The Difaquane Wars
The whole of southern Africa was subject to increasing disruption, migration and war from about 1750 onwards, as trading and raiding for ivory, cattle and slaves spread inland from the coasts of Mozambique, the Cape Colony and Angola. The tribes often captured opponents during battle and sold them to slave raiders. Some of the battles themselves may have been slave raids against an enemy tribe.
Paramount amongst the aggressors in these wars was an ambitious Zulu leader named Shaka, who controlled a large slice of Natal by around 1810. The Ngoni people, which includes the Zulu nation, refer to the wars which Shaka initiated as the Mfecane, or ‘the crushing.’ However, the Tswana people, who were amongst the victims of Shaka’s wars of expansion, refer to them as the Difaquane, which means ‘the scattering.’ Because they scattered, so they dispersed others.
A good explanation of this period is covered in John Reader’s excellent Africa (see Further Reading). He summarises the root causes:
Thus they [the Zulus] were trapped in ‘the trans-continental cross-fire of interrelated European plunder systems.’ It was the unrelenting advance of settlers from the west, and the predacious demands of slavers in the east – exacerbated by intermittent drought – that set southern Africa in turmoil during the early eighteenth century. Not Shaka, not the Zulus, not the Mfecane.
Eventually, after the wars passed in the 1840s, the Tswana states of Ngwaketse, Kwena and the Ngwato rose to prosperity. They organised their people into wards with their own chiefs, but all paying tribute to the king. The states were in competition over trade benefits for ivory and ostrich feathers, down new roads, south to the Cape Colony. These roads also brought Boer trekkers and Christian missionaries to Botswana.
One of the Tswana kings, Sechele of the Kwena (1829–92), was baptised by David Livingstone, who passed through Botswana on his missionary travels. However it was the Ngwato, who superseded the Kwena in trading supremacy, who produced the most remarkable and famous dynasty – and upon whom the following pages will concentrate.