The Bakgatla Baga Mmanaana (Part 2)

We left off with Bakgatla bagaMmanaana under Kgosi Mosielele having enjoyed relative peace and prosperity during the 1840s, in part due to their village’s proximity to the LMS mission at Mabotsa.

The Kgosi had supported the mission, most notably by ordering both boys and girls to attend its school lessons. The presence of the missionaries also undoubtedly encouraged European traders to the village.

But, by the end of the decade, there was rising tensions between the bagaMmanaana and other neighbouring merafe of the Madikwe region and the Transvaal Boers in the context of the latter party’s growing determination to impose its hegemony. In the second half of 1851 all of the Dikgosi living west of the Boers received new demands that they accept Boer rule. While Sechele and the rival Bangwaketse rulers Senthufe and Segotshane refused to give in, but the merafe living to their immediate east initially succumbed. These included Mosielele’s bagaMmanaana as well as the Bahurutshe of Moilwa and Mangope, Balete of Mokgosi, and the Batlokwa of Matlhapeng.

After receiving some arms from Sechele, to supplement his own collection, Mosielele began to advocate for a united defence of the Madikwe valley. But, when he chaired a meeting of neighbouring Dikgosi at Maanwane in October of 1851, the discussion focused instead on the possibility of a large-scale exodus into Kweneng.

During the same week Commandant Adriaan Standers led a modest commando of 82 men up the valley to impose Boer authority. All the Dikgosi were then forced to submit to the free labour demands to the Boers. Mosielele was further forced to hand over a party of Bahurutshe fugitives, who had fled to him from Boer oppression. After this initial success the impulsive Stander's wanted to immediately organize a larger force to attack the Bakwena at Dimawe-Kolobeng, but his superior, Andries Pretorius, held him back.

In January 1852 Pretorius' patience was rewarded when he and two British Commissioners, William Hogge and Charles Owen, signed the infamous Sand River Convention. Under this agreement the British accepted the defacto independence of the Voortrekkers living north of the Vaal River, who were free to unite as the Transvaal or South African Republic.

The British also agreed to cooperate with the Boers in suppressing the sale of arms and ammunition to all blacks in the region and further renounced any treaties or understandings that had existed between Britain and the independent black African states of the region. In return Pretorius promised to guarantee free trade for legitimate British commerce north of the Vaal and to suppress slavery in his territory. Crucially for the Convention's critics this latter clause was not honoured.

The Sand River Convention represented an important shift in British imperial policy from a somewhat even-handed approach to the conflicts between settlers and the indigenous population north of the Orange River to one of unequivocal support for the Boers. As such it had a negative impact on blacks throughout Southern Africa. The bagaMmanaana would be among the first communities to suffer from this racist betrayal.

The Convention's signing coincided with reconciliation between the rival Potgieter and Pretorius families, who had since 1848 competed for Transvaal leadership. Thus, strengthened the Boers wasted little time in further consolidating their hegemony over the Batswana to their west. With the British accepting the Vaal as their border they renewed their claim to the entire country from Botlhaping to Ngamiland.

Despite their outward unity, the Transvaal Boers were divided as to what was the best policy to pursue towards the independent, armed merafe living west of the Madikwe valley. On one side were the hard-line views of those, like Commandant-General Standers and his young adjutant Paul Kruger, and the Potchefstroom Veldkornet P.J. Greyling, who called for the conquest of Botswana. After the signing of the Sand River Convention this faction enjoyed President Andries Pretorius' backing. Opposing them were such figures as the Marico District's Veldkornet Jan Viljoen who favoured dialogue and accommodation.

The above division was partially rooted in conflicting economic interests. Many of the hard liners were large landowners who lived off the forced labour of their black serfs. As more Voortrekkers established farms in the western Transvaal, the influence of this faction grew, as did the burdens that were imposed upon the Batswana. Along the Madikwe black labour was in particular demand for the digging of irrigation ditches.

To the hardliners the invasion of Botswana presented both an opportunity to bring more serfs under their control and, perhaps more importantly, end a perceived threat to their existing supply. The more guns the Bakwena and Bangwaketse gained, the more refugees fled to their territories from Boer oppression. Like the 19th century plantation owners in the American south who were determined to crush Florida’s Seminoles for giving sanctuary to their escaped slaves, many Boers wanted to bring a violent end to south-eastern Botswana's status as a refuge from sjambock rule.

Ivory traders like Viljoen, however, had a vested interest in maintaining peaceful commercial relations with the independent Dikgosi. By 1852 much of the ivory from central Africa as well as northern Botswana was passing through the Transvaal via Shoshong and Kolobeng. Only by cooperating with Batswana could the Boer maintain and increase their share of the trade.

Editor's Comment
Seamless Business Environment Needed Post-COVID

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