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Portrait of a young radical

Staff Writer
David Livingstone writing to his brother Charles, May 1849:

"The Boers or Dutch emigrants oppress these tribes and treat them almost as slaves. They would have contrived to do so to Sechele too, but I succeeded in freeing the Bakwains. A considerable number of guns were purchased, and as this is the source of power of the Boers over the other tribes they began to be afraid that the other tribes would follow his example."

In the 200 years since his birth, the Reverend Dr David Livingstone has been viewed as a Victorian era missionary explorer associated with 'humanitarian imperialism;' an image promoted by imperialists after his death and which survives in the popular mind.

Yet the Livingstone who lived among Batswana from 1841 to 1853 was a far more radical figure than commonly portrayed.  In his early periodical writings, as well as correspondence, all but forgotten, one finds a fierce critic of racism, colonial conquest, and coerced labour. 

His actions, too, show a militant commitment to the universal right to armed resistance by any people seeking to secure their freedom from oppression. Livingstone was as scathing in his denunciation of British war crimes against the AmaXhosa as he was of Boer subjugation of BaTswana. 

This young, taciturn missionary was not only responsible for Botswana's first church and school, but served as a covert agent of Batswana to procure advanced munitions in the years leading up to the Boer War of 1852-53. As he wrote to

his father-in-law, the Rev. Robert Moffat, in 1850:

"Can you get the bullet mould (perhaps 2, & ramrods to fit) of 8 to lb. or rather fit 8 to the pound bore but conical, from Birmingham? Those which have an indentation behind fire much further, the dotted line marking the indentation. Sechele is very anxious to get the seven-barrelled gun. You seem to have forgotten it."

And what was Livingstone and Moffat's connection to the Birmingham Gun Quarter?  How did it come about that Birmingham went on to supply Sechele with state-of-the-art projectiles the full military potential of which was fully appreciated only decades later in the First World War?

The very guns used in the successful defence of Dimawe in 1852 against a large Boer commando?

Livingstone's identity as a young radical - a missionary both behind and ahead of his time - will be considered at a Botswana Society forum to be held at Livingstone Kolobeng College (Block 8) on Wednesday 13 November 2013 as part of Botswana's observance of this year's international Livingstone bi-centennial.

The forum is free and open to the public. It will start at 5pm for 5.30 pm. This event is sponsored by The Botswana Society and Livingstone Kolobeng College, with the support of the National Museum and Monuments, the British High Commission and the British Council.

The presentation will be made by historian, Dr Jeff Ramsay.

(Preview by Botswana Society)




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