By the beginning of 1895 there was much public speculation, in press and elsewhere, about the administrative transfer of Bechuanaland Protectorate to Rhodesâ€™ BSACO.
Such a fate would have linked the territory’s future with that of the “Rhodesias,” today’s Zambia and Zimbabwe.
With the conquest of the Amandebele Kingdom, pending incorporation of the Crown Colony of British Bechuanaland (south of the Molopo River) into the Cape Colony and the upholding of Charter Company claims by the Concessions Commission and Colonial Office, the ground had seemingly been prepared for Rhodes to finally take full control.
With the exception of its bid to establish a white settler colony in Ghanzi, prior to 1895 territorial transfers to the Chartered Company had been delayed by its own reluctance to assume the costs of running the Protectorate while its hands were full in imposing its authority elsewhere. But this changed in 1895 with Rhodes now pressing for the transfer of the entire Protectorate as a matter of urgency.
The motive behind Rhodes shift had less to do with Bechuanaland’s resources than its strategic position as a possible springboard for invading the South African Republic, commonly referred to as the Transvaal. The conspiracy was undoubtedly at the top of the agenda when Rhodes, accompanied by his trusted deputy Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, visited Britain from November 1894 to February 1895.
As the BSACO Administrator of “Mashonaland” Jameson had overseen the occupation of Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) culminating in his overall command of the 1893 campaign against the Amandebele. The latter achievement, as spun by sympathetic press accounts, conferred on Jameson, who was a medical doctor by training, an exaggerated reputation as a military leader.
As for his boss, a journalist at the time observed: “When Rhodes left England in February, 1895, he was at the zenith of his power. Alike in London and South Africa, every obstacle seemed to bend before his determined will.”
Rhodes was indeed at the height of his political influence and riches. While in London he had become a member of the Imperial Privy Council to add to his resume which included serving as the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony as well as being the defacto master of the Rhodesias.
In the Transvaal through such back channels as the Secheleland new concessions account he financed and to a great extent silently directed the Transvaal National Union, the political umbrella of pro-British settler opposition to the Boer government of Paul Kruger.
Through the Diamond Syndicate and De Beers he and his partners had consolidated their near monopoly control of the global production and distribution of diamonds, while the gold mining profits of his fellow “Rand Lords” had emerged as a pillar of the City of London’s continued status as the leading centre of global finance.
Half forgotten, but enormously lucrative, were Rhodes’s other commercial interests, which included being the biggest player in the then emerging Cape fruit industry.
No wonder then that every obstacle in London as well as Southern Africa seemed to bend before his determined will. In the popular press he was dubbed “Colossus of Rhodes” following the publication of a famous cartoon showing him straddling the African continent with one foot planted at Cape Town and the other in Cairo.
An understanding of the extent of Rhodes’ prominence in 1895 as a leading figure of Mmamosadinyana’s Empire helps to contextualise the audacity of Dikgosi Bathoen I, Khama III and Sebele I’s collective decision to directly challenge him by travelling to Britain in that year, a full decade after the actual proclamation of the Protectorate.
Contrary to the colonial mythology, still apparently perpetuated in too many local classrooms, the three never asked Her Majesty’s government for protection against the Boers in 1885. Their 1895 mission to Britain was rather to mobilise opinion against the transfer of the already existing Protectorate to the clutches of Rhodes’s company.
What motivated their famous if often misunderstood decision to take their case to the very heart of the British Empire? For Kgosi Khama III at least a turning point seems to have occurred when he was invited to Cape Town for urgent discussions with the High Commissioner, Sir Henry Loch. Travelling for the first time by train (from Mafikeng) as well as ox wagon, Khama, accompanied by his secretary Simon Seisa and trusted advisor Ratshosa as well as Shippard’s sympathetic deputy John S. Moffat, arrived in Cape Town on the 2nd of January 1895.
The party was accommodated in some style at an imperial government guest cottage in the Newlands suburb. Whereas Loch’s earlier summoning of Bathoen and Sebele to Cape Town had been largely motivated by a desire to impress them with the might of his office, his agenda for Khama was different.
In their meeting Loch pressed Khama for his support in facilitating the Chartered Company’s extension of the railway line from Mafikeng to Palapye, and ultimately Zimbabwe. He also revived the prospect of the imposition of direct taxation, what would become known as the “Hut Tax” on the Protectorate’s indigenous population...
(To be continued)