Colonial History

From the 1820s the Boers began their Great Trek across the Vaal River. Confident that they had heaven-sanctioned rights to any land they might choose to occupy in southern Africa, 20,000 Boers crossed into Tswana and Zulu territory and established themselves as though the lands were unclaimed and uninhabited. At the Sand River Convention of 1852, Britain recognised the Transvaal's independence and the Boers informed the Batswana (people of Botswana) that they were now subjects of the South African Republic.

Prominent Tswana leaders Sechele I and Mosielele refused to accept white rule and incurred the violent wrath of the Boers. After heavy losses of life and land, the Tswana sent their leaders to petition the British for protection. Britain, however, was in no hurry to support lands of dubious profitability and offered only to act as arbitrator in the dispute. But by 1877, the worsening situation provoked the British annexation of the Transvaal and launched the first Boer War, with violence continuing until 1881. In 1882, Boers again moved into Tswana lands and subdued Ma-feking, threatening the British route between the Cape and the suspected mineral wealth in Zimbabwe.

Again, the Tswana lobbied for British protection and in 1885, thanks to petitions from John Mackenzie (a friend of the Christian Chief Khama III of Shoshong), Britain resigned itself to the inevitable. Lands south of

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the Molopo River became the British Crown Colony of Bechuanaland and were attached to the Cape Colony, while the area north became the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland.

A new threat to the Tswana chiefs' power base came in the form of Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company (BSAC). By 1894, the British had all but agreed to allow him to control the country. An unhappy delegation of Tswana chiefs - Bathoen, Khama III and Sebele - accompanied by a sympathetic missionary, WC Willoughby, sailed to England to appeal directly to Colonial Minister Joseph Chamberlain for continued government control but their pleas were ignored. As a last resort, they turned to the London Missionary Society (LMS), which in turn took the matter to the British public. Fearing the BSAC would allow alcohol in Bechuanaland, the LMS and other Christian groups backed Chief Khama III. Public pressure mounted and the British government was forced to concede.

Chiefs now grudgingly accepted their rites and traditions would be affected by Christianity and Western technology. The capital of the protectorate was established at Mafeking -actually in South Africa - and taxes were introduced. Chiefs were granted tribal 'reserve' (jurisdiction over all black residents and the authority to collect taxes and retain a 10% commission on all moneys collected). In addition, the local economy was bolstered by the sale of cattle, draft oxen and grain to the Europeans streaming north in search of farming land and minerals.

The honeymoon didn't last. The construction of the railway through Bechuanaland to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the 1890s destroyed the transit trade. In 1924, South Africa began pressing for Bechuanaland's amalgamation into the Union of South Africa, and when the Tswana chiefs refused, economic sanctions destroyed what remained of their beef market.

In 1923, Chief Khama III died and was succeeded by his son Sekgoma, who died after serving only two years. The heir to the throne, four-year-old Seretse Khama, wasn't ready for the job of ruling the largest of the Tswana chiefdoms, so his 21-year-old uncle Tshekedi Khama became regent of his clan.

Resident Commissioner Sir Charles Rey determined that no progress would be forth coming as long as the people were governed by Tswana chiefs and proclaimed all local government officials answerable to colonial magistrates. So great was the popular opposition - people feared that it would lead to their incorporation into South Africa - that Rey was ousted from his job and his proclamation annulled.

During WWII, 10,000 Tswana volunteered for the African Pioneer Corps to defend the British Empire. After the war Seretse Khama went to study in England where he met and married an Englishwoman. Tshekedi Khama was furious at this breach of tribal custom, and the South African authorities, still hoping to absorb Bechuanaland into the Union, were none too happy. The British government blocked Seretse's chieftaincy and he was exiled from the protectorate to England. Bitterness continued until 1956 when Seretse Khama renounced his right to power and returned with his wife to Botswana to serve as a minor official.

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