Last week we observed that as the ecology of the Bechuanaland Protectorate slowly recovered from the 1890s devastation of rinderpest, drought and locust infestation, as well as a series of human disease epidemics, enforcement of Hut Tax payments emerged as an important factor in assuring a steady flow of migrant workers.
By 1910 taxation not only contributed to the local economy’s loss of the surplus value of its domestic labour but also deprived the territory of revenue that could have contributed to internal development.
Notwithstanding its negative impact on local livelihoods there is little evidence of Protectorate Batswana having ever contemplated active, as opposed to passive, resistance. This acquiescence may be best understood in the context of the fate that befell other communities in the region that had been pushed into open resistance to colonial authority.
In Zimbabwe, the Vashona and Amandebele joined hands in an 1896 uprising that is today referred to as the country’s first Chimurenga. While the British South Africa Company’s hold of the territory was severely shaken by the uprising, in the end the early freedom fighters were crushed.
To the west, during the 1890s Ovaherero and Nama communities within Namibia also rose up to collectively challenge German aggrandisement; initiating a pattern of resistance that would culminate in the 1904-07 colonial campaign of genocide.
But, perhaps the most disturbing example for Batswana in the Protectorate was the outcome of the 1896-97 Langeberg Rebellion (Ntwa ya Bana ba Mokgothu) amongst the Batlhaping and Batlharo south of the Molopo. The rebellion consisted of a series of revolts between December 1896 and August 1897 in response to continued British land-grabbing as well as cattle killings and taxation. In the uprising’s brutal crushing, all Batswana witnessed the direct consequence of open resistance to Hut Tax.
Like their northern cousins, the Batlhaping, Batlharo and Barolong then living in the former British Bechuanaland region of the Cape Colony had also been severely affected by rinderpest and drought, while living in overcrowded locations. From 1896, when rinderpest was coming through the Bechuanaland Protectorate, the British authorities in the Northern Cape began shooting local cattle, claiming that they were responsible for the disease’s spread. This continued even after rinderpest had arrived inside the Cape.
In 1897, just when rinderpest and famine were at their worst, the Cape authorities also imposed their own Hut Tax on the southern Batswana. Many Batlhaping then rose up under Dikgosi Luka Jantjie and Galeshewe, joined by Batlharo under Kgosi Toto Makgolokwe. Following some initial skirmishes, most of the rebels retreated into the Langeberg Hills, where they withstood a five-month siege.
After the death of over 1, 500 defenders, the
About 4, 000 additional Batlhaping, including women and children, were sent to the Western Cape, where they were forced to work as indentured labourers (virtual slaves) for white farmers.
Batswana in the Protectorate were well informed about what the British were doing to their brethren living south of the Molopo River. In his kgotla Kgosi Bathoen I openly called Luka a hero, saying “they have killed him, but they did so after he had fought.” Then turning to a Mosotho policeman named Masilo he asked: “How do the white men fight?” The Sergeant replied “When the government fights no one gets the best against it; the Government always wins.”
Writing of the “white atrocities” the LMS missionary Rev. Williams concluded that amongst his Bakwena flock: “The name of the white man must stink as from the bottom of the pit.”
War finally arrived in Botswana at the end of 1899, when the eastern Protectorate became a theatre of operations in second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The war between the British Empire and the Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State formally began with the expiry of Paul Kruger’s October 11, 1899 ultimatum. On the following day, Boer Commandos launched incursions into Gammangwato and Gammalete, cutting the telegraph line in the vicinity of Mahalapye and Otse.
Having mobilised their mephato to repel the invaders, the merafe of Botswana, along with the paramilitary Protectorate Native Police (PNP), were thus engaged in the fighting from day one.
The local dikgosi’s decision to involve their communities in the war was from the very beginning mandated by Mmamosadinyana’s directive as well as motivated by their own collective determination to defend their territories. As Jules Ellenberger, who was the Resident Magistrate at Gaborone when the war broke out, would later recall:
“When it became clear that war between the Boer Republics and Great Britain was inevitable, the Chiefs of the Bechuanaland Protectorate were warned, on instructions from Sir Alfred Milner (later Lord Milner), that if hostilities did break out the conflict would be one between white races only, one in which they must take no part, but that should the enemy invade their Reserves, it would be their duty, as loyal subjects of Queen Victoria, to assist in repelling the attack.”