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The Sand River Convention

We left off in October 1851 with Commandant-General Adriaan Standers imposing Transvaal Boer authority in the Madikwe valley. All the Dikgosi were required to supply free labour, while their ringleader Kgosi Mosielele of the Bakgatla baga Mmanaana, was further forced to hand over a party of Bahurutshe fugitives.

After this initial success the ever impulsive Stander’s wanted to immediately organise a larger force to attack Kgosi Sechele Dimawe-Kolobeng, but his superior Andries Pretorius held him back.

In January 1852 Pretorius’ patience was rewarded when he and two British Commissioners, William Hogge and Charles Owen, signed the infamous Sand River Convention. Under this agreement the British accepted the de facto independence of the Voortrekkers living north of the Vaal River.

The British also agreed to cooperate with the Boers in suppressing the sale of arms and ammunition to all blacks in the region and further renounced any treaties or understandings that had existed between Britain and the independent black African states.

In return Pretorius promised to guarantee free trade for legitimate British commerce north of the Vaal and to suppress slavery in his territory. Crucially for the Convention’s critics this latter clause was not honoured.

The Sand River Convention represented an important shift in British imperial policy from what had been a somewhat even-handed approach to the conflicts between settlers and the indigenous population north of the Orange River that offer unequivocal support for the Boers. As such it had a negative impact on blacks throughout Southern Africa. The Batswana would be the first to suffer from this racist betrayal. The Convention’s signing coincided with reconciliation between the rival Potgieter and Pretorius families, who had since 1848 competed for Transvaal leadership. Thus strengthened the Boers prepared to consolidate their hegemony over the still free Batswana to their west.

With the British accepting the Vaal as their border the Boers renewed their claim to the entire country from Botlhaping to Ngamiland. The major stumbling block to the realisation of this ambition remained Sechele’s armed mephato, who would now find it more difficult to obtain munitions. The stage was almost set for the long delayed invasion of south-eastern Botswana.

Although they had begun to politically coalesce as the self-styled South African Republic, on the eve of the 1852-53 war, the Transvaal Boers were still divided as to what was the best policy to pursue towards the independent, armed merafe living west of the Madikwe valley. On one side were the hard-line views of those, like Standers and his young adjutant Paul Kruger, and the Potchefstroom Veldkornet P.J. Greyling, who called for the conquest of Botswana. After the signing of the Sand River Convention, this faction enjoyed Andries Pretorius’ backing.

Opposing them were such figures as the Marico

District’s Veldkornet Jan Viljoen who favoured negotiated accommodation.

The above division was rooted in conflicting economic interests. Many of the hardliners were large landowners who lived off the forced labour of their black serfs. As more Voortrekkers established farms in the western Transvaal, the influence of this faction within the Volksraad (Peoples’ Assembly) grew, as did the burdens that were imposed upon the Batswana. Along the Madikwe black labour was in particular demand for the digging of irrigation ditches.

To the hardliners, the invasion of Botswana presented both an opportunity to bring more black labour under their control and, perhaps more importantly, end a perceived threat to their existing supply. The more guns the Bakwena and Bangwaketse gained, the more refugees fled to their territories from Boer oppression.

Like the 19th century plantation owners in the American south who were determined to crush the indigenous Seminole of Florida for giving sanctuary to their escaped slaves, many Boers wanted to bring a violent end to south-eastern Botswana’s status as a refuge from sjambok rule.

Boer ivory traders like Viljoen, however, had a vested interest in maintaining peaceful commercial relations with the independent Dikgosi. By 1852 much of the ivory from central Africa as well as northern Botswana was passing through the Transvaal via Gammangwato and Kweneng.

Boers such as Viljoen realised that only by cooperating with Batswana could they maintain and hopefully increase their share of the trade. Hostilities against Sechele would inevitably redirect the ivory flow from the Transvaal to the rival export routes via Kudumane and the then emerging road to Ngamiland from Walvis Bay. In early February 1852, the ivory trading Boers scored a small victory by ousting Standers as Commandant after he called for the arrest and execution of Mosielele, who had objected to supplying more men for an irrigation project.

Standers was replaced by the seemingly more moderate Pieter Scholtz. The new Commandant immediately summoned all the Dikgosi to a meeting at Mosielele’s centre, Maanwane, on the 25th February 1852, where they would acknowledge their submission. Sechele, and the rival Bangwaketse rulers Senthufe and Segotshane once more refused to attend.

Pretorius then won Volksraad approval for an expedition to disarm the Bakwena and Bangwaketse. At Rustenburg, the sum of 2,600 Rixdollars was initially allocated to equip this force. An outbreak of flu delayed preparations for a few months, but, in July 1852, Scholtz assembled a core commando of 430 Boers.

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