He did not die of natural causes. He was assassinated in cold blood; not at night, but in broad day light; worse of all, right in the kgotla. It was on a cold June day. It was on 18th June 1916. He had just returned from Mafikeng where the colonial administration offices were. The Bangwaketse had a bank account there with Standard bank and Seepapitso had gone there to manage the financial affairs of the Bangwaketse. Little did he know that on the day of his return he would breathe his last breath. He had fell into a serious argument with his cantankerous younger brother Moeapitso. There was nothing unique about such a verbal battle. Actually their quarrelling was typical of their relationship. The cause of the argument was about money. Moeapitso had demanded money from his brother after Seepapitso’s return from a three-day trip to Mafikeng. Moepitso was an angry man. He felt cheated of his father’s inheritance most of which he felt had been distributed in favour of Seepapitso. But he was also a careless spender who was perpetually impoverished. As the argument heated up, Moeapitso left in anger to imbibe alcohol the whole afternoon. When he returned, although he had been drinking, he was not drunk. As the sun set, the king went to the kgotla to meet his headmen who had gathered to welcome him back from his trip and to brief him on tribal matters that had taken place in his absence. When he entered the kgotla there were about ten seated men. Moeapitso, the king’s angry brother, was amongst the ten. As soon as the king started to speak, the rude Moeapitso left in defiance in the middle of the king’s speech. Out of sight of everyone, Moeapitso perched his rifle on the wood so that the barrel pointed into the kgotla, he took aim at Seepapitso and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore through Seepapitso and lifted him off his stool; it burst through his body and left him bleeding profusely in a heap on the kgotla floor. There was silence. Utter shock. The shot couldn’t have come from afar. The king had been shot at close range. As he struggled to his feet he asked ‘Moeapitso o mpolaela eng?’ (‘Moepitso, why are you killing me?’). He lay there on the kgotla floor bleeding profusely; dying. Pandemonium broke out. Others ran away while some were too terrified to move. As others gained composure, they ran towards where the king had fallen. Those who fled went and spread the tragic news. Receivers of the news fainted. There was wailing and sobbing in the thick winter night. People spoke in hushed voices. Neighbours gathered together in the patlelo. The Bangwaketse king was dead! The village did not sleep. Moepitso displayed strange behaviour when he appeared on the scene. As people carried the dying king into the house, he quietly helped in the task. Moepitso was strangely quiet and nervous. The assassin was also in shock. Judas! News of the tragedy spread like wildfire. Government officials and Europeans working in Kanye came to verify the tragic news for themselves. Moeapitso’s spectacles, the gun used for the act and a spent cartilage were found among pepper trees behind the tribal office from where the fatal shot came. Corporal Baker thus arrested Moepitso on the charge of the murder of his brother. What had led to such an unfortunate death of a king? Seepapitso’s father, Bathoen I had died in old age when Seepapitso took over the chieftaincy peacefully. Seepapitso was a graduate of the famous Lovedale Institution of South Africa. He was a modern educated married man who valued the traditions of his people. He was also a Christian man; an avid player of an organ on Sundays in the LMS church in Kanye kwa Ntsweng. He was one of the most organized dikgosi of his time. All kgotla proceedings were documented as he kept the minutes. He was the son of Kgosi Bathoen and Mohumagadi Gaogangwe, the daughter of Sechele I. She had first married Pilane, the Bakgatla chief and bore him two children, Baitirile and a girl, Maserame. While still married to Pilane, Gaogangwe eloped with Bathoen I and later married him. She bore Bathoen I three children: Seepapitso, Ntebogang and Moeapitso. Seepapitso ruled in Kanye between 1910 and 1916 while Ntebogang reigned after her mother as regent from 1924 until 1928 when she handed over the throne to Seepapitso’s son and heir, Bathoen II, the father to Seepapitso IV who was to rule Bangwaketse for a long time.
Moeapitso, Seepapitso’s brother was an angry man. He was upset because he felt cheated in the way their father’s inheritance had been distributed. As the eldest son, Seepapitso had received a considerable estate which far exceeded the one received by Moeapitso’s inheritance. This was very much in accordance with Tswana custom; or even more, much more in consonance with Sengwaketse custom which considers the most senior son to have the responsibilities of the father upon the death of his father. The eldest son was bound by tradition to provide for his mother and siblings. Burning with rage, jealousy and anger, Moeapitso demanded repeatedly to be given half of the inheritance. He was an arrogant brother who had minimum respect for the Bangwaketse kgosi. He saw himself as an equal of the kgosi. Seepapitso was patient with his spoilt and cantankerous brother. He gave him a chance to judge cases in the kgotla and occasionally gave Moeapitso money and cattle with the hope that he would be appeased. He was wrong. Moeapitso’s anger did not subside. It grew. His careless spending made matters worse. He was therefore continuously in short of cash and continued to demand more money from his brother. His demands for cash therefore increasingly became ridiculous. Moeapitso later expressed an interest to marry his sweetheart and Seepapitso was opposed to the proposed wedding. Now saddled with increased responsibility and fresh financial demands which came with his married status, Moeapitso was strapped for cash especially that he had careless spending habits. He therefore began to demand more money from his brother. He believed that it was Seepapitso’s responsibility to provide for him since Seepapitso was a king and had inherited most of the wealth. Seepapitso was however irritated by his brother’s irresponsibility since he had squandered all his inheritance wealth on youthful lifestyle; he therefore ignored Moeapitso’s unnecessary demands for money. In anger, he went to Cape Town with his new wife for a couple of months and they were later stranded without money. Seepapitso had no choice but had to send money to them to return to Kanye. He did. A few days before the fateful shooting, Moeapitso had went on a hunt of a lion and a leopard with a mophato. After the hunt Moeapitso refused to surrender the skins of the killed cats to the kgosi as Tswana custom dictates. He instead threatened that if the skins were taken from him by force he would “shoot a man the whole world would cry over.” This statement was interpreted as a threat against the life of Kgosi Seepapitso. Additionally his refusal to surrender the royal skins suggested that he wanted bogosi for himself. Moeapitso was an angry man. In the village, his anger was not attributed to his bitterness for more inheritance. It was said that his violent nature was derived from the eating of the heart of a leopard that he had hunted and killed. It was believed that the eating of a leopard’s heart made him fearless and cruel. Therefore on one winter evening on June 18th, 1916, Moeapitso killed his brother in cold blood. His trial started on 28 September 1916 in Lobatse. He was found guilty on October 5th 1916 and hanged on February 8, 1917.