Mahikeng is the headquarters of the Barolong Boo Ratshidi people. The town was founded by Molema Tawana (c. 1822 – January 1882). Born in Khunwana during the difaqane period, Molema was the son of Kgosi Tawana of the Tshidi Barolong. Molema’s brother and close confidant, Montshiwa, later became chief. During the period that the Tshidi Barolong resided at Thaba Nchu, where they found refuge during the difaqane, Molema was converted to Christianity by the Wesleyan missionaries based there. Molema’s son and heir, Silas Molema, was educated at Healdtown College. (Silas helped his nephew Sebopioa Molema get to the United States about 1904 to study law at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio.)
In 1857 Molema led an advance guard to scout out the area along the Molopo River. This was a familiar area as they had previously lived in nearby Khunwana. Molema settled at Mahikeng (known in its early years as “Molema’s town”), while the main body of the Barolong under Montshiwa followed. But Montshiwa did not feel safe at Mahikeng due to the close presence and encroachment of the Boers in the Transvaal. He led his followers to Moshaneng in the territory of the Bangwaketse in present-day Botswana.
Molema remained at Mahikeng to ensure that the Barolong retained a presence there. Several of Montshiwa’s other brothers were also stationed at crucial sites in the proximity of the Molopo. Molema had to use all his diplomatic skills on several occasions to prevent Boer incursion and settlement near Mafikeng. He has been described as a man of “strong personality and exceptional gifts…and Montshiwa’s chief counsellor in vital matters”. (S.M Molema:35) After negotiations with Molema, Montshiwa decided to return to Mafikeng in 1876.