We left off on November 4, 1895, with Dikgosi Bathoen, Khama and Sebele rejecting the British South Africa Companyâ€™s revised proposals for taking control of the Protectorate.
In a separate letter to the Colonial Secretary, Chamberlain, the Dikgosi had further re-affirmed that: “We do not wish to talk again with the company; we will talk with you.” It had in fact been Chamberlain who had prodded the Chartered Company to try to reach out to the Dikgosi. By now he realised that the success of the latter’s public relations campaign was compromising the ongoing covert preparations to use Botswana based Company forces to seize control of the Boer ruled South African Republic or Transvaal. The plan called for Botswana’s entire eastern border to come under direct Company control.
To break the impasse, members of the London Missionary Society (LMS) were alleged to have suggested that the Chiefs might be persuaded to grant the necessary territories as Crownlands to the Queen, who could then make them available to the Company. Grasping at the above, on November 5, 1895, Colonial Office and Company representatives met privately to draw up a new set of maps. As the Company representatives reported in a telegram to Rhodes: “We have seen E. Fairfield [Head of the African Department], Hon. R H Meade [Colonial Office Permanent Under-Secretary], Colonel Goold-Adams [Bechuanaland Border Police], and we have agreed to what land we give native chiefs.”
Meanwhile the LMS secretary, Wardlaw Thompson, had what he later described as “a good deal of serious talk with the Chiefs before the settlement.” By this time there was evidence that Willoughby, the missionary who was acting as the principal translator and advisor to the Dikgosi, was also softening to the idea of reaching an accommodation with Rhodes.
At any rate, what is clear is that, notwithstanding the immense support they had received from the ordinary British public, the Dikgosi’s position was becoming compromised by the time they had their second meeting with Chamberlain in the mutual hope of reaching a “final” settlement.
The meeting was held at the Colonial Office on the afternoon of the November 6, 1895. Sebele did not join Bathoen and Khama due to illness. Others who did attend included the LMS missionaries Lloyd (who acted as Setswana interpreter) and Willoughby, four Chartered Company representatives led by a gentleman named Rutherford Harris, and a half dozen senior Colonial Office officials.
The Colonial Office’s minutes of this meeting, which are preserved at the Botswana National Archives, show that Chamberlain dictated what he considered to be a final settlement between the Dikgosi and Rhodes’ Company. Before the meeting Chamberlain had already discussed and cleared his proposals with Harris. From the minutes: “Chamberlain: Sorry Sebele is unwell. Let us go to business. I must decide this question at once as I have little time. I will speak about the land of the Chiefs and the railway, and about the law which is to be observed in the land of the Chiefs....It is necessary that the railway be made and I understand that the Chiefs are ready to give me land for that purpose. I have consulted the people who know the country, and I see that it must go along Kruger’s country...”
Chamberlain was of course not being straightforward. When the Mafikeng-to-Bulawayo railway was actually built a few months later most of it was located far from the border area.
As noted previously by the end of 1895 Rhodes urgently needed the border strips along the Limpopo-Ngotwane as a springboard for his imminent attempt to seize control of the Transvaal itself. The so-called railway concessions surrendered by Bathoen, Khama and Sebele to Mmamosadinyana were quickly transferred to Charted Company control as the Lobatse, Tuli and Gaborone (then including Tlokweng) blocks.
The Dikgosi were also made to surrender land along their western and northern borders. When Bathoen asked Chamberlain- “Who will be the ruler of this country?” he was told- “The Company under the Queen.” The areas subsequently known as the Chobe, Gantsi and Kgalagadi Districts, were thus surrendered to Company control as “Crownlands”.
In return for the above the three Dikgosi were promised the retention of “native reserves” in which they “shall rule their people themselves as heretofore, but in serious questions there shall be an appeal [to British authority].”
The meeting must have been something of a disappointment to the Dikgosi, though they had been prepared to accept what their missionary advisors described as a “half loaf”. The next day they received a memorandum from the Colonial Office spelling out Chamberlain’s territorial terms in fuller detail (excerpt): “Each of the three chiefs, Khama, Sebele, and Bathoen, shall have a country within which they shall live as hitherto under the protection of the Queen.
The Queen will appoint an officer to reside with them. The chiefs will rule their own people much as present...The people under the chiefs shall pay a hut tax, or a tax of a similar nature; but, as the chiefs wish it, they may collect it- at all events for the present- themselves, and pay it over to the Queen’s officer; but this is not to be made a reason for paying too little...”