We left off last week with 1871 British annexation of the diamond fields around Kimberley as the â€śCrown Colony of Griqualand West.â€ť
The new colonial state thereafter wasted little time in vesting itself with the full administrative authority over the allocation of land, an usurpation which resulted in the predominately Batlhaping indigenous population losing virtually all of their communal territory to the mining companies and white settlers who were then flocking into the region.
In response to these disturbing developments, most of the Batlhaping dikgosi, along with Montshiwa I of Barolong boo-Ratshidi and Gaseitsiwe of the Bangwaketse agreed to form a closer union among themselves; building on the defensive alliance they had maintained since their collective 1852-53 war against the Transvaal Boers.
The idea of forming such a deeper “general confederation against the common enemy” was championed by the Rev. Joseph Ludorf, a Wesleyan missionary who also acted as Montshiwa’s secretary.
In an October 1871 letter copied to the Bangwaketse, Barolong and Batlhaping dikgosi, he wrote: “And now chiefs: rulers of the land, I appeal to you. Awake: arise and unite soon before your trophy is torn asunder by wolves; come ye together, make protective laws; stop all breaches and gaps and close your gaps. Safeguard the heritage of Tau your ancestor. Hear ye all chiefs: Come together and unite.”
The following month, Ludorf circulated a draft constitution for “The United Barolong, Batlhaping and Bangwaketse Nation,” while further appealing for European recognition of its sovereign status. His efforts received a boost when Kgosi Sechele I of Bakwena reportedly agreed to associate himself with the initiative.
But, following Ludorf’s death in January 1872, the confederation remained an unfullfilled vision. Although the dikgosi continued to work towards greater unity, they were ultimately frustrated by their inability to resist renewed British aggression.
In 1878, both the Batlhaping and Griqua in the Griqualand West colony rebelled against white domination.
With their guns, the Batlhaping put up a strong resistence; defeating one enemy column in a 2nd of July 1878 battle at Kho. In the end, however, superior British firepower carried the day. The main body of resisters were surrounded at Dithakong, which fell to the invaders on the 24 July, 1878 after a three hour artillery barrage.
Using the supposed need to protect the London Missionary Society (LMS) station at Kudumane as an excuse, a British commander, Colonel Charles Warren, then invaded the Batswana lands all the way up to the Molopo river demanding the submission of the local dikgosi. Those who resisted were fined, imprisoned and/or deposed.
By 1880, it was widely expected that British overule would soon be extended north of the Molopo as well. Earlier in 1876-77, a British agent named Alex Bailie had been sent on a mission to the Bakwena, Bakgatla baga-Kgafela, Baseleka, Bangwato and Amandebele with instructions “to secure a constant supply of cheap labour to satisfy the large wants of the Diamond Field labour market.”
When the Bangwato Kgosi Khama III called upon the British to assist in keeping their own Boer subjects out of his territory, Bailie interpreted it as a request for “protection”. Subsequently, the British authorities in Pretoria sought to impose a settlement on the territorial disputes then disrupting relations between the Bakwena, Bakgatla baga-Kgafela, Bangwaketse and Balete merafe in south-eastern Botswana.
Warren’s invasion and Bailie’s mission were part of a wider policy of British expansionism intended to subjugate most of southern Africa under their imperial control. Between 1877-81, the British army thus also fought wars with the Abaxhosa, Amazulu, Basotho, Bapedi and Transvaal Boers.
But in 1881, a change of government in London led to a sudden British pullback. The Transvaal, northern Kwazulu and Batswana territory north of Griqualand West were as a result all temporarily abandoned.
Warren’s invasion, along with a flow of refugees from Griqualand West, had, nonetheless, severely destabilised the Barolong and independent Batlhaping. In the aftermath of the 1881 withdrawal, Montshiwa and his counterpart Mankurwane, the leading Batlhaping kgosi, were attacked by white mercenaries who included both Boers and British among their ranks.
These filibusters claimed to be fighting on behalf of two minor dikgosi, Moswete and Mosweu, who had submitted to Transvaal Boer overrule. Their real interest, though, was in simply grabbing land for themselves. In this respect, Mankurwane made his situation worse by hiring his own mercenaries who later turned on him.
In 1882 the mercenaries set up two small states, the Stellaland Republic on Batlhaping land and the Goshen Republic on Barolong land. Imperialists in the Cape Colony, led by the mineowner Cecil Rhodes, now joined local missionaries and traders in calling for British intervention. They maintained that the filibusters threatened the flow of goods and mine labour along the trade route between the Cape and central Africa. The arguments of Cape based imperialists were greatly strengthened in London by the unanticipated April 1884 German occupation of the South-West African (Namibian) coast. At the same time the German navy was also seeking a harbour in Tsongaland, the coastal area between the Transvaal, Portuguese Mozambique and northern Kwazulu, which the British percieved as falling into their sphere of influence.
(To be continued)