Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Francistown and the Anglo-Boer War KETLEETSO YA LONA

It must be pointed out that I have used the term ‘Boer’ in these articles to include all those fighting on the side of the Transvaal Republic. Likewise, I use the contemporary term ‘natives’ when discussing the indigenous peoples of the area who were a mixture of Tswana, Sotho, Kalanga and Venda identities. In both cases, these are merely historical terms without negative connotations.” Rob Burrett.

I am penning this article in Tati Siding which is in the fringes of the famous town of Francis, Francistown. I am here to burry one the sons of this city, Motlatsi Mbanga. A personal friend of mine and a man who had become identical with the permanent history of this city was finally buried yesterday.

It is befitting to write the history of Francistown on location, the oldest urban centre in Botswana and a place that has served as a logistics nerve centre for all armed conflicts in this part of the world. Far as it was from the epicentre of the Anglo-Boer War, this place still played a very critical and important role in that particular conflict.

The Boers of the Transvaal Republic knew very well that Francistown was a major route in the event that the British would need to send down reinforcements from further north in the two Rhodesias. The town had just served the war effort in the Anglo-Ndebele war that saw the end of the Ndebele Kingdom and dynasty.

According to records salvaged from the Tati Concessions Limited, Percy Swinburne, the mining town of Francistown was deemed crucial for capture by the Boers for two major reasons. Because of the new and fledgling mining industry, there was a large reserves of commercial explosives in the area and were a necessary product in the event of war.

Further to this, the town’s geography placed it right in between the Boers across the border in Limpopo and the Germans in the Caprivi Strip. The Boers are descendants of the Dutch and the Germans and therefore there was a blood tie between the two.

Right from the onset of the war, the residents of Francistown became weary of the fact that the Boers and the Germans might be planning an attack. The elimination of Francistown from the equation would spell doom for the British as they could not send any supplies and reinforcements from up north.

The creation of the Francistown Defence Force was hasty as the owners of the properties in the north east of Botswana was an answer to this fear. This fear was not baseless as the Germans came to explode a bomb in Folley Bridges two decades later during the First World War.

Remember that this was in the era of the discovery of gold. Francistown which was largely Anglophone populated was somewhat rivalling the Witwatersrand in the Transvaal. Therefore the capture of Francistown by the Boers would boost their economic prospects.

Defences were prepared around Francistown even though the town never came to see action in the entire war. The labour needed in the war effort to defend Francistown was mainly derived from able bodied Kalanga men even though in some few instances those of the Tswana stock gave a helping hand.

The British were always militarily superior in the battlefield, but the advent gold mining in the Transvaal had somewhat turned the tables a little bit. Therefore the Francistowners did not want to leave anything to chance. The capture of this town would become a turning point in the war effort.

The town had become a logistics hub for both mining and the railway to the north. In another, it was also servicing the route to the Chobe where hunting largely occurred. So in other words there were so many eggs placed in one basket.

The town served as an important stopover for the British armoured trains which had to refuel with the special mophane wood necessary for the production of steam. The Tati River served as an important source of water for the locomotives and also as portable water for the passengers in the trains.

Francistown served as the capital of what was known as the Tati Concession Land. When the British gave present day Botswana a protectorate status, they made sure that they controlled all the land linking Rhodesia to the Cape. So Tati, Tuli, Gaborone Farms and the Lobatse Block formed such parcels of land which were purely British and the chiefs had no jurisdiction on such.

So the possibilities of the Boer commando raids did not just threaten the residents of Francistown, it actually threatened the authority of the British crown of the monarchy. If Francistown was taken out, the whole war effort would begin to wobble.

The Tati Concession was to prove to be so crucial even after independence in 1966. The concession was exempted from laws that govern mineral rights in Botswana as evidenced by the Tati Land Act of 1970 which clearly exempted this portion of Botswana from laws governing the country.

Section 3 of the Minerals and Mines Act of 1999 clearly stipulates to the effect that all minerals within Botswana, except those in the Tati Concession belong to the government of Botswana. And what remains so special about this piece of land now was even more crucial during the Anglo-Boer War.

Francistown has a very rich history and has always been central to every conflict including the one between Botswana and Namibia over Sedudu Island. But there is more to this history that I still fail to understand. Why would Seretse Khama sell a part of our country to the British?

It was in 1970 that Seretse made a deal with the British to secure the rights of the white land owners in the name of Tati Company. This is a UK registered company and it leaves us with a lot of questions on what exactly we owe them.

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