The 1908-10 Campaign Against Incorporation Into South Africa (Part 2)

We left off with the observations that, ably assisted by his Tribal Secretary Peter Sidzumo, during his later year’s Kgosi Sebele I (along with his brother-in-law and close ally Kgosi Bathoen I) also associated himself with the then rising current of black protest politics within South Africa, which was finding its voice through a vibrant African controlled press, regional “Native” Congresses and political associations, as well as such forums as the Inter-State Native College Scheme that founded Fort Hare University.

In a published address, given in absentia, at the Inter-State Native College Scheme’s July 1908 Convention, Sebele addressed the issue of “Why South Africa Fails” head on by in part noting:

“But then who is really to blame that ‘the [so-called] Kafirs has thus commenced to read from the wrong end of the book’. It is a very common fallacy frequently hinted at by white witnesses that a good deal of the blame for the existing unsatisfactory state of affairs rests on the shoulders of the missionaries.

“Surely, not the missionaries so much as the colonists who became unduly alarmed at the prospect of natives becoming skilled workmen and competing with local white workmen. Is it not the fault of the white population entirely that the opening of a technical institution for the natives has been delayed till a few months ago in that colony [Natal]? What advances have the colonists made generally in regard to the Native Problem?

“Is it really true that a French Committee has drafted a bill under the instructions of the Minister of Education for the establishment of an African University at Algiers? Have the French undoubtedly not shown great courage in dealing with this phase of the Education Problem? Is it not a rather startling fact that the Great French Native dependency is represented in the Parliament of Paris by aboriginal and elected deputies!!! Why should South Africa prove so marked an exception?...”

The appeals of the Basotho King Letsie and Sebele did not go unnoticed. During a June 1908 discussion between Herbert Sloley, Basutoland’s Resident Commissioner, and Lord Selborne, the former is recorded to have said that: “In the event of the Basuto becoming seriously dissatisfied and restless, the effect of this would probably be far reaching among the South African tribes.” In the same dispatch Selborne further reported to Crewe:

“By this last remark Mr. Sloley did not mean, he explained, that unrest in Basutoland was likely to precipitate that ‘General native rising’ which to some minds is the object of constant apprehension; he intended rather to convey that their present form of government constituted a certain barrier between the Basuto and surrounding tribes and that any change of government which both weakened that barrier and was resented by the Basuto might tempt them to make common cause with other discontented tribes.”

In making such observations the British authorities where cognizant of the fact that the Basotho and Protectorate Batswana were the two principle indigenous groups in the region that had never been disarmed; instead having used the 1899-1902 Boer War as an opportunity to further upgrade their arsenals as “tribes with guns.”

The meeting between Sloley and Selborne had been immediately preceded by the somewhat belated arrival on the High Commissioner’s desk of Sebele’s petition. This, along with the July 28, 1908 petition by Swazi Ndlovukazi (Queen-Regent) Labotsibeni, helped to further convince Selbourne that indigenous opposition to settler rule had to be taken seriously in the other Protectorates as well.

In his dispatch Selborne thus advised Crewe “that a proper scheme for the administration of the native territories [Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland] should be a fundamental part of the [South African] Constitution.”

 It was to facilitate this end that the High Commissioner went on to draft a set of clauses for an imperially sanctioned “High Commission” to oversee African interests in the three territories after their transfer.

Selborne further raised the issue of the BP’s position in a July 1908 telegram to Crewe. In it he expressed his fear that the territory’s weak revenue base would compromise his ambition to keep it, after transfer, free from overbearing control by the South African Parliament.

At the time there was also reluctance on the part of the four self-governing settler colonies to assume any financial burden for the BP.

In this context, Selbourne suggested that the factor of residual British South Africa Company claims, along with geography and boundary complications with German South-West Africa could be invoked to justify the temporary exclusion of the Protectorate from the Union, perhaps until such time as Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was also admitted.

Although no firm instructions were given by Crewe at this time, he, specifically citing the Basotho factor, expressed the opinion that it might be advisable to put off the incorporation of all of the Protectorates until after the formation of the Union, while including in its enacting legislation a provision for their possible future absorption that might also address the question of “native consent”. 

Editor's Comment
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