We left off with the all white delegates of the National Convention agreeing on a constitutional outline for a unified South African state based on rigid white racial supremacy.
The limited franchise then enjoyed by non-whites in the Cape Colony was not to be extended to the other Provinces of the proposed Union. Elective offices at national level were, furthermore, reserved for those of “European descent.”
On the question of the Protectorates, the initial reluctance on the part of white South African political leaders to embrace Selbourne’s concept of a High Commission in which “His Majesty’s Government would have a veto on all obviously improper appointments”, coupled with their eagerness to consummate the Union of South Africa as soon as possible, played into the hands of the Basotho, Batswana and Amaswati. By December 1908 the Convention, along with the Colonial Office had accepted that any transfer would have to be delayed until after British Parliamentary approval of the Union of South Africa Act.
At the same time the Convention accepted its Protectorate Committee’s 25-five point Schedule for their future incorporation, which provided for a High Commission that would have advisory status only and would be free of direct imperial oversight. This Schedule, which was incorporated into the draft of the Union Act submitted to the British Parliament, left the door still open for an early transfer.
In January 1908 the BP’s Acting Resident Commissioner, Barry May, formally notified Batswana of the likelihood of their future inclusion in the nascent South African state. Selborne, citing promises made in his response to Sebele’s petition, instructed May to inform the Batswana that while “it was not the intention of His Majesty’s Government to sanction any change at present in the system under which the Bechuanaland Protectorate is governed” and that the position of the BP was to some degree different from Basutoland and Swaziland due to the existence of British South Africa Company concessions, it was also clear that the Protectorate was “an integral portion of South Africa” and could not “be permanently administered apart from the general political comity of South Africa.”
On January 5, May delivered Selborne’s message to the Bangwato, in which he added the words “but it is quite possible, in fact practically certain that the time will come in the future that it will be in the welfare of all concerned that the Imperial government should no longer directly govern the Bechuanaland Protectorate.”
In a brief speech, Khama reportedly replied that his people were quite satisfied to live under Imperial government and he hoped they would not be handed over to any South African government. May further reported to Selborne that: “I asked Khama if he wished to sent a written communication to Your Excellency, but he said ‘No,’ and that he would be quite satisfied if I informed you of what he said.”
The relatively low key response that greeted May in Serowe stood in sharp contrast with his pitso with the southern Protectorate dikgosi and their followers at Gaberones Camp two days later. The Acting Resident Commissioner reported that he “repeated as nearly as possible what had been said at Serowe.” Partial minutes of the meeting, apparently prepared for the dikgosi, do not contain any reference to British South Africa Company interests. Otherwise they are in general agreement with May’s own official account of the meeting.
Sebele, as the senior BP Kgosi, was the first to reply to May, stating:
“I hear what you have said. When the three Chiefs went to England, we feared the rule of the Chartered Company. We went because we did not want a new Government. Then too, we were afraid of both the Transvaal and Cape Government. We wished to be under the direct control of the Imperial Government. I am under the King- King Edward. True, we may appear useless people; nevertheless we have no desire to change. We are thankful for the protection we enjoy today. To be handed over- no. We wish to rule our people as heretofore. We decide our disputes according to our customs. When a man is born under one Government how can he be apply under another? If we go we go simply as a result of compulsion but our hearts we leave behind....”
Sebele was followed by Bathoen, of whose address May reported:
“He created quite a dramatic little scene. He held out his hand in order that all might see a signet ring, engraved with a crocodile, the totem of the Bangwaketsi, and declared ‘A ring is a sign of an indissoluble bond. This ring was given to me by the late Queen Victoria...as a proof that the promises made would never be broken and that the Bangwaketsi would forever remain under the protection of Her Majesty.’ Then turning to Sebele he called upon him to produce his sign, which the latter immediately did by raising his hand, on which all could see a similar ring.” Bathoen was followed by Linchwe, Baitlotle of the Balete, and “many” others, including non-royals, all of whom were unanimous in their firm opposition to the transfer.