The Establishment Of The Protectorate (Part 1) – Founding Myths

Earlier this year a series of full page colour adverts appeared in various local newspapers in which, next to a photograph of the a colonial era policeman lowering the Union Jack, it was falsely stated that: "On the 31st March 1895 the Bechuanaland territory was declared a British Protectorate following appeals made by three chiefs: Khama III, Bathoen II and Sebele I for assistance against threats of invasion"

To add to what this author and others have previously published, here it may once more be noted that the Protectorate over the southern Botswana, all the way up to the Tuli Circle, was in fact unilaterally proclaimed in London on the 27th of January 1885, being subsequently extended to the remaining northern part of the country in 1890, in each case by means of a distinctly British legislative instrument known as an Order-in-Council.

At the time no local Dikgosi had appealed to the British for assistance. The direct motive for the January 1885 Order in Council was rather to preclude the probability of the territory otherwise falling under the Germans, who in 1884 had occupied much of neighbouring South-West Africa (Namibia). The establishment of the Bechuanaland Protectorate was thus part of the wider late nineteenth century scramble for Africa.

Another 30th September 1885 Order-in-Council further divided then British occupied ‘Bechuanaland’ with the territory south of the Molopo River becoming the Crown Colony of British Bechuanaland, later incorporated into the Cape Colony, with the remaining land to the north becoming the Bechuanaland Protectorate. It was on this basis that before 1966, the 30th of September was locally celebrated as “Protectorate Day.” 

The well known, but commonly misunderstood, visit of Bathoen I [Bathoen II was his grandson born in 1908], Khama III and Sebele I to the UK only occurred between September and November 1895, that is a full decade after the original proclamation of the Protectorate. As we shall see in this series, the well documented purpose of the three Dikgosi’s trip was in fact to lobby against the then impending transfer of administrative control over their territories from the British Colonial Office to Cecil Rhodes’ private British South Africa Company (BSAC).

Far from threatening Batswana, in 1895 the continued independence of the Boer republics were also being directly threatened by the machinations of Cecil Rhodes and his allies. 

Throughout the colonial era the British hoped that the word "protectorate" would persuade the dikgosi in particular that they were partners in the governance of their territories. From the earliest years of the Protectorate onwards there was, nonetheless, constant interference in the internal affairs of the protected merafe, which in 1899 were demarcated as seven (later nine) Tribal Reserves. British authority over other areas of the country, gazetted as either Crownlands or freehold farms, was even greater.

Yet despite the imposition of often heavy-handed and unpopular administrative measures a political consensus ultimately emerged among the dikgosi and other leading Batswana in favour of the retention of British imperial authority as a lesser evil to the alternative of incorporation into the white settler states of either the Union of South Africa and/or the BSAC founded Rhodesias. Thus the dikgosi themselves came to define the Protectorate as an imperial shield against white settler political control. 

While no local kgosi had asked for protection prior to the 1885 imposition of the Protectorate, three- being Khama III of Bangwato, Gaseitsiwe I of Bangwaketse and Sechele I of Bakwena- were consulted after the fact. Khama welcomed it, while Gaseitsiwe and Sechele reluctantly accepted. In so doing all three knew from the experiences of other Africans that it was futile to resist Britain's military power. In particular they were aware of how their longstanding allies the Batlhaping had been crushed in the 1870s by British howitzers, machine guns and rapid fire rifles. 

In the aftermath of their great victory in the Batswana-Boer War 1852-53, the merafe living between the Orange and Zambezi rivers had for two decades remained free of white domination. Thereafter, communities living south of the Molopo River, mostly Barolong, Batlhaping and Batlharo were conquered by the British; in the process losing most of their land. 

The British colonization of the southern Batswana began with the 1871 annexation of the newly discovered diamond fields region in and around Kimberley. Although over 10,000 Batlhaping then lived in the area the British claimed that the entire region belonged to a Griqua group numbering only a few hundred.

Conveniently these Griqua had supposedly asked for British protection. The area thus became the British Crown Colony of Griqualand West. From 1876 Griqualand West's blacks, including its Griqua, were forced live in overcrowded locations after most of their land was given to white settlers. 

In an attempt to counter further encroachment by either the British or Boers various Batlhaping dikgosi, along with Montshiwa I of Barolong booRatshidi and Gaseitsiwe, attempted to join together to form a confederation or loose union of their merafe. The idea was not entirely new. Since the 1852-53 war dikgosi in the region had maintained a defensive alliance. In 1865 Gaseitsiwe, Montshiwa and Sechele had thus threatened to jointly go to war when the Transvaal Boers tried to takeover Lehurutshe. The Boers quickly backed down. (To be continued)

Editor's Comment
Escalating fuel prices cause panic

Nowadays it is not uncommon to purchase an item for a certain commodity and return to the shops in a week, to find the same item has gone up by a significant amount of money.Botswana Energy Regulatory Authority (BERA) last week announced yet another fuel price increase, which follows yet another increase that came into effect on March 29. Hardly two months later on May 12 boom, BERA announced yet another increase, which came into effect at a...

Have a Story? Send Us a tip
arrow up