Refusing to let his people do unpaid labor, this fearless Botswana leader stood up against Paul Kruger in the 1860s

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Kgosi Kgamanyane Pilane was born in the 1820s in Pilanesberg, near present-day Rustenburg among the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela people of the North-West province in South Africa and neighboring Botswana. (Refusing to let his people do unpaid labor, this fearless Botswana leader stood up against Paul Kruger in the 1860s)

The tribal capital of the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela people, the village of Moruleng, is a short three kilometers from Bakgatla Gate on the edge of the Pilanesberg National Park

The Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela have lived and worked there since the 1800s, when Kgosi Pilane Pheto settled his people at Mmasobudule on the Elands River, in the area known today as the Pilanesberg.

According to Beatrice Roberts, a freelance researcher and writer living in Johannesburg, life at that time wasn’t easy for the Tswana communities north of the Vaal River. 

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“They had to deal with cattle raids, inter-tribal battles, droughts, floods, locusts, and disease,” she wrote.

The Bakgatla-ba-kgafela, nonetheless, flourished under Kgosi Kgamanyane who took over the chieftainship upon the death of his father.

As the senior son, Kgosi Kgamanyane succeeded his father Pilane Pheto per tradition in 1848. He ruled the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela at a time when the Transvaal province was under the control of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR). As a result, the Boers dominated most of the land.

According to historical accounts, in 1836, the Voortrekkers (Boers) arrived in the area, looking to occupy land where they could graze their cattle and be free from British rule. 

Refusing to let his people do unpaid labor, this fearless Batswana leader stood up against Paul Kruger in the 1860s
Refusing to let his people do unpaid labor, this fearless Botswana leader stood up against Paul Kruger in the 1860s

The Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela and the Boers mostly lived peacefully side by side, but soon settler land claims encroached on the land occupied by the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela and other African communities, wrote Roberts.

Kgamanyane, however, was able to secure arable land for his people through 26 land deals by trading labor for land with the Boers in the 1850s and 1860s. 

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His people were recruited as Boer servants in wars against several African tribes, but it was reported that he was secretly fighting the settlers.

After the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela allowed the Boers onto their premises, they introduced a system of formal land registration. As a result, they were losing much of their land to white settlers. 

Many were forced to work for the Boers in exchange for land use for their farming activity. Boers also frequently captured black children for indentured labor.

Refusing to let his people do unpaid labor, this fearless Botswana leader stood up against Paul Kruger in the 1860s
Refusing to let his people do unpaid labor, this fearless Botswana leader stood up against Paul Kruger in the 1860s

In the 1860s, Kgamanyane moved his capital from Mmasobudule to Paul Kruger’s farm, Saulspoort, at Moruleng, on the slopes of the Pilanesberg.

Kruger, noted in South African history as the builder of the Afrikaner nation, would become president of the Transvaal, or South African Republic, from 1883 until his flight to Europe in 1900, after the outbreak of the South African (Boer) War.

In 1868, after Kgamanyane had moved his capital to Kruger’s farm, it has been documented that the Dutch Reformed missionary Henri Gonin bought the farm from Kruger for £900, with the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela contributing half of that amount. 

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The deed of sale stated that Kgamanyane, his people and their descendants would always be allowed to live there.

It was reported that during his reign, the Bakgatla flourished in farming, trade, and raiding as his tribe was one of the few allowed by the Boers to keep guns. 

Kgamanyane’s quiet diplomacy, however, ended in 1868 when he openly defied Kruger’s request to supply labor for the building of a dam by harnessing men to carts filled with rocks. 

For refusing to let his people work for Kruger as unpaid labor, Kgamanyane was tried and found guilty. He was subsequently flogged and humiliated in front of his people. This led him to relocate his people to Mochudi in present-day Botswana. 

He died in 1871 and was succeeded by his son Lentswe. He was survived by at least 50 wives and numerous children.

Today, platinum wealth has enabled the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela to embark on some significant developments, including the Moruleng Cultural Precinct, a Johannesburg-based museum and exhibition team.

There is also the Mphebatho Cultural Museum, which holds some fascinating stories of the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela people.

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