Monday, May 16, 2022

Builders of Botswana “The Roots of National Politics” (Part 4)Builders of Botswana: “The Roots of National Politics” (Part 4)

We have observed that that Roy Wellensky’s 1952 suggestion that the Bechuanaland Protectorate could become the fourth member of the Central African Federation (1953-63), alongside Nyasaland, Southern and Northern Rhodesia, was initially attractive to dikgosi and some white members of the Joint Advisory Council (JAC). In the early months of 1954 the Council’s then senior European and African members, Louis Glover and Kgosi Bathoen II, thus agreed that they should approach the Federation’s leadership to explore the idea.

The owner of Broadhurst Farm (the foundations of his house are located behind Tsholofelo Community Hall), Glover was for many years considered to be the territory’s leading white liberal. As a Setswana speaker, during the First World War Glover had served as an officer for 555 Protectorate Batswana of the South African Native 5th Battalion, who were deployed (1917-18) against the Germans along the French-Belgium border; his senior Motswana NCO being the future Bakwena Kgosi Sebele II.

Further encouraged by Tshekedi Khama, Glover took up the matter with Wellensky, the Protectorate Government and other white politicians in the territory. But, many of the latter were lukewarm in their support; privately preferring ties with South Africa.

More critical was the opposition of the Resident Commissioner, Martin Wray, who in a November 1955 meeting warned Glover that agitation to join the Federation would, in his view, incite unwelcome counterclaims from Pretoria. A February 1955 assessment had concluded that some 90% of the whites at Ghanzi and in the Tuli Block, along with 50% at Gaborone farms and Lobatse, still favoured South African incorporation; while the Federation enjoyed majority support among whites in the Tati Concession (Northeast District).

London’s concerns combined with growing internal black opposition also encouraged caution on the part of Wellensky.

For his part Tshekedi, who until his 1959 death arguably remained the Protectorate’s leading political personality, had all along recognized the inadequacy of the Federation’s qualified African representation. Like many though, he had initially hoped for an evolution towards a more balanced interracial partnership. In this context he tied the possibility of joining the Federation with political reform in the Protectorate, more particularly the JAC’s replacement by a multiracial Legislative Council (Legco).

In 1952-53 Tshekedi, with Bathoen and Glover’s support, spearheaded calls for Legco in both the African and European Advisory Councils. But, before 1958, the British consistently blocked the proposal. In their rejection the colonial authorities cited Legco’s supposed costs, a desire to proceed first with the creation of local Tribal Councils, and divided settler opinion. Behind these excuses was London’s continued belief in the need to appease Pretoria.

As a way of circumventing opposition to Legco, while promoting inter-merafe unity, in 1954 Tshekedi joined other leading royalists in advocating the formation of a Federated African Authority (FAA), in which Kgosi Kgari would take formal precedence as “king”. A December 1954 petition in favour of the FAA was endorsed by the Bangwato, Bangwaketse, Batawana and Batlokwa Tribal Administrations.

But, the FAA idea critically failed to win Kgari’s support, along with that of his Bakgatla colleague, Kgosi Molefi, and the British.

At the time the drive for royal federalism was also reflected in Bathoen II’s proposals to introduce a common flag incorporating the totems of each of the gazetted tribes, as well as the establishment of September 30th as Protectorate Day.

While leading dikgosi were attracted to aspects of the Central African Federation’s reformist multiracialism, others among the small intelligentsia of educated non-royals appreciated that its institutional structures entrenched white minority domination. After the Second World War members of this group were also becoming increasingly critical of royal autocracy.

As they observed the acceleration of political change elsewhere on the continent, the idea of a separate identity as a self-governing Protectorate emerged as a realistic alternative. At his inaugural sitting on the JAC, in April 1958, Seretse Khama articulated this view, stating:

“I think it is time that we ourselves in Bechuanaland, who neither belong to the Union of South Africa nor the Federation, or any other part as far as I can see, except Great Britain, should try to formulate a policy of our own which is probably unique to us. And that is a policy, perhaps, of even teaching those countries who profess to be more advanced than ourselves, that in as far as administration and race relationships [are concerned] they have more to learn from us than we from them.

“I must say, quite frankly that I have been rather disturbed…. to find that on the whole there is a tendency to look always over our shoulders. Perhaps I am wrong, if so I stand corrected. We want to see what is happening elsewhere instead of getting on with what we know is peculiar to us and to the country itself. We should get on and have no fear that we may incur someone’s displeasure, as long as what we do is internationally accepted…And if we are right I am afraid emotion must come into this; we should not bother very much with what anyone might say…We have ample opportunity in this country to teach people how human beings can live together.”

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