Before the 1885 imposition of colonial rule, three types of Europeans had a major impact on Botswana: traders, missionaries, and Boers. Trade had existed with the Boers at the Cape and the Portuguese stations of coastal Angola and Mozambique since the early eighteenth century. Game products, including ivory, ostrich feathers, and skins, were traded over long distances and sold for guns and other goods from Asia, the Americas, and Europe. The London Missionary Society (LMS) sent missionaries as early as 1816 to work among the southern Batswana, but it wasn’t until 1822 that Robert Moffat visited Kgosi Makaba II of the Bangwaketse to establish the first permanent mission. The famous explorer and missionary David Livingstone started the first church and school in Botswana at Kolobeng in 1845.
European contacts remained infrequent except for those of the South African Boers, who seized land from the Batswana for grazing cattle. The Batswana peoples traded for guns and combined their military strength to resist Boer incursions into their lands. Under the excellent leadership of Kgosi Sechele I, the Botswana were repeatedly able to drive the Boers back to the South African Republics in 1852 and 1853. In January 1853, a peace agreement was signed between the Batswana and the Boers.
Relations between the two groups remained tense for many years, due to border disputes and cattle raiding. Between 1882 and 1884 there were conflicts among the southern Batswana and Transvaal mercenaries; but the British administrators at Cape Town were not prepared to militarily intervene, following their withdrawal from the Transvaal in 1881. In 1885, the British unilaterally proclaimed the Bechuanaland Protectorate to counter Germany’s occupation of Namibia and the growing infiltration of German soldiers, traders, and missionaries into Ngamiland. Ngamiland’s wildlife resources, especially elephants, were abundant due to the Okavango River that flows into the region and forms a large delta. The Batswana peoples had conquered the region and consolidated their military power by selling ivory for guns and horses. Kgosi Moremi signed two mining concessions with British traders in the late 1880s, which led to Britain’s successful bid for the region in 1890.
The British colonization of southern Batswana began with the 1871 annexation of territory containing the newly discovered diamond fields in and around Kimberly, South Africa. Recognizing that the mineral discoveries would lead to greater white settlement near the border, the Batswana formed another confederation to counter Boer raids on cattleposts inside Botswana. When Kgosi Khama of the Bangwato peoples asked for British support in keeping the Boers out of his territory, the British led an expedition to the region under the leadership of Charles Warren. Warren’s main task was the enforcement of land promises made by Cecil Rhodes to the Boers, not the protection of Batswana interests. By May 1886 a British land commission, chaired by Rhodes’s close associate Sidney Shippard, had robbed the Batswana living south of the Molopo of 92 per cent of their land. Shippard, who became known as morena maaka (lord of lies), was then appointed as Bechuanaland’s administrator.
Meanwhile, the British government decided to end any possibility of a link between German Namibia and the Transvaal by extending the Bechuanaland Protectorate north of the Molopo River to include the southern half of Botswana. In March 1885, Warren was instructed to communicate this development to the Batswana leadership. Most Batswana dikgosi (chiefs) objected to colonial rule, especially Sechele and his son Sebele of the Bakwena. Khama had been convinced by the LMS missionary, John Mackenzie, that the British presence was a good thing and, despite Bangwato opposition, offered extensive lands for British settlement.
Fortunately, the British government accepted its South African high commissioner’s conclusion that “as to the country north of the Molopo River. . . . it appears to me that we have no interest in it, except as a road to the interior.” Subsequently, the British government refused the offer of settler land and ordered that the chiefs should rule over their own peoples. The British presence north of the Molopo would be limited to occasional police patrols and very limited settlement and administration. The Molopo River was the administrative dividing line; the lands south of the river became part of the colony of British Bechuanaland, which was later incorporated into South Africa. The Bechuanaland Protectorate north of the Molopo survived to become Botswana.
Before 1890, the British interfered little in the rule of the dikgosi. Thereafter they gradually began to introduce a system of indirect rule. Under this system, colonial officials ruled through the dikgosi, who were no longer free to run their own affairs without interference. The reason for the change was that Botswana became a base from which British imperialism could expand northward into central Africa. In October 1889 Queen Victoria issued Rhodes’s British South African Company (BSAC) a royal charter to administer Botswana and Central Africa in the name of the British crown. In 1890 despite overriding local objections, the British granted themselves the right to exercise colonial control over Botswana through the Foreign Jurisdictions Act. The protectorate was also extended to Ngamiland and the Chobe River region in the north.
Meanwhile the growing power of the BSAC began to threaten the independence of the Batswana rulers and their ability to manage their own affairs under crown protection. Rhodes wanted to control all of southern Africa to exploit its rich mineral wealth in diamonds and gold. In order to accomplish his dream of complete dominance in the region, he needed to acquire administrative control of Botswana. In July 1895 the Batswana sent petitions to London against BSAC rule.
Three paramount chiefs, Bathoen, Khama and Sebele, decided to take their merafe’s cases directly to the British government and people. They traveled to Britain, speaking in 40 English towns and cities. Queen Victoria granted them an audience and promised them continued protection against BSAC capitalist exploitation. The dikgosi left Britain with the belief that their territories were safe from Rhodes. However, important friends of Rhodes were strategically placed in the Colonial Office, and they plotted to take over Bathoen and Sebele’s domains. The colonial secretary had also given Rhodes permission to go ahead and invade the Transvaal, because Paul Kruger was becoming a threat to Great Britain’s control of gold mining in southern Africa.
Rhodes hired a mercenary by the name of Dr. L. S. Jameson to organize an armed force to overthrow Kruger’s Transvaal Republic. Jameson invaded on the night of December 29, 1895, from Botswana, while British expatriates in Johannesburg were supposed to lead an uprising there. The rebellion was disorganized and failed due to poor leadership and planning. The Jameson Raid resulted in a huge international scandal and dashed Rhodes’s plans for a takeover in Botswana. Four years after the Jameson Raid, war broke out between the British and Boer Republics in South Africa. The protectorate played a small but key role in the Anglo-Boer War by guarding the railway and border positions and working in British army camps.
The leaders of the Boers and the British met from 1908 until 1909 to discuss the formation of a new united state. In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed as a self-governing state under the British monarch. The result of the formation of the Union for Africans was the loss of all their political rights, a development watched closely by fearful eyes in Botswana. The dikgosi knew that the South Africa Act, establishing the union, provided for the eventual incorporation of the three High Commission Territories of Bechuanaland, Swaziland, and Lesotho.
Over time, British administrative reforms in the protectorate reduced the powers of the dikgosi. The resident commissioners interfered in local politics and rarely listened to the African Advisory council’s recommendations. In 1943, new proclamations restored some of the powers that the dikgosi had lost in 1934. The Botswana rulers were given limited jurisdiction in their own areas. Britain neglected the development of Bechuanaland for fifty years.
Such development that took place, whether political, economic, or social, occurred after World War II, with grants-in-aid from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund. The war had an enormous impact on the protectorate in many ways. The dikgosi supported the British war effort with 10,000 men, food and money. After the conflict, growing nationalism in Africa encouraged the Batswana to unite for their freedom.
The Bechuanaland’s People’s Party (BPP) was formed in 1960 by Motsami Mpho and K. T. Motsete at the time when Britain was introducing constitutional changes through the Legislative Council. The BPP spoke out against white rule and demanded immediate independence. The Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) was formed in 1961 by Seretse Khama and other educated leaders who stressed multiracialism for a better Botswana. Elections were held in March 1965, on the basis of the new constitution of 1963. The BDP, which had become a very strong, well-organized party, won the election with a large majority, taking 28 of the 31 seats in the National Assembly. Seretse Khama became the prime minister of the country’s first African government.
See also: Jameson Raid, Origins of South African War: 1895-1899.
Morton, Fred, and Jeff Ramsay (eds.). The Birth of Botswana: A History of the Bechuanaland Protectorate from 1910 to 1966. Gaborone, Botswana: Longman, 1987.
Parsons, Neil. King Khama Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Ramsay, Jeff, Barry Morton, and T. Mgadla. Building a Nation: A History of Botswana from 1800 to 1910. Gaborone, Botswana: Longman, 1996.
Tlou, Thomas, and Alec Campbell. History of Botswana. Gaborone, Botswana: Macmillan, 1999.