Seepapitso IV: the last king standing By the time he died he had been sick for some time. To say his death was expected would be callous. Many had hoped that he would recover from his debilitating sickness; perhaps weak, but alive and still his old fiery self. That was not to be. He passed on one early morning in Princess Marina where he had been hospitalised for some time. Bangwaketse had been advised to limit their visitations to their ailing kgosi – to give him space to recuperate.
He was a man and a king who was truly loved by his people. Bangwaketse loved Seepapitso with a passion which would certainly make Bakwena dark with envy and shame for treating their king with disdain. Many beyond the borders of the Bangwaketse tribal territory respected him, and many still do, and saw him as a true defender of Botswana and all of its conservative values. The Kanye kgotla is a no-nonsense place in part because of Seepapitso. He has instilled in the tribe and the other dikgosi a sense of style and decorum which is hard to find elsewhere. Visit Kanye any Thursday morning – be there around 8 in the morning and marvel at the dignified traditional wedding ceremonies: men in jackets and women wearing those light blankets on their shoulders the Bangwaketse call tšalenyana. Perhaps this is the only place in Botswana where one can get married at the kgotla and kwa ga molaodi on the same day and get two certificates to prove it. It is on these Thursdays that you would see young men and old men guarding bogadi: 8 cattle and a sheep, the one we call mokwele or lengwaelo. This is the same sheep which when it arrives at the bride’s kraal it is slaughtered immediately, for it should not urinate in the kraal because e ka thiba diphatlha tsa tsholo! Bogadi has been standardised for a long time now amongst the Bangwaketse to avoid the day light robbery associated with bogadi negotiations reported amongst certain Bangwato and Kalanga groups. In this kgotla a wedding is not lenyalo as with other Setswana tribes, it is tseo from the verb tsaya. The one being taken as you would expect is a woman. The concept of taking a woman away from her parents is so deeply entrenched amongst the Bangwaketse to the point that one cannot marry in the kgotla lest they have build a house for the woman they wish to take. Now my dear friend, that is King Seepapitso’s Kanye.
Now, he is gone; never to be forgotten. I will remember him with that key signature statement: Bangwaketse, ke kgosi ya nyena, ke tsetswe, ga ke a tlhotšhwa. On that very point, he was right. Seepapitso was a King and he knew it. He commanded much respect from his people and from other tribes. He didn’t have to beat people into line. His dignity was not as a consequence of force and threats. He was a dignified man, a sharp dresser, a man of outstanding looks whose hair was always impeccable – that is, the little hair that was left on his head. In his poem, Ke Kanye, MLA Kgasa, writes of Seepapitso’s looks: “Gompieno go busa Seepapitso IV//Lekau la marata-go-lejwa//Ke santse ke solofetse dikgolo mo go ene.” Morwa Motsatsing, dikgolo tsa ga morwa-Bathoen di bonetse. What made Seepapitso unique were his sharp intelligence and a deep understanding that our republic was a negotiated one. He understood the important role of chiefs in nation building and cultural preservation. He loved Setswana culture and language. Educated as he was, he respected kgotla ya ga rraagwe, as he would call the Bangwaketse main kgotla. He understood the diaglossic nature of language and knew that the kgotla was the preserve of the Setswana language. Bangwaketse understood this and respected it. The vain display of English that is sometimes seen in various makgotla around the country is still unwelcome in Kanye main kgotla. Seepapitso was also respected for taking on the government on various issues – if one could characterise it as such. While others think it was a clash of the royal with the political, they are largely wrong. It was a clash of the real royals with the new-royals. The ministers were increasing behaving like dikgosi and taking roles which were hitherto reserved for the dikgosi, such as the allocation of tribal land. So Seeps did not really take on anybody, the government was progressively taking on his terrain. Seeps belongs to the old guard. He was the last of the old Tswana Kings. His passing therefore represents the end of the old and the beginning of the new, not just in Kanye, but also in Botswana at large. The Tswana Kings that remain are young and vibrant and some are unsure and not confident. They are very much de facto civil servants who draw a government monthly salary. Some are still attempting to establish themselves on the foundations set by their fore-fathers – sometimes with much irritation and minimum success. With the passing of Seeps, the Botswana landscape of kingdoms will never be the same since Seepapitso IV was the last king standing.