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The 1857 Peace Accord

This week we finally conclude our coverage of the Batswana-Boer was of 1852-53 with some additional details of the peace process that ended the post-armistice cold war.

As previously noted, by the beginning of 1857, the Boers of the South African Republic (SAR) had been able to at least temporarily secure their occupation of most of the Transvaal through their successful military campaign against the Balaka and Baletwaba in the north. To the west, however, continued tension with Sechele had left the Madikwe region insecure.

Relations began to thaw in early 1857 when Sechele, through Jan Viljoen, presented a new peace proposal to the SAR President Martinus Pretorius.

With the escape or permitted return by the end of 1853 of most, if not all of the Batswana women and children who had been captured by the Boers, the outstanding issue was the continued existence of a de facto economic blockade between the two sides, perpetuated by their mutual mistrust.

In his letter to Pretorius, that was debated by the SAR’s Volksraad (Parliament) on March 7, 1857 and subsequently published in its Staats Courant (Government Gazette), Sechele suggested that both sides openly commit themselves to peace as sovereign entities coupled with the acceptance of free movement and trade between the two communities. He also invited Pretorius to assist him in finding missionaries to replace those of the London Missionary Society (LMS).

Even before the sacking of his mission, Livingstone had decided to abandon the Bakwena in order to indulge his growing wanderlust. The subsequent failure of the LMS to replace him, as well as the expelled missionaries Inglis and Edwards, had left an opening for others.

For his part Pretorius jumped at the opportunity. After first approaching the Berlin and Moravian missions, on April 9, 1857 he contacted members of a third German mission group- the Hermannsburg Missionary Society, which was then based in Natal.

A month later, the Rev. Jurgen Schroder, his wife Dorette and two others, Johann Herbst and Heinrich Muller, were enroute to Dithubaruba. After rendezvousing with their Bakwena escorts at Klien Marico, the then westernmost Boer outpost, the party finally arrived at Sechele’s on July 16, 1857.

The stationing of the German Evangelical Lutheran missionaries in Kweneng was followed by further diplomatic activity. Early in 1858 the SAR allowed 200 pounds of previously confiscated gunpowder, 400 pounds of lead and a quantity of firing flints to be delivered to Sechele. The Sand River Convention’s never fully enforced prohibition against the trade in arms and ammunition into Botswana was thus ended by the Boers rather than the British.  

The Mokwena later reciprocated by paying token compensation to a number of Marico Boer families whose properties had been destroyed by his warriors during

an incident in 1854, that is after the establishment of the 1853 truce. This gesture followed a March 1858 visit by Sechele and Schroder to Klein Marico, where the Kgosi received two wagon loads of gifts.

It was not without a little envy that the April 1858 edition LMS monthly newspaper Mokaeri oa Bechwana reported:

“Sechele has now befriended the Boers. He recently visited them at Madikwe where they were very happy to see him. They welcomed him into their homes and gave him enough sorghum to fill a wagon along with some brandy. The Boers told him ‘we can now sleep well since you have befriended us. We can supply you with all your needs.’”

During the visit there was even discussion of the Bakwena relocating back to Dimawe-Kolobeng, though they ultimately opted for Molepolole instead. The Boers also offered the Bakwena additional land in the Lehurutshe, which Sechele in turn allowed to be re-settled by Moilwa’s Bahurutshe.

Thereafter, Lehurutshe served as a de facto buffer region prior to the 1885 establishment of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. This arrangement was briefly threatened in 1865 by Boer land grabbers who had the support by the then SAR Commandant-General Paul Kruger. But the status quo was quickly restored after Sechele, joined by Gaseitsiwe of the Bangwaketse and Montshiwa of the Barolong boo Ratshidi threatened renewed war, resulting in Kruger and his accomplices backing down.   

The Klein Marico visit was followed by Kgosi Sechele’s December 1859 acceptance of President Pretorius’ invitation to be his personal guest at Potchefstroom during the Christmas-New Year holiday period.  It was in the aftermath of the “New Year’s Summit” that relations between the Transvaal Boers and western Batswana for a period flowered.

By 1860 the postal routes to Botswana, as well as most wagon commerce, passed through the SAR. For Sechele and the Bakwena, however, this positive political development had an economic downside in that much of the trade that had previously passed through Kweneng was diverted with the opening of new wagon routes to the Bangwato at Shoshong and beyond via the western Transvaal.  

Although some Batswana work parties were thereafter occasionally contracted as paid labourers in the Transvaal, by the 1870s most local dikgosi rather encouraged their subjects to take advantage of better opportunities then emerging in the Diamond Fields to the south. It then became common for mephato, following bogwera, to migrate to the mines with the understanding that they would return home once they had earned enough to equip each man with a gun as with others goods.

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