Posts tagged ‘Botswana’

Sep 20, 2022

Africa has been the footstool of colonialism and imperialism, exploitation and degradation – one small incident in a land far away

Bechuanaland (Botswana) in Southern Africa once was a British protectorate. That means that for intents and purposes not much happened in Bechuanaland without permission of government in London. This was during the period of the British Empire, of which many in the UK are so very proud, when the continent of Africa was divied up between the more powerful European powers to be plundered, and Bechuanaland was brought to the notice of that rapacious old coloniser, Cecil Rhodes, for its potential as an economic link north and south, the fact it was not already coloured pink on world atlases as a British possession but most importantly, Rhodes believed it contained gold and diamonds. So, Botswana – renamed Bechuanaland by the British because of their laziness (and indifference) over mastering the pronunciation of the name of its native people, the Tswana, was made a British protectorate in September 1885.

Before the country had the union jack run up on its flagpoles British influence was at work. Education, that great moulder of character and opinion was making an impact. In Bechuanaland as in so many other places across the Empire, schools were set up by missionaries and many of them were started and run by Scots teaching Church of Scotland values. John Mackenzie from Knockando in Moray was an early missionary in southern Africa, from the 1830s, and while in Tswana territories he encouraged the British government to adopt the region as a protectorate in order to defend its people from racist Boers settling there. Mackenzie was made a Deputy Commissioner by the British government and he was replaced by Rhodes.

Students at Lovedale in 1892

At Lovedale in Cape Province, Tshekedi Khama attended the Missionary Institute secondary school that had been educating children of all creeds and including rescued slaves from its inception in 1841. A Church of Scotland missionary school, it was a non-sectarian and non-racial and open to all boys, including rescued slaves. This open policy continued until 1955 when South Africa’s apartheid system kicked in. A girls’ school followed much later, in 1868.

Scottish doctor and missionary, David Livingstone, lived and worked in southern African from the 1840s until his death in 1873, along with his family. He became a close friend of Shehele, an ancestor of Tshekedi, and when a memorial was planned to Livingstone in his home town of Blantyre, the Banangwato people in Bechuanaland were invited to contribute towards it. They gladly obliged and sent £150 that was used to create an illuminated tableaux, called the Last Journey, The Last Journey depicts Livingstone’s corpse being carried by native Africans to the east coast, a distance of 1500 miles, from where his body was shipped home to Scotland.

Bechuanaland was one of several African regions where horses were bred and when Tshekedi and a group of his fellow countrymen visited the Blantyre museum they asked to see the cavalry horses at Redford Barracks. For whatever reason they weren’t given access to the Barracks but instead were taken to Edinburgh’s Corporation Cleansing Departments stable of Clydesdales. The visitors were much taken by these large, docile animals – far larger than the horses bred in their own country – and spent a long time with them, stroking them and whispering into their ears, to the consternation of their British hosts.

Back in Livingstone’s day in Bechuanaland, mistreatment of native people by European settlers was rife. Livingstone detested this behaviour and that of the Boers in particular for they were infamous for outrageous acts of oppression and cruelty perpetrated upon peaceful villagers and he warned that people were arming to defend themselves from such assaults. Gun traders were everywhere so weapons were relatively easy to get hold of. Livingstone observed that attempts at halting the purchase of weapons was a failure.

…might as well have bolted the castle gate with a boiled carrot.

Boer leaders resented Livingstone and threatened to have him kicked out of their region. Livingstone explained in a letter to his brother, Charles, in 1849 –

The Boers or Dutch emigrants oppress these tribes and treat them almost as slaves. They would have contrived to do so to Sechele (his friend) too, but I succeeded in freeing the Bakwains (Bakens.) A considerable number of guns were purchased, and as this is the source of power of the Boers over the other tribes they began to be afraid that the other tribes would follow his example.

In 1850, Livingstone wrote to his father-in-law, Robert Moffat –

Can you get the bullet mould (perhaps 2, & ramrods to fit) of 8 to lb. or rather fit 8 to the pound bore but conical, from Birmingham? Those which have an indentation behind fire much further, the dotted line marking the indentation. Sechele is very anxious to get the seven-barrelled gun. You seem to have forgotten it.

   He was helping arm his friends among the Batswana.

*

By the 1930s Botswana’s younger people had become frustrated with Britain’s grip on the country, with all that entailed with racist views of superior and inferior races and, consequently, lack of respect for native rights.

Tshekedi was already in power, having been made regent of the Bamangwato in 1926 following the death of his brother, Sekgoma II, whose son was too young to become chief. Twenty-one-year-old Tshekedi set about consolidating his authority as leader. Alarmed by this, the British commissioner in the area, Sir Charles Rey, attempted to rein him in. When in 1933 two white men were taken before the native court accused of assaulting (raping) native girls, Tshekedi sentenced them to be flogged in public, as any native perpetrator would be. Rey was outraged by a black man overstepping himself and judging a white person.

Top – Vice-Admiral Evans arrives to conduct the inquiry into the actions of Regent Chief Tshekedi, accompanied by a hundred marines and another hundred seamen from Cape Province.
Bottom left -The inquiry. Evans announces the suspension of Acting Chief Tshekedi of the Bamangwato, he’s the small man on the right of the group of Africans facing the whites.
Middle bottom – Phineas McIntosh, left with pipe, and McNamee, right.
Bottom right – Tshekedi a year or two earlier
 
 

The British government reacted with a show of strength. A Vice-Admiral Edward Evans was sent in to investigate the incident. He arrived with 200 royal Marines and seamen brought in from Cape Town along with howitzers to make it crystal clear to the natives that their laws were one thing but Britain was in charge and no native chief had a right to judge any white person.

Buglers bugled as representatives of the British Crown and government assembled under a fig tree. Before them, unshaded from the sun, stood 15,000 native men and women, to witness legitimate justice. Under Britain’s superior justice Tshekedi was not permitted to have anyone speak in his defence. He was found guilty of overstepping his power by not providing the white men accused of assaulting native girls, McIntosh and MaNamee, a choice over which type of court judged them. Tshekedi was stripped of his powers and banished from Francistown by the Acting High Commissioner, Vice-Admiral Evans. During the proceedings several white women in the crowd shouted, “Stop this” and they and other whites rushed to shake Tshekedi’s hand. Tshekedi’s removal proved fairly short-lived. Evans had him reinstated following a public outcry.

The British press were predictably racist – ridiculing Batmangwato’s ‘comic opera’ army. A sneering W. J . Makin of The Sphere (23 September, 1933) wrote –

500 members dressed in cast-off uniforms of Drury Lane and other musical comedy shows of London …Some even wear kilts, with dirty white spats over their black feet.

More serious journalists, especially among the South African press, ridiculed Britain’s high-handed actions of sending in marines and howitzers, calling it –

…a mere melodramatic gesture as useless as it must have been expensive.

Around this time the British government was getting jittery over the rise of nationalism in South Africa. That a black leader took it upon himself to flog a white man was unacceptable to many in Britain. Tshekedi was a symbol of the growing confidence of black Africans and so he had to be put in his place. He argued that both of the white men were notorious for their brutal behaviour and they had lived among the Batswana for some time and this was the reason he thought it appropriate to deal with them as he would any native guilty of a similar crime. One of the men, Phineas McIntosh had, in fact, accepted his punishment but Commissioner Charles Rey was determined to drive home the message of Britain’s supremacy over him and his people. Britian’s play of strength was considered far more important than the rape of native girls and punishment of the perpetrators. The British moved the convicted men, McIntosh and McNamee, to Lohatsi to the dismay of its resident white people who petitioned to have them removed, over fears for their daughters’ safety.

The Batmangwato army

The flogging episode and its aftermath highlighted the tensions that existed between native autonomy and British control. Tshekedi was never antithetical to the British, his own father having accepted ‘British protection’ in the late 19th century under threat from the Boers but those times had gone. His son Tshekedi having had a western education became the acceptable face of a native chief and trusted by many whites but he was no British lackey. Tshekedi was proud of his people and his country. He was a nationalist who well understood the injustices at the heart of colonialism – the leash that could and would be tightened as a reminder of where power really lay. He recognised that the protection offered to his father in the nineteenth century came as a double-edged sword – protection on the one hand and threat on the other. Westminster passed the Foreign Jurisdiction Act in 1890 that legalised the British monarch’s supremacy over native laws, rights and obligations. The British Crown’s agent was, of course, the British government. In other words, the British Crown was superior to any native power in its Empire and could countermand any court decisions. And given that the area fell under total control of Westminster, it could decide its future – whether that meant retaining Batswana chiefs or handing their country over to the British South Arican Company – and always racism was at its core.

Clearly when the protected territory is inhabited by native tribes the amount of internal sovereignty assumed by the protector is much greater than in cases where the protected State has a civilised government.

(Justice Watermeyer. A Boer judge and supporter of British imperial control in southern Africa).

So, Tshekedi was reinstated because of a backlash but his movements were restricted and he had to accept he would not act in any cases against whites. The autocratic Rey was replaced as Resident Commissioner in 1937 but his career was not harmed. Tshekedi’s Rengentship ended when the nephew he was acting for, Seretse Khama, became chief in 1949. That’s another story involving racism that resulted in both Seretse Khama and Tshekedi being exiled by the British in 1950, and subsequently banned from participating in politics.  

A correspondent to the Perthshire Advertiser in April 1952 complained about the harsh treatment meted out to Seretse and Tshekedi by the British government as a

… blot on our British sense of justice and fair play.

In 1952 Tshekedi was allowed to return to Bechuanaland as a private citizen and he helped organise the return of Seretse. The pair plus a third man eventually brought about Bechuanaland’s independence, as Botswana on 30 September, 1966. Tshekedi was dead by then. He died in London in 1959, following treatment there for kidney failure. He was 54 years old.

The title of this blog is a quote from Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, 1960,