Like the Matebele of Langa, the Matebele of Kekana originated from the Hlubi in Zululand. They have elephant (tlou) as their totem. Their earliest chief, who appeared to have led them into the Transvaal, was Musi (Msi / Muši). Musi was succeeded by his son, Manala. Later the chiefdom split into fi ve divisions, among the five sons of Manala. One of these sons, Matombeni (Kekana) settled at Moletlane and established the Kekana chiefdom. A section of the Kekana broke away under Kgošigadi Mashashane and called themselves the Ledwaba people. Their new place was called Mashashane and was also represented by Kgoši Jack Eiland and Kgoši Jonathan Maraba. Another small section later broke away from Mashashane and settled near Mogalakwena River under Kgoši Nkidikitlana.
Another branch of the Kekana settled near Sefakaola Hill, at the present day town of Potgietersrus. This branch is commonly known as those of Mokopane, named after one of their revered chiefs. At Sefakaola hills, these Kekana people were mostly hunters and there were also fewer farmers. During their settlement at Sefakaola hills, Mmakgopa and Kgaba were their leaders and they did not have an actual chief because they were nomadic due to wars. Among the two, Mmakgopa was the senior leader. Around that area they found the Sotho speaking communities such as the Mashishi. Because of competition for resources, conflicts among the Matebele and Sotho communities were not uncommon.
While they were still at Sefakaola hills, power struggle erupted between Mmakgopa and Kgaba. As a result, Kgaba broke away and settled at the present day Moordrif. Kgaba had two sons, Tšhumane and Kwenane. Manyelenyele and Tlokwa were the main aides of Kgaba. After Kgaba died, the actual chieftaincy commenced and Tšhumane was made chief. Tšhumane was not the elder, but Kwenane was. But because Kwenane didn’t take care of their mother, the mother convinced the community to appoint Tšhumane chief. Tšhumane then fathered Mokopane (Setšwamadi). Kwenane fl ed after he was not appointed as chief. He settled in the Bapedi country.
When a circumcision school was instituted, Kwenane came back with mercenaries and killed his old rival brother, Tšhumane, who was made chief. Tlokwa was also implicated in the assassination of Tšhumane. Ramahlwa Kekana pursued the Bapedi mercenaries who killed Tšhumane. It was actually Ramahlwa who saw that Tlokwa was also with the killers. To prove Tlokwa’s ambitions and involvement in the assassination of Tšhumane, he came to take over the reigns of power, thereby succeeding the slain chief. This happened even if it was known that he orchestrated Tšhumane’s murder. It became very clear that Tlokwa’s intention was to take over power eventually. He also annexed the use traditional medicines and rainmaking (boroka) which belonged to Tšhumane. As Tlokwa was ruling, Tšhumane’s son, Mokopane, was growing. As he was growing bakgomana were planning to reveal to him how Tlokwa had actually killed his father, and forcefully took power. They only waited for the right time to do that.
When the bakgomana were convinced that Mokopane was old enough to handle the situation, they sent him to Tlokwa to demand certain ritual medicines, the thebele. After he submitted the most important thebele, Tlokwa demanded to be paid by a cow which used to bear twins. Mokopane then informed bakgomana of Tlokwa’s demand. The bakgomana took that as the opportunity to overthrow Tlokwa. They called a hunting party, lesolo, and planned to kill Tlokwa. Tlokwa was also aware of the fact that he was to be killed. He pleaded with the bakgomana that they kill him with dignity by not spilling his blood.
The bakgomana indeed heeded Tlokwa’s plea and they then strangled him with string, and indeed spilt no drop of his blood. Mokopane was then inaugurated as chief. Kgatabedi and Mapeni became close aides to Kgoši Mokopane. Kgoši Mokopane was said to have a special gift of “seeing” other than using his eyes. He was believed to be more like a prophet. He married and had two sons. With his power of “seeing”, Kgoši Mokopane “saw” that his elder son had ambition to take over power from him. After “seeing” this trouble within his son, he then killed that ambitious son with a knobkerrie.
Matsebe, the younger and the only surviving son, grew up and married. Mokopane again “saw” that Matsebe also became ambitious of taking power from him. At that time, Matsebe did not even have a single child in his marriage. After “seeing” that Matsebe was ambitious like his elder, Kgoši Mokopane also killed him the same way as the elder one. Kgoši Mokopane was a very powerful leader and was feared by his people. Nobody dared to raise a fi nger or a word of criticism, lest that would be another funeral.
As Kgoši Mokopane was ageing, the community began to look for an heir to the throne. Kgoši Mokopane had killed all his two sons and the succession issue became problematic. The community then demanded that the ageing Kgoši Mokopane sleeps with Matsebe’s wife, his daughter-in-law, in order to bear his successor. When he protested that he was too old for that job, he was persuaded until he succumbed. With Matsebe’s wife, Kgoši Mokopane fathered a son, Mokopane II. Mokopane II was therefore Kgoši Mokope’s blood son, but also his grandson as he was born from his son’s (Matsebe’s) wife.
Mokopane II was still a young boy when the Kekana had trouble with the Boers around the 1850s. The old Kgoši Mokopane was still in power when serious confl icts erupted between the Kekana chiefdom and the Boer emigrants (Voortrekkers) in 1854. There are indications that trouble between the Voortrekkers and Kgoši Mokopane’s people had been brewing for some time. The encroachment of the Boers in their country should have naturally angered the Matebele, not to mention the ill treatment of Blacks by superiority-conscious Whites at that time, particularly with their cruel indentured (“inboekseling”) system in which Black children were enslaved. Hermanus Potgieter, the younger brother to Commandant-General of the ZAR, Andries Hendrik Potgieter, was notorious among the Matebele for his short temper and violent slave raids, in which he used to murder people in cold blood. The Matebele referred to him as Nterekana while his brother, Hendrik, was called Ntereke (Nterekana is a diminutive form of Ntereke).
The brewing tension between the Kekana and the Voortrekkers exploded when Hermanus Potgieter killed Kgoši Mokopane’s youngest brother for allegedly having killed a buffalo calf. The Matebele were further angered when Hermanus killed a snake which they believed accommodated the spirit of their late chief. The Matebele of Kekana of Kgoši Mokopane, together with their neighbours, the Matebele of Langa of Kgoši Mankopane, murdered about twentyeight Boers, including Hermanus Potgieter. It is alleged that Hermanus was skinned alive and his skin was used for some rituals. The people of Kgoši Mokopane killed about fourteen of those Boers near Mogalakwena River (and that place was named Moorddrif – “murder drift”) whil Mankopane’s people murdered the other fourteen at Fothane Hill.
Article first published by the Limpopo Provincial Government heritage Month Souvenir Edition 2009