THE hauntingly beautiful whirring of dinaka broke the early morning silence of Mamone, a slumberous village dotted with hillocks formed of clusters of boulders that protrude from the landscape like giant anthills.
In the crowded lapa of the Bapedi Marota Mamone royal homestead located at the base of one of these spectacular rocky hills, an elderly woman in a bright yellow dress pounded on a cowhide drum.
Dudum dum dudum dum dum! Dudum dum dudum dum dum!
Around her forming a vibrating and electrified semi-circle, men stomped the ground in sync to the drum, blowing furiously on their flute like pipes.
Wheeeee wheeee! Wheeeeee wheeeeee! Wheeeeee wheeeee wheeeee!
Another man, his head covered in a hat fashioned from the soft, beautiful skin of a jackal moved around like a spirit medium, blowing on a rusted brass trumpet.
Vuuuuu! Vuuuuuuuu! Vuuuuuu!
A man with a sprinkling of greying beard looked up to the plain blue sky above announcing a swelteringly hot day ahead. He broke into a long monologue, reciting the names of warriors, princess and kings from a bygone era, praising their heroic deeds and the names of great hills and rivers of their lands.
It was an eerily haunting and somewhat beautiful sound, a nostalgic trip down memory lane, to a different time in history, a time of conquest and valor, of fearless and brave warriors standing up to marauding invaders.
Young and old watched awestruck, the spirited dancing and singing leaving them rooted to the royal grounds, soaking it all in, some capturing the moment on cellphones. The nostalgic recital filled the eyes of some with tears. The singing rose and rose and soared high into the cloudless sky, filling it with its raw power and emotion.
Some of the men blowing the pipes seemed lost in the moment, transported to another world way beyond the rocky outcrops of Mamone. Silver haired elders standing on the sidelines shook their heads in disbelief, probably wondering how it must have felt during the time of their ancestors who over a century ago reigned supreme over much of this land and way beyond the rocky outcrops of Mamone.
The elders with weary limbs stood there watching, intoxicated by the blowing of pipes and stomping of feet and the eerie beats from the cowhide drum and the clear, powerful voice of the praise singer.
It was January 21 the day the Bapedi Marota Mamone pay homage to their revered hero Kgoši Mampuru II.
Thousands, commoner and royalty descended on the Limpopo village, resting place of the Sekwati princess and kings and seat of the Mampuru Royal House to honour the memory of this ancestor who means different things to the fragmented and warring Bapedi kingdom.
To this day, more than 130 years after his barbarous execution at the hands of the Boers leading the illegitimate Transvaal Republiek, Kgoši Mampuru II’s name continues to be at the centre of bitter division among the Bapedi.
To the Bapedi Marota Mamone, one of at least three royal houses laying claim to the Bapedi Kingship, Mampuru II is a hero, a fearless freedom fighter who stood up to the colonial forces by refusing to pay their imposed taxes and recognizing their illegitimate regimes.
The Bapedi Marota Mamone believe that today, the Bapedi crown should be occupied by one of his direct descendants.
But to the descendants of Sekhukhune I, the slain king means something completely different. The Sekhukhune consider Mampuru II is an illegitimate son born to a woman his father didn’t even want, a cowardly murderer and weakling who chose to flee instead of fighting for the throne.
Mampuru II, son of Bapedi King Sekwati I was executed by the Transvaal Republiek on 22 November 1883. A year earlier, on 13 August 1882, Mampuru II had murdered Kgoši Sekhukhune I, his brother and rival to the Bapedi Marota crown.
This spilling of the blood of brother by brother continues to haunt the Bapedi Marota kingdom which at the height of its might in the mid-1800s, covered much of the Lekwebepe [later Transvaal] area between the Lekoa [Vaal] and Lebepe [Limpopo] rivers.
In a bid to settle old scores and claim authority on the crown, different factions of the Bapedi Marota have been engaged in a cold war and numerous legal battles for over 100 years.
In the last of these legal battles, South Africa’s highest legal authority, the Constitutional Court effectively brought finality to the longstanding legal dispute in 2014. In doing so, it also reduced Mampuru II’s legacy to that of a murderer and a coward who when faced with a challenge to his crown, chose to flee instead of taking up arms against his rival Sekhukhune I.
Sekhukhune I took the Bapedi crown by force in 1861 following the death of his father Sekwati I. Mampuru II was the apparent heir to the crown, having been born to Kgomomakatane, a timamollo, the candle wife chosen by royal elders for the sole purpose of bearing an heir.
However, Sekwati’s marriage to the timamollo remains a contentious issue. The Sekhukhune Royal House, descendants of Sekhukhune I, disputes that Sekwati ever married the timamollo and even deny that he fathered Mampuru II, arguing that he was already too old to sire a child by the time the child was conceived by Kgomomakatane.
They also argue that Sekhukhune I, the son of Thorometsane, Sekwati I’s senior wife was the legitimate heir to the crown. They further argue that by wrestling the crown by force from Mampuru II who they regard as an illegitimate child, he had done the honourable thing.
But the Bapedi Marota Mamone, descendants of Mampuru II, argue that according to the custom of Bapedi it is irrelevant who fathers the heir, so long as he is born of the timamollo (candle wife).
In 2014, the Constitutional Court of South Africa dismissed an application by the Bapedi Marota Mamone Traditional Authority which sought the court to declare that the kingdom of Bapedi resorts in their lineage and not that of the Sekhukhune Royal House.
In 2010, the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims set up during President Thabo Mbeki’s administration, ruled that the Bapedi Kingship which had for years been the subject of heated dispute resorted under Sekhukhune I’s lineage.
The Commission was set up in 2003 to investigate traditional leadership disputes and claims dating back to 1927. It concluded that there were only six recognised Kings, Kingships or Queens including the Bapedi Marota. The Commission recognized Kgoši Thulare Victor Thulare as King of the Bapedi.
According to evidence presented before the Commission and later to the Constitutional Court, after the death of Sekwati I, his eldest son Sekhukhune I challenged Mampuru II to a fight to determine succession by throwing a spear towards him. However, Mampuru II instead of taking up the challenge and fight to the death, chose to cower and flee.
‘Sekhukhune I went on to bury his father, Sekwati I. He forcefully claimed the kingship. He killed all the supporters of Mampuru II. He gathered all the various traditional leaders who were under his father and challenged them. They all cowered. He then ascended the throne. He further consolidated the Bapedi kingship initially established by Thulare I and Sekwati I,’ the Constitutional Court said in its ruling.
Between 1861 up until 1879, while Mampuru II had fled from his homeland and sought refuge first with Chief Marishane and later among the AmaNdebele where he forged a strong alliance and friendship with King Nyabela Mahlangu, Sekhukhune I built up what became one of the greatest empires in southern Africa.
During his reign Sekhukhune I built up a powerful army which inflicted numerous defeats on the British and Voortrekker invaders. But eventually, in December 1879, with the assistance of an 8 000 – strong army of Swazis, the British finally defeated Sekhukhune I, bringing to an end the reign of the once mighty Bapedi Marota kingdom.
Following his defeat Sekhukhune I was arrested and imprisoned in Pretoria. Mampuru II returned to take over the crown, with the British presiding over his coronation. But his reign over the defeated Bapedi Marota was short lived. He refused to recognize the colonial governments of the British and later the Boer Transvaal Republiek. Once again, he was forced to go into exile, seeking refuge with his trusted ally Nyabela.
After the signing of the Pretoria Convention of 3 August 1881 between Britain and the Boers, Sekhukhune I was released from jail and returned to take over his crown. But this too was shortlived. Mampuru II returned with his supporters and killed Sekhukhune I on the night of 13 August 1882.
After the killing and fearing arrest by the colonial authorities who now ruled over the land through a Native Commissioner, Mampuru II fled again for a third time and sought refuge with Nyabela. The AmaNdebele King refused to hand over Mampuru II to the Boers, telling them he had swallowed him and he was in his stomach.
This eventually led to a months long siege by the Boers in which AmaNdebele suffered a great defeat at Nyabela’s headquarters at KoNomtjarhelo [present day Roos Senekal]. Mampuru II, Nyabela and Marishane were arrested and taken to Pretoria.
Marishane was sentenced to seven years in prison for harbouring Mampuru II. Nyabela was sentenced to death but his sentence was later commuted to life in prison. Mampuru II was sentenced to death by hanging for rebelling against the colonial regimes and for the murder of his brother Sekhukhune I.
The Transvaal Advertiser of November 24 1883 reported thus on Mampuru II’s execution:
‘The Executive Council of this state having decided that the sentence of death pronounced upon the kaffir Chief Mampuru at the last Criminal Sessions of the High Court for murder and rebellion should be carried out, the execution took place on Thursday morning of 22 November.
‘Generally the dread sentence of the law is carried out within the precincts of the gaol, but, for some reason or other, it was resolved to vary the practice in the case of Mampuru, and the gallows was erected on the western side of the gaol, within the enclosure … some 260 white persons took advantage of the opportunity of witnessing a public execution furnished to them by the Executive … these men of education and standing in society … turned out early in the morning to behold a scene that, under any circumstances, is most repulsive and horrible.
‘The Government … enforced the attendance of the kaffir prisoners, who had been more or less compatriots of Mampuru; and they were compelled to witness the death agonies of the Chief. It may be mentioned that the Government did not consider it necessary to provide the condemned prisoner with a shirt, and he was hanged in all his nakedness.’
The New York Times of December 19 1886 painted a gory and barbaric scene of Mampuru II’s demise.
‘Mampuru was led naked to the jail yard in the presence of 200 whites. The first rope used broke when the trap was sprung and Mampuru fell into a pit below. He was dragged out, however, and another attempt to hang him was successful.’
Pretoria Central Prison, where Mampuru II was imprisoned was renamed in his honour by the ANC government in 2013 and is now known as Kgoši Mampuru Management Centre.
Mamone, the seat of the Bapedi Marota Mamone falls under the Sekhukhune District Municipality, renamed in honour of Mampuru II’s bitter rival.
In its 2014 judgment the Constitutional Court ruled that the killing of Sekhukhune I by Mampuru II ‘cannot be said to constitute conquest by might and bloodshed as was the common practice in customary law.’
‘The conduct of Mampuru II in killing Sekhukhune I and fleeing to Nyabela is not consistent with the conduct of a person who had come to conquer and take over kingship. With respect, this is the conduct of a common criminal. It is a fact that he paid the ultimate price for the crime he committed.’
The court also ruled that ‘Mampuru II did not kill Sekhukhune I in the context of a challenge between them for kingship as was the case upon Sekwati I’s death in 1861 when Mampuru II fled with his followers and Sekhukhune subsequently usurped kingship.’
The Constitutional Court also upheld the finding by the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims that Sekhukhune I had won the succession battle against Mampuru II upon the death of Sekwati I in 1861, and ascended the throne, as it was not unusual for the kingship to be obtained through might and bloodshed as it was in line with common practice at the time.
The court also ruled that the coronation of Mampuru II by the British after Sekhukhune’s arrest in 1879 ‘cannot be said to be consistent with the customary law of the Bapedi.’
‘There is no evidence that the Bakgoma, Bakgomana and Dikgadi sanctioned or were part of the alleged coronation. The deposition of Sekhukhune I and the subsequent coronation of Mampuru II by the British Government can simply be seen as a unilateral act of a colonial master who disregarded the laws and practices of the indigenous Bapedi nation.’
Although the Constitutional Court is the highest court in the land, its ruling has however failed to bring to a close this century old dispute over the Bapedi kingship. Even long after brothers Mampuru II and Sekhukhune I were killed, deep divisions prevail among the descendants of both men. The Sekhukhune themselves are divided over who is the rightful ruler. And so are the Mampuru.
The Sekhukhune family has been battling since the 1960s, with brothers Thulare Rhyne Sekhukhune and Kgagudi Kenneth Sekhukhune vying for the throne.
Thulare, who was registered as King Sekhukhune III after his birth on December 24 1946 went to his grave in 2006 without having resolved the battle with his brother.
Thulare’s mother Mankopodi served as regent between 1965 and 1974 while her son and heir was completing his studies. On completion of his law studies from the University of the North, Thulare was unable to take over the throne due to internal strife within the family.
Two years later, in 1976, while he was working as a clerk in the Germiston magistrate’s court in the Witwatersrand, his brother Kgagudi was offered the crown by the royal council. This later resulted in a long, protracted and bitter court battle between Thulare and Kgagudi.
This was after Thulare returned to reclaim his crown but Kgagudi refused to step down. The Lebowa Bantustan administration further fueled the raging fire by recognizing Thulare as the rightful king.
The Pretoria Supreme court eventually ruled in favour of Kgagudi, saying the royal council had not acted fairly and he should stay on as king. Thulare died a sickly and bitter man in December 2006, a king without a kingdom.
In the wake of his death, it emerged that a commission headed by academic Professor Ralushai had concluded that Thulare was indeed the rightful king of the Bapedi. However, this had been swept under the carpet by the ANC provincial government for fear of stoking the long raging fires. Although Thulare’s son Thulare Victor Thulare is the officially recognized Kgoši of the Bapedi, his uncle Kgagudi Kenneth Sekhukhune is refusing to relinquish his position. Yet, the dispute rages.
The Mampuru are also divided over who among them is the rightful heir in their lineage. The Mafate Tubatse Mampuru Royal Council is also laying claim to the crown and have been plotting to challenge the Bapedi Marota Mamone and the Sekhukhune.
Marota Mamone want government to recognise Billy Mampuru III, a great grandson of Mampuru II as the rightful heir to the Bapedi kingship.
‘This Mampuru house is the most senior house and according to our tradition Kgoši Mampuru is the right heir to the Bapedi nation,’ Seraki Mampuru of the Marota Mamone Royal council told a gathering of thousands who had come to honour his slain ancestor in Mamone.
Seraki who has been spearheading the campaign by the Bapedi Marota Mamone to challenge for the crown. He is a huge critic of government and Sekhukhune I’s legacy, labelling him an opportunist, an illicit gun runner who sacrificed his people in pursuit of power.
Minister of Justice and correctional services Joel Masutha and Minister of Public Service and Administration Ngoako Ramatlhodi were in attendance. But old divisions remained apparent as the Sekhukhune shunned the event to honour their ancestor.
In three large marquees on an open field near the royal homestead, thousands sat to listen to speeches in praise of Mampuru II.
An eerie artwork depicting Mampuru II’s final moments in the form of a wooden statue of a man with a noose tied around his neck from a wooden platform stood facing the crowds beneath a large statue where over a dozen dignitaries sat facing the gathered crowds.
It was a grim reminder of how a brutal, illegitimate regime meddling in the affairs of a sovereign kingdom sent a man who stood up against its bullying to a barbaric, beastly and savage demise before a crowd of ignorant onlookers.
It is tragic though, that even after these many years the Bapedi remain a fragmented nation, a people who when elsewhere in the world nations and tribes are coming together, they remain deeply divided over the acts of their ancestors who may possibly have long made peace in the after life.-©Mukurukuru Media Enterprise
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