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The Roots of Botswana Nationalist Politics (Part 4)

Publishing Date : 13 April, 2015

Jeff Ramsay

The Central African Federation

Last week we observed that in June of 1953, Roy Wellensky, who was at the time the defacto deputy leader as well as principal architect of the then newly formed Central African Federation, 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.

Further to the above, in November 1953 Bathoen II, along with Kgari and the Balete Kgosi Mokgosi, took part in an official tour of Eastern and Central Africa, which reportedly reinforced their favourable impressions of the Federation.

A September 1953 assessment further reports that Bathoen II had initially been attracted by the Federation’s potential, while attending the Central African Rhodes Centenary Exhibition in Bulawayo.

Held from June through August 1953 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Cecil Rhodes’ birth, the Exhibition has been described as the most “grandiose and momentous social event in the annals of settler rule in Southern Rhodesia” if not imperial Africa.

Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (i.e. the then recently widowed mother to the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II) on the 3rd of July 1953, the Exhibition occupied 50 acres, which incorporated numerous industrial and commercial exhibits as well as pavilions from 18 African colonial jurisdictions, including the High Commission Territories.

As might be expected, the grandest was the ‘Pavilion of the Rhodesias’, celebrating the Federation’s birth. Along with much of the rest of the Exhibition, it promoted the supposedly progressive legacy of both the Rhodesias and the British royal family as being central to a regional identity that all races could embrace. 

This vision was portrayed in the imperialist pseudo-history of Cecil Rhodes supposed belief in “equal rights for all civilized men” as well as the image of Queen Victoria (Mmamosadinya) as the great protector.

According to an official publication in honour of the Queen Mother’s presence:

“Since the days of Queen Victoria, the British Throne has represented protection against injustice to millions of Africans.

All the thousands of Africans who flocked to see the Queen Mother and [her accompanying younger daughter] Princess Margaret during their tour of Southern Rhodesia in July, 1953, must now feel that this protective spirit is still very much alive in the Royal family today.


In a subsequent, 5th of January 1954, letter Kgosi Bathoen II, as Chairman of the African Advisory Council (AAC) wrote to the then leading member of the European Advisory Council (EAC), Louis Glover, stating: "There is no doubt you and I and in fact most of the Chiefs are in favour of Federation, but how can we make this known?


For his part, as 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 he had served as an officer to 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 then future Bakwena Kgosi Sebele II.

In consultation with Bathoen II, and further encouraged by Tshekedi Khama, throughout 1954-55 Glover from his side actively took up the matter with Wellensky, the Protectorate Government and those he considered to be sympathetic among his fellow white settlers in the territory.

But, many of the latter were at best lukewarm in their support; with some privately preferring to see the Protectorate’s ultimate incorporation into apartheid South Africa. Such incorporation was openly championed by others opposed to Glover’s initiative.

More critical, however, 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 confidential 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 only among whites in the Tati Concession (Northeast District).

London’s emerging concerns about the evolution of the Federation, which dovetailed with growing internal black opposition, also encouraged caution on the part of Wellensky and his colleagues.

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 multi-racial partnership. In this context he tied the possibility of joining the Federation with internal political reform within the Protectorate, more particularly the JAC's replacement by a multi-racial Legislative Council (Legco), as well as up north.



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