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Regiments critical in community development

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From time immemorial age regiments or mephato have always been the life-blood of Batswana societies.

Kgosi or chief was to the people what the heart is to the body.

He pumped the life-blood that kept the tribe alive.

But with the steady increase in the size and wealth of tribes, the army, formed of age regiments or mephato became very critical to Batswana.

This was a rite of passage or initiation school called bogwera held every four to five years for boys 16 years of age and lasted for about five months.

The boys were taken to a remote place, circumcised and taught how to behave as men.

This involved learning the law, customs and history of the tribe, how to hunt, how to fight and co-operate with each other, learning respect for older people and learning how to endure hardship.

When they completed bogwera, the boys were brought to the kgotla, formed into a regiment and given a regimental name.

Thereafter they remained in that regiment and had to be available at all times for duty.

Sometimes kgosi called them to go hunting, to raid cattle, clear lands, fetch reeds, build fences or just to entertain among others.

But when a new regiment was formed, the senior regiments were relaxed and the men were allowed to marry.

The late Kgosi Bathoen II who ruled Bangwaketse from 1928 to 1969 is an indelible example of what men, harnessed by one conviction called regiments or mephato can achieve working towards one definite end.

For his subjects’ benefit, Kgosi Bathoen magnetised the minds of his regiments with a pulsating desire to work hard and achieve more for themselves as a collective.

Through coordinated efforts of men who functioned in harmony, he achieved stupendous feats that set Kanye to become the village of firsts across the country in his time.

History records that the pioneer nationalist started the first agricultural fair in the country in 1938, first teacher training college, first irrigation project at Mmakgodumo dam which he had also built through regiments and supplied schools with farm fresh produce.

Kgosi Bathoen further immortalised himself by building the first council chambers, library, schools and named some like Maisantwa, Matsaakgang after the particularly regiments.

During the occasion to hand over Kgosi Bathoen’s private papers to the national archives July 2017, historian Dr Jeff Ramsay revealed that the former was interested in nationalism.

He shared that long before the nation gained Independence, Rakgosi as he was affectionately known by his subjects had created symbols that included kgabo, kwena, nare, tlou, phuti, thakadu and tholo among others with a view to incorporating them into a national flag to unify all tribes into one nation.

He said the legendary kgosi who was educated at Lovedale and Tigergloof had also set aside September 30 as the protectorate Day while Kanye became the main centre for national celebrations.

The historian furthermore shared that Kgosi Bathoen and Kgosi Tshekedi Khama resisted pressure from the Boers to enlist Batswana into the apartheid South African armed forces armed with nothing but the regiments behind them.

For his countless contributions, he was decorated with the Order of British Empire award in 1946 and commander of the British Empire later in 1 957 among others.

This has sadly changed with the new dawn according to a prominent oral historian Kgosi Kitso Kelosiwang.

He reiterated that Bangwaketse achieved a lot under Kgosi Bathoen II through public works done by regiments.

He said regiments nowadays were just symbolic with no definite function as they did in the past.

He said back in the day regiments were assigned duties by kgosi.

He shared that they built Maisantwa and Matsaakgang primary schools and Kanye-Lobatse road among others under Kgosi Bathoen’s visionary leadership.

He regretted that the heart of the concept of regiments had generally died with the new age because many largely viewed it as bordering on slavery.

He said people were now driven by ‘what’s in it for me.’

Young culture enthusiast Mr Taolo Mogobe likewise said regiments had somewhat lost their place in modern society.

He argued that the concept of Village Development Committees should have been structured around the idea of mephato to make the latter relevant. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Topo Monngakgotla

Location : Kanye

Event : History

Date : Sep 28 Mon,2020

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