HEEDING THE CALL TO FIGHT FOR THE FATHERLAND
In this series, featuring Dr. Tlou Setumu’s works on our own history, heritage and culture, this week the excerpt is from TT Cholo biography, entitled, HEEDING THE CALL TO FIGHT FOR THE FATHERLAND.
Here now we trace the roots. We trace the roots of a tree. We trace the roots of a tree that has grown and bore the fruits of freedom in South Africa. A tree that bore the fruits of freedom that we enjoy today. That tree is Theophilus Tlou (T.T.) Cholo. Here we trace his roots within the Bakone people of the Matlala royal house, from where he has originated.
The Bakone people originally came from somewhere around the Zambezi River region almost at the same time when all the Bantuspeaking communities migrated from north and central Africa about 2 500 years ago. On their migration route, they traveled southwards along the coast and entered the former colony/province of Transvaal at Phalaborwa. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Bakone settled there for a while as they were also involved in copper mining. When they eventually moved southwards, they split into three sections. One portion took the direction of the present-day Middleburg, while another one remained in the Bokgaga country, around the present-day Leydsdorp. The third and the largest section of the Bakone settled at the place which later came to be known as Ga Matlala (Matlala’s Location). Around the Matlala Mountains, this section of the Bakone found a small chiefdom under their head leader, Ngwepe. The small Ngwepe chiefdom was easily subjugated by the Bakone, but was later allowed to move on to Makgabeng Mountains.
The royal house of this section of the Bakone came to be known as Matlala, which became a hereditary name for the successive magoši of the Bakone. They adopted tlhanhlagane (scaly-feathered finch) as their totem. This has been a distinctive Bakone identity marker up to this day. After the Bakone had settled for some time, at about the early years of the 19th century, one of Kgoši Matlala’s sons, Rakodi, traveled to Makgabeng and settled there with his own people. Kgoši Matlala, fearing that Rakodi intended to establish himself as an independent ruler, sent a force to attack him. Rakodi and a number of his people were killed.
By the middle of the 19th century, the Bakone at Ga Matlala were beginning to experience the gradual influx of people of European origin. Initially, it was the European travelers, hunters, traders and explorers who did not seem to be interested in settling on one place as they were involved in their different businesses. Following these initial nomadic European groups were the missionaries, who came to settle among black communities as their business was to spread the Holy Gospel among those communities which they regarded as “savage”, “backward”, “uncivilised” heathens who needed salvation.
The Berlin Missionary Society was among the first batch of European Holy Gospel spreaders to expand to the then northern Transvaal. In 1860 Alexander Merensky arrived at the Bapedi capital at Tšate and was welcomed by Kgoši Sekwati. Merensky was later followed by other missionaries, Grützner, Nachtigal and Endemann. The first mission station which was built in the Bapedi country was Gerlarchschoop. Later Kgalatlou was built.
After having arrived and settled among the Bapedi, the Lutheran missionaries began to spread and establish themselves among other black communities in the northern Transvaal. Among the areas in which the Berlin Missionary Society established its mission stations included Malokong (in Waterberg), Mphome (in Ga Mmamabolo), Leipzig (in Blouberg), Makgabeng, Medingen, Moletji, Tshakhuma, Sibasa, Georgenholtz and Ga Matlala. The mission station at Ga Matlala was established in 1865 and was placed under Reverend Kühl.
Around the time of the establishment of a Lutheran mission station at Ga Matlala, Kgoši Mongwati was a ruler in the Matlala royal house. The jurisdiction over which the Matlala dynasty ruled over, bordered with the area of Matebele of Langa in the south-west. In the east the Matlala country shared its borders with the Moletji area. From the north-eastern, northern and north-western sides, the Matlala authority stretched up to Blouberg where it shared borders with the Bahananwa of Malebogo.
Kgoši Mongwati was a regent on the Matlala throne acting on behalf of his nephew, Railo, who was still underage. Kgoši Mongwati was friendly towards the missionaries as he showed that by allowing them settlement among his people – the Bakone. The fact that he had allowed them to build a mission station in his country indicated his cordial relations with them. In 1879 Mongwati was replaced by the rightful heir to the Matlala throne, Railo. The cordial relations between the missionaries and the Matlala authority drastically deteriorated during the reign of Kgoši Railo. He was not prepared to co-operate with the missionaries.
The next Matlala ruler, Kgoši Selaki, died under mysterious circumstances and he was suspected of having been poisoned. Kgoši Selaki was succeeded by Kgoši Sephuti in 1906. Sephuti was acting on behalf of Sekgwari, who was still a minor. Kgoši Sekgwari, who was popularly known as Mokoko, was inaugurated in 1918 at a time when protests against the whites-only government policies had reached unprecedented levels. It was during this period that the protesters at Ga Matlala decided to formally establish a branch of the South African Natives National Congress (SANNAC, later became ANC in 1923), the organisation which had been the voice of the deprived Africans nationally.
T.T. Cholo, has his roots embedded in the culture and tradition of fighting for freedom as demonstrated by how his people at Ga Matlala, including his immediate relatives, his father, Phuti Rasenaka Thupela Cholo, and his uncle, Mafotšha Cholo, became heavily involved in a bitter struggle trying to free their people from dispossession, oppression, exploitation and discrimination.
Mafotšha Cholo, as the founding member of the SANNC branch in Ga Matlala, was a brave and vocal man who led from the front. He was a fearless leader of Ma-Congress, the reference given to the members of the SANNC at Ga Matlala, which only meant that they were Congress members. His bravery was clearly demonstrated in one incident in 1927 in which he beat up one white Native Commissioner, nicknamed, Nyelamasepa, who went into a comma. The said white Native Commissioner was treating black people as shit, as his derogatory name, which the locals gave him, suggests. Mafotšha’s fearless assault of a white high-ranking official was out of anger and frustration because of the ill-treatment meted against black people.
Besides Mafotšha Cholo, there was Phuti Rasenaka Thupela Cholo, the father to the tree (T.T.) whose roots we are tracing and locating. Rasenaka was also a freedom fighter like his brother, Mafotšha. Rasenaka was a migrant labourer who once had contract jobs in the mines in the Johannesburg area. During those periods of the shortage of cheap labour in mines, many able-bodied black men were coerced in many ways to enter into contracts with mining companies. Contracts of up to six months were forced to black labourers who were periodically rotated and exchanged. It was during his stint in the mines that Rasenaka became actively involved in the SANNC and trade union politics. Rasenaka was an ardent supporter of Clement Kadalie, the leader of the then powerful workers’ union, the Industrial Commercial Union (ICU). Rasenaka’s political and trade union involvement and experience were later used at Ga Matlala when he had finished his contracts in the mines. That experience was vital at a time when the SANNC branch had just been established at Ga Matlala. When the SANNC branch was established in Ga Matlala in 1919, Rasenaka was 33 years old as identification documents put his date of birth at 1886.
Besides his political involvement, familywise, Rasenaka married Ngwana Nkoko. Ngwana Nkoko’s adult name was Seemole, while her other name was Mangwala. The union between Rasenaka and Seemole produced eight children: five boys and three girls. The first born was the tree whose roots we are tracing in this section: Tlou Theophillus (T.T.) Cholo. He was born on 20 October 1925 (Errors in his identity documents indicate that he was born in 1926). The second child was Ramokone Manoele Cholo, who was born on 8 October 1928. She was later married to the Tladi family at Ga Chipana. The name, Manoele, was given to her after a certain Emmanuel first saw her after she was born. It was a common practice in those days that if you were the first person to arrive in a family where a baby was born, you could give the small baby a gift and then ask that that baby be named after you; simple as that! But that was just going to be another name just like a nickname. However, in some cases, such names stick to their owners to such an extent that they replace original family names.
The third child of Rasenaka and Seemole was Makwena ‘a Mathinya, who was born on 20 September 1932. He was given the “Christian” or European name, Jameson. Just like T.T., he was given a name from his paternal side of his ancestors. That was an important rule in which children were named alternately between the parents of a wife and a husband. A first-born child derived a name from its father’s family, particularly, the father of the husband. The second born would be named after one person from the wife’s family, particularly, the father of the wife. The third born child, like Makwena in this case, got the name from the paternal side of his ancestors.
The forth one, who got a name from the maternal side, was Makwena ‘a Tlogela (Ephraim) and was born on 28 July 1934. He later as an adult, went to live in the Makgabeng area, at Kgatu village. Ephraim was followed by the twin brothers born on 20 October 1938, Kibela (Abel or Mathinye) who got the name from the father’s side and Kwena (Kentric) who got his name from the mother’s side. Kibela as an adult, went to settle at Sodoma village in the Mogalakwena area, while Kwena Kentric, known as K.K, settled at Semaneng village at Ga Matlala. Mmakgabo (Seemole or Jinny), born on 24 October 1943, was the seventh child, and she was later married at Semaneng in the Moabelo family. The last-born child was Ennie (Mmachoene) who was born on 12 February 1947 and she stayed at Ga Chipana with her elder sister, Ramokone (Manoele).
TT Cholo and his family later moved from Ga Matlala; settled in Mmakala (Lennes) near the Mogalakwena River. It was in Mmakala that TT received his primary and secondary schooling before he went to Gauteng to seek employment in bright-light cities in 1945 like his peers at that time. In Johannesburg TT became involved in politics until he escaped from the country in 1961 when the apartheid white minority government was ruthlessly hell-bent on destroying its opponents. Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp. co.za; and also in Polokwane Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).