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The 1908-10 Campaign Against Incorporation Into South Africa (Part 5)

JEFF RAMSAY
We left off with the Southern Protectorate dikgosi, along with many of their followers, having come together on January 7, 1909 for a large pitso outside of Gaborone Camp.

There they were united in protesting to the acting Resident Commissioner, Barry May, that they wanted nothing to do with the then emerging Union of South Africa, preferring instead to maintain their status quo as an imperial protectorate.

Unlike Khama, the southern rulers proved eager to forward petitions of their desire to prevent any change in British sovereignty over them. A second Bakwena petition to the High Commissioner, drafted the day after the meeting, was followed by similar initiatives on behalf of the Bakgatla, Balete and Bangwaketse.The Bakwena and Bangwaketse appeals were particularly notable for both there lawyerly arguments with regard to their alleged 1895 “contract” with Queen Victoria, and forthright condemnations of discriminatory practices within the settler colonies. 

The petitions were forwarded to London in February 1909 where their appearance conveniently coincided with the arrival of a Basotho deputation bearing two petitions from Morena Letsie to King Edward on the subjects of the Union and the “Expulsion Laws”. The Batswana struggle to remain outside of South Africa entered a new phase during February-March 1909, when Sebele, on behalf of Bathoen as well as himself, recruited Joseph Gerrans (1850-1915) who was going to Britain for his health to represent them while in London

Described in his obituary as “a man of firm conviction [who] had a large sympathy for the native and coloured people who regarded him as a staunch friend”, Gerrans was a mechanical engineer who made his living as a blacksmith, coach and wagon builder. He had also been hailed as a war hero for his role in the defence of Mafikeng during the 1899-1902 Boer War. Also a member of the Mafikeng City Council, Gerrans was exceptional for his era in good relationship he cultivated with many members of the regional black intelligentsia such a Sol Plaatje and Peter Sidzumo, as well as the Dikgosi.
In his letter to Gerrans, Sebele had observed: “Knowing that you are always desirous to help the natives in any just cause, we desire you if possible, to speak for us to the English people and ask them not to give us and our country over to the South African Government We are still happy and well contented under the Imperial government and we have no desire to be under any other.”
On the basis of the above, Bathoen and Sebele each provided Gerrans with letters accrediting him to represent on their behalf the “chiefs and people” of the BP while in London.
In an effort to further strengthen their

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position, Sebele wrote to Khama in April, referring to their 1895 partnership and warning him of the need to take more active measures.

This coincided with reports by the Serowe Resident Magistrate that the Phuti was becoming increasingly disturbed by the implications of the Union. But, Khama was subsequently reassured by the Resident Commissioner’s confirmation of previous assurances and did not become actively involved in Gerran’s efforts.
Before leaving for the U.K., Gerrans contacted W.P. Schreiner, liberal  former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, and thereafter became a full member of his “Coloured and Native People’s Delegation.” Schriener had, himself, had been first approached to join the delegation by among others Sol Plaatje, acting on behalf of the Barolong dikgosi, and Letsie.

The Delegation’s twin aims were to convince the British Parliament to withhold its approval of the proposed Union of South Africa Act unless it was amended to include a non-racial franchise and also prevent the involuntary incorporation of the Protectorates.
In addition to Gerrans and Schriener, its two white members, the Delegation united for the first time prominent non-whites from across South Africa.  Its other members were: Walter Rubusana, Daneil Dwanya, and Thomas Mapikela of the South African Native Convention, John Tengo Jabavu of the Cape Native Convention, Pixley Seme and Alfred Mangena of the Transvaal Native Congress, and Abdul Abdrurahman, D.J. Lenders, and Matthew Fredericks of the, predominately Coloured, African Peoples Organisation.
Natal activist, John Dube, and three Natal/Transvaal Indian Congress representatives, M.C. Anglia, Mahandas Gandhi, and Haji Habib, travelled separately, but worked with the Delegation upon their arrival in London, as did Ismail Abdurahman, D.D.T. Jabavu and Richard Msimang, who were then studying in Britain.
While Bathoen and Sebele allowed Gerrans to join the Delegation they, along with the other traditional rulers of the Protectorates turned down invitations to attend the March 1909 inaugural meeting of the South African Native Convention in Bloemfontien.

They were, however, informally represented by Silas T. Molema who had helped move a resolution stating that there be no change in the status of any of the Protectorates “without its consent, expressed by its chiefs, councillors, and people assembled in open Council.” The London arrival of the People’s Delegation, in early July 1909, coincided with the simultaneous disembarking of a 19 member “official” delegation made up of leading white South African politicians. At least some of the later party came prepared to press for a firm guarantee that the Protectorates would soon become part of the Union.



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