Chapter Sixteen
The Letel1,2

THE Lete are by origin Transvaal Ndebele (Matebele). These Matebele, though belonging to the Nguni group, must not be confused with the people led by Mzilikazi. The latter, as we know, only left Zululand in the early part of the nineteenth century, whereas the former had by that time already been settled in what is now the Transvaal for several centuries. Because they have lived surrounded by various Sotho tribes, the Transvaal Matebele have been much influenced by Sotho language and culture; in fact some have become pure Sotho in everything but name.

Malete, son of Phatle son of Badimo, is said by tradition to have been the first to lead the tribe to whom he gave his name down from the north. After many wanderings and many splits in the tribe, when groups hived off to found tribes of their own, the Lete came to Tshwane (now Pretoria). From Tshwane they moved south, then back to the Magaliesberg, on to present Zwartruggens, crossed the Marico River and came to rest at Rabogadi (Wilgeboomspruit in the Western Transvaal. During these wanderings the tribe was ruled by a succession of chiefs about whom nothing is known,3 but the chief at the time the tribe settled at Rabogadi was Maphalaola, who may have lived about the end of the seventeenth century.

Tradition has it that the chiefship was then usurped by Mongatane, the son of Maphalaola's brother Maoke, and that Maphalaola, instead

____________________
1
Sources: V. F. Ellenberger 'History of the Ba-ga-Malete.'
2
The people are commonly referred to in the plural as Bamalete (singular, Molete), I am indebted to Mr. Cole for the following note on this name: 'This (Bamalete) is actually a possessive form, not a noun, and originates as follows:-- (batho) bagaMalete: (people) of Malete (plural); motho wagaMalete: person of Malete (singular). Compare BagaMmangwato: people of the mother of Ngwato. With proper names and other nouns of class la, typical Tswana infixes -ga- between the possessive concord and the noun. In the eastern dialects, however, this is frequently omitted, hence Bamalete, Bammangwato, etc. In course of time, no doubt because these are rather clumsy forms, and in any case are not nouns, but possessive forms, they have fallen into desuetude, and the simpler forms Molete, Balete, Mongwato, Bangwato, etc., with their true noun prefixes, have been adopted. Hence also Selete, Sengwato for the dialectal names. Hence my preference for the use of the modern stems Lete, Ngwato in English context. It is probable that the same applied to other tribal names as well at an earlier time, i.e., the Rolong and Ngwaketse originally were known as bagaMorolong, bagaNgwaketse. The Ngwaketse territory is referred to as GaNgwaketse even to-day.' I have followed Mr. Cole and use the stem Lete throughout.
3
See genealogical table.

-160-

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