Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Inter War Years in Bechuanaland

The period between the two World Wars was a time full of challenges. The country had contributed manpower in the war effort and they did that to honour the imperial masters in Britain. The war had very little positive effect on the country’s economy and for many it was just life as usual.For those who have been following my sequential write-ups regarding the military history of Botswana, you will remember that Khama III had refused to contribute any troops to the war effort citing lack of trust on the part of the British government. This was very bold of him and he managed  to come out of it unpunished, at least not publicly.Two regiments of Gammangwato had earlier fought in the Anglo-Ndebele War and Khama III’s soldiers had just helped dislodge Lobengula from his seat in Bulawayo. This is a war that defined the history of the Northern Ndebele people and Khama III was one of the actors in this showdown thriller.

The British were by far outnumbered by the Ndebele. A bulk of the British force would come from Salisbury in the north and Khama III was badly needed to attack from the southern flank. The British were outnumbered one to twenty and were so desperate for Khama III’s support.   Khama III was too eager to participate in the war for personal reasons. The Ndebele were the arch enemies of Bangwato and he wanted to finish them off when he had the opportunity presented to him. But the British made a big promise; they had committed themselves to bringing a wide range of developments to the country. Khama III was too powerful for his time for him to disregard the British in that humiliating manner. Khama III died in 1923 and was succeeded by his son Sekgoma II. Tragedy struck the royal kraal in Gammangwato as Sekgoma II also died three years later. His younger brother, Tshekedi Khama who was still studying in South Africa had to abandon his studies to come and fill up the vacant post.

After the First World War was over, South Africa was struggling with what was known as the Spanish Influenza. The Union of South Africa had contributed significantly in this war and when the troops were withdrawn from Europe, they were bringing with them this virus that ended up killing thousands in South Africa. Once they reached the shores of this country, the most sensible thing for any government to do was to release them back to their towns and villages. In actual fact, the Corona virus pandemic can only be paralleled by the Spanish Influenza that swept across the world exactly a century ago.

The period between the wars was particularly challenging for Bakwena in Molepolole. Sebele II was unhappy with the British who had reneged on their earlier promises of development. The King of Bakwena had gladly raised a contingent that travelled to Europe which was the epicentre of the war. And after the war the British were failing to fulfil their development obligation.

Ironically, Sebele II had become King of Bakwena in 1918 right on the stroke of the end of the First World War. He was later deposed by the British who cited none cooperation as the key reason for his removal. Sebele II was banished to Gantsi with his entire family and was hastily replaced by his brother Kgari Sechele II who was later declared the actual King of Bakwena by the British.

Bakgatla-ba-ga-Mmanaana in Moshupa were equally going through a turbulent time. Kgosi Gobuamang Mosielele had trouble with Bathoen II who had just become King of Bagwaketsi and demanded a tax hike even without consulting with Gobuamang. The manner in which this was implemented was equal to extortion. After ignoring the feud for some time, Charles Rey who was the Resident Commissioner based in the Mafikeng Reserve was to later become a player in the drama that unfolded in Moshupa. Gobuamang was arrested in 1932 while in Mafikeng and was later repatriated to Bechuanaland and placed under direct control and supervision of Bathoen II in Kanye.

Ultimately this insurrection resulted in the birth of Thamaga village as Gobuamang sort refuge within the Kwena Tribal Territory. Earlier to Gobuamang’s request for asylum, Bakwena had deployed a small watch party along their border with Bangwaketsi. The Kodisa clan from Molepolole had been placed there a century earlier as the eyes and ears of the tribal rulers.

Meanwhile, Tshekedi Khama was thrusting forward with development in the Ngwato Tribal Territory. He was using regimental labour to achieve the building of dams and schools. One of his outstanding projects that still stands as a monument of self-reliance is Moeng College. However, Tshekedi had a full share of trouble as his regency was highly challenged by other members of the royal family such as the Ratshosa family.

In the overall, Bechuanaland had been neglected by the British to remain as a wilderness with no form of development except for the railway line running across the eastern part of the country. The tribal leaders across the administrative territory of Bechuanaland depended so much on the export of labour to the Witwatersrand to work in the gold mines. Meanwhile the country was seeing all sorts of calamities over these years referred to as the inter war years.

Rinderpest decimated the bovine and wildlife population. Foot and mouth was neither showing mercy to the cattle industry in this country. Swarms of locust came to invade crops and causing famine. When all this happened, the British looked the other away.

The years between the two world wars were by far the most challenging politically and economically for the country known as Bechuanaland. This is a country that has its foundations on struggle and this defined the generation that lived in that period.


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