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Botswana And Namibia (Part 5)

Publishing Date : 01 August, 2017


In our last instalment it was noted that following the humiliating 1888 flight of Governor Ernest Goering and his small party of officials to the then British controlled port of Walvis Bay the German Government was faced with the option of either pulling out of Namibia altogether or deepening its commitment. Thus in June 1889, 21 troops under the command of Captain Curt von Francois landed at Walvis Bay, who were soon followed by reinforcements.

Yet, by the end of 1890 von Francois’ authority in the interior was still limited to the area around Windhoek, where he had established his headquarters.  In July of the same year the contemporary boundary between Botswana and Namibia was finally defined by Article III of “Agreement between Great Britain and Germany, respecting Zanzibar, Heligoland, and the Spheres of Influence of the two Countries in Africa". As suggested by its title, the above Agreement was a comprehensive understanding between the two powers that resolved their overlapping claims throughout Africa. The accord was the product of bilateral diplomatic discussions held in Berlin and London, most especially during May and June of 1890.

At the time the major area of imperial conflict between the two powers was over their conflicting territorial claims in East Africa. The boundary between the Bechuanaland Protectorate and German South-West Africa was a relatively minor matter to the involved the diplomats who were neither well versed nor concerned about the finer points of local geography. In this context it is notable that the by then self-governing (settler regime) Cape Colony, some of whose citizens had a significant stake in any border arrangements regarding South-West Africa, was not consulted.

Germany's desire to uphold its claim to Zambezi river access for its South West Africa Protectorate had been communicated to Britain's Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Edward Malet, by Bismarck on 24 November 1888. In a subsequent 2 September 1889 dispatch by the Foreign Secretary, Marquis of Salisbury, to the German Ambassador, Count Hatzfelt, it was suggested that Lake Ngami be seen as equally under German and British influence "and that Germany shall be secured free access from that lake to the upper waters of the Zambezi." Lake Ngami, which in the late nineteenth as well as twentieth centuries was often dry, is of course not linked with the Zambezi by any permanent water.

On 30 September 1889 the German Charge d'Affaires, Count Leyden, proposed to the Foreign Office that Germany acquire rights to Ngamiland west of 24 east longitudes and north of 22 south latitude. But, on the 9th of November 1889, the British Colonial Office, having consulted with its High Commissioner for South Africa, expressed its strong opposition to recognizing any German claims to Ngamiland. This stand was communicated to Malet in Berlin on the 17th of February 1890. The following day Malet was further informed that Leyden's proposal was being discussed with other colonial matters between Hatzfelt and Salisbury. During the second half of 1889 there was also considerable conflict over competing claims between Germany and private Cape Colony interests in the former British Damaraland protectorate.

In expressing its opposition to Germany's Ngamiland claims the Colonial Office wished to uphold the interests of concessionaires already active in the area and, in the process, avoid any partition of the territory under the rule of the Batawana Kgosi Moremi. By 1890 rival British claims to the Ngamiland-Chobe region were being put forward by a number of concessionaires. In September 1889 the British South Africa Co. of Cecil Rhodes had been awarded the right in its royal charter to rule the entire area on Her Majesty's behalf. Subsequently, in June 1890, Rhodes' Company negotiated the Lochner Concession from the Malozi King Lewanika, which consolidated its grip on Bulozi (Barotseland).

Earlier, in August 1888 and 1889, Kgosi Moremi had granted mineral rights to the Austral African Exploration and Mining Syndicate and Messrs. J. Strombom, J.A. Nicholls, and R. J. Hicks. These Ngamiland-Chobe concessions were later consolidated, becoming the basis of the British West Charterland Company's (BWCCO) commercial claims to the area. From 1896-97 the prominent British colonialist Sir Frederick John Dealtry (later Lord) Lugard, in his capacity as a BWCCO director, led a large prospecting team in Ngamiland, which also included his brother Edward James Lugard.

The well equipped and financed expedition had, however, failed to find any significant gold or diamonds in the area by the end of 1897, when Sir Frederick was recalled to Nigeria; where he went on to became Governor General after administratively uniting the previously separate northern and southern sections of the territory. It had been the intent of the BWCCO to look for diamonds in the Boteti region, which was then claimed by both by Moremi’s successor, the Kgosi Sekgoma Letsholathebe and the Bangwato Kgosi Khama III. It seems probable in this respect that the colonial regime’s recognition of Khama’s claim to the entire area served to delay the discovery of the considerable diamond bearing kimberlite deposits in the Letlhakane-Orapa region for another seven decades.



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