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The Establishment Of The Protectorate (Part 24) – ‘The Dikgosi Meet Chamberlain’

On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 11, 1895, six days after their arrival in England, Dikgosi Bathoen, Khama and Sebele had their first audience with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Rt. Honourable Joseph Chamberlain.

Having visited a London tailor the previous Saturday, the monarchs, along with Willoughby, arrived in the formal dress of the day, black suits with tails and top hats, boots and overcoats. Their secretaries also wore proper suits but with derby hats of the sort that would have also been worn by Chamberlain’s aides.

The most remarkable aspect of the meeting is that it happened at all. Chamberlain, who at the time was the second most powerful political figure in Her Majesty’s government after the Prime Minister, was departing that very evening for a month long Spanish holiday. He, nonetheless, arranged to stopover in London, specifically to see the Dikgosi. This fact underscores the public relations stir that had been caused by their arrival.

The outreach of the Dikgosi themselves, it may be noted, dovetailed with their embrace by assorted metropolitan opponents of Rhodes, ranging from Christian humanitarians to radical labour activists to members of the colonial office establishment who distrusted he and his Company’s motives and administrative competence.

Another notable aspect of the meeting was the absence of the Barolong delegation. The Colonial Office had ensured that the meeting was confined to Bathoen, Khama and Sebele, along with their attendants, leaving out Besele and Lefenya.

During the meeting, it was agreed that the Rev. Howard Lloyd would act as a common interpreter for all sides. While the dikgosi also had their respective secretaries and the Rev. Willoughby to monitor the proceedings, the Colonial Secretary had the Setswana speaking police Major, Hamilton Goold-Adams in his corner.

The interview itself lasted for about two hours, far longer than was originally anticipated. Chamberlain’s plan had been for a brief and non-committal encounter along the lines of what today would be classified as a courtesy call and photo-op.

But in the end he agreed to allow the Dikgosi to present their case in detail, which they did beginning with Sebele, followed by Khama and Bathoen. Throughout the visit, the same speaking order, reflecting their mutually accepted order of precedence, was maintained at most public and private events.

The meeting ended with Chamberlain apparently hoping that the Dikgosi would be able to reach some sort of understanding with the British South Africa Company before his return from vacation.

As the audience had been convened as a preliminary discussion that left most issues on the table, neither side was prepared to go into details with the public. A press release issued by

the Colonial Office following the meeting simply stated:

“Mr. Chamberlain listened with great patience and interest while they [the dikgosi] unfolded their case in their own picturesque but at the same time intelligent and forcible manner, occasionally asking questions which seemed to afford them the opportunity of making clear their precise meaning on any doubtful or obscure points.

“As to the main issue, Mr. Chamberlain naturally deferred [any pronouncement] until after further hearing on the matter...with respect to minor matters he invited his visitors to resubmit their views in writing...”

For his part, briefing journalist on behalf of the Dikgosi after the meeting, Willoughby stated that: “There was very little in connection with the interview which he felt at liberty to communicate.”  He did, nonetheless, express his misgivings about the seeming delay in the Colonial Office’s receipt of the Dikgosi’s June-July petitions, while confirming that the monarchs had been impressed by Chamberlain’s good grace in receiving them and his basic knowledge of their case.

Despite this public restraint, news of the meeting generated an outpouring of further press attention, mostly favourable to the Dikgosi’s position with respect to the London papers. The reports being telegraphed back to the South African settler press, however, betrayed an increasingly nervous as well as hostile tone in face of the high profile and status accorded to the Batswana in London, which would have been unheard of at the time in Cape Town, much less Pretoria.

To the consternation of Rhodes and company, the emerging celebrity status of the Batswana royals was further manifested by the appearance of growing numbers of curious members of the public, as well as the press, outside the Armfield Hotel where they stayed.

With Chamberlain gone for a month, Bathoen, Khama and Sebele began their lobbying campaign in earnest, speaking at public meetings and private VIP dinners, while granting press interviews at each stop as they toured the length of England, as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. In an era before any form of broadcast media, the lobbying campaign mounted by the Dikgosi constituted a well-organised mass media blitz.

Meanwhile, prior to his departure, Chamberlain had authorised the High Commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson, to transfer Gammalete and the Barolong Farms to British South Africa Company control. The two enclaves were thus quickly annexed, with Dr. Leander Starr Jameson on 18 October 1895 being proclaimed by Robinson as the areas’ Resident Commissioner.

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