Rey's Imperial Agenda

Previously, we noted that notwithstanding the judgement that Third Bakwena Tribal Council had been reduced to a "broken reed", Bechuanaland's then Resident Commissioner, Rowland Daniel, remained determined in his desire to curtail Kgosi Sebele II's power by reviving it.

As a prelude, he held another enquiry, in November 1929, in the main Kgotla in Molepolole. In his report to the High Commissioner, Daniel again summed up the meeting.

“I attended a full Kgotla meeting at Molepolole on the 18th and 19th of November to discuss the matter and found that there were at least two-thirds of the tribe who were opposed to the petition.

The position was much the same as I found it a year ago, the great number of headmen were in favour of the petition whilst the majority consisted of common people and a few headmen.”

Daniel, however, seemingly failed to recognise one notable difference between the 1929 enquiry and previous gatherings. Minutes of the Kgotla meeting show that, for the first time on record at least, a number of self-proclaimed commoners spoke out on behalf of commoners in general.  While most of the commoner group denounced the need for another Council a few instead called for the formation of a new Council to be made up exclusively of commoners, in the manner of the House of Commons in England and the then active Lekgotla la Bafo political movement in Lesotho. 

Once again, Daniel ignored the wishes of the Bakwena as a whole by reconstituting a Council of Headmen. The four previously handpicked councillors were retained, while additional four members were to be nominated by the Kgosi for six-month trial period.

But, as with the three previous attempts, the fourth Bakwena Tribal Council proved to be a failure.  In 1930, with overwhelming support, Sebele called for its abolition.  By then, however, Rowland was being replaced as Resident Commissioner by one of the Bechuanaland Protectorate’s most dynamic and controversial colonial proconsuls – Charles Rey.

Throughout his tenure Rey exercised ruthless determination in pursuing his vision of a more “bountiful Bechuanaland”. Even before he had officially assumed office, on April 1, 1930, he had begun to consider Sebele’s deposition. He soon thereafter installed Sebele’s nemesis, the Molepolole Resident Magistrate A.G. “Sekgoanyana” Stigand, to serve as his Assistant Resident Commissioner.

As previously observed with reference to his “Hidden Hand” correspondence, Stigand’s own perspective of why Rowland and his predecessors had failed in their confrontations with Sebele bordered on anti-Semitic paranoia.

By August 1930 finding a way to ensure Sebele’s removal, in the context of the Colonial Secretary’s August 1921 instruction that any attempt to unseat him should enjoy the backing of a “substantial majority” of his subjects, was being given top priority by Rey.

There is no evidence, however, that he shared his deputy’s inclination to indulge in wild Jewish conspiracy theories.

The new Resident Commissioner’s decision that Sebele would have to go was instead a product of the policy guidelines he had been given on his appointment, as well as personal prejudices he brought to his position.

Before his departure from London he had been commissioned by the then Colonial and Dominions Secretary, Leopold Amery, to straighten out his predecessors’ perceived legacy of stagnation.

Amery had observed this legacy during a 1927 tour of the High Commission Territories. Believing that its future transfer to the Union of South Africa was inevitable, Amery hoped to see Bechuanaland developed as a “centre of progress” that could serve an imperial counterweight to the rising tide of Afrikaner nationalism within the Union. This strategy was put forward in the context of the 1924 election of J.B. Hertzog’s Nationalist dominated Pact government, which aggressively pushed for the territory’s incorporation.

Rey had specifically been told by Amery that the past object B.P. administrators had been “to keep out of the Union, and to keep the natives quiet and happy.” The new resident Commissioner was quickly perceived by many Batswana as standing for just the opposite.

Consistent with Amery’s conviction that the Protectorate had suffered under a “very un-progressive form of indirect rule,” one of Rey’s specific mandates was bring about a statutory redefinition of chieftainship.

Once in office Rey, himself, quickly concluded that the “practically unfettered power of chief’s and the lamentable misdirection of native courts” were the major barrier to development, further observing that:  “The interests of 200,000 natives in this territory have been sacrificed for the sake of preserving the personal interests and privileges of a half-a-dozen chiefs, not one of whom is at present fit to be a chief.”

In the end Rey’s view resulted in a protracted struggle between himself and most of the Dikgosi, which culminated in Bathoen II and Tshekedi’s legal challenge to the 1934 Native Administration and Justice Proclamations.

The abduction and detention of Sebele was but an opening act in this broader conflict. As the Resident Commissioner noted: “We have to frame rules for the powers of the Chiefs and the jurisdiction of their courts according to the Secretary of State’s instructions for all the territory.

To do so for the Bakwena as long as Sebele is Chief would be a grotesque farce.”

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