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Birth Of The “Boleswa Alliance”

In our last episode, we left off with the observation that the May 1908 appeals by Kgosikgolo Sebele I and the Basotho monarch Letsie II petitioning against the incorporation of their territories into the proposed Union of South Africa were taken seriously by the British High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Lord Selborne.

The following month Selborne consulted the Resident Commissioners for Basutoland, Herbert Sloley, who is recorded to have said that: “In the event of the Basuto becoming seriously dissatisfied and restless, the effect of this would probably be far-reaching amongst the South African tribes.” In a dispatch to the Colonial Secretary, Lord Crewe, Selborne further elaborated that:

“By this last remark Mr. Sloley did not mean, he explained, that unrest in Basutoland was likely to precipitate that ‘General native rising’ which to some minds is the object of constant apprehension; he intended rather to convey that their present form of government constituted a certain barrier between the Basuto and surrounding tribes and that any change of government which both weakened that barrier and was resented by the Basuto might tempt them to make common cause with other discontented tribes.”

In making such observations the British authorities were cognisant of the fact that the Basotho and Protectorate Batswana were the two principal indigenous groups in the region that had never been disarmed; instead having used the 1899-1902 Boer War as an opportunity to further upgrade their arsenals. The meeting between Sloley and Selborne had been immediately preceded by the somewhat belated arrival on the High Commissioner’s desk of Sebele’s petition.

This, along with the July 28,1908 petition by Swazi Ndlovukazi (Queen-Regent) Labotsibeni, helped to further convince Selbourne that indigenous opposition to settler rule had to be taken seriously in all three of the Protectorates.

In his dispatch, Selborne thus advised Crewe “that a proper scheme for the administration of the native territories [Basutoland, Bechuanaland, and Swaziland] should be a fundamental part of the [South African] Constitution.”  It was to facilitate this end that the High Commissioner went on to draft a set of clauses for an imperially sanctioned “High Commission” to oversee African interests in the three territories after their transfer. Selborne further raised the issue of the BP’s position in a July 1908 telegram to Crewe. In it, he expressed his fear that the territory’s weak revenue base would compromise his ambition to keep it, after a transfer, free from overbearing control by the South African Parliament.

At the time there was also reluctance on the part of the four self-governing settler colonies to assume any financial burden for the BP. In this context, Selbourne suggested that the factor of

residual British South Africa Company claims, along with geography and boundary complications with German South-West Africa could be invoked to justify the temporary exclusion of the Bechuanaland Protectorate from the Union, perhaps until Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was also admitted.

Although no firm instructions were given by Crewe at this time, he, specifically citing the Basotho factor, expressed the opinion that it might be advisable to put off the incorporation of all of the Protectorates until after the formation of the Union while including in its enacting legislation a provision for their possible future absorption that might also 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 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 secrete 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.

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