We left off on 27th April 1885 at the Molepolole Kgotla, with the Bakwena Kgosi Sechele I addressing the British General Charles Warren:
“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 known only to you white people and the missionary who lives here.” In his speaking of having gone to the Cape with among others the trader Sam Edwards, who had served as an interpreter, the venerable Bakwena Kgosi was referring to events that had occurred thirty-two years earlier, in 1853. After having accepted the Transvaal Boer leader Andries Pretorius’s armistice offer ending the 1852-53 Batswana-Boer War, the Bakwena Kgosi had proceeded to travel to Port Elizabeth and (by ship) to Cape Town to protest against provisions of the 1852 Sand River Convention.
As part of the Convention, the British had agreed to work with the Boers in preventing the sale of arms and ammunition to non-whites throughout the region.
After his protests were turned down in April 1853 by the British Governor General at Cape Town, Sir John Cathcart, Sechele had expressed his desire to take the matter further by going directly to the Parliament and Queen in London. But he was blocked from doing so despite having raised the finance to proceed. As Sechele’s brother Kgosidintsi in 1854 complained to the missionary Robert Moffat:
“We have been told that the English is a wise nation. Ashu! What is wisdom? We have been told the English is a strong nation. They have driven their white Bushmen (i.e. Boers) into our country to kill us. Is this strength? Have the English no cattle and slaves of their own that they send their Bushmen to take our cattle and our children to sell? We are told that the English love all men. They give or sell ammunition, horses and guns to the Boers, who have red teeth, destroy us, and if we ask to buy powder, we get none. No, no, no! Black man must have no ammunition: they must serve the white man. Is this love? The English are not friends of the black man.”
Sechele was thus not amused by the suggestion that he had previously wanted to go to Britain to seek the Queen’s Protection. Yet, notwithstanding his less than welcoming remarks, there can be little doubt that the Mokwena recognised that, with the proclamation of the January Order-in Council, the Protectorate itself was a fait accompli.
Sechele’s further reference to “the missionary who lives here” can be understood in the context of an intercepted December 1884 letter that had been written by the resident L.M.S. missionary at Molepolole, the Rev. Rodger Price, who had informed the Premier of the Cape Colony, Thomas Upington, that he believed Sechele would be willing “to enter into communication with you or any other duly appointed person, with a view to himself and his country coming under the protection of the Queen of England.”
In his talks with Warren, Sechele strongly rejected any suggestion of involving Upington in his people’s affairs, making it clear that it was his desire to discuss any matters about the future status of the Bakwena with the imperial authorities in London rather than the settler politicians in Cape Town.
In the end, after two full days of discussions, Warren left Molepolole having failed to win Sechele’s formal submission. A newspaper witness reported “that England’s prestige had received another rude shock”, adding: “Sechele is thoroughly English in all his sympathies. But his son [Sebele] is fearful that in trusting to English protection he will be reduced to the condition of the Native Chiefs in the Transvaal. He is highly intelligent, and shrewd enough to distrust protection when he cannot see a single Chief in South Africa who benefitted by it.”
Drawing on his by then half century of experience dealing with Europeans, Sechele had in fact found time to host the newspaper correspondents who accompanied Warren for tea, cakes and conversation during their stay. Such gestures perhaps help to explain the unusually extensive press coverage that was subsequently given to the views expressed by the Bakwena during Warren’s Molepolole visit, coverage that was generally consistent with the then secret dispatches filed by Warren.
Mindful of the recent crushing of Batlhaping, Sechele certainly had no illusions about taking up arms against the British, as he had against the Boers. In 1868 when asked by a journalist if he would fight them the Kgosi had bluntly stated: “How could I? The great English would eat me up in one day.”