Mmegi Blogs :: Padmore on Bechuanaland
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Padmore on Bechuanaland

“One day, the whole of Africa will surely be free and united and when the final tale is told, the significance of George Padmore’s work will be revealed.”- Kwame Nkrumah
By Jeff Ramsay Mon 27 Nov 2017, 17:23 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Padmore on Bechuanaland

Previously, we observed that from 1928 the international profile of the Lesotho-based Lekgotla la Bafo was enhanced through its affiliation with Communist International (Comintern) associated League for the Defence of the Negro Race and the Africa Bureau of International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, both of which were then headed by the Pan-African Socialist George Padmore (1903-59).

Born in Trinidad as Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, he adopted the name Padmore initially as an alias while doing underground work for Comintern; having joined the Communist Party in 1927 while attending university in the USA. From 1928 through 1934, when he rejected Stalin but not Marx, Padmore was at various times posted by Comintern in Moscow, Vienna and Hamburg. He also travelled to West Africa.

Notwithstanding some folklore to the contrary, there is no reliable evidence that Padmore made it as far as Southern Africa. Through his contacts with leading South African Communists, including Lee Leepile, he however acquired a sophisticated understanding and concern for conditions in the region including the Bechuanaland Protectorate. This is evident in his writings, including articles on Tshekedi Khama’s 1930s struggles, as well as in support for Seretse and Ruth Khama in the 1950s, when he was at least acquainted with the couple while in London.

Padmore was a lifelong opponent of South Africa’s desire to incorporate the Protectorates, i.e. Lesotho and Swaziland as well as Botswana. In 1938, he thus took the lead in protesting against the possibility that the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was prepared to appease the expansionist designs of South Africa’s Afrikaner Nationalist Prime Minister, Barry Hertzog. In the independent Labour periodical Controversy, for example, Padmore warned that while progressive attention was focused on Fascism elsewhere, the “quieter Fascist tendencies within the British Empire are ignored”.  

In this respect, Padmore recognised Hertzog’s obsession that the existence of the Protectorates was an anomaly. He further warned that the South African leader was especially eager to grab Bechuanaland, given that it would satisfy the need for more ‘native’ land while “more fertile areas are being greedily watched by the Boer farmers who wish to confiscate them for agricultural and pastoral purposes.”

Padmore was also aware at the time that mining companies in Gauteng were eying Bechuanaland’s untapped mineral resources. He recognised that the Batswana territories “have not been subdued by conquest” but rather “accepted the protection of Great Britain by treaties made through their tribal chiefs in order to escape massacre at the hands of the Boer filibusters and mercenaries of the British South Africa Company


of Cecil Rhodes”

Such accommodation was to him understandable as both the Boer and British adventurers had “employed methods no less savage than Hitler’s or Mussolini’s in “pacifying” the Matabeles.” As a result, Batswana had “remained politically under the control of Whitehall, a fact which has saved them from the terrorism and racial persecution which is the daily lot of the millions of blacks living under the jurisdiction of the Union.” And yet, their fate in 1938 was still seen as being “dreadful enough.”

“Every penny is extorted from them in taxes to maintain a bureaucratic administration. In return, little or nothing has been done to develop the economic resources of the country or to promote the well-being of the people. Although Bechuanaland is a very large territory, it is chiefly desert; and such lands as claim surface water and are served by railway are in European hands.

“The Bechuana tribes have been left a little over 100,000 square miles out of an area of 275,000 square miles. Primitive agriculture and absence of pasturage make it almost impossible for the natives to produce enough food for themselves. During the frequent droughts they suffer terribly. Pressed by this economic need and the problem of finding tax money, there is a heavy yearly exodus to the Union, where the men labour in the mines and on the farms for starvation wages. The disintegrating effects upon tribal society have been disastrous.

Rhetorically asking “since their own conditions are sufficiently bad, why do the Protectorate natives look with horror upon the circumstances of those living within Union jurisdiction?” Padmore, with an obvious reference to the Jews in Nazi Germany, affirmed: “The Fascist methods which in Europe are reserved for white racial and political minorities, in the Union are perpetrated by a white minority upon a black majority.”

After further detailing the deprivations of South Africa’s blacks, Padmore concluded that it was “no great wonder that in 1934 an assembly of chiefs of the Native Advisory Council of Bechuanaland recorded its opposition to transfer” or that “the young men of the Protectorates, particularly the Basutos, have threatened recourse to arms, so determined are they to resist any attempt to hand them over to the Union’s tender mercy.”

The latter fact has often been overlooked. By the turn of the last century, the Batswana and Basotho, having unlike others in the region never been disarmed, due to the legacy of Sechele, Moshoeshoe and those who followed them, were in the unique position of being known as “tribes with guns.”

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