Back 4d Future: The Establishment Of The Protectorate (Part 20) – ‘The Dikgosi Meet Rhodes’

We left off with Dikgosi Bathoen, Khama and Sebele, along with their aides and the Rev. W.C. Willoughby, having finally arrived in Cape Town on August 18, 1895. As with other aspects of the Dikgosi’s mission to Britain, their three day stopover in Cape Town is captured in detail in Neil Parson’s account: “King Khama, Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen.”

On the day of their arrival at the Cape, the three received by telegraph news that the heir to the Barolong booRatshidi throne, Besele, accompanied by Stephen Lefenya, was on his way and expected to catch up with them the next day. Although the pair failed to arrive on the said date the Rev. Willoughby nonetheless booked two extra passages on the steamship RMS Tantallon Castle, which was scheduled to depart for Plymouth, England on  August 21, 1895.

On the 20th the three Dikgosi jointly met with the High Commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson, who tried to bully them into abandoning their travel plans. He demanded that they inform him of the exact purpose of their visit so that he could inform his superiors in the Colonial Office, while at the same time asserting that any political issues should be settled with him. He further observed, accurately, that the Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain was to go on extended leave and would thus not likely be available to see them.

In response all three of the Dikgosi refused to engage Robinson on matters of substance. As it was a private visit paid for out of their own funds they further rejected Robinson’s suggestion that they should rather wait to be invited for a paid official visit.


The next day, on the morning before their departure, the three Dikgosi accepted an invitation to meet with Cecil Rhodes at his estate at Groote Schuur. This last ditch attempt at reconciliation had been arranged by the Cape Town treasurer of the LMS, David Mudie, who knew Rhodes from his business dealings. It is probable that Rhodes had suggested the meeting on  August 15, 1895 when he made a considerable donation to the local Society through Mudie.

Rhodes was reportedly still recovering from a severe flue when he hosted Bathoen, Khama and Sebele; a seeming reflection of his appreciation of the risk they now posed to his designs. Never known for showing much respect to black people in general, Rhodes nonetheless appears to have been more civil than Robinson the day before in his discussions with the Dikgosi.

He began by trying to allay any fears on their part that he wanted to alter the status quo of the Dikgosi within their own territories; affirming that he had no desire to take any of their land. By inference, at least this suggested that Company rule over Bechuanaland would be different from what then prevailed in Mashona or Matabeleland.

For Khama’s benefit he also emphasised that he would strictly uphold a ban on the sale of liquor to “natives” in the territory. Thirdly, he promised that the Dikgosi would retain full judicial control over all cases within their territories not involving white men.

Finding what was undoubtedly a less than hoped for response to his reassurances, Rhodes went on to observe that Queen Victoria had already given him rights over the Protectorate, with only the timing of the transfer still to be finalised. He therefore alleged that it would be pointless for the three to go to Britain on any political mission.

The most powerful man in the Empire concluded his remarks by reaffirming his triple promise of “no liquor, loss of land or authority”, adding for good measure that “those who knew him knew that he did not break his word.”

It was a rare moment for Rhodes. But it was at best too little too late. As with Robinson, Rhodes was politely, but firmly informed that while the Dikgosi had listened carefully to his words, they were nonetheless now committed to their departure schedule.

After leaving Groote Schuur, the Dikgosi were once more summoned to see the High Commissioner, who must have been disappointed to discover that the Cape Prime Minister and master of the Rhodesias had failed to turn them from their intended mission.

After the meeting Khama, through his secretary Simeon Seisa, was approached by a reporter for the Cape Times newspaper named Cowen, who asked if they had met with Rhodes. Khama reportedly replied:

“Yes...and he told me a thing with respect to my country. He said the Colonial Secretary had informed him that later on the Protectorate would be passed over to the Chartered Company”

Cowen inquired if that meant that Rhodes had affirmed that the matter had already be decided upon, to which Khama responded in the affirmative, adding that they had further informed Robinson of Rhodes’ words, while adding of the latter, “he said nothing . Not a word.” Although the resulting article never appeared in the Cape Times, it was published in the London press a month later, by which time the Dikgosi had arrived in Britain.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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