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Seetsele Modiri Molema: Historian of the Barolong, 1891–1965

Seetsele Modiri Molema, historien des Barolong, 1891–1965
Ettore Morelli

Résumés

Les intellectuels africains ont commencé à écrire de l’histoire avant que les historiens universitaires ne commencent à s’intéresser à l’Afrique. Ils ont souvent passé des décennies à élaborer des méthodes et des pratiques de recherche, à perfectionner leurs connaissances, à présenter et à débattre de leurs résultats. Leurs efforts ont rarement été remarqués par les universitaires, ces derniers se tournant vers les archives coloniales et les sources orales qu’ils traitèrent avec les techniques d’une histoire de l’Afrique naissante. Cet article étudie la vie et l’œuvre historique de Seetsele Modiri Molema, médecin et historien des Barolong de Mafikeng, dans l’Afrique du Sud moderne. Il suit le développement de ses méthodes entre les années 1930 et 1965, démontrant que ses livres moins connus sont précieux pour les historiens d’aujourd’hui. Enfin, il propose une première reconstitution des trois versions d’un manuscrit inédit, l’Histoire des Barolong, qui pourrait constituer l’ouvrage le plus important sur le passé lointain de l’Afrique australe centrale.

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Notes de l’auteur

This article was researched and written during three postdoctoral fellowships and a visiting fellowship. It was funded by the following: the South African NRF Chair in Archive and Public Culture, University of Cape Town (Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2020); the Research Project of National Interest (PRIN 2017) “Genealogies of African Freedom” (code KFW5RJ–004), at the Research Unit of the University of Pavia in the year 2021; and my current Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Basel, 2022 to present.

Texte intégral

This article is the product of prolonged conversations with several colleagues, whom I would like to thank here. Neil Parsons and Jan-Bart Gewald first supported my use of Seetsele Modiri Molema’s papers in my PhD thesis and asked for a stronger engagement with the context of their production. This was reiterated by John Wright in the comments on my doctoral research he kindly provided me with. Discussions with Pierluigi Valsecchi and Carolyn Hamilton on the role of African intellectuals in West Africa and southern Africa enriched my perspective on a continental level. Sections on the figure of Seetsele Modiri Molema were presented at the ASCL in Leiden in 2021 and to the doctoral students of the University of Pavia in 2023, and I thank the audiences of both occasions for their engagements and feedback. Exchanges with John Comaroff, Brian Willan, and Arianna Lissoni were crucial in reaching the precision required for this preliminary essay. The comments of two anonymous reviewers pointed out several unclear parts and helped in refining the final draft. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the debt to my colleagues of the Lesotho Research Group, an informal collective we established at UCT during the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss research while the archives were closed: Sibusiso Nkomo, Katleho Kano Shoro, Patrick Whang, Mojalefa Koloko, Lesley Mofokeng, Steve Kotze, Pulane Mahula, John Wright, and Carolyn Hamilton. Their contribution to this and other research projects of mine is invaluable.

Introduction: A historian from Mafikeng

  • 1 In this article, I have adopted the name Mafikeng over Mafeking and Mahikeng because it defines mor (...)

1In 1965, the seat of the colonial capital of the Bechuanaland Protectorate was moved from Mafeking to Gaborone. A year later, the country was granted independence from the British empire, with the name Botswana. The old capital, however, was not part of the new state: Mafeking remained in the territory of South Africa and became the administrative centre of one of the Bantustans established by apartheid: Bophuthatswana. In 1977, after the “independence” of the Bantustan, the city took its older name of Mafikeng. Today, it is called Mahikeng and is the capital of both the North West Province and of its main district, the Ngaka Modiri Molema District.1

2Ngaka or “Doctor” Seetsele Modiri Molema died in the year the city lost its role of capital to Gaborone. He was a very important citizen of Mafikeng, and it befits the new South Africa to have named its district after him. (Image 1)

Image 1. Seetsele Modiri Molema

Image 1. Seetsele Modiri Molema

Source: S.M. Molema, 1966.

3His name also lives on very far away from South Africa. In 2021, the University of Glasgow renamed one of its buildings the “Molema Building” in his honour. It is a relatively recent construction and houses the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences and the School of Archaeology. Its prior name, Gregory Building, was scrapped because the university’s first Professor of Geology and inventor of the term “rift valley”, John Walter Gregory (1864–1932), was found to have been in favour of racial segregation. Dr Molema, however, was neither a geologist nor an archaeologist; he was a medical practitioner and a surgeon who had, indeed, earned his degree in Glasgow back in 1919. While in Scotland, he had also published a remarkable book, The Bantu Past and Present: An Ethnographical & Historical Study of the Native Races of South Africa, in 1920.2 In choosing him, the University of Glasgow wished to recognise “his contribution to South Africa through his medical, academic and political work”, and his connection with the Scottish university.3

  • 4 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951]; S.M. Molema, 1966; S.M. Molema, n.d. [c.1940-1965].
  • 5 In this article I follow the critique of the term “precolonial” proposed by, among others, Cynthia (...)
  • 6 J.V. Starfield, 2001, p. 479-503; J.V. Starfield, 2012a; J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 434-449; J.V. St (...)
  • 7 Starfield decided to focus only on The Bantu but was well aware of the later books, Moroka and Mont (...)

4This article looks at a fundamental side of Seetsele Modiri Molema’s varied intellectual activity: that of historian of the Barolong, the community to which he belonged and which had first settled Mafikeng. By analysing two of his less-known books, Moroka and Montshiwa, and attempting a preliminary reconstruction of an incomplete and unpublished manuscript, the History of the Barolong, this work proposes to consider Seetsele Modiri Molema as one of the leading southern African intellectuals of the central decades of the 20th century.4 It further suggests that his historical production deserves to be rediscovered and challenged once more by today’s scholars, due to its both historical and historiographical relevance—that is, both because of the details about the deep past of southern Africa it contains, and because it represents the elaboration of a valuable paradigm of historical research outside colonial academia.5 In this, the present study follows a growing academic interest in Seetsele Modiri Molema that started with the researches completed by Jane Starfield since 2001, which include a PhD thesis at the University of the Witwatersrand and three journal articles.6 Starfield’s writings constitute the starting point of the present article. However, while she focused on Molema’s life and intellectual work up until the early 1920s, I will primarily deal with the later decades of his life, from the 1930s to his death in 1965.7

  • 8 C. Saunders, 1988, p. 105-110.
  • 9 S.M. Molema, 1920.
  • 10 S.M. Molema, p. 230; E. Gibbon, 2005 [1776-1781], p. 230-240.

5In The Making of the South African History, Christopher Saunders briefly mentioned Seetsele Modiri Molema as one of the African intellectuals who started to write about their past in the 1920s. Saunders, however, substantially dismissed him for relying too much on the colonial historian George McCall Theal and for reproducing colonial and missionary stereotypes of African backwardness throughout his published works.8 Starfield countered these critiques and resolutely made the case for considering Seetsele Modiri Molema a historian despite his lack of academic training and affiliation. She highlighted how biography, autobiography, history, and autoethnography blended in what is generally recognised as Seetsele Modiri Molema’s main work, The Bantu.9 The book was a brave attempt to write the history of the African peoples of southern Africa from the deepest past or, as Molema wrote in the “Preface”, “a simple portrayal of the life of the Bantu” which was “designed for the average English-speaking person”. Ultimately, The Bantu sought to demonstrate that the “Bantu” were not racially inferior; as Molema wrote—quoting Edward Gibbon, who had built on Tacitus—“the most civilized nations of modern Europe issued from the woods of Germany”.10

  • 11 J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 436, 443, 445; S.M. Molema, 1920, viii.
  • 12 For a critical reading of other African intellectuals using this practice, see H. Mokoena, 2005, p. (...)
  • 13 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 368.

6This was no simple endeavour by any means and it required, in Starfield’s phrase, turning into an “autoethnograper”—in Molema’s words, writing as “a member of the race”.11 Such research practice was embraced by anthropologists much later in the 20th century.12 Starfield also proved that Molema’s use of footnotes, bibliographies, and indexes put him on par with and even ahead of some professional and academic South African historians of his times.13 There is, however, an undeniable difficulty in her appraisal of The Bantu: several of the historical reconstructions in the book, such as that of the most important of the rulers of the Barolong, Tau, were discarded and substantially altered in Molema’s subsequent writings, suggesting that he considered them factually wrong. The present article explains why. It focuses on the development of his writing of history, his methodology, and his research practices after the publication of The Bantu in 1920, showing the increasing sharpness of his pen and the reliability of his work.

  • 14 The most recent works are C. Broodryk (ed.), 2021; C. Kros, J. Wright, M. Buthelezi, H. Ludlow (eds (...)

7Starfield was not alone in the study of Molema’s early intellectual production. Scholars have been shifting their attention to African intellectuals of southern Africa for at least a couple of decades.14 Many have focused on their ambivalent identities: they were in most cases Christians, sometimes even fervently so; they were educated in mission schools and in higher colonial educational institutions; some became part of the colonial education system themselves, turning from students into teachers and professors; they wrote in English and considered this highly, but were also among the first to write in their own mother tongue after the missionaries transcribed it; they engaged with colonial public culture with conventional means such as books, articles, and newspapers; and some spoke in favour of the civilising mission of the British empire and publicly despised the customs of their un-Christian ancestors, but then became the first generation of African nationalists. Such complexity, ambiguity, and richness will undoubtedly keep scholars busy for a long time.

  • 15 V.J. Collins-Buthelezi, 2016, p. 115-132. I would like to thank Katleho Kano Shoro for pointing out (...)
  • 16 V. Bickford-Smith, 1995, p. 443-465; V. Bickford-Smith, 2004, p. 194-227; V. Bickford-Smith, 2011, (...)

8Two main approaches have emerged, with only slight differences. Starting in the 1990s, several scholars studied African intellectuals in Cape Town and the Cape Colony in the second half of the 19th century and analysed their late Victorian loyalist identities in combination with those living and working in Freetown and Lagos in West Africa, in the West Indies, and in London. In this respect, the term “Black Victorians” has been used by many, such as Victoria J. Collins-Buthelezi, to highlight their role in establishing black thought and pan-Africanism along the diasporic networks of the British empire.15 In a slightly different manner, Vivian Bickford-Smith has borrowed from the local historical context the concepts of “Black English” and “creole élite” and has discussed how their “betrayal” by the British empire, underpinned by the popularisation of scientific racism, was among the factors pushing them towards African nationalism and anti-colonial positions since the turn of the 20th century.16

  • 17 A selection of her works includes H. Mokoena, 2005; H. Mokoena, 2011; H. Mokoena, 2022, p. 63-75.
  • 18 S. Rosenberg, R.F. Weisfelder, M. Frisbie-Fulton, 2004, p. 37-40; R.F. Weisfelder, 1974, p. 397-409 (...)

9The second approach is geographically centred in the Colony of Natal and the surrounding regions and has been proposed by Hlonipha Mokoena in her PhD thesis and then book and shorter essays on Magema Magwaza Fuze (c.1844–1922), author of important literary, political, and historical texts in isiZulu and English.17 Mokoena focused on the persistence and deliberate preservation of prior African elements that were consciously mixed with a selection of borrowed ones, such as language and religion. Thus, she employed the concept of amakholwa, isiZulu for “believers”, to define the complex and composite African identities of these intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th century. A similar term that was mentioned for African intellectuals in Lesotho at that time was bahlalefi, Sesotho for “educated ones”, but no comparable research on this has been done yet.18 None of these concepts applies perfectly to Molema, if anything for chronological reasons, since he belonged to the generation after the “Black Victorians” and the amakholwa.

  • 19 C. Kros, J. Wright, 2022, p. 48-59.
  • 20 H. Mokoena, 2005, p. 29, 101-112; H. Mokoena, 2022, p. 73.
  • 21 P. La Hausse de Lalouvière, 2009, p. 50, 55.
  • 22 N. Mkhize, 2018, p. 92-111. On the mfecane, see C. Hamilton (ed.), 1995.
  • 23 J. Peires, 1979, p. 155-175.

10Scholarship on African historians is for now only a minor component of the recent trend vis-à-vis southern African intellectuals. Cynthia Kros and John Wright highlighted the historical work of non-professional black intellectuals as a component of the “black archive” to which scholars are now turning.19 Hlonipha Mokoena pointed out the historical nature of Fuze’s main work, Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona, published in 1922, but she wondered whether Fuze considered himself a historian, at least as “someone who is trained to use evidence to write an authoritative account of the past”.20 Paul La Hausse de Lalouvière studied the figure of Petrus Lamula (c.1880–1948), “arguably one of the first Zulu writers who consciously saw himself as a historian”, who in 1924 wrote UZulukaMalandela, “one of the more remarkable Zulu historical texts of the twentieth century”, and who was however forgotten in the second half of the century.21 Nomalanga Mkhize discussed the emergence of a group of “vernacular historians” in the 1920s and how one of them in particular, Richard T. Kawa (1854–1924), contributed with his 1929 book Ibali lamaMfengu to the elaboration of a concept, that of mfecane for the African wars of the 1820s, which was later appropriated, challenged, and sometimes rejected by academic historians.22 The field of studies is larger than this simple summary allows, Jeff Peires having begun calling for this type of engagement as early as 1979.23

  • 24 D.R. Peterson, G. Macola, 2009, p. 1-30, 3.
  • 25 D.R. Peterson, G. Macola, 2009, p. 6.

11Looking down on non-academic African historians was a common feature of scholarship on Africa in general for at least several decades after its inception. Derek Peterson, Giacomo Macola, and the authors of their edited volume Recasting the Past wrote in 2009 of the African “homespun historians” whose research was foundational in the development of the discipline of African history but whose contribution was ignored, appropriated, or dismissed by academic historians. As the latter began their search for archives and sources in the 1950s, the former were seen “at best, [as] sources to be used and, at worst, obstacles on the path to accurate historical comprehension”.24 In reality, these “homespun historians” were “African brokers—pastors, journalists, kingmakers, religious dissidents, politicians, entrepreneurs” who had been doing research for decades, but whose methods and research practices were not considered viable, or not taken into consideration at all.25

  • 26 D.R. Peterson, G. Macola, 2009, p. 11-12.

12In the reconstruction by Peterson and Macola, the “homespun historians” were royalists or republican patriots who wrote for their own communities, but they were not “local historians”. They “summoned” their audiences, often conceptualising their historical interventions as a means to preserve or even craft African national communities amidst the radical social change of the colonial era. The connection between history writing, nationalism, and imagined communities is addressed explicitly by Peterson, Macola, and, in the case of Lamula, by La Hausse de Lalouvière. These African historians worked “laterally”, both mixing multiple disciplinary influences and as an aside to their other main life activities. They were subversive weavers—the term “homespun” is taken from the 18th-century North American settlers who wove their own clothes instead of importing them from Britain—whose writing went against colonial and traditional norms. These patriots were all men and, in the words of Peterson and Macola, “the patriae that Africa’s homespun historians helped to create were also patriarchies”.26

13Patriotism and patriarchy were undoubtedly part of the work of Seetsele Modiri Molema, but the concept of “homespun historian” is applicable to him only to a certain degree. The main difference here, perhaps, is the fact that the bulk of his production was in English and not in his mother tongue, Serolong. This clearly poses an issue as to who was the intended audience of the historian from Mafikeng, when this was not explicitly stated as in The Bantu. In any case, his later work undoubtedly had among its goals to materialise the Barolong as a historical subject and, furthermore, as a single historical unit—fragmented in several competing factions as they had been for more than a century before he began to write. It is now time to look at how the autoethnographer of The Bantu became the historian of the Barolong.

Three Molemas: The councillor, the landlord, and the doctor

  • 27 The Setswana kgosi is often translated as ‘chief’ or, before colonialism, ‘king’. ‘Ruler’ could be (...)
  • 28 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 8-10.

14Seetsele Modiri Molema was a Morolong. He was born in Mafikeng, in modern-day North West Province, Republic of South Africa, in 1891. (Map 1) He died there in 1965. The Molema family was of the Barolong boora Tshidi, one of the five sections into which the royal line of the Barolong separated during the last quarter of the 18th century, when the old kingdom split and disappeared. Their family history was tightly connected to that of the region. Their namesake, Molema, was born in 1808 or 1809 and was an older brother to the future kgosi of the boora Tshidi, Montshiwa, who was born in about 1815.27 Molema did not rule because he was junior to Montshiwa, the mother of the latter having been recognised as the “principal wife” of the past kgosi Tawana despite having been married third. As Molema’s grandson Seetsele Modiri would write later, “the principal wife of a chief was determined and selected for him by the royal princes” and “intrigue was by no means excluded”, the uncles of the kgosi trying to install one of their daughters as the mother to the heir.28

Map 1. Places mentioned in the text

Map 1. Places mentioned in the text

Ettore Morelli, with ArcGIS Online.

  • 29 It has become standard academic practice to refer to Mzilikazi’s people as Ndebele or amaNdebele, d (...)
  • 30 I have opted for the term ‘city’ to refer to Thaba ‘Nchu following two sets of considerations. Firs (...)
  • 31 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 33-34.
  • 32 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 35-36; S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 59.

15Molema and Montshiwa were emigrant children during the wars between the Barolong and Mzilikazi’s Matebele, which disrupted Tawana’s community and much of the broader region in the late 1820s and 1830s.29 They were young men in the Barolong refuge city of Thaba ‘Nchu, when the Great Trek began and the Barolong entered the first alliance with the trekkers to get rid of Mzilikazi, in 1837.30 They were full-grown statesmen when Tawana died at Lotlhakane in 1849: Montshiwa became kgosi and Molema one of his main councillors.31 The two brothers were selective in welcoming colonial influences. Molema, in particular, converted to Christianity and took the name Isaac in Thaba ‘Nchu in the 1830s. He was later instrumental in the invitation to the first missionary, the Wesleyan Joseph D. M. Ludorf, to Montshiwa’s town, Lotlhakane, in 1850.32 Montshiwa never converted to Christianity but in time came to appreciate Molema’s efforts in mission education.

  • 33 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 52-53; K. Shillington, 1985, p. 126.
  • 34 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 77-97.

16The various sections of the Barolong royal family and the emigrant trekkers scrambled to occupy the region once the threat of Mzilikazi was removed. Molema and Montshiwa spent the remainder of their lives fighting against Boer encroachment, the former as councillor and village chief, the latter as kgosi of the boora Tshidi. In 1852, the South African Republic was proclaimed on land that, in part, used to be that of the united Barolong. In 1857, Montshiwa allowed Molema to establish a village on the high course of the Molopo River. The name of the location, Mafikeng, meant “the place of the rocks”, and the spot was famous for its defensive qualities.33 In 1872, Molema supported Montshiwa when two rival sections of the Barolong, the boora Ratlou and the boora Rapulana, sided with the South African Republic and helped it to claim substantial parts of the country where the united Barolong used to live in the 18th century.34

  • 35 K. Shillington, 1985, p. 129-131. It might seem strange, at first, that kgosi Montshiwa needed an i (...)
  • 36 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 116-119.
  • 37 K. Shillington, 1985, p. 173
  • 38 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 54-58; K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 244-247.
  • 39 S. Parnell, 1986, p. 203-210.

17In 1881, following a severe defeat against the Transvaal and their African allies, Montshiwa decided to abandon his village, by then in Sehuba, and to relocate the capital of the boora Tshidi in Mafikeng, accepting the invitation of Molema.35 The latter died the following year, whereas Montshiwa turned the settlement into an important political centre and died there in 1896.36 It was due to its strategic position, on the border with the Boer republics in the east, the Kalahari in the west, and on the way to the Tswana kingdoms and to the plateau of Zimbabwe in the north, that the British empire chose Mafikeng as the site of their residency when they proclaimed the annexation of the region as the short-lived Crown Colony of British Bechuanaland, in 1885.37 They founded a small colonial village just outside Montshiwa’s capital, called it Mafeking, and placed the railway line running from Kimberley to Francistown in between the two settlements.38 In 1895, the British empire decided to annex British Bechuanaland to the Cape Colony and to place the administration of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, modern Botswana, in Mafeking, effectively turning one part of the settlement into an extraterritorial enclave.39

  • 40 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 113-115.
  • 41 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 115; K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 234-266.
  • 42 K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 243-244.
  • 43 K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 247-251.
  • 44 K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 251-265.

18Molema had many sons. The fifth one, Silas Thelesho, was born in 1852 and died in 1927. Silas Thelesho Molema was educated by the Wesleyan missionaries in Healdtown in the Cape Colony, built the first school in Mafikeng in 1875, and taught there until 1882.40 He was also a cattle farmer, a landowner, a councillor to kgosi Montshiwa, and by the end of the 19th century one of the wealthiest men in the Molopo valley.41 Khumisho Moguerane characterised him as “among the most powerful landlords in Bechuanaland” after the annexation and as an able businessman who re-invested his rents, built “a large Victorian mansion”, and paid for “a privileged education for his children”.42 The basis of his wealth lay in the Serolong privilege—shared with most African aristocracies in the southern African interior—which gave members of the ruling elite the power to “place” (peo) their subjects on the farms and to exact labour from them in return for part of the produce.43 It was the disproportionate wealth and power still held by the likes of Silas Thelesho Molema several decades after colonial conquest—such is Moguerane’s argument—which pushed the new Union of South Africa’s government towards the radical land alienation of the Native Land Act of 1913.44

  • 45 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 100 fn1.
  • 46 V. Bickford-Smith, 2004, p. 194-227.
  • 47 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, 100 fn1.
  • 48 B. Willan, 2018, p. 159-160
  • 49 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 14-16.
  • 50 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 104; B. Willan, 2018, p. 342-463.

19Jane Starfield, on the other hand, has highlighted Silas Thelesho’s stature as a public intellectual. When he died in 1927, the famed Sol Plaatje (1876–1932) saluted him as a “Progressive Baralong [sic] Chief” in his obituary, a term which also meant “middle class” in “educated African circles”.45 The relation between the two men was strong. Both would be among the “Black English” and the “creole élite” of Mafikeng, to borrow the expressions adopted by Vivian Bickford-Smith.46 More traditionalist members of the royal boora Tshidi family apparently referred to those like them as “the gentry in top hats”.47 In 1898, Silas Thelesho Molema recommended Sol Plaatje as interpreter in Mafeking’s magistrate court.48 Their friendship developed further during the South African War and the siege of Mafeking, from October 1899 to May 1900. In 1901, they co-founded the first newspaper to be printed in Setswana that was not owned by the missionaries, Koranta ea Becoana, with Molema as the main proprietor and Plaatje as the editor.49 In 1902 Molema bought a printing press and had it shipped from Cape Town to Mafikeng, but after a few successful years the newspaper struggled financially until he was forced to sell it, in 1908; it closed shortly afterwards.50 Silas Thelesho Molema became then a strong advocate of the boora Tshidi land claims and opposed the Union of South Africa’s policies as a member of the newly founded South African Native National Congress (SANNC), the ancestor to the ANC, the latter established in Bloemfontein in 1912. As mentioned, he died in 1927.

  • 51 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 166-167; J. Comaroff, J. Comaroff, 1991, p. 140-141.
  • 52 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 166.
  • 53 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 103.

20Seetsele Modiri Molema was the firstborn of Silas Thelesho Molema. He was named after a great-uncle, Seetsela, a more senior and older brother of kgosi Montshiwa who died in battle and therefore did not rule—and after the Setswana concept go dira or “to do” in a social and relational way, which has been discussed by Jane Starfield and before her by Jean and John Comaroff.51 As Starfield noted, Silas Thelesho Molema took an important decision in baptising his firstborn with two Setswana names, instead of coupling a Setswana and an English Christian one as was common among first- and second-generation converts to Christianity in southern Africa.52 She also pointed out a common mistake: that of calling him Silas Modiri, due to the fact that the people of the Molopo often referred to him with his father’s name as a sign of honour to both men.53 He, indeed, is still widely known as Silas Modiri in his home region.

  • 54 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 172-193.
  • 55 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 178.
  • 56 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 114. N. Elrank, 2021, p. 8.
  • 57 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 109-110.

21Seetsele Modiri was eight years old when the South African War erupted and the towns of Mafikeng and Mafeking were besieged by the Boer army. During the siege, he was befriended by Sol Plaatje, whom he looked to as a model for the rest of his life. He went to school in Mafikeng, then in 1908 to the eastern Cape missionary college of Healdtown, where his father Silas had studied. He moved to Lovedale in 1910, graduated in 1912, taught for a year in Kimberley, and then travelled to Glasgow, where he studied medicine from 1914 to 1919 and became a doctor.54 Starfield mentioned insightfully that the young Seetsele Modiri first met Scotland in Lovedale, the college belonging to the Presbyterian mission of the Glasgow Missionary Society.55 He also followed the footsteps of two important southern African intellectuals, Rev. Tyio Soga (1829–1871) and his son Dr W.A. Soga (1858–1916), who both travelled from the eastern Cape Colony to Scotland, the latter being the first African doctor of southern Africa.56 After graduation, Seetsele Modiri Molema moved to Dublin, where he started to work at the Hume Street Hospital and obtained a further degree in surgery. He finally came back to Mafikeng in 1921, ready to take up the medical profession in his home region. He practised as a doctor and as a surgeon on the Molopo, including taking care of white patients in the hospital of Mafeking, but the increasing racism in southern Africa made his work difficult.57

  • 58 J.V. Starfield, 2001, p. 479-503.

22In Glasgow, Seetsele Modiri Molema also started to take an active part in politics. Particularly well researched by Jane Starfield is his involvement in the African Races Association of Glasgow, of which he became president. The ARA grouped African colonial subjects in the city and provided for their social gatherings in a strongly British fashion and for their intellectual debates on subjects such as, for example, class and “civilisation”.58 Politics remained one of his main interests throughout his life.

  • 59 C. Rassool, L. Witz, 1993, p. 447-468, 463.

23Back in southern Africa, he joined the African National Congress, was elected to the executive council in 1949 and became its treasurer until he left the party, in 1953. The events of the previous year were the direct cause of his resignation. In January 1952, Seetsele Modiri Molema gave the inaugural address of the South African Indian Congress in Natal and made an explicit reference to the Jan Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Festival which the South African Government was planning to celebrate in Cape Town in April of the same year.59 While the festival was turning a forgotten figure in the history of the Dutch Cape Colony into the founding father of white South Africa and of apartheid, Molema based his address on a counter-history of South Africa.

  • 60 Seetsele Modiri Molema, ‘Opening Address’, Annual Conference of the South African Indian Congress, (...)

It is right and fitting, as you meet in Conference under these conditions, to remember the salient, the dominant fact of South African history, namely that all the monuments, all the celebrations and all the feasts of the white man have a diametrically opposite meaning to the black man, because every monument of the white man perpetuates the memory of the annihilation of some black community, every celebration of victory the remembrance of our defeat, his every feast means our famine and his laughter our tears. Such are the Great Trek celebrations and the Voortrekker Monument; such are Dingaan’s Day, Kruger Day and Union Day, and such the approaching Van Riebeeck celebrations.60

  • 61 Seetsele Modiri Molema, ‘Opening Address’, Annual Conference of the South African Indian Congress, (...)
  • 62 J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 449. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer and Arianna Lissoni for (...)

24In Seetsele Modiri Molema’s understanding, only the knowledge of what took place since “the earliest contact of the white man with Africans”, three hundred years before, could lead the “sons and daughters of Africa and India” to hear the cry of “one of the leading prophets of the modern world”: “Workers of the world, Unite”.61 As shown below, the research for The Bantu had been only the beginning of Molema’s engagement with southern African history. A few months later, in June 1952, the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign, taking a strong stance against apartheid. Seetsele Modiri Molema was arrested and, in September 1953, he was forced to resign from the ANC, due to the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950. Andrew Manson, Bernard Mbenga, and Arianna Lissoni wrote that Seetsele Modiri Molema “remained faithful to the ANC until his death in 1965”.62 He likewise remained the doctor and the historian of the Barolong until the end.

A good contact in Mafikeng: ZK Matthews’ Barolong research

  • 63 Wits Historical Papers, Johannesburg, ‘A979: The Silas T. Molema and Solomon T. Plaatje Papers’, Co (...)

25Seetsele Modiri Molema came back to southern Africa in 1921, thirteen years after he had left Mafikeng to attend the eastern Cape school, Healdtown. He was thirty and he started to practise as doctor in his hometown, earning the respect of the people of the region. He also continued researching and writing about the history of southern Africa, and in particular of the Barolong. However, Seetsele Modiri’s life and work after 1921 are substantially less known, and knowable. On the one hand, most academic study has focused on his long period abroad, on the elaboration of his own blend of Christian missionary spirit, and on his autoethnography, The Bantu, because of the already mentioned qualities of such text. On the other hand, Seetsele Modiri Molema’s papers, held by Wits Historical Papers in Johannesburg, do not contain any correspondence past 1928.63

  • 64 Z.K. Matthews’ thesis at Yale was titled ‘Bantu Law and Western Civilization in South Africa: A Stu (...)
  • 65 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/10 and 12: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/Letter Matthews (...)

26Glimpses and traces of his later research can be spotted in a rather indirect way in the private papers of another important southern African intellectual, who was ten years younger than Seetsele Modiri Molema: Zachariah Keodirelang ‘ZK’ Matthews (1901–1968), whose papers are now held by the archives of the University of South Africa (UNISA). A student from Lovedale himself and a graduate from the South African Native College at Fort Hare, ZK Matthews was appointed teacher at the Adams College in Amanzimtoti in 1924, then headmaster. He studied Law in South Africa and Social Anthropology at Yale and at the London School of Economics.64 In London, he attended the seminar of the leading social anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski, but this part of his papers is not preserved in the UNISA archives. In 1935, he was appointed Lecturer in Bantu Studies at Fort Hare, starting in February 1936. ZK Matthews felt, however, that his direct knowledge of the subject was lacking and therefore, under the supervision of Isaac Schapera from the University of Cape Town, he organised a research trip to the Molopo.65

  • 66 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/Letter Matthews to Mol (...)
  • 67 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Letter Matthews to Molema, 22 September 1935. Available onl (...)

27It was for this reason that he approached Seestsele Modiri Molema, by letter, on 22 September 1935. “Dear Dr Molema”, he began, “I wonder if I may trespass upon your valuable time?”66 ZK Matthews explained that he had “always known” of Molema and introduced himself as “a Mochuana by birth, bred in Kimberley and educated at Lovedale and Fort Hare”. He had some personal connections in “Mafeking”: “the Magashula family” of his mother plus his friend “Mr Simon Ratshosa” who lived there. He also made clear to be “in touch with Dr Schapera whom you [Molema] may know personally”, but he declared that he “shall have a free hand in the matter of the line along which I want to work”.67 As to the objective of the letter, ZK Matthews quite simply asked for any help for his research trip, which would start in about a month.

  • 68 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Letter Matthews to Molema, 22 September 1935. Available onl (...)

My aim is to make a special study of the Barolong and in this connection I feel sure that you would be able to be of much assistance to me in many ways. I am therefore writing to ask you if you be kind enough to give me all the advice you can in this matter. I shall probably require introductions to various people in Mafeking and in other areas occupied by Barolong who may be of use, not only in the matter of facilitating my research, but also in matters such as accomodation [sic], etc. during my stay in those areas. I need hardly tell you how much I would appreciate any thing you could do for me.68

  • 69 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Letter Matthews to Molema, 22 September 1935. Available onl (...)

28The deferential tone of ZK Matthews’ letter was only significantly altered in the final remark about Seetsele Modiri Molema’s younger brother, Mathlo, who studied at Adams College and “is getting on fairly well with his work, although he will have to work hard if he is get [sic] through his Junior Certificate at the end of this year”.69

  • 70 Underline in original. Since the research was undertaken “under the auspices of the Institute of Af (...)

29The ZK Matthews papers do not contain Seetsele Modiri Molema’s reply, but ZK Matthews’ research notes show that the contact was very fruitful. By 1935, indeed, Seetsele Modiri Molema was the head of the powerful and respected Molema family in Mafikeng, his father having passed in 1927, and he could surely leverage his position to help the younger researcher both materially and scientifically. This was noted in ZK Matthews’ “First quarterly report on field-work among the Barolong of British Bechuanaland”, December 1935 to February 1936, a “Confidential” document to an undisclosed recipient.70

  • 71 Underline in original. UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/19: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research (...)

Reception. I had no difficulty in establishing contact with the people and in getting them to appreciate the object of my visit, partly because I was thoroughly familiar with their language and partly because although I had never been in the district I was well known, ny [sic] name if not personally, to most of the leading men in the district. I found, however, that the thing which enabled me to gain their confidence most easily was the fact that although I am a Mongwato, my mother belongs to one of the leading kxotlas [sic] of the Tshidi section of the Barolong, and as it is a trite principle of Tswana culture that a child is more honoured among its mother’s people (Ngwana moxolo kwa xaxabo moxolo) I made use of this fact, with the result that in talking to me about their customs, people felt that they were merely instructing one of their children. This acceptance had this disadvantage, however, that it placed me under an obligation to act like a member of the tribe and observe a discreetness in conducting my investigations which might perhaps not have been required in an outsider whose indiscretion could be more readily put down to plain ignorance.71

30Whatever the nature of the “investigations” of ZK Matthews refers to, the surprising discovery that he was accepted as “a member of the tribe” was also due to the support of the unnamed “Chief of the Barolong”, “a man of some education” who introduced the young researcher to “his Councillors in Kxotla” and to “most of the leading authorities on various aspects of Barolong culture”. Seetsele Modiri Molema, however, was worth a separate and explicit mention.

  • 72 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/19: Confidential ‘First quarterly report on field-work among th (...)

I must mention also the valuable assistance of Dr S. M. Molema, the author of “The Bantu - Past and Present”, himself one of the most important chieftains. He put at my disposal his intimate knowledge of the history of the Barolong, a subject on which he has been engaged in research for many years. He has almost ready for publication a book on this aspect of Barolong Culture.72

  • 73 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/21: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/‘Second Field Work Rep (...)
  • 74 Z.K. Matthews, 1937, p. 433-437; Z.K. Matthews, 1940, p. 1-24; Z.K. Matthews, 1945, p. 9-28; Z.K. M (...)

31The relationship with Seetsele Modiri Molema was built on solid ground, because when ZK Matthews was back to Mafikeng for further fieldwork, from November 1937 to February 1938, he was hosted by “Mrs. Molema, the wife of Dr Molema”, a “fairly highly educated” woman from “the royal section of the tribe”, who died during ZK Matthews’ stay.73 The latter put to profit his time in Mafikeng, publishing at least three articles and a book chapter based on his researches on the Barolong.74

  • 75 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/C2/200: Matthews ZK Papers/Correspondence on Education Matters/Con (...)

32Fragments of the correspondence between the two men show that they kept on good terms until at least the final months of 1959, when ZK Matthews’ career in Fort Hare came to an end due to the Bantu Education Department taking over the university. Matthews addressed Molema as “Dear Rra”, “father” in Serolong, and told him that from January 1960 he would be unemployed, for he had decided to reject the offer to stay in Fort Hare which was made specifically to him by the South African government. For this reason, he asked Seetsele Modiri Molema if he knew of an opportunity to work in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, modern Botswana, where the aging man was “working on a number of interesting developments”.75 Nothing came immediately out of it, but Matthews was eventually nominated ambassador of Botswana to the United Nations after its independence, in 1966.

  • 76 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/B2/83: Matthews ZK Papers/African National Congress/Letter Vincent (...)

33Such kindness and prolonged relationship between the two is all the more worthy of notice because ZK’s son Vincent Joseph Gaobakwe had expressed an unforgiving critique of Seetsele Modiri Molema in as early as 1952, for what he saw as a compromising attitude towards “the Fascist Malan”, the apartheid Prime Minister, during the first phases of the Defiance Campaign. In a letter which “exposed” enemies of the campaign left and right, Seetsele Modiri Molema was called out as a “political infant” and one of the “chaps whom we must eliminate to clean up our political life and enable us to isolate all reactionaries who are unredeemable”.76 I was not able to trace ZK Matthews’ reply to his son.

Patriotic historical biographies: Moroka and Montshiwa

  • 77 S.M. Molema, 1945. A copy in UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/47: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Re (...)

34As mentioned above, ZK Matthews wrote in 1935 that Seetsele Modiri Molema had been doing research on the Barolong “for many years” and that he had a book “almost ready for publication”. What was Seetsele Modiri Molema writing? Probably, many different works, only some of which would be eventually published before his death in 1965. A copy of one of these writings was in possession of ZK Matthews: a very short booklet titled Chief Lotlamoreng Montshiwa: The Frist Twenty-Five Years of Chieftainship, which was printed in 1945 on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the ruler of the boora Tshidi under whom Matthews had conducted his research. The contents included the programme of the two full days, 16 March destined to prayers and speeches, 17 March to games, sports, refreshments, and feasting. It also included a much simplified, 6-page account of the dikgosi who ruled the boora Tshidi since the times of Montshiwa. Seetsele Modiri Molema himself featured as a moderniser and close associate of kgosi Lotlamoreng, who was “Chief over the largest and most advanced section of the greatly ramified Barolong tribe”, 75,000 people strong, including “two medical practitioners qualified in Great Britain, two B.Sc.’s, two B.A.’s, two Attorneys-at-law, several ministers of religion, a host of qualified teachers, several artisans, tradesmen and businessmen”, but also “journalists, authors and orators”. Unsurprisingly, “Dr. S. M. Molema” was in charge of the “Short History” address that was given among the first speeches on the morning of the Jubilee.77

35This small celebratory booklet can be taken as an example of some common threads running in Seetsele Modiri Molema’s historical works after The Bantu: the focus on strong male political figures, almost always important dikgosi of the Barolong; the great care—in this case, only implicit—given to the intricate marriage history of the Barolong royalty, which necessarily brought to the foreground numerous politically influential women as wives, widows, and mothers of rulers; and the praise of the ways in which the Barolong modernised themselves, which could easily become a relatively open praise of Seetsele Modiri’s own family from the first Molema downwards.

  • 78 C. Saunders, 1988, p. 108.

36The main genre of Seetsele Modiri Molema’s writings was indeed that of patriotic historical biographies of the rulers of the Barolong. The only one he managed to publish was printed in 1951 by the Methodist Press in Cape Town: Chief Moroka: His Life, His Times, His Country and His People. This book impressed neither its contemporaries nor later historians. As mentioned, according to Christopher Saunders, despite being “a somewhat more scholarly biography”, Moroka still suffered from the strong Christian vision of The Bantu, which led Molema to fully deploy the 19th-century missionary stereotype of Christian civilisation versus pre-conversion African heathenism and savagery.78

  • 79 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 196-200.

37The book began with a surprising sentence—if compared with the tone of Molema’s address to the South African Indian Congress in Natal of a few months later—stating that “the Great Trek of the Dutch-Afrikaner farmers from the Cape Colony” had “redeemed some African chiefs from obscurity”, including the protagonist of the book, kgosi Moroka of the Barolong boora Seleka of Thaba ‘Nchu. The Trek itself was interestingly defined as a “freak of History”. Moroka closed by folding together diverse recent events such as the centenary anniversary of the “colonisation” of Thaba ‘Nchu by the boora Seleka and the 110th anniversary of Methodist missionary work among the Barolong, in 1933; the foundation of a new Moroka Missionary Institution and of the Moroka Missionary Hospital, in 1937; the “Symbolic Trek” composed of four wagons named “Piet Retief”, “Sarel Celliers”, “Louis Trichardt”, and “Hendrik Potgieter”, which reached Moroka’s mountain in October 1938 and re-enacted the alliance of 1836–1837; the slaughter of five oxen on “Dingaan’s Day” 16 December 1938; the erection of the Voortrekker Monument to “do homage to the central event of South Africa” in 1949; and finally the death of the last children of kgosi Moroka in the same year.79

  • 80 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 198.
  • 81 Seetsele Modiri Molema, ‘Opening Address’, Annual Conference of the South African Indian Congress, (...)

38Seetsele Modiri Molema even reported, with an apparent positive intent, the “mighty words” of the leader of the “Symbolic Trek” H. J. Klopper, Afrikaner nationalist, speaker of the South African Parliament, and founder of the secret association Afrikaner Broederbond: “Christianity had triumphed over heathenism, light had dispelled darkness, truth had overcome falsehood, and civilisation had conquered barbarism.”80 Was this really the same author who, less than a year after the publication of Moroka, denounced publicly that all South African monuments and celebrations stood for the “annihilation of some black community” and quoted Karl Marx to incite Africans and Indians to unite in the fight?81 Further work on the pressures and influences that Molema might have experienced in writing and publishing Moroka, including probably a strong editorial hand by the missionary press, is required.

  • 82 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 279 n307; S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 204.

39Behind such a distasteful veil, however, stood research methodologies and research practices which were substantially different from those of The Bantu. Jane Starfield noticed that the genealogy of Barolong rulers was correct in Moroka, thus amending the mistakes made in The Bantu.82 This was just a small hint of the much-increased reliability of Seetsele Modiri Molema’s historical writings, and a product of the prolonged researches mentioned by ZK Matthews in 1935. In Mafikeng, Seetsele Modiri had a privileged access to a group of men and women who had inhabited the very centre of the boora Tshidi state at the time of kgosi Montshiwa. They were listed at the end of the bibliography of Moroka, in a separate section, as “informants”.

  • 83 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 206.

Stephen S. Lefenya (Chief Montshiwa’s Secretary), born c 1836, died 1934.
Jeremiah Maselwanuane (Chief Molema’s Steward), born 1845, died 1939.
Seleka Letsapa (Chief Moshette’s General), born 1848, died 1938.
Mrs. Nkhabele Fenyang (Chief Tshipinare’s Daughter), born 1847, died 1947.
Mrs Majang Letsapa (Chief Tshipinare’s Daughter), born 1859, died 1949.
Setumo Phetlhu (Chief Montshiwa’s Cousin and Steward), born 1856.83

  • 84 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 206.

40It is important to stress here that no informants were given for The Bantu, clearly also because the book had been written in Scotland. In addition, the rather short bibliography of Moroka had two other important entries, described as “unpublished”: “Buka ya Pusho ya ga Montshiwa”, which could be translated as “the Book of the Government of Montshiwa”, and “copious notes by Joseph Ludorf”, one of the Methodist missionaries who worked among the Barolong, the first among the boora Tshidi.84 Moroka was therefore based on a mixture of conventional historical literature, oral interviews, and unpublished archival materials.

  • 85 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46-52.
  • 86 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46, 52.

41Awkward as the frame of the book might be, some of the contents of the Moroka were greatly valuable for the reconstruction of the history of 19th-century central southern Africa. In particular, Molema’s telling of one of the turning points of the Great Trek, the commando against Mzilikazi in January 1837, was a direct challenge to the current colonial and Afrikaner narration. The “Dutch emigrants” survived the first defeat by Mzilikazi at Vegkop in 1836 only thanks to the Barolong and to Moroka, who “did not allow considerations of race or colour to diminish their service and hospitality”. Then, they crucially provided a fighting force that was larger than the 107 “Dutchmen”, including guides who knew the old land of the Barolong and allowed the expedition to approach Mzilikazi undetected.85 Molema also ridiculed the validity of the “purchase” of the land on which the voortrekker subsequently built their first village, Winburg, from the ruler of the Bataung Makwana.86

  • 87 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46-52.
  • 88 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46.
  • 89 N. Etherington, 2001, p. 250, 252.

42What about his supposed acceptance of colonial myths? “Historians”, Molema pointed out bitterly, spoke only of the “107 burghers”, and Theal “belittled” the African contribution dismissing it as “the help of some armed savages on foot”.87 As to the purchase of land, Molema noted ironically that “South African historians smack their lips and rub their hands in tacit approval” of this transaction, while at the same time trying to undermine the validity of Moroka’s claims on Thaba Nchu based on a similar agreement with the king of Lesotho Moshoeshoe.88 Both points made by Molema are substantially accepted by historians today. They were proposed by Norman Etherington in the latest Africanist re-writing of the history of these events, his 2001 book The Great Treks: the purchase was but an “alliance” with Makwana that allowed the voortrekkers to set up a “temporary camp”; as to the role of the Barolong, “the great trek of the Rolong people [to Thaba ‘Nchu] and their Methodist missionaries laid the basis for the first military expedition of the Boers’ great trek”, which would not have succeeded otherwise.89

  • 90 S.M. Molema, 1966, ‘In Memoriam’ and ‘Publisher’s note’.

43Fourteen years after Moroka, Seetsele Modiri Molema completed another historical biography, that of kgosi Montshiwa. As the publishers Struik noted, the manuscript was received shortly before the author died of a heart attack, aged 74, in Mafikeng in 1965. They opted for a remarkably minimalistic editorial hand and published it substantially untouched in 1966 as Montshiwa, 1815-1896: Barolong Chief and Patriot.90 The book was different from Moroka, not only because it was of a slightly larger format and a bit longer, at 233 pages. In Montshiwa, the kgosi of the boora Tshidi was truly the protagonist from the first page to the last, from his appearance in written records “in the decade 1830-1840” and his birth in 1815 to his death in 1896. Montshiwa’s life was the overarching frame in which Molema placed the history of a section of southern Africa in the 19th century. Everything else, including the so-called progress of civilisation and the Great Trek for sure, was placed in a perspective that was squarely centred in Mafikeng, in “the place of the rocks”.

  • 91 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 201.

Like all people, the Chief Montshiwa was a product of his times, his heredity and his environment, and had his fair share of human virtues and human vice. He was a man of powerful personality and strong convictions that attracted some and repelled others. Among his people he was considered kind, generous, forgiving, courageous, shrewd and magnanimous. He was a loved leader of a patriarchal society, a true father of his people, humorous and well-versed in Tswana law and usage. But viewed in the light and measured by the standards of the 20th Century schools, colleges and cathedrals of an alien civilisation with its strange manners, laws, opinions, usages, social system and moral standards, he was an unmitigated heathen, savage, superstitious, prevaricating, and a polygamist of the deepest dye.
It must be remembered that Montshiwa’s life spanned the 19th century which was itself twilight if not dark to many Europeans who today claim to be in the van of civilisation and progress.91

  • 92 On Molema’s ‘provincialising’ Europe, see J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 440-441.

44In 1965, Seetsele Modiri Molema provincialised Europe in a way that was much closer to his 1952 condemnation of apartheid than the latter was to the ambiguity of Moroka the year prior.92 Montshiwa also constituted an important further step in Molema’s development of historical methodologies and research practices. The book was published without a bibliography, possibly because the author had not sent it with the first manuscript. This makes checking his sources and readings more difficult, at least on a general level. They however emerge rather copiously from the notes, ranging from a wide scientific literature to various British Blue Books. Even more than in Moroka, Molema combined them with his acute reading of Barolong sources. He provided an example very early on, defining the birth date of the kgosi.

  • 93 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 4.

Montshiwa was born in or about the year 1815 the year of the famous battle of Waterloo which encompassed the fall of Napoleon. The month was probably August. The date is arrived at by reference to the average age of Montshiwa’s regiment or age-group or mophato – the Mantwa, who were born between 1812 and 1817 and were initiated into manhood in 1832. Montshiwa being a chief’s son would be among the youngest of his group at the time of initiation. The date is also arrived at by collation of famous events in the history of the Tshidi and other branches of the Barolong tribe such as the invasion of the Manthatisi hordes and the sack of Khunwana by the Matebele; also by the estimates of travellers like Emil Hloub and missionaries like John Mackenzie.93

  • 94 On mophato, see F. Morton, 2012, p. 385-397.

45It might not be immediately clear what is happening in this paragraph, methodologically. The year 1832 was a turning point for the Barolong: it was when Mzilikazi attacked and razed Khunwana, at that time their largest settlement—the event that sets in motion the narration of Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi. A group of young men initiated in that year would inevitably remember the coincidence, and even more so if one of the sons of the kgosi Tawana was among them. Molema seems to imply that such an age-set, the mophato, was on average formed among the Barolong every five or six years, and that it was on average entered by a young man as the fourth one after the time of his birth, when he was just little less than twenty years old. The “Manthatisi hordes” mentioned refers to a war fought in 1823, that was only two mephato before Khunwana and two mephato since the calling of the one during which Montshiwa was born.94

  • 95 P.G. Alcock, 2014, p. 180, 191; S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 10.

46Since it was customary that a son of the kgosi was neither the very youngest nor the oldest of the initiates, but one of the younger ones, Molema could then approximate the date of birth to 1815—a year toward which he was surely also attracted by the opportunity of placing Montshiwa and Napoleon in the same sentence. As to August, Phato or Phatwê, that was the moon which signalled the beginning of the new year in central southern Africa, the passing of winter and the commencement of a new agricultural cycle: as Molema wrote, Montshiwa was born after the harvest, when the fields started to be prepared and when the strong winds brought clouds of dust and whirlwinds from the Kalahari.95

47In Montshiwa, Molema demonstrated that he had acquired a methodology that allowed him to effectively work on the history of southern Africa before the creation of written records. Not many academics of his times were capable of or interested in doing it. Anthropologists such as Isaac Schapera and Monica Wilson had been studying age-sets for some time, but historians such as Leonard Thompson had just started to experiment themselves with the difficulties and offerings of what they called “oral traditions”. Their work would begin to be published only in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Thompson’s edited volume African Societies in Southern Africa came out in 1969, three years after Montshiwa and four after the passing of Molema.

An ethnological and historical study: The History of the Barolong

  • 96 S.M. Molema, 2022.
  • 97 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 110.
  • 98 S.M. Molema, 1966, ‘By Same Author’, page following the frontispiece.

48As often happens in the life of scholars, Seetsele Modiri Molema left several projects unfinished or unpublished. One of them was finally printed as intended only in 2022: Sol T Plaatje: Morata Wabo.96 Completed in around 1965, Morata Wabo is the first biography of Sol Plaatje and the only one written in his own mother language, Serolong. The editors of the English translation Lover of His People noted in 2012 that this biography is also one of the two written by somebody who knew Sol Plaatje personally. D. S. Matjila and Karen Haire listed Morata Wabo together with the other published and unpublished works by Molema such as The Bantu; Moroka; Montshiwa; Moše (Moses); Life and Health (Botshelo le Boikanelo); A History of the Barolong; Healdtown: A Scrap of History 1855-1955 (Lekwalo la Ditso).97 From the bibliographic information in Montshiwa, however, it is possible to gather that Life and Health was a published work and that Molema had also published something with the title Ethics and Politics.98 I could not find further reference to the latter in any of the archival collections that are known to contain Molema’s papers.

  • 99 Wits Historical Papers, Johannesburg, A979, Ad: Silas Thelensho Molema and Solomon Tshekisho Plaatj (...)
  • 100 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 377-378.

49The state and location of Seetsele Modiri Molema’s writings are crucial points. Jane Starfield provided the most comprehensive account in her PhD thesis. Life and Health was a series of lectures that Molema gave in the early 1920s and that were printed by Lovedale Press in 1924. As to his unpublished papers, according to Starfield, they are held by Wits Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, within the A979 fonds; and by the UNISA Archives, in Pretoria, within the ACC142 series and the M842 (microfilm) series. Additional papers are in the ANC fonds of UNISA.99 Her list features other titles of manuscripts, such as The Scapegoat of the Boer War (General Piet Cronjé), Tsela Ya Damaseko or “The Road to Damascus”, and Yuropa le Jerusalema or “Europe and Jerusalem” (Wits); and various essays on Mafikeng, on African teachers, and on politics (UNISA). Healdtown, mentioned by Matjila and Haire, is an unpublished manuscript held at UNISA.100

  • 101 Brian Willan, personal communication, 3 March 2023.
  • 102 M. Jacobson, 1980, p. 224.

50The Wits archival series is more properly the “Silas Thelesho Molema and Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje Papers”, a collection that was seen by Tim Couzens and Brian Willan in Mafikeng in 1976 and that was then purchased by the University of the Witwatersrand from the Molema family in 1977.101 The archivist who catalogued them noted in 1980 that the collection was originally held by three different relatives of Seetsele Modiri Molema, that the “Silas Molema’s papers, in possession of his son Morara T. Molema, were preserved in a wooden box in a storeroom”, and that “they were in bad condition and deterioration had been caused by insects, dust, and vermin”.102

  • 103 SOAS Archives, London, GB 102, MS 380268, Papers of Silas Modiri Molema; MS 375495, Papers of Solom (...)
  • 104 The SOAS Archives catalogue was, during the last phase of the research, offline. Such description i (...)
  • 105 J. Comaroff (ed.) 1976 [1973]. Brian Willan and John Comaroff, personal communications, 3 March and (...)
  • 106 Information available online at https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/d8a769d4-03e2-3225-9 (...)

51There is more, as it was already noted by Brian Willan in his biography of Sol Plaatje. The Archives of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), in London, hold two archival series that are related to the ones in Johannesburg and Pretoria: MS 375495, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, and MS 380268, Silas[sic] Modiri Molema.103 The latter were “given by J. L. Comaroff as part of the Southern African Materials Project 1973-76 organised by the Centre for International and Area Studies”, a project in which Brian Willan participated.104 Indeed, at that time Willan started a PhD on Sol Plaatje at SOAS and was alerted to the existence of the Molema papers in Mafikeng by John Comaroff, who had undertaken his own doctoral research in the capital of the boora Tshidi and had already, in 1969, located the diary that Sol Plaatje kept during the siege.105 SOAS acquired these smaller sections of the Molema and Plaatje papers in 1976 and in 1978, the latter “on permanent loan”.106 The Molema papers at SOAS show evident signs of older damage, which fits with the description of the papers later acquired by Wits, possibly meaning that they were originally part of the same collection held by Morara T. Molema, Seetsele’s brother, in Mafikeng. At the same time, the SOAS papers seem to be by Seetsele only, not by his father Silas.

  • 107 Molema’s The Scapegoat undoubtedly deserves more attention, but it was not analysed during the rese (...)
  • 108 SOAS, GB 102, MS 380268, “Batlhaping” in green OK Exercise Book.
  • 109 SOAS Archives, MS 380268, Papers of Silas Modiri Molema, loose sheets on the Barolong. 

52Most of the contents of SOAS MS 380268 are relevant for the purpose of the present discussion, but only a little of it can be mentioned in detail. The series is mainly composed of notebooks of historical notes, a handwritten copy of the manuscript of Montshiwa, and a typescript of the unpublished The Scapegoat, the latter a historical biography of general Piet Cronje of the South African Republic who besieged Mafikeng in 1899.107 Worthy of mention too are the writings in Serolong, which constitute a minor part of the collection and include a history of the Batlhaping, a community that was once ruled by the kgosi of the Barolong and that was settled in the regions of Kuruman and Dithakong.108 Even more pertinent is one loose sheet on which Seetsele Modiri Molema reconstructed the “Barolong Regiments”, thus locating in time the regiment of Montshiwa, the Mantwa; this paper is a key research note that stands behind the estimate of Montshiwa’s birth date in 1815 mentioned above and illustrates Molema’s research practices in action.109 (Image 2)

Image 2. Loose sheet on Barolong Regiments

Image 2. Loose sheet on Barolong Regiments

Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268

  • 110 SOAS, GB 102, MS 380268, “Barolong: A Historical and Ethnographical Study of the Barolong People an (...)

53One item, however, stands out in the SOAS archives: a reused notebook, hardbound in red cloth, the spine eaten by mice, which was destined to be the “Register Book Polfontein District Lichtenburg June 14 1904”, as it reads in one of the first pages. (Image 3) The notebook contains about 290 pages of a manuscript handwritten in pencil, titled “Barolong: A Historical and Ethnographical Study of the Barolong People and Bechuanaland”. After several pages of scrap notes and genealogical tables, the text begins as “Introduction. The Ba-Rolong constitute the most important tribal group [added above: “certainly one of the most important groups”] of the people known as the Becwana”.110 (Image 4) This is a draft version of Seetsele Modiri Molema’s unpublished History of the Barolong, the book he had been working on for several years when ZK Matthews visited Mafikeng in 1935 and that was reported as being almost ready for publication. I refer to this draft as SOAS MS 380268.

Image 3. History of the Barolong, red notebook cover

Image 3. History of the Barolong, red notebook cover

Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268.

Image 4. History of the Barolong, beginning of main text

Image 4. History of the Barolong, beginning of main text

Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268.

54Jane Starfield pointed out Wits Historical Papers as the location of the History of the Barolong and indeed these archives do hold another draft of the same work, a reputedly 538-sheets-long typescript with handwritten corrections, titled “History of the Barolong: An Ethnological and Historical Survey (Study) of the Barolong Tribes”.111 (Image 5) The use of a typewriter suggests that the Wits draft was made after SOAS MS 380268. The existence of handwritten corrections on the Wits draft, however, suggests that Molema did not consider it the final version. I refer to this draft as Wits A979 Ad6.1.

Image 5. History of the Barolong, frontispiece

Image 5. History of the Barolong, frontispiece

Source: Wits Historical Papers, A979 Ad6.1.

  • 112 SOAS Library, M4916, “Papers relating to the Barolong tribe: including a history based on notes by (...)
  • 113 SOAS Library, M4916, “Baralong Tribal Papers. History of the Barolong. An Ethnological Study of the (...)

55These details are important because there exists at least one other draft of the History of the Barolong, which was not previously mentioned either by Willan or by Starfield. It is held by the SOAS library, not by the archives, and is contained within the first roll of the 2-part microfilm M4916, which was “filmed from papers belonging to J. L. Comaroff”, was acquired at an unknown date, and contains much more material from and by Seetsele Modiri Molema, by his father, and even by kgosi Montshiwa.112 I refer to this draft as SOAS M4916. In this case, the History of the Barolong is a typed manuscript, which however also comprises some handwriting; it is titled “History of the Barolong: An Ethnological and Historical Study of the Barolong Tribes” and its pagination mirrors the notes added in red pencil on draft SOAS MS 380268, suggesting a close relation between these two drafts. The opening sentence mentioned above is here found as the beginning of Chapter 2 “The Ba-Rolong”: “The Ba-Rolong (not Ba-Ralong, as one so frequently sees the name misspelt); the Ba-rolong constitute, if not the most important tribal group, then certainly one of the most important of the people or nation known as the Ba-Tswana (Bechuana).”113 The draft SOAS M4916 was surely made after the SOAS MS 380268 one. At the time I led this part of the research, in 2016, the microfilm readers of the SOAS library did not print copies and therefore I transcribed some 35,000 words of SOAS M4916. This means that it is not possible for me to share here a picture from the microfilm, but only from my own transcription. (Image 6)

Image 6. History of the Barolong, transcription of frontispiece

Image 6. History of the Barolong, transcription of frontispiece

Source: SOAS M4916. Transcription by author.

  • 114 John Comaroff and Brian Willan, personal communications, 2 and 3 March 2023.

56In Johannesburg, it was not possible to check the original Wits A979 Ad6.1 draft either, but only the digitised version, which, however, has not been arranged following the pagination of the manuscript, creating a hurdle for researchers and producing some concern over the current state of the original. It was possible to compare the transcription of the first page of SOAS M4916 and the digitised Wits A979 Ad6.1, as shown in images 6 and 5, proving that the microfilm made in the 1970s and the scan made in the 2010s relate to two different physical typescripts. Crucially, the SOAS M4916 appears to be more complete, a clean draft compared with Wits A979 Ad6.1, with typos noted in blue pen in the latter version having been corrected in the former one. Yet, SOAS M4916 was not a final draft: unlike Montshiwa, the History of the Barolong was indeed unfinished, not simply unpublished. Neither John Comaroff nor Brian Willan were sure about the existence or location of the typescript from which SOAS M4916 was made, the former stating and the latter suggesting that it should likewise be at Wits.114 Brian Willan kindly provided me with a scan of a photocopy in his possession, which seems to correspond to SOAS M4916 and surely does not correspond to A979 Ad6.1. (Image 7) Unfortunately, much research is necessary to go beyond this fragmentary reconstruction of the state of the three draft manuscripts of the History of the Barolong, and more crucially to locate the physical draft on which SOAS M4916 and Willan’s photocopy were based.

Image 7. History of the Barolong, frontispiece

Image 7. History of the Barolong, frontispiece

Source: Brian Willan.

  • 115 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/19: Confidential ‘First quarterly report on field-work among th (...)
  • 116 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Seleka”, p. 8.
  • 117 J. Peires, 1979, p. 159.

57When was the History of the Barolong written? As mentioned, ZK Matthews hinted at its existence in 1935 as “a book on this aspect [history] of Barolong Culture”, on which Molema was working at that time.115 There is one further hint in SOAS M4916. The text mentions the destruction of the first Methodist mission in Makwasie in 1824 as having happened 116 years before the “present”, when the ruins were still visible according to Molema. This means that at least the specific section was written in 1940.116 Indeed, Jeff Peires discovered already in 1979 that Molema had submitted a manuscript on “the history of the Rolong” to the Lovedale Press in that very year, 1940, but the missionary responsible for the publishing house found that it was too passionate and that its language and tone was not impersonal and scientific, especially for its reputedly anti-British bias. He asked for a revision. As Peires related, Molema accepted, but he never submitted the new draft.117

  • 118 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Seleka”, p. 1, 13-14; S.M. Molema, 1987 [195 (...)

58It is not known why he did not. Perhaps Seetsele Modiri could not come to terms with the revision that was asked from him. It is clear that he kept the History of the Barolong as a well-organised, unpublished text and he used it as the basis to write parts of later books, such as Moroka. This is the case, for example, of the descriptions of Ratlou’s succession to his brother and regent Seleka at the head of the Barolong, and of the foundation of the Rolong settlement of Thaba ‘Nchu, which are re-elaborations of what was written in the History of the Barolong.118 It is possible that Molema kept working on this manuscript after 1940 and until his death in 1965, with the purpose of publishing it one day. This might explain why so many drafts of it exist and perhaps also why they ended up scattered in at least three different places.

  • 119 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Chapter 3”, “section on the Ratlou Branch of (...)
  • 120 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “section on the Ratlou Branch of the Barolong (...)
  • 121 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Seleka”, p. 2.
  • 122 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Mariba Ratlou”, p. 7.
  • 123 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 13.

59As with Moroka and Montshiwa, the History of the Barolong illustrates the widening and deepening of Molema’s historical research between the 1930s and 1965. SOAS M4916 contains a handful of direct references to Barolong sources. For example, in a paragraph discussing the war fought in 1853 between some Barolong dikgosi, including Montshiwa, and the South African Republic, Molema quoted both Paul Kruger’s memoirs and the memory of “several Ba-Rolong old men”.119 Molema referred to “Ramosiane Mongala, grand son of Mongala, born 1845, died 1940” when narrating the death of Mongala himself in a battle with the !Korana, at Thabeng, in 1821.120 Another informant, “Motsadare Marumoloa”, was mentioned in relation to the final years of Seleka, in the 1780s.121 In a different point, Molema summarised what the missionary Robert Moffat thought of Molala, a kgosi of the Ratlou branch: he was “‘a complete heathen’ – unscrupulous and savage in the extreme”, and commented that “this description accords with Ba-Rolong testimony”.122 Similarly, the daughter-in-law of kgosi Tawana, Mosadikwena, was asked by Molema about, among other things, the physical aspect of the long-time dead ruler, before she died in 1940.123

60The handwritten damaged notebook draft, SOAS MS 380268, contains additional information on the diverse set of readings and sources Seetsele Modiri Molema was working with for his History of the Barolong, including 44 titles as a partial bibliography, 16 British Blue Books, and a general overview of substantial unpublished materials. (Image 8)

Image 8. History of the Barolong, sources of information.

Image 8. History of the Barolong, sources of information.

Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268.

  • 124 SOAS Archives, MS 380268, “Barolong: A Historical and Ethnographical Study of the Barolong People a (...)

Sources of Information
1. Books listed in Bibliography
2. Notes taken from antiquarians at M [Mahikeng?]: Motsalore, Setumo, Seleka, Setshakonyane, Ramosiane, Mmenatshipi, Rabodeboa, Morwe, Poonyana, Mogola
3. Historical references to Chiefs + Battles in Panegirics
4. Notes in Buka oa Pusho [?] Montsioa, manuscripts by several writers - some being early Wesleyan Methodist missionaries to Barolong
5. Letters of Montsioa ms
6. Various well written notes written since 1870 by Stephen Lefenya (b 1836) and [?] to Montsioa
7. Notes collected by Chief Silas Molema since 1875.124

  • 125 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 206.

61Two of the “antiquarians”, Motsalore and Ramosiane, were referenced in the body of the text of SOAS M4916 as mentioned above. Some others of these entries were also mentioned elsewhere. The “Buka oa Pusho” of Montsioa and the missionary papers were among the unpublished sources listed for the Moroka. In the same book, Molema listed Stephen Lefenya as “informant”, whereas in the SOAS MS 380268 he reported being in possession of “well written notes” by the late secretary to kgosi Montshiwa.125 Likewise interesting is to see that Molema was taking notes of his discussions on historical matters with the “antiquarians” of Mafikeng; that kgosi Montshiwa wrote letters—or somebody did so for him; and that Seetsele’s father Silas had written several notes since 1875. Such larger set of sources possibly means that both SOAS MS 380268 and M4916 reflect a phase of research that came after the publication of Moroka in 1951. It also illustrates that Seetsele Modiri Molema was taking full advantage of his position within the royal family of the boora Tshidi to access both oral and written sources that were well beyond the reach of the historians of his age—that is, even if they ever followed ZK Matthews to do research in Mafikeng.

  • 126 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 19.
  • 127 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 24.

62Molema discussed the composite nature of the source material several times in the draft of the History of the Barolong. In particular, this aspect relates to one of the most intriguing elements of the text: its complex and intertwined periodisation. The idea of distinguishing between periods was first introduced very early on, when dissecting the concept of “Totemism” and explaining how tau, “lion”, had become one of the recent “totems” of the Barolong. Molema commented that it was precisely from the reign of kgosi Tau, c.1720–c.1760, that “modern reliable history of the Ba-Rolong may be fairly be said to begin”, even if it was his name which had become “legendary” and turned into a “totem”.126 He hinted at a similar development when opening the “Ethnology” section, where he stated that “oral tradition lazily traces the history of the Ba-Rolong to their ancient king – Morolong, after whom the tribe is believed to have been named”.127

  • 128 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 24.

In the absence of any method of writing, and therefore of annals among the primitive Ba-Tswana, we have only the flickering, dim and uncertain light of tradition to rely upon, and it is impossible, at this remote date, and with such scanty data as are extant, to determine with anything like precision, the date of these events, and it is unfortunately equally impossible to ascertain the exact locality where these events took place. We have only the legend of an erstwhile residence in the Lacustrine region to fall back upon.128

63In his understanding, there were radical differences in what could be known and written about Morolong, whom he placed in the period c.1250–c.1350, and Tau in the 18th century.

From this period [Tau’s reign], tradition more and more gives place to historical fact, and the narrator is on firmer ground, and the historian surer of the material at his disposal. Guesses, estimates and surmises as to exact dates and particular localities assume more and more a uniform character of probability until we can feel that the age and reign of Tau are correctly stated to an approximation of ten or even five years. After this period, the history of the Ba-Rolong becomes more reliable and more verifiable.

It is contained, not only in legend and in story, but also in song and verse – in the passionate and palpitating cadences of the war song, in the echoes of the ornate and delightful declamations and of the heroic narrative, in the poetical panegyrics, the fervid effusions and the vehement praises of the chieftains and the great warriors of the tribe. While there is no deliberate delineation, no purposeful portrayal and no authentic characterisation of persons or places, frequent references, or passing allusions to form and figure, colour and contour, stature and physique of important personages are to be found in these compositions of a bygone age; their achievements, and their age-groups are mentioned, and their characters and even their mannerism are hinted at.

  • 129 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 43.

From all this, an earnest inquirer obtains abundant data, and useful material for a fact-and-figure mosaic, a reconstruction, which, if it cannot be claimed to be a duplicate reproduction, is at least not a violent caricature of the original.129

64The beginning of the 18th century represented therefore the turning point from “tradition” to “modern reliable history” in Seetsele Modiri Molema’s work. It is important to note that the beginning of history did not correspond either with the beginning of writing or with the first information he collected, but with the type of work the historian was able to do with his combined sources. In other words, Molema conceptualised it as a historiographical periodisation, not a historical one.

  • 130 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 28-30.
  • 131 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 30.
  • 132 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 38.

65The History of the Barolong also proposed a historical periodisation. Intriguingly, Molema crafted it for the times before 1700, dividing the “ancient Ba-Rolong kings” into three periods, or “epochs” as he called them: the “Epoch of illustrious kings (1250-1350 AD)”; the “Epoch of insignificant kings (1375-1500 AD)”; and the “Epoch of secession (1500-1700 AD)”. The first period was that of the founders Morolong, Noto, and Morara, whom he considered as living men whose lives had been embellished and manipulated in traditions.130 The second period was that of “Mabe, Mabua (or Mabudi), Monoto (or Moloto) and Mabeo”. Molema was very sceptical about their real existence, because their lives “are but imperfectly known” and their names had no meaning in Setswana. Indeed, he commented that “one cannot help wondering if there has not been some fabrication, or at least confusion and reduplication, resulting perhaps from a mis-pronunciation and mis-spelling by some early inquirers and tabulators of Ba-Tswana genealogies”.131 The third period started with the rebellion that led to the foundation of Setlagole on the Molopo in about 1535 and was marked by the increasing turbulence within the royal family of the Barolong, by their settlement in the broader region of Mafikeng, and by their expansion southwards during a series of “secessions” that gave name to the epoch.132

  • 133 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 37.
  • 134 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 47.
  • 135 L. Chewins, 2016, p. 725-741; Brenthurst Library, Johannesburg, Robert Jacob Gordon Papers, MS 107/ (...)

66The intertwining of historical and historiographical periodisations emerges precisely at the turn of the 18th century, which constituted the “zenith” of the “national existence” of the Barolong, but also the moment when “modern reliable history” began.133 Here is also where the unfinished nature of the History of the Barolong appears, because the remaining periodisation is only hinted at after the first three “epochs”. It is clear that Molema saw the long and eventful reign of Tau as a period in its own right, during which the land under the rule of the kgosi reached its maximum extent: reputedly, from the Molopo to the Vaal and Orange Rivers, an area the size of the old Kingdom of England. Then, several years after the death of Tau in c.1760, the Barolong collapsed facing a war, a rebellion, a smallpox epidemic, and a civil war: here “another epoch of secessions” began.134 Molema set this turning point at 1777. At the present state of our knowledge, it is not possible to reconstruct how he obtained the date—unlike the case of kgosi Montshiwa’s birth date mentioned above. Recent research seems to confirm this year as having seen a major political change in the balance of power in central southern Africa, thanks to new evidence of a boom in ivory trade from Mozambique in 1777 and of the ongoing epidemic and civil war of the Barolong, in the unpublished papers of the explorer Robert Jacob Gordon, written in 1779.135 None of these sources were available to Seetsele Modiri Molema at the time of his researches, but he knew of the smallpox epidemic from other sources.

Conclusion: History is not so absolute

67Even at this stage, the research done on the two drafts held at SOAS supports the statement that the History of the Barolong was one of the most important attempts to reconstruct the deep history of central southern Africa made in the central decades of the 20th century. Seetsele Modiri Molema deserves to be considered today among the historians who ventured to write about such remote periods of southern African history. He was also one of the few who wrote specifically about the region between the Molopo and the Vaal and Orange rivers. Importantly, Molema wrote in the decades in which the discipline of African history was being developed, systematised, and recognised in academia. Such contemporaneity invites a few conclusive points about his work and his legacy.

  • 136 Z.K. Matthews, 1940; Z.K. Matthews, 1945; Z.K. Matthews, 1954.
  • 137 M. Legassick, 1969, p. 86-125, 115; M. Legassick, 2010 [1969], p. 29.

68Molema’s unpublished work was not entirely unnoticed. ZK Matthews’ articles “Marriage Customs among the Barolong” and “A Short History of the Tshidi Barolong” and his Setswana chapter “Barolong”, published in 1940, 1945, and 1954, are the only known emanations of Molema’s unpublished works made during his lifetime.136 From there, it germinated. The “A Short History of the Tshidi Barolong” was in turn fundamental for Martin Legassick’s PhD thesis and for his chapter “The Sotho-Tswana before 1800” in Leonard Thompson’s edited volume African Societies in Southern Africa, both dated 1969.137 Legassick is still regarded as the primary historian of the region and is the go-to reference for contemporary scholars.

  • 138 Jean Comaroff, 1985, p. 19.
  • 139 F. Morton, J. Boeyens, 2022, p. 88-103; Jean Comaroff, 1985, p. 19; M. Legassick, 1969, p. 115 fn82
  • 140 N. Etherington, 2001, p. 28.
  • 141 P.S. Landau, 2010.

69In 1985, the anthropologist Jean Comaroff, who also studied the boora Tshidi, significantly wrote that “the documented history of the Barolong ruling line begins with the accession of Tau in c.1700-1760”, basing this statement on her reading of Legassick, the colonial historian George W. Stow, and Montshiwa.138 As Legassick had done, she complemented Molema with the work of the apartheid ethnographer Paul-Lenert Breutz, who did fieldwork in most Setswana-speaking communities of South Africa between the 1930s and 1970s. Breutz’s researches have been recently reappraised by Fred Morton and Jan Boeyens, and his papers surely deserve a thorough study, but both Legassick and Jean Comaroff decided to follow Molema’s earlier chronology and considered Breutz mistaken by a hundred years, placing kgosi Tau in the 17th century.139 As mentioned before, Moroka was among the references of Norman Etherington, who summarised the period of kgosi Tau in his The Great Treks.140 Both Moroka and Montshiwa are among the foundations of the latest reading of Barolong as “prestige-place association” in Paul Landau’s Popular Politics.141 None of these scholars, however, had access to Seetsele Modiri Molema’s unpublished works, where the deep past of central southern Africa was addressed in much greater detail.

70Historians who approached African history in the 1950s and 1960s had to face serious methodological challenges in order to write about the oral past of the continent. They proposed sophisticated solutions that over time became known as the study of oral traditions, one of the foundation stones of the discipline. The case of Seetsele Modiri Molema shows that similar elaborations were being made outside academic circles, alike to what Macola and Peterson demonstrated for the cases of the “homespun historians”. In his historical works, the historian of the Barolong did not adopt European history-writing plain and simple and did not accept uncritically what his Barolong sources and informants told him. He found his own way to deal with his sources and put it to work. In the History of the Barolong, he reached the awareness that history—that is, the way we research and relate it—changes from place to place and even from time to time.

  • 142 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 30-31.

History is not so absolute, so hard and harsh, so imperious and inexorable a judge as we are often led to believe. She is subservient, like other judges, to racial, not universal ideas. She is subject to the law of the land, the mind and morals of the epoch and nation, and to the prevailing conception of goodness or greatness.142

71Such a statement, it should not be missed, contains both a critique of the supposedly objective historiography of colonial South Africa that Molema antagonised and an acknowledgement of the complex set of influences at work in his own research.

  • 143 It is possible but at the present state unproven that Molema read Vansina in French, at least for h (...)
  • 144 Molema’s obituary, 13 August 1965, The Star, reproduced in S.M. Molema, 1966.

72In order to study the deep past of central southern Africa, Seetsele Modiri Molema mixed linguistics, archaeology, geography, anthropology, published and unpublished written sources, literature, and an informed and critical reading of oral sources. Doing African history required a different methodology, and the historian from Mafikeng forged his own tools independently of Jan Vansina’s De la tradition orale.143 Molema died a year before the independence of Botswana, an event whose unfolding he had prepared as member of several councils and committees.144 In Mafikeng, he had found a way to replace the “flickering, dim and uncertain light of tradition” with the vivid portrait of history. His unpublished historical works, and in particular the History of the Barolong, should be counted among the foundational history books written by African historians that it is now time to re-read, to re-assess, and—why not?—even to publish once and for all.

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Notes

1 In this article, I have adopted the name Mafikeng over Mafeking and Mahikeng because it defines more accurately the historical settlement of the boora Tshidi which is the specific part of the contemporary city referred to in the article. It also follows more closely the use of the term by Seetsele Modiri Molema. Note that the settlement of the boora Tshidi has also been called colloquially “the Stadt” by its inhabitants, including notably Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje. S. Parnell, 1986, p. 203-210; J. Comaroff, 1976 [1973].

2 S.M. Molema, 1920.

3 “The University of Glasgow Story: Molema Building”. https://universitystory.gla.ac.uk/building/?id=45 (last accessed 27 February 2023); “Silas [sic] Modiri Molema” https://universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH24165&type=P&o=&start=0&max=20&l= (last accessed 28 February 2023); “John Walter Gregory”. https://www.internationalstory.gla.ac.uk/person/?id=WH0194 (last accessed 28 February 2023). Note that Molema’s name was Seetsele; Silas was his father’s name.

4 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951]; S.M. Molema, 1966; S.M. Molema, n.d. [c.1940-1965].

5 In this article I follow the critique of the term “precolonial” proposed by, among others, Cynthia Kros, John Wright, Mbongiseni Buthelezi, and Helen Ludlow. Although imprecise, the terms “deep history” and “deep past” which are here opted for have at least the qualities of not being teleologic and of not centring African history around the short episode of European colonialism. C. Kros, J. Wright, M. Buthelezi, H. Ludlow, 2022, p. 3-23, 16.

6 J.V. Starfield, 2001, p. 479-503; J.V. Starfield, 2012a; J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 434-449; J.V. Starfield, 2015, p. 76-102.

7 Starfield decided to focus only on The Bantu but was well aware of the later books, Moroka and Montshiwa, and of other “fascinating unpublished works” of his. J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 370.

8 C. Saunders, 1988, p. 105-110.

9 S.M. Molema, 1920.

10 S.M. Molema, p. 230; E. Gibbon, 2005 [1776-1781], p. 230-240.

11 J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 436, 443, 445; S.M. Molema, 1920, viii.

12 For a critical reading of other African intellectuals using this practice, see H. Mokoena, 2005, p. 126-127. See also C. Ellis, T.E. Adams, A.P. Bochner, 2011, p. 273-290.

13 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 368.

14 The most recent works are C. Broodryk (ed.), 2021; C. Kros, J. Wright, M. Buthelezi, H. Ludlow (eds.), 2022.

15 V.J. Collins-Buthelezi, 2016, p. 115-132. I would like to thank Katleho Kano Shoro for pointing out this article to me.

16 V. Bickford-Smith, 1995, p. 443-465; V. Bickford-Smith, 2004, p. 194-227; V. Bickford-Smith, 2011, p. 74-97.

17 A selection of her works includes H. Mokoena, 2005; H. Mokoena, 2011; H. Mokoena, 2022, p. 63-75.

18 S. Rosenberg, R.F. Weisfelder, M. Frisbie-Fulton, 2004, p. 37-40; R.F. Weisfelder, 1974, p. 397-409; E. Morelli, 2022, p. 89-118. Lesley Mofokeng has found the Setswana term batlhalefi being used for the intellectuals of Mafikeng, in the circle of Silas Molema and Sol Plaatje. Personal communication, 3 March 2023.

19 C. Kros, J. Wright, 2022, p. 48-59.

20 H. Mokoena, 2005, p. 29, 101-112; H. Mokoena, 2022, p. 73.

21 P. La Hausse de Lalouvière, 2009, p. 50, 55.

22 N. Mkhize, 2018, p. 92-111. On the mfecane, see C. Hamilton (ed.), 1995.

23 J. Peires, 1979, p. 155-175.

24 D.R. Peterson, G. Macola, 2009, p. 1-30, 3.

25 D.R. Peterson, G. Macola, 2009, p. 6.

26 D.R. Peterson, G. Macola, 2009, p. 11-12.

27 The Setswana kgosi is often translated as ‘chief’ or, before colonialism, ‘king’. ‘Ruler’ could be a more neutral solution.

28 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 8-10.

29 It has become standard academic practice to refer to Mzilikazi’s people as Ndebele or amaNdebele, despite the absence of evidence pointing towards their own use of such identity. Ndebele is indeed a neologism formed by applying isiZulu norms to a Sesotho and Setswana term which was used for invaders from the east, Matabele or Matebele. Mzilikazi himself was of the Khumalo family, he referred to his domain as ‘Zulu’, and he effectively ruled over a mostly Setswana-speaking community between the early 1820s and 1837. P. Landau, 2010, p. 35, 37, 64.

30 I have opted for the term ‘city’ to refer to Thaba ‘Nchu following two sets of considerations. Firstly, several archaeologists are now shifting to consider ‘Tswana’ settlements as urban spaces, contrary to older interpretations which explicitly denied it. Secondly, the Barolong themselves seem to have adopted this interpretation more than a hundred years ago when donning the Dutch term stadt, ‘city’, for Mafikeng—by no means the largest settlement ever built in the southern African interior. It should be noted that the Setswana term for such a settlement, motse, is identical to the Sesotho term, despite settlements in the areas where the latter language was spoken being usually much smaller and being traditionally referred to as ‘villages’ in English. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for asking to elaborate on this. P.J. Lane, 2004, p. 269-299; K. Sadr, 2019a, p. 1-22; K. Sadr, 2019b, p. 56-62; K. Sadr, 2020; J. Iliffe, 2009 [1987], p. 79-80; P. Mitchell, G. Whitelaw, 2005, p. 209-241, 228-229; B. Freund, 2011, p. 4-5.

31 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 33-34.

32 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 35-36; S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 59.

33 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 52-53; K. Shillington, 1985, p. 126.

34 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 77-97.

35 K. Shillington, 1985, p. 129-131. It might seem strange, at first, that kgosi Montshiwa needed an invitation from his subordinate Molema to settle anywhere within his own territory. This is explained by Seetsele Modiri Molema in Montshiwa as the result of two ‘maxims’: ‘Tlou ya mmadi’ or ‘ownership to him who pegs first’; and avoidance ‘to warm yourself at the fire kindled by your junior’. Firstly, the founding of a settlement included ceremonies which created an unbreakable spiritual connection with the first founder, preventing others from inhabiting the exact location. Secondly, strict royal hierarchy was based on the precedence of seniors, even when they held less practical power—which was not the case here—the transgression of which would bring ‘degeneration’, as stated in the History of the Barolong. There was also a third reason, mentioned likewise by S.M. Molema in Montshiwa: his own grandfather being older than kgosi Montshiwa, he was suspected of plotting against the legitimate ruler. This case is a clear example of the potential that S.M. Molema’s work has for a more complete understanding of the history of the region, and I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting further elaboration on this point. S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 117-118; SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 25-26.

36 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 116-119.

37 K. Shillington, 1985, p. 173

38 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 54-58; K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 244-247.

39 S. Parnell, 1986, p. 203-210.

40 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 113-115.

41 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 115; K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 234-266.

42 K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 243-244.

43 K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 247-251.

44 K. Moguerane, 2016, p. 251-265.

45 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 100 fn1.

46 V. Bickford-Smith, 2004, p. 194-227.

47 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, 100 fn1.

48 B. Willan, 2018, p. 159-160

49 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 14-16.

50 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 104; B. Willan, 2018, p. 342-463.

51 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 166-167; J. Comaroff, J. Comaroff, 1991, p. 140-141.

52 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 166.

53 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 103.

54 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 172-193.

55 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 178.

56 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 114. N. Elrank, 2021, p. 8.

57 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 109-110.

58 J.V. Starfield, 2001, p. 479-503.

59 C. Rassool, L. Witz, 1993, p. 447-468, 463.

60 Seetsele Modiri Molema, ‘Opening Address’, Annual Conference of the South African Indian Congress, 25 January 1952, available online https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/opening-address-annual-conference-south-afri-can-indian-congress-dr-s-m-molema-25-january (last accessed 21 February 2023). Also quoted in C. Rassool, L. Witz, 1993, p. 463.

61 Seetsele Modiri Molema, ‘Opening Address’, Annual Conference of the South African Indian Congress, 25 January 1952, available online https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/opening-address-annual-conference-south-afri-can-indian-congress-dr-s-m-molema-25-january (last accessed 21 February 2023). Also quoted in C. Rassool, L. Witz, 1993, p. 463.

62 J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 449. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer and Arianna Lissoni for bringing clarity to some details of the events of 1952–1953, and for the reference to A. Manson, B. Mbenga, A. Lissoni, 2016, p. 14-17; A.A. Manson, B. Mbenga, 2012, p. 472-497, 473-474.

63 Wits Historical Papers, Johannesburg, ‘A979: The Silas T. Molema and Solomon T. Plaatje Papers’, Compiled by Marcella Jacobson, 1978. See also M. Jacobson, 1980, p. 224-234.

64 Z.K. Matthews’ thesis at Yale was titled ‘Bantu Law and Western Civilization in South Africa: A Study in the Clash of Culture’. UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A1.19: Matthews ZK Papers/Yale University/Thesis MA 1934. Available online https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5046 (last accessed 22 December 2023).

65 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/10 and 12: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/Letter Matthews to Schapera, 30 September 1935 [typed copy, unsigned], and Letter Schapera to ZK Matthews, 8 October 1935. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5212 and https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5360 (last accessed 22 December 2023).

66 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/Letter Matthews to Molema, 22 September 1935 [typed copy, unsigned]. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5213 (last accessed 22 December 2023).

67 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Letter Matthews to Molema, 22 September 1935. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5213 (last accessed 22 December 2023).

68 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Letter Matthews to Molema, 22 September 1935. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5213 (last accessed 22 December 2023).

69 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/11: Letter Matthews to Molema, 22 September 1935. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5213 (last accessed 22 December 2023).

70 Underline in original. Since the research was undertaken “under the auspices of the Institute of African Languages and Cultures”, the London-based predecessor to the IAI, the report could be addressed to Bronislaw Malinowski. Isaac Schapera is mentioned in the report and could not be the addressee.

71 Underline in original. UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/19: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/Confidential ‘First quarterly report on field-work among the Barolong of British Bechuanaland’, December 1935-February 1936. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5381 (last accessed 22 February 2023).

72 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/19: Confidential ‘First quarterly report on field-work among the Barolong of British Bechuanaland’, December 1935-February 1936. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5381 (last accessed 22 February 2023).

73 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/21: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/‘Second Field Work Report’, November 1937–February 1938. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5434 (last accessed 22 February 2023).

74 Z.K. Matthews, 1937, p. 433-437; Z.K. Matthews, 1940, p. 1-24; Z.K. Matthews, 1945, p. 9-28; Z.K. Matthews, 1954, p. 1-31.

75 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/C2/200: Matthews ZK Papers/Correspondence on Education Matters/Confidential letter ZK Matthews to SM Molema 26 October 1959. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/7733 (last accessed 22 February 2023).

76 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/B2/83: Matthews ZK Papers/African National Congress/Letter Vincent Joseph Gaobakwe ‘Bakwe’ to ZK Matthews 2 October 1952. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5915 (last accessed 22 February 2023).

77 S.M. Molema, 1945. A copy in UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/47: Matthews ZK Papers/Barolong Research/Chief Lotlamoreng Montshiwa.

78 C. Saunders, 1988, p. 108.

79 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 196-200.

80 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 198.

81 Seetsele Modiri Molema, ‘Opening Address’, Annual Conference of the South African Indian Congress, 25 January 1952, available online https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/opening-address-annual-conference-south-afri-can-indian-congress-dr-s-m-molema-25-january (last accessed 21 February 2023). Also quoted in C. Rassool, L. Witz, 1993, p. 463.

82 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 279 n307; S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 204.

83 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 206.

84 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 206.

85 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46-52.

86 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46, 52.

87 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46-52.

88 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 46.

89 N. Etherington, 2001, p. 250, 252.

90 S.M. Molema, 1966, ‘In Memoriam’ and ‘Publisher’s note’.

91 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 201.

92 On Molema’s ‘provincialising’ Europe, see J.V. Starfield, 2012b, p. 440-441.

93 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 4.

94 On mophato, see F. Morton, 2012, p. 385-397.

95 P.G. Alcock, 2014, p. 180, 191; S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 10.

96 S.M. Molema, 2022.

97 D.S. Matjila, K. Haire, 2012, p. 110.

98 S.M. Molema, 1966, ‘By Same Author’, page following the frontispiece.

99 Wits Historical Papers, Johannesburg, A979, Ad: Silas Thelensho Molema and Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje Papers, Seetsele Modiri Molema; UNISA, Pretoria, ACC142; M842; AS2186/N, ANC papers.

100 J.V. Starfield, 2012a, p. 377-378.

101 Brian Willan, personal communication, 3 March 2023.

102 M. Jacobson, 1980, p. 224.

103 SOAS Archives, London, GB 102, MS 380268, Papers of Silas Modiri Molema; MS 375495, Papers of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje. Note the mistake in naming Modiri Silas instead of Seetsele, as already mentioned.

104 The SOAS Archives catalogue was, during the last phase of the research, offline. Such description is also reported verbatim on Archiveshub, together with a relatively detailed overview of the collection. Available online at https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/19c8c4ac-5757-3fa3-8d83-1b5c6059fed4?terms=molema (last accessed 24 February 2023).

105 J. Comaroff (ed.) 1976 [1973]. Brian Willan and John Comaroff, personal communications, 3 March and 2 March 2023.

106 Information available online at https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/d8a769d4-03e2-3225-9dc1-b13263c03929?terms=plaatje (last accessed 24 February 2023). Confirmed by Brian Willan, personal communication, 3 March 2023.

107 Molema’s The Scapegoat undoubtedly deserves more attention, but it was not analysed during the research for the present article. I would like to thank Brian Willan for raising this point and for suggesting to devote more efforts to it in the future.

108 SOAS, GB 102, MS 380268, “Batlhaping” in green OK Exercise Book.

109 SOAS Archives, MS 380268, Papers of Silas Modiri Molema, loose sheets on the Barolong. 

110 SOAS, GB 102, MS 380268, “Barolong: A Historical and Ethnographical Study of the Barolong People and Bechuanaland” in red cloth damaged notebook.

111 Wits Historical Papers, Johannesburg, A979, Ad6.1: http://historicalpapers-atom.wits.ac.za/history-of-barolong-ethnological-and-historical-survey-study-of-barolong-tribes-538f-various-pagination-typescript-with-manuscript-corrections (last accessed 25 February 2023). As mentioned below, the digital version of this draft is not arranged by order of pagination. What appears to be the frontispiece is digitally archived as Ad6.1.5 - Folder 5, A979-Ad6-1-5-01-jpeg.pdf, p. 17 of the pdf file, http://historicalpapers-atom.wits.ac.za/a979-ad6-1-5-01-jpeg-pdf (last accessed 22 December 2023).

112 SOAS Library, M4916, “Papers relating to the Barolong tribe: including a history based on notes by S.M. Molema, letter books and correspondence of Chief Montshiwa, and miscellaneous material on boundary disputes”, metadata available at https://library.soas.ac.uk/Record/570567#notes (last accessed 28 February 2023). This microfilm was only mentioned by Shillington, who consulted it and the original papers while being microfilmed in the 1970s. K. Shillington, 1985, p. 271. John Comaroff specified that none of Molema’s or Plaatje’s papers ever belonged to him, but were only entrusted to him by members of the Molema family who were looking for an institutional deposit. John Comaroff, personal communication, 2 March 2023.

113 SOAS Library, M4916, “Baralong Tribal Papers. History of the Barolong. An Ethnological Study of the Barolong Tribes”’, henceforth: History of the Barolong, p. 21.

114 John Comaroff and Brian Willan, personal communications, 2 and 3 March 2023.

115 UNISA Archives, Pretoria, ACC101/A2/19: Confidential ‘First quarterly report on field-work among the Barolong of British Bechuanaland’, December 1935-February 1936. Available online at https://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/5381 (last accessed 22 February 2023).

116 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Seleka”, p. 8.

117 J. Peires, 1979, p. 159.

118 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Seleka”, p. 1, 13-14; S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 3, 37-40.

119 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Chapter 3”, “section on the Ratlou Branch of the Barolong”, p. 15.

120 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “section on the Ratlou Branch of the Barolong”, p. 11.

121 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Seleka”, p. 2.

122 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, “Mariba Ratlou”, p. 7.

123 S.M. Molema, 1966, p. 13.

124 SOAS Archives, MS 380268, “Barolong: A Historical and Ethnographical Study of the Barolong People and Bechuanaland” in red cloth damaged notebook.

125 S.M. Molema, 1987 [1951], p. 206.

126 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 19.

127 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 24.

128 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 24.

129 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 43.

130 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 28-30.

131 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 30.

132 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 38.

133 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 37.

134 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 47.

135 L. Chewins, 2016, p. 725-741; Brenthurst Library, Johannesburg, Robert Jacob Gordon Papers, MS 107/10/11/002, accessed through the online scans collected and organised by the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, “Untranscribed Manuscripts/Linguistic Notes”, https://www.robertjacobgordon.nl/writings-and-drawings (last accessed 13 March 2022); MS 107/3/1-2, “Fourth Journey”, 6 November 1779, https://www.robertjacobgordon.nl/travel-journals/fourth-journey/6th-november-1779 (last accessed 13 March 2023).

136 Z.K. Matthews, 1940; Z.K. Matthews, 1945; Z.K. Matthews, 1954.

137 M. Legassick, 1969, p. 86-125, 115; M. Legassick, 2010 [1969], p. 29.

138 Jean Comaroff, 1985, p. 19.

139 F. Morton, J. Boeyens, 2022, p. 88-103; Jean Comaroff, 1985, p. 19; M. Legassick, 1969, p. 115 fn82.

140 N. Etherington, 2001, p. 28.

141 P.S. Landau, 2010.

142 SOAS Library, M4916, Molema, History of the Barolong, p. 30-31.

143 It is possible but at the present state unproven that Molema read Vansina in French, at least for his Montshiwa. The first English edition of Oral Tradition came out in 1965.

144 Molema’s obituary, 13 August 1965, The Star, reproduced in S.M. Molema, 1966.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Image 1. Seetsele Modiri Molema
Crédits Source: S.M. Molema, 1966.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 195k
Titre Map 1. Places mentioned in the text
Crédits Ettore Morelli, with ArcGIS Online.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 537k
Titre Image 2. Loose sheet on Barolong Regiments
Crédits Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 881k
Titre Image 3. History of the Barolong, red notebook cover
Crédits Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 914k
Titre Image 4. History of the Barolong, beginning of main text
Crédits Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 1,3M
Titre Image 5. History of the Barolong, frontispiece
Crédits Source: Wits Historical Papers, A979 Ad6.1.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 430k
Titre Image 6. History of the Barolong, transcription of frontispiece
Crédits Source: SOAS M4916. Transcription by author.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-7.png
Fichier image/png, 461k
Titre Image 7. History of the Barolong, frontispiece
Crédits Source: Brian Willan.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 884k
Titre Image 8. History of the Barolong, sources of information.
Crédits Source: SOAS Archives and Special Collections, MS 380268.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/docannexe/image/4788/img-9.png
Fichier image/png, 1,7M
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Ettore Morelli, « Seetsele Modiri Molema: Historian of the Barolong, 1891–1965 »Afriques [En ligne], Varia, mis en ligne le 22 avril 2024, consulté le 25 mai 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/4788 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/afriques.4788

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Ettore Morelli

Postdoctoral Fellow, Universität Basel

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