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1780-1882 - Marota Empire / Bapedi Kingdom

The Bapedi originated from the Bakgatla and moved to the Eastern-Central Transvaal. This is where they built a powerful empire in Bopedi, by a skilful combination of diplomacy and military conquest. Their motto, "Fetakgomo o sware Motho, Mofetakgomo ke moriri oa hloga", was used to build a strong and revered Pedi nation. They implemented it practically in building a nation by bringing in small tribes, not slaughtering the weak and defeated people, by using cattle to marry as many women as possible from neighboring tribes, by admitting outsiders and refugees into the fold of the tribe and by conquering recalcitrant tribes.

The empire grew over time to a stage where at the zenith of its success it covered the area between the Lekwe (Vaal) and the Lebepe (Limpopo) rivers, in the south and north, and the Komati river and the Kgalagadi, in the East and in the West respectively. They regarded the entire vast land as their own and Pedi soldiers were sent to check the boundaries. They fought everyone who encroached on it - Boers, British, Swazis, Arab slave traders, and others.

As a consequence, the Marota, as the Bapedi are affectionately addressed, were the de facto rulers of a great empire that included people of other origins, including the Bakgaga, Batau, Bakone, Baroka, Batlokwa, Baphuthi, Bakwena, Bakgatla, Bantwane, BaMongatane, BaMohlala, Mapulana, Matebele, Matlala, Batswana, MaSwazi, Batswako and others. They all owed allegiance and had a common loyalty to the Pedi kings. They even requested initiation sessions from the Pedi kings. So it is clear that, historically the Pedi were a relatively small tribe who by various means built up a considerable empire. This resulted in their language being accepted as a lingua franca and indeed, with minor adjustments, as the medium for Bantu schools in most of the Transvaal.

The basis of the Pedi power was laid by King Thulare (1780-1820). Thulare was a fearless warrior and a wise statesman. The Bapedi, like any other tribe, had their kings and royalty, their succession struggles and a powerful culture and tradition. The Pedi owned large herds of cattle and were skilful manufacturers of iron tools. It is because of their dependence on cattle for their everyday livelihood, that cattle imagery dominated their language in idioms, praise songs, poetry and speech.

While the birth of Sekhukhune [Sekukuni] to King Sekwati and his wife Thorometjane Phala in 1814 may have gone almost unnoticed, he was to bring joy, pride, prowess and bravery to the Pedi Nation. When he was born the young boy was named Matsebe. He acquired the name Sekhukhune later in life as a nickname and, like all such names, over time it replaced his real name. The young Matsebe acquired the name Sekhukhune as a consequence of his outstanding role in fights against Boers.

When his father, King Sekwati, died in 1861, Sekhukhune, with the help of his Matuba regiment, militarily repulsed an attempt on the throne of his father by his half-brother Mampuru. In true serota tradition he then allowed Mampuru to leave the Bapedi peacefully. During Sekhukhune`s rule Bapedi consolidated their power and fought many battles against the Boer and British land-grabbers and settler-colonialists. Although they fought on foot with assegais against men on horsebacks using guns, they fought heroically.

During the nineteenth century, Pedi armies were defeated by the Natal armies of Mzilikazi and were revived under the command of a Pedi chief, Sekwati. Afrikaner Voortrekkers in the Transvaal acquired some Pedi lands peacefully, but later clashed with them over further land claims. The Pedi-Boer War of 1876 nearly bankrupted the young ZAR republic. By the 1870s, the Voortrekker armies were sufficiently weakened from these clashes that they agreed to a confederation with the British colonies of Natal and the Cape that would eventually lead to the South African War in 1899.

After the defeat of the Zulus at the Battle of Ulundi on 4 July 1879 all available fighting men were concentrated in the Transvaal to defeat Sekhukhune. Sir Garnet Wolseley brought in Boers, British, 8,000 Swazi warriors, Mampuru`s soldiers and other auxiliaries and began to make final war preparations at Middleburg in October 1879. during the Anglo-Pedi war Sekhukhune was defeated and captured in 1879. In 1881, the Boers, who had regained their independence, set him free.

King Sekhukhune was murdered on the night of 13 August 1882 by his half-brother, Mampuru, who claimed that he was the legitimate King of the Marota. Sekhukhune seized the throne on 21 September 1861, when their father Sekwati, died. After assassinating Sekhukhune, Mampuru escaped and sought refuge first with Chief Marishane (Masemola) and later with Nyabela, king of the Ndebeles. After the death of King Sekhukhune, the Pretoria government divided Sekhukhuneland into small tribal units that owed allegiance not to one central Marota Authority but to Native Commissioners. This effectively destroyed one of the greatest empires of the century.

The unification of South Africa was preceded by the Anglo-Boer War, the Anglo-Zulu War, the so-called Kaffir Wars in the Eastern Cape, the resistance of King Sekhukhune, and other conflicts which bear memories of horrors, glory and mixed feelings. King Sekhukhune I was a unifier, a brave warrior-king and a great freedom fighter who left an enduring legacy in the struggle for the freedom of the South African people.





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