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Joseph Ludorf

Publishing Date : 18 February, 2019


The Rev. Dr. Joseph D.M. Ludorf (died 13/1/1872) was a renowned medical missionary, early advocate of Batswana political unity and the editor of the first Setswana newspaper, “Molekoli ua Bechwana” (Batswana Visitor).

He joined the Wesleyan Missionary Society in South Africa in 1849 and was posted the following year among the Barolong booRatshidi at Lotlhakane. His arrival coincided with the beginning of a sustained conflict between the morafe and the Transvaal Boers. In this context Ludorf won the trust of Kgosi Montshiwa who came to rely on the missionary as an advisor, secretary and diplomatic agent.

On the eve of the 1852-53 Batswana Boer War, Ludorf warned his flock: “There are three deaths, choose which you will die. 1st, Take some cattle and go to the Boers, and pray to have peace, give up all your guns, pay taxes, become their slaves, Or 2nd, Look without delay for a hiding place, but look to the consequence: no water under a burning sun. Or 3rd, Stand and fight like men for your lives, property and freedom. As for me, I cannot say which is best for you. God give you wisdom.”

Ludorf’s support for Batswana during the war resulted in the destruction of his mission. Thereafter he was based among the Barolong booSeleka at Thaba Nchu, while annually visiting the booRatshidi at Moshaneng. In April 1871 he successfully advocated Barolong land claims before a Court of Arbitration at Bloemhof, which was convened to determine the boundaries between Batswana and Boers.

In October 1871 Ludorf forwarded copies of the judgement to the dikgosi with a letter urging them to unite: “And now chiefs, rulers of the land, I appeal to you, Awake, arise and unite soon before the trophy is torn asunder by wolves; come ye together, make protective laws; stop all breaches and gaps and close your ranks.”

Ludorf then proceeded to draw up manifesto and Constitution for the “United Barolong, Batlhaping, and Bangwaketse Nation” so that the “Batswana tribes included in the new line may not only live in unity and peace, but also combine in a general confederation against the common enemy.” Ludorf’s confederation also won the support of the Bakwena Kgosi Sechele, but lost momentum following the missionary’s death.



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