Monday, May 20, 2024

Builders of Botswana: “The Roots of National Politics” (Part 3)

“Southern Rhodesians are versed in the art of self-government in which the Northern Rhodesians and people of Nyasaland are now to have their share. Here is a prosperous nation with an ever brightening promise of more prosperity before it, one nation, let us always remember, though drawn from divers sources, European and African.” ÔÇô Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, July 1953

Last week we observed that Verwoerd’s 1963 offer to assume responsibility for leading Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland “to independence and economic prosperity” was both a belated recognition that they would not be politically incorporated into South Africa and the beginning of a sustained struggle over the quality of their soon to be restored sovereignty. For its part, the Apartheid regime had come to perceive potential opportunities as well as threats in each of the three territories’ political evolution.

During the 1950’s Botswana’s political progress was also threatened by the alternative spectre of Rhodesian settler domination, more especially in the context of August 1953 formation of the Central African Federation between Nyasaland, Southern and Northern Rhodesia. Earlier, on the 3rd of July 1952 the nascent Federation’s dominant politician, Roy Wellensky, had opened the door for Bechuanaland’s inclusion.

Tshekedi Khama’s papers contain a copy of Wellensky’s statement, with the former Bangwato regent’s margin notes. It also proved to be of interest to other dikgosi as well as some white members of the Protectorate’s Joint Advisory Council (JAC).

Established in 1950, the JAC was composed of eight members drawn from the Magosi controlled African Advisory Council (AAC), the eight elected members of the European Advisory Council (EAC), and eight colonial officials. During its decade of existence the Council evolved into a forum for reaching consensus between the local whites and the traditional indigenous ruling class. It thus became a working model of the elitist multiracial politics that London hoped, in vain, would emerge out of the alchemy of the Federation.

Multiracial elitism in the Protectorate was facilitated by the fact that its white community was not only much smaller than that of the Rhodesias or South Africa, but also more inter-dependent in its economic interests with dikgosi and other Batswana notables. At the same time the dikgosi were in a relatively stronger position then most of their cross border peers.

Some members of the JAC appear to have appreciated the prospect of entrenching their privileged domestic position as partners within a wider Federal oligarchy. For dikgosi the Federation was a potential shield against emerging pressure for greater democracy within their reserves, as well as the threat of being reduced to the status of Apartheid pawns.

Contacts between dikgosi and Federation politicians had begun by June 1953 when Wellensky held informal discussions with the Bakwena Kgosi Kgari aSechele II, while the two were returning by plane from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in London. As the territory’s senior royal, Kgari had represented Bechuanaland at the ceremony, alongside Moshoeshoe II of Lesotho and Sobhuza II of Swaziland.

Subsequently, in a 5th of January 1954 letter to then leading EAC member Louis Glover the AAC Chairman and Bangwaketse Kgosi Bathoen II wrote: “There is no doubt you and I and in fact most of the Chiefs are in favour of Federation, but how can we make this known…?”

Further to the above, in November 1953 Bathoen II, along with Kgari and the Balete Kgosi Mokgosi, took part in an official tour of Eastern and Central Africa, which reportedly reinforced their favourable impressions of the Federation.

A September 1953 assessment further reports that Bathoen II had initially been attracted by the Federation’s potential, while attending the Central African Rhodes Centenary Exhibition in Bulawayo.

Held from June through August 1953 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Cecil Rhodes’ birth, the Exhibition has been described as the most “grandiose and momentous social event in the annals of settler rule in Southern Rhodesia” if not imperial Africa.

Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (i.e. the then recently widowed mother to the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II) on the 3rd of July 1953, the Exhibition occupied 50 acres, which incorporated numerous industrial and commercial exhibits as well as pavilions from 18 African colonial jurisdictions, including the High Commission Territories.

As might be expected, the grandest was the ‘Pavilion of the Rhodesias’, celebrating the Federation’s birth. Along with much of the rest of the Exhibition it promoted the supposedly progressive legacy of the Rhodes and the British royal family as being central to a regional identity that all races could embrace in the context of Rhodes supposed belief in “equal rights for all civilized men” as well as the image of Queen Victoria (Mmamosadinya) as the great protector.

According to an official publication in honour of the Queen Mother’s presence:

“Since the days of Queen Victoria, the British Throne has represented protection against injustice to millions of Africans. All the thousands of Africans who flocked to see the Queen Mother and (her accompanying younger daughter) Princess Margaret during their tour of Southern Rhodesia in July, 1953, must now feel that this protective spirit is still very much alive in the Royal family today.”


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