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The 1908-10 campaign against incorporation into South Africa (Part 3)

JEFF RAMSAY
We left off on July 17, 1908 with the Colonial Secretary in London, Lord Crewe, expressing his opinion in a dispatch to the High Commissioner for British South Africa, Lord Selborne, that it might be advisable to put off the incorporation of the three Protectorates - Basutoland and Swaziland as well as Bechuanaland - until after the formation of the proposed Union of South Africa.

The Colonial Secretary further went on to suggest the inclusion in any enacting legislation for such a Union a provision for their possible future absorption, which might also further address the question of “native consent”

Lord Crewe’s favourable response to the initial protests of Kgosi Sebele I and the Basotho monarch Letsie proved to be and an important turning point. The Colonial Office’s position was further clarified in September-October of 1908. In a secret September 17, 1908 memorandum on the proposed “South African Federation”, the head of the Dominions Department, Sir Charles Lucas, proposed that they:

“Meet the twin objections that the self-governing Colonies do not want to be burdened with the Protectorates at present, and that we do not want to hand them over at present by going immediately on to provide for the delegation of the administration of the territories to the Governor-General, as the representative of the Imperial Government who shall hold them in trust on condition that so long as they are in trust His Majesty’s government will be financially responsible for them.”

Thereafter there was firm consensus within the Colonial Office that the Protectorates “not be immediately included within the sphere of responsibility of a united South Africa” and that conditions be specified under which their ultimate transfer could be carried out.

These conditions, which included the establishment of a High Commission, the non-alienation of tribal land and reservation by the Protectorates of a share of the common Customs duties, were further outlined in a secret October 5, 1908 memorandum to Selborne  “South African Closer Union Convention and Native Protectorates”.
Ten days later, the contents of the above memo was informally communicated by Lord Selborne to Sir Henry deVilliers the President of the National Convention, which had brought together white political leaders from the then Cape Colony, Natal, Orange River Sovereignty and Transvaal in order to draft a constitution for the proposed Union.

In July 1908 Sebele, along with Letsie, had received as an initial reply to his petition formal notification of the convening of the National Convention coupled with the assurance that in the event of regional amalgamation his peoples’ interests “will receive the constant attention and earnest consideration of the High Commissioner and of His Majesty’s Government.”

In response Sebele’s Tribal Secretary Sidzumo, on the Kgosi’s behalf, began to contact the other tribal secretaries in

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the territory as well as other educated peers to sensitise them to the emerging threat. In this effort he found an early ally in Segale Pilane, who then served as the Secretary to his brother the Bakgatla Kgosi Linchwe I.

In an August 1908 letter to Segale, Sidzumo had cautioned that if the Batswana did not join together to loudly protest against the Union they “would be killed by their quietness.”

By September 1908 Sidzumo was also lobbying the Bangwaketse and Bangwato. In a letter to the Bangwaketse Kgosi Bathoen I he noted newspaper stories of the coming of a single government in South Africa that would legislate for blacks as well as whites, adding:

“We have found that the white settlers do not like the black people, neither do they appreciate to see them own land, the wealth of which was given to us by God. They only desire to see destruction, hatred, war, and poverty for the black people. Many whites also do not like the powers of our rulers.

They destroy the powers of [northern] Basotho and Matebele [Amazulu] rulers because they do not want to be guided by the laws of Natal and the Transvaal but would rather be under the laws of King Edward VII. We are not the nations which have met about the new Union.”

With this letter, Sidzumo enclosed a draft of Sebele’s earlier petition, which was adapted by Bathoen I as the basis for an October 14, 1908 Bangwaketse petition. 

The day after his communication with Bathoen, Sidzumo also wrote to O. Sekgome, BaNgwato KgosiKhama III’s Secretary, which stressed the need action in that “the Native Question is the only present obstacle towards the closer union of various South African governments.”

While the Bakwena National Office was thus taking the lead in promoting pan-Batswana unity within the BP, another sort of consensus was emerging out of the deliberations of the National Convention.

The all-white conference formally met behind closed doors from October 1908 to February 1909. Meeting in Durban and Cape Town, its delegates unanimously agreed to a constitution creating a unitary state based on rigid white supremacy.

The limited franchise then enjoyed by non-whites in the Cape Colony was not extended to the other Provinces of the proposed Union. Elective offices at the national level were, furthermore, reserved for those of “European descent.”



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