Location of Mabolwe

Mabolwe is a village in Central District of Botswana. The village is located in the eastern tip of Botswana, close to the border with Zimbabwe, and it has a primary school. The population was 735 in 2001 census. Mabolwe village may appear to be hardly noticeable to people from other areas who enjoy the privilege of 'being original' than other areas of the country and along the A1 road enjoy.But one thing that most Batswana miss to realise is that Mabolwe area has equal opportunities to also become a tourism destination like the northern part of Botswana. It has an abundance of wildlife, wonderful ancestral hills, unique appetizing trees and is home to the much-fancied colophospermum mopane which is a main source of the mopane worm, the caterpillar of the moth Imbrasia belina.The caterpillars are rich in protein and are eaten by people, and the sale of roasted or dried mopane worms can contribute significantly to rural economies. It looks a little well off economically as evidenced by well constructed homesteads and domestic activities here and there. In 2008 the government of Botswana found it vital to approve a border Post in Mabolwe Mmamabaka which links both Botswana and Zimbabwe after a long time request from Mabolwe villagers. The construction of the project has already started but the whole process is still pending since necessary infrastructure and personnel should be provided before the border could be opened to the public. Another reason that could delay its operations, according to the former assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning Mr Samson Guma Moyo, was the political turmoil in Zimbabwe. He said what Botswana could do in the meantime was to continue with the preparations for the opening of the border on her side. He noted that the road from Mabolwe to the border needed to be improved, which would cost a lot of money. Mr Guma also said cost of building the bridge across the Shashe River into Zimbabwe was extremely high. Had it been the initiation progressed as it was meant to, this would have highly benefited the village especially in terms of development as well as employment.


Babirwa people have moved from place to place before they finally settled in their present settlements permanently. It is hoped that this might shed light on Babirwa people of present-day Botswana. The region called Bobirwa is the area which lies between the Shashe River Tuli Block and a north-South line approximately 28 0 15 ' E. The area compasses the vIllages of Bobonong, Gobajango,Mabolwe, Lentswe-Ie-Moriti, Mathathane, Molaladau, Mothabaneng, Semolale and Tsetsebjwe.

Babirwa originated in Nareng which lies in the south of Bolobedi in Letswalo country around Phalaborwa. Babirwa people present at Nareng date back to between 1510 and 1599. Babirwa moved from Nareng under their chief, Tshukudu, to the Blauwberg area in the former Transvaal. It was while they were at Blauwberg that they started breaking up around the 1820s. The group that left Blauwberg headed for Zimbabwe under the leadership of Dauyatswala and his brother Makhure(a). This group was not welcomed in Mambo's country.

The two brothers decided to leave the place to seek refuge somewhere else. At the last moment Makhure refused to go with Dauyatswala. Dauyatswala together with his followers moved back to the Transvaal. Makhure was given a piece of land in Zimbabwe to live with his followers. They lived for a while before they were attacked by the Ndebele of Mzilikazi, who was running away from Shaka's rule, in 1837 .They fled to the present day Botswana led by Sekoba, one of Makhure's sons. Sekoba was accompanied by his brothers Makala, Mbalane and Bolamba who in most traditions is mentioned alongside Sekoba as the leader of the group. Among the group were also Sekoba's uncles, Serumola, Legong, Mphago and Maunatlala. It is not clear from the sources whether these men were full brothers or half brothers of Makhure. This group broke up with Sekoba and his followers, settling at Lephokwe while the Bolamba's group settled in the present Tuli Block .

Some sources claim that Sekoba' s group settled first at Gubadwe Hill near Gobajango and that is where Babirwa began spreading over the area which is today called Bobirwa, including the Tuli Block. Babirwa did not live under the authority of Sekoba for long. They broke from Sekoba and lived ill scattered, isolated settlements. Only those who were loyal to Sekoba remained with him. Sekoba's group went to settle at Majweng Hills. Bolamba and his followers settled at Zembefonyi near the present day Lentswe-le-Moriti. Maunatlala settled his people in Lepoko1e Hills in the northern part of Bobonong. Serumola moved his people and settled at Lephale Hills in the Tuli Block and Makala settled East of Mapungubwe. The people of Kgwatalala and Mbalane settled on the hill called Lekhubu-la-Mbalane in the vicinity of the present day Semolale. In their settlements Babirwa were continually attacked by the Ndebe1e forces raiding and looting their cattle. In the 1860s Khama sent his newly formed age-regiment of Mafolosa and Matshosa to Bobirwa. These age-regiments were to group Babirwa in one place(centralization). Because of the attacks and resentment of Khama' s rule, Babirwa migrated to the Transvaal and joined other Babirwa people there. They stayed in the Transvaal until 1894 when they were attacked by the Boers, where eupon Babirwa returned to their settlements in Botswana. Sekoba' s group, who were by then led by his son Madikwe, settled at Majweng Hills in the north-eastern part of the present day Bobonong.

In the 1890s Malema became the leader of the people of Bolamba who settled in the region now called the Tuli Block in Zembefonyi, next to him was Mmadema at Pitseng, near Ghadi Pan, and within the same region Serumola and his followers settled at Lephale Hill. The people of Serumola must have been the ones from whom Mathathane people descend. According to oral information Mathathane village was established in the 1930s under the leadership of Serumola (M. Mangogo1a, personal communication). At the moment they are still ruled by Serumola' s grandson, Richard Serumola. Prior to their occupation of Mathathane, these people were among the Malema people who were forced to leave the Tuli Block by Khama III in 1920. In 1906 Khama III had sent his son-ill-law Modisaotsile Mokomane(one primary school in bobonong is named after him) as a chief representative to group Babirwa people and place them in one village. Modisaotsile established the present Bobonong in 1909 and was joined by other small groups which were loyal to Khama III. In 1919 Khama sent Modisaotsi1e to go and remove Malema's people from the Tuli Block to pave a way for the British South African Company's white settlers who were tosettle in the Tuli Block. Khama had ceded the area of Tuli Block in 1895 to the British government who had passed it to theBSA Company. Malema refused to leave the place reasoning that he had already ploughed hence he need to yield first and as a result Modisaotsile used force. His regiments burnt the fields of Malema's people. At some point Malema was summoned to Serowe in chains and Babirwa cattle were also confiscated. Death sentence was passed on him and everyone was ordered to kill him with a spear wherever he was spotted. Interestly Malema filed a case in court of law demanding his ancestral land back and claiming to have lost $40,000 in damages. He was represented by Mafikeng-based lawyer by the name Glucksman whom Malema promised to pay him 1000 heads of cattle if all he emerge victorious. The interpreter during the hearing of the case was Ramaeba Kwada (the writer’s great grandfather). Khama died before the issue was settled but his son Sekgoma II upon being installed as a kgosi admitted that his father acted harshly. At the end out of British interests the issue was thrown away. In protest Malema fled with his people to Transvaal and returned later. Upon their return Malema settled at Molaladau in 1944 and died peacefully in 1959 as old man. Other groups; Serumola settled at Lephale Hills later Mathathane, Madema in Semolale, Mokgethi in Gobajango, Phole in Tsetsetjwe.

One of Madema's sons Ngala and his elder brother Kgoboko decided to move some miles aways from their fathers kingdom and finally landed in the current day Mabolwe. On the other side was Madome Mabidi Sebola followed by his brothers Makgasane Sebola and Moseki Sebola as well as his sisters Molebowe Mankona Mathora, Makale Sebola including his half brothers Jack Sebola, Sezoo Sebola and Mosholombe. These two groups of kinsmen together with other families they came along with settled at far apart but would eventually unite as time went on to form one community. The Great Ngala eventually became Mosada meaning chief in deep sebirwa language as it was believed to have first reached the place. It is still not clear to what significance for the place to be named Mabolwe, with some people trying to come up with some unending stories to interrelate or try to make sense to what led to the naming. It is affectionately known as Mothabeng by its lovers due to its soils, which mostly have little sand.


Tradition is also deeply embedded as elderly people here still hold on to their traditional way of life. Mabolwe people still have a strong bond with South African who live on the other side of the border. To them, South Africa is closer to them compared to other parts of Botswana and this is evidenced by the culture that they share. Babirwa are believed to originate from South Africa where most of their relatives still live thereby enhancing continuous trips for social purposes. Most of their means of survival are centred in South Africa, for instance, medical help. Mabolwe people just like other Babirwa still speak sebirwa language which sound more like a mixture of Sepedi, Sesotho and Venda both in South Africa to give a clear indication that they originate there. Apart from language, their dances, food and traditional clothing is exactly similar to their South African counterpart. Here culture is mostly evidenced by the commitment and devotion of the village elders who defied all odds to establish a traditional troupe named BDF X1. Due to the name some people think the group is related to Major Bright’s boys or Matshwenyego Fisher’s platoon, but they only possess a special link to President Ian Khama. Having been formed in 1978 as Mabolwe Traditional Troupe, the group discarded the brand in 1979 to label itself BDF X1. The name was derived from the celebrations in which Khama was installed as the paramount chief of Bangwato in Serowe in 1979 where it was hired to perform. Even today the group has stuck to the name that it has now become well known in Bobirwa, a thing that usually sparks confusion whenever they are called on stage to perform. However, the strategic name often draws a huge audience and attracts a lot of cash prizes when they perform. The name is simply a tribute to Khama when he parted ways with the Botswana Defence Force and the group still nurtures and respects the day they performed for him in 1979.

The group consists of 40 elderly women all in their late 50s. Alongside the ZEBRAS troupe from Mathathane, BDF X1 provides the most cherished form of entertainment, not only in Bobirwa but throughout the country. Their movements are determined by the occasion for which they are hired to perform, be it a wedding celebration, or even sometimes political rallies. In 2004, the group spent a month in China where they had been selected to perform and display Setswana culture. The group leader stressed that it broadened their horizons. “To be honest, everybody was impressed by our performance and we left behind a good image of our country. We are now flexible, even if BDF X1 football club could invite us to interact with them after the league, we are okay.” BDF X1 has also been to Zimbabwe. As old as they are Falala Ngala maintains that the time they spend at rehearsals does not in any way overstretch their schedules. “We have adjusted well to doing our personal things and going for practice.” She adds that the spirit of cooperation, commitment and a thirst to keep their culture alive is the only force behind the group’s 27 years success. However, the traditional singing is often put on hold during ploughing season as it is against the Sebirwa culture to beat drums at a time when rain is needed most. During such seasons they only prepare if they had been hired to perform somewhere outside the area. During practices, every one of them strictly abides by the command from the leader. The songs they emphasize on are the ones used to pray for the rain, ploughing season and those that were sung during night outs. Members believes that they mostly sing songs that convey a useful meaning to listeners combined with beautiful dance techniques that also appeal to the audience. Youth have found it difficult to join the troupe as they often fail to withstand the intense cultural practices maintained by the group. The group does not only keep the culture through dance but also conducts initiation on young girls and gives them advice on how to handle their husbands once they are married. “We do not allow a situation where a girl can have more than one man and there is no revenge if a man is playing around. Re ba ruta gore monona ha tshwarwe madeudeu.” Currently the group survives from the little they raise from performances and weave their own dance gear that includes beads and matlhowa. They even go as far as South Africa to fetch indigenous tree fruits that they use in dance gear. However they have expressed worry that the money is too little for the 40 of them to share. They appealed to the general public to donate anything that could help them survive in their endeavour to maintain Sebirwa cultural practices. “Even a roll of material to make a uniform is more than welcome because our uniform is now torn and we are not working yet we have a passion for our tradition.” BDF X1 troupe’s main concern is that they have been the backbone of the Bobirwa Trade Fair since its inception but they say the government has done nothing so far to acknowledge their presence. “We are desperately in need of donors and the government has turned a deaf ear to us.”

Though a strong bond has been established with the name, BDF X1 has forwarded the name and two others to the registrar of societies to select a suitable one for them. Members said though they foresee a situation where they will be allocated a different name in their certificate, it will take them centuries to cut the umbilical cord with “BDF X1”. “All the names we submitted were suggested by Mabolwe residents and we hope we will adjust to any outcome of the Registrar of Societies. But before we change the name we wish the vice president could come to Mabolwe, where he is assured of royal treatment.”[1]


Coordinates: 21°49′23″S 28°50′17″E / 21.82306°S 28.83806°E / -21.82306; 28.83806

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