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The Roots of Botswana Nationalist Politics (Part 3)

Publishing Date : 07 April, 2015

Jeff Ramsay

The Tomlinson Commission
Last week we observed that Verwoerd’s 1963 offer to have South Africa play a proactive role in leading the High Commission Territories “to independence and economic prosperity...in accordance with our policy of separate development” was on hindsight an opening salvo in what would evolve into a sustained struggle over the quality of Botswana’s sovereignty in the shadow of apartheid.

Earlier manifestations of Verwoerd’s vision can be seen in the 1954 Tomlinson Commission report’s conception of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland as well as Namibia, as all being part and parcel of an overall racial division of the region between so-called white areas and black “homelands.”

As initially conceived this would have called for the initial transfer of the territories into the Union. The likelihood of such a transfer had, however, receded in the aftermath of the 1948 victory of the National Party and its overwhelming re-election in 1953, as well as the unprecedented unrest that had taken place in Gammangwato as a result of Seretse Khama’s 1950-56 banishment.

The ambitions of the Tomlinson Commission were further given short shrift by the British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, who in a 13th of April 1954 statement before the House of Commons bluntly warned the Government of South Africa against "needlessly" bringing up the incorporation issue.

The Tomlinson Commission’s blueprint and legacy of separate development can, nonetheless, be seen in the sustained external pressure that was exerted from the early 1950s to establish a separate homeland for Basarwa or Khoe people within Botswana, to complement the “Bushmanland” then being created across the border in Nambia.

This pressure culminated in gazetting of the eastern half of Ghanzi Crown Lands as the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), which grew out of a Confidential 28th of April 1960 memo by the colonial regime’s “Bushman Survey” officer, George Silberbaurer, to his superiors at Mafikeng, in which he proposed:

“That the portion of the Ghanzi District lying to the east of the Great Tsua Hill (approximately 22’49’ degrees east) be declared a game reserve and that the Bushmen be allowed to continue to hunt freely within it. I understand that the draft Game Protection legislation provides for the setting aside of areas as game reserves and restricts the right of entry into them. In effect then, this could be a reserve for Bushmen.

To which Silberbuarer further added: “It appears that there is a certain amount of interest taken overseas in the welfare of the Bushmen and that the Government is not infrequently asked what is being done to further that welfare. For the meantime, it might satisfy the enquirers that an area of 20,000 square miles has been set-aside for the Bushmen.”

Silberbuarer’s subsequent proposals to develop the Reserve as an overtly ethnic enclave were, however, rejected by the Legislative Council.

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, in this respect, 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.



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