Johannes Jane Tane Kekana was born in 1840 in Moletlane, near Zebediela. A chief of the Lebelo clan of the Ndebele and the son of Lebelo Seroto and his wife NaMahlangu, a member of the Ndzundza tribe. Van Warmelo {infra) contends that Kekana was one of twins, but had not been killed at birth as the other twin, thus following the Nguni tradition.

Shortly after the arrival of the Voortrekkers in the Transvaal, Lebelo broke away from the Ndebele in the area of the present-day Potgietersrus. Sources differ on the reasons for this move. According to Breutz (infra). Chief Maboyaboya favoured Lebelo although he was the son of the third hut (not the son of the chief wife). This endangered Lebelo's life and he was advised to leave. Van Warmelo merely states that Lebelo's elder brother succeeded as chief and then used Lebelo as a representative and messenger. Eventually he feared that Lebelo might become too powerful and therefore suggested that Lebelo leave.

Lebelo and his followers moved southward from Moletlane and settled at Nokanapedi on Rhenosterfontein in the vicinity of Rust de Winter, between the Elands and Enkeldoring rivers. They next moved further west and lived for some time east of the Apies River near Boschplaats (Bosplaas), north of Hammanskraal. In about 1860 they moved to the nearby farm Haakdoornfontein on the Pienaars River, just north of Wallmannsthal. Upon Lebelo's death (between 1870 and 1875) Kekana succeeded him as captain. Before Kekana became leader of his tribe, he apparently worked in the Cape Colony to get guns. There, seemingly, he acquired a measure of education and collected some tribesmen. This gave rise to his desire for more instruction for him and his tribe. Probably as a result of this desire he made various requests to the Transvaal government and the Berlin Missionary Society (BMS) between 1867 and 1869 to have a missionary stationed at his kraal. During this time he sometimes attended church services in the small Berlin missionary church in Pretoria.

After the establishment of the Wallmannsthal missionary station (south of Hammanskraal, and 27 km northeast of Pretoria) in 1869 by P.C.C.A. Gninberger and C.P.G. Knothe, missionaries of the BMS, Kekana and his people moved there. Here he learnt to write, was baptized, and initially showed his goodwill by, amongst other things, personally giving up polygamy. Eventually some of the Ndebele customs and Kekana's status as captain came into conflict with Christianity and he clashed publicly with Knothe. The increasing hostility can also be attributed to legislation (Act no. 9 of 1870) of the Transvaal Republic that not only restricted the movement of Africans, but enforced the carrying of a pass, and levied a tax on every hut. It furthermore stipulated that not more than five families might live in one location which meant that the whole tribe could no longer live at the mission station. Kekana therefore left Wallmannsthal in 1872 and eventually settled on the farm Leeuwkraal, a few kilometres northwest of Wallmannsthal. Leeuwkraal at that time belonged to one Erasmus; Kekana and his followers worked for him on the farm. (It was only during the chieftainship of his son Karel Seroto that the tribe bought the farm.) After a period of what the missionaries described as moral decline, and after Knothe's departure from Wallmannsthal, Kekana restored his ties with the BMS in 1878.

At Leeuwkraal Kekana tried to improve the education of his people, by inter alia appointing an African teacher and later obtaining the services of a teacher-evangelist. His desire for a small church at Leeuwkraal became reality in 1882. In 1884 Kekana was very dissatisfied when H.T. Wangemann, director of the BMS, did not call at Leeuwkraal. After a meeting between them at Wallmannsthal, the dispute was settled. The Transvaal government obviously had a good relationship with Kekana and sometimes made use of his assistance. In April 1887 when Kekana became seriously ill, the government sent a doctor to Leeuwkraal at the request of his son. Kekana, however, died on 12 April 1887 in Leeukraal, to the north of Hammanskraal and was buried at Wallmannsthal. He was succeeded by his son Seroto Karel Kekana. Being a Christian, Kekana had only one wife who was either called Nontwa or Makgoboketsa. They had five sons and two daughters. In many respects Kekana can be regarded as a remarkable captain. He had considerably more education than the average African of his time, was known as a Christian and made a good impression on both the missionaries and the Boers. Although Kekana was a less important African captain in the Transvaal Republic, a study of him and his followers is of interest on account of their contact with white missionaries, farmers and the government. Valuable information has come to the fore regarding the pressure of Western and Christian values on an African tribe and their traditional views and customs, and also their reactions to the pressure. Despite the often one-sided approach, the documents of the missionaries of the BMS yielded detailed descriptions of this interaction.

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