We ended last weekâ€™s episode on the September 30, 1885, when then British Bechuanaland were administratively divided along the Molopo River.
The merafe south of the river, e.g. the Batlhaping and Barolong now living in the shadow of British supported white settlers, became part of the “Crown Colony of British Bechuanaland”, which in 1895 was incorporated into the Cape Colony.
The Bechuanaland Protectorate survived north of the Molopo to eventually become Botswana. Decades later the date of the above proclamation was used to mark the late colonial era holiday “Protectorate Day”, which was in 1966 further chosen as the date for our country’s restored independence.
Although the Bechuanaland Protectorate had thus been declared with its southern and eastern border defined by 1885, another five years elapsed before the British began to exercise effective administrative control over the territory. Given the Colonial Office’s initial belief that their interests north of the Molopo were limited, they saw little purpose in spending money to establish a full-fledged colonial administration.
Thus the British initially interfered little in the domestic affairs of local merafe. Thereafter a system of “Indirect Rule” gradually evolved, under which colonial officials largely ruled through dikgosi, who were no longer free to run their own peoples’ affairs as independent monarchs. Indirect Rule was always based on the imperialists’ belief that they alone had the ability to hold ultimate authority.
From 1890 the British began to impose a more comprehensive form of colonial rule because their view of the strategic role of the Protectorate had changed. In 1885 their concern had been limited to keeping the Germans from linking up with the Transvaal Boers. But by 1890 the Protectorate was seen as a base from imperial expansion northward into central Africa.
The leading, though by no means only, figure pushing for this northward expansion was Cecil Rhodes. Having become one of the wealthiest men in the world through his ownership of South African diamond and gold mines, by 1888 Rhodes looked to make a new fortune in central Africa. In this he was supported by his friend “Morena Maaka” Shippard, who remained responsible for the administration of both the Crown Colony of British Bechuanaland and the Bechuanaland Protectorate.
In 1888 Rhodes, through an agent named Rudd, obtained a concession or agreement from the Amandebele Nkosi Lobengula, which granted him exclusive mining rights in western Zimbabwe. This occurred after Shippard had visited Lobengula. He and his assistant, former L.M.S. missionary J.S. Moffat (son of Robert Moffat), misled the king. If he signed the Rudd Concession, they told him, he would gain British support in his efforts to limit the activities of white fortune seekers in his country. When he saw that he had been tricked Lobengula tried to break the agreement, but his protests were ignored.
Rhodes used the Rudd Concession as a basis for asking the British government to give his British South Africa Company (BSACo) permission to take control of central Africa. In October 1889 Queen Victoria issued a Royal Charter giving the BSACo the right to control the Bechuanaland Protectorate, as well as such lands as they might attain in central Africa on Britain’s behalf. The BSACo was therefore also known as the Chartered Company.
Rhodes wanted to first take over the lands of the Amandebele and Vashona in modern Zimbabwe, which he believed were rich in gold, before he assumed the cost of running Botswana. He therefore convinced the Colonial Office to temporarily maintain its responsibility over the Protectorate. In so doing he knew he could count on Shippard’s administration to assist him in his conquest of the Amandebele.
For his part, Shippard became a Director of the BSACo after he left Botswana. Many of his subordinates, particularly officers in the Bechuanaland Border Police (BBP), were also given Chartered Company shares by Rhodes. Through such bribes Rhodes ensured that the key Protectorate officials served his interests.
On his way to see Lobengula, Shippard had disturbed the dikgosi of southern Botswana with loose talk of establishing colonial rule. In the hope of calming them, Shippard accepted Sebele I’s proposal that he convene a great meeting or pitso of the dikgosi. As a result most of the dikgosi, along with thousands of their followers, gathered to meet Shippard at Kopong in February 1889.
Morena Maaka hoped that he could push the dikgosi into accepting colonial rule. Instead the principal southern dikgosi, that is Bathoen I (who had succeeded Gaseitsiwe), Linchwe, and Sebele (acting for his ailing father Sechele) joined together to oppose the continued British presence in their territories. They told Shippard that they would rather be independent. Said Linchwe: “I do not wish either the Boers or the English to come and take our chieftainship away from us. All Bechuanas should fight together. God will protect us if the Protectorate is withdrawn, and God is the greatest Protector.”
Khama III, however, broke ranks and promised “to help the English government in every way”. Disappointed by Bathoen, Linchwe and Sebele’s “defiant attitude”, Shippard broke up the conference.