In our last instalment on the 1884 imposition of British authority, we noted that by May 1886 a Land Commission chaired by Rhodesâ€™ close associate Sidney Shippard, had robbed the Batswana living south of the Molopo of 92% of their land.
Shippard, who became known to Batswana as “Morena Maaka” (“Lord of Lies”), was then appointed as Bechuanaland’s Administrator.
The Colonial Office foreclosed the possibility of a linkup between German South-West Africa and the Transvaal Boers in an Order-in-Council dated 27th of January 1885, which extended the Bechuanaland Protectorate north of the Molopo to include the southern Botswana up to the 22nd parallel of south latitude.
In March 1885, London further instructed Charles Warren to communicate with “Kings” Sechele and Khama on the resulting extension of British authority over their core territories. The General set out to do this the following month, crossing the Molopo with just seventy men out of his army of over 4000.
Warren’s timing was appropriate as a smaller German military expedition from central Namibia passed through northern Botswana to Shoshong only a few weeks later. Although not harbouring any known territorial ambitions an official Austro-Hungarian expedition, which included three military officers, was also in the region.
Some Bakwena had already read about the proclamation of the Protectorate when Warren formally notified the Molepolole kgotla of their new status on 27th of April 1885. There he was immediately challenged by Sechele’s son Sebele. The following is from the official record of the meeting, which was widely publicised at the time:
Sebele - What in us has brought this on, that the country should be taken from us?
Warren - Does Sebele know what it means by the country being taken?
Sebele - Seeing what I now know, the boundary line running northwards about Tati and round west in the Kalahari takes us all in, therefore it is that I ask, what in us has brought this on?
Warren - But does Sebele know what being taken means?
Sebele - I have been told, and I have seen in the papers, that our country is taken, and we the Bakwena were never consulted; therefore I ask why it has been taken?
Warren - I said that a Protectorate had been established, I did not say the country had been taken from them.
Sebele - What is the Protectorate for?
Warren - Does Sebele consider his tribe requires no protection?
Sebele - What is meant by protection?
Warren - The protection may mean protection from the inside or protection from the outside.
Sebele - When a man takes a shield and holds it up, he holds it against something; what is it that we are to be protected against?
Warren - Is there nothing you want protection against?
Sebele - You may see it, but we the Bakwena do not see it yet.
Warren - Does Sebele know what has just taken place down to the south at Montshioa’s?
Sebele - We, the Bakwena, are not Barolong.
Warren - What does Sebele mean?
Sebele - A stem-buck cannot protect itself, but God protects it and lets it live.
Warren - Was it the same with you when you came here as refugees fleeing from the Boers?
Sebele - A stem-buck gets into difficulties, but when it does so it must get out of them and God helps it to do so.
Warren - Then does Sebele wish me to tell the Queen that the Bakwena are strong enough to protect themselves?
Sebele - We do not want any protection, we are strong enough to protect ourselves.”
After contributions by others, including Sebele’s brother Kgari and uncle Kgosidintsi, it fell upon his father, Kgosi Sechele I, to conclude the proceedings. Directing his comments to Warren he stated the following:
“I do not know the exact object of your coming here. When we see you appear here we do not know if it will be life or death to us, but that we know it will be death to us if you do to us as the Boers do to the Bahurutshe. We shall be dead men if you do to us as the Boers did to the Bakgatla at Rustenburg. If you talk merely in parables we shall not understand you easily.
“I have seen a newspaper in which it is said I asked for protection, also Gaseitsiwe and Khama. I do not understand this asking. The Bakwena were collected together as they are now when I went to the Cape to get guns and powder to defend myself with. I went with Sanwe, Mr. Sam Edwards, here. There are others who can testify if I ever asked for anything beside to be allowed to buy guns and powder; to be allowed to obtain weapons the same as what the Boers had, to defend myself against them.
As to our friendship I do not know why, because of that our country should be taken possession of. Why is (it) known only to you white people and the missionary who lives here.”