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Sechele’s 1853 Appeal To The English

“They said they had no time to speak now: if you are afraid to fight give up all your guns, all your oxen, all your sheep, all your goats and all your children and also your corn, which we want for our horses.

I said my children, any of my guns I cannot give you. These can only be taken when I am dead.” – Kgosi Sechele’s 1853 

In our extended account of the 1852-53 Batswana-Boer War we left off with Kgosi Sechele in Cape Town, where on the 21st of April, 1853 he drafted a detailed appeal to the British Government, which published in the 4th June, 1853 edition of the Cape Town Mail, and later in the official British Parliamentary Papers.

In line with the purpose of his visit, in his appeal Sechele stressed the link between the outbreak of hostilities and the previous year’s signing of the Sand River Convention by the British with the Boers:

“Thing went on in this manner till the time the English made a treaty with Pretorius. After which the Boers called upon all the chiefs to attend a meeting. I refused to attend, because I did not consider myself to be under them.

I learnt, however, from those who did attend that they called upon all of us to submit to their laws, and if we refused they would make war upon us. The Boers said the country had been given to them by the English, and they had also been given them leave to do what they pleased with black people.”

During this stay, his testimony with respect to the enslavement of Batswana women and children by Boers before and during the war was reinforced by additional news reports from the interior, as well as the formal protests submitted to the British government by the missionaries Robert Edwards, Walter Inglis and Joseph Ludorf, as well as Livingstone.

From a Grahamstown Journal correspondent:

“I heard the Boers were driving in a horde of women and children taken from the Chiefs and Mosielele. It grieved me deeply. The children were divided in lots given in charge to kaffirs, driven to the water, & kraals like a flock of goats.”

Attempts by individual Boers to justify the indentured servitude or “inboeking” of “war orphans” often served to undermine the South African Republic’s official position that slavery was not tolerated within its borders.

For example, one Johan Visage, writing in the Bloemfontein Friend newspaper, denied what he claimed were exaggerated reports that Pretorius had paid 300 Rixdollars for the purchase of Sechele’s son Kgari, asserting that only a “small sum” had been paid. (The Rd. 300 figure however appears as a line item in surviving documents of the Transvaal Republics

1853 expenditure and is therefore presumably true unless Pretorius was profiteering).

Some of Kgosi Moilwa’s collaborators may have also been involved. From “Nemo” of King Williamstown, also writing in the Grahamstown Journal:

“I was in the Bahorotse [Bahurutshe] country, and the natives brought me a boy for sale, asking a sheep and a goat for him.

The lad was taken from the Baqueans [Bakwena], a tribe a little to the north of the [Orange River] Sovereignty. Shortly after this, three men were brought to our party for sale, when we told the natives the horror that our countrymen were against slavery.

They told us ‘other white men buy them, and we thought you would.’”

The Governor of Her Majesty’s Cape Colony, Sir John Cathcart, was, nonetheless, unmoved. He and his subordinates refused to meet with the Mokwena’s delegation.

Although Sechele was able to raise another 106 pounds in Cape Town to supplement the 129 pounds that had previously received, his funds were insufficient to proceed to Britain. The L.M.S. supervisor for southern Africa, William Thompson, was sympathetic but lacked finance.

In London, at a meeting held on the 11th of July 1853, Sechele’s statement was read in absentia before delegates of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, the Aborigines Protection Society, the Peace Society, and the London and Wesleyan Missionary Societies.

The gathering then drafted and passed on a petition which was forwarded along with Sechele’s appeal to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, which called on Her Majesty’s Government “to interpose its good offices for the purpose of guaranteeing the despoiled and oppressed natives against further aggressions.”

Instead, Cathcart was instructed from Downing Street “to abstain from any act beyond making friendly remonstrance to those who are in authority over them [the Boers].”

In his later years, Sechele rejected the revisionist suggestion that he had sought Mmamosadinyana’s protection, informing the British General Warren in April 1885 that:

“I have seen a newspaper in which it is said I asked for protection, also Gaseitsiwe and Khama. I do not understand this asking. The Bakwena were collected together as they are now when I went to the Cape to get guns and powder to defend myself with. I went with Sanwe, Mr. Sam Edwards, here.

There are others who can testify if I ever asked for anything beside to be allowed to buy guns and powder; to be allowed to obtain weapons the same as what the Boers had, to defend myself against them.

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