the track, road and over cross country, with the 1980 SA Half Marathon Championships, being his final national title.  He set a South African record for the 10 000 metres of 28:46.8 in Germiston.


Source: Richard Mayer, Three Men Named Matthews - Memories of the Golden Age of South African Distance Running and its Aftermath (2009).

Chief Jantjie compressed for word.jpg

Kevin Shillington's book on Kgosi Luka Jantjie

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