How the West partitioned southern Africa

by Elliott & Fry, albumen cabinet card, 1880s

FOR Western colonisers in the 17th and 18th centuries, there were four ways of acquiring new territories; either through inheritance, by conquest; by purchase; and/or through occupation or settlement.
A settled country was one that was considered to be uninhabited (in the Western sense) and thus freely available for occupation.
The laws of England, at the time, stated that English law ‘…applied immediately upon occupation of deserted and uncultivated land by English subjects’.
Thus by 1670, English jurists already spoke of English colonists ‘acquiring unoccupied territory’ that was declared to be terra nullius— territories to which English colonists took with them ‘…only so much of the English law as is applicable to their own situation and condition of any infant colony’.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, effective Portuguese government in Mozambique was limited to the ports of Mozambique Island, Ibo, Quelimane, Sofala, Inhambane and Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), and the outposts at Sena and Tete in the Zambezi Valley which previously had been under the control of the Munhumutapa empires.
Afro-Portuguese settlers near Vila de Sena were forced to pay tribute to the Gaza Empire; in 1847 Angoche fought off a Portuguese attempt to prevent it from slave-trading.
Although Portuguese control was not in the interior yet; which today is southern and central Mozambique, Portugal also claimed sovereignty over Angoche and a number of smaller Muslim coastal towns.
Portugal had introduced the ‘prazo’ system of large leased estates under nominal Portuguese rule in the Zambezi Valley.
As a result, by the end of the 18th Century, large areas in the Zambezi Valley and lower Shire River, which although virtually independent, were controlled by a few families that claimed to be Portuguese subjects.
The end of Portuguese affluences in Africa began with the sacking of Lourenço Marques in 1833, followed by Sofala in 1835 and the abandonment of Zumbo in 1836.
From 1840, the Portuguese government embarked on a series of military campaigns to bring the prazos and the Muslim coastal towns under its effective control once again.
The General Act of the Berlin Conference, dated February 26 1885, that introduced the Principle of Effective Occupation was potentially damaging to Portuguese claims in Mozambique.
Article 34 of the Act required a power “…acquiring land on the coasts of Africa outside of its previous possessions to notify the other signatories of the Act so they could protest against such claims.”
Article 35 further provided that “…rights could only be acquired over previously uncolonised lands if the power claiming them had established sufficient authority there to protect existing rights and the freedom of trade” – this implied making treaties with local rulers, establishing an administration and exercising police powers.
Since Portugal’s claim to the Mozambique Coast had existed unchallenged for centuries, Portugal initially claimed that the Berlin Treaty did not apply, and it was therefore not required to issue notifications or establish effective occupation; British officials naturally, did not accept their interpretation, since they had their own designs on the region.
In 1884, in order to forestall British intentions on parts of Mozambique and the interior, Joaquim Carlos Paiva de Andrada was commissioned by Portugal to establish effective occupation of the areas whereby he established the town of Beira and the Portuguese occupation of much of Sofala Province.
He also reoccupied Zumbo, that had been abandoned in 1836, and acquired a concession for an area within a 180-km radius of its centre, and west of which Afro-Portuguese families had traded and settled since the 1860s.
In 1889, after establishing an outpost beyond the junction of the Zambezi and Kafue rivers, de Andrada established Zumbo as the administrative district. That same year, de Andrada was granted a concession over Manica, which covered much of the area of both Manica Province of Mozambique and the Manicaland Province of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he established a rudimentary administration.
The same year, de Andrada also crossed into the Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe, where he obtained several more treaties, but failed to bring to the attention of the Portuguese government.
Consequently, other European powers (the British government) not being formally notified of the claims as required by the Berlin Treaty refused to submit any disputed claims to arbitration.
In November 1890, de Andrada was arrested by troops of the British South Africa Company and expelled.
The ‘British Ultimatum’ of 1890 was sent to the Portuguese government on January 11 1890, demanding the withdrawal of Portuguese troops from areas where British and Portuguese ‘interests in Africa overlapped’.
The ultimatum was sent by Lord Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, third Marquee of Salisbury, after whom the pioneers named their capital (now Harare).
Bi-lateral treaties with other European powers marked the final phase in attaining foreign territories colonisers were not entitled to.
The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1891, that effectively fixed the boundaries between the territories administered by the British South Africa Company in Mashonaland and Matabeleland of Zimbabwe, and North-Eastern Rhodesia (now part of Zambia) and Portuguese Mozambique, was an agreement signed in the Portuguese Capital, Lisbon, on June 11 1891 between Britain and Portugal.
The Treaty of 1891 also divided Manica; granting the Western portion to the British South Africa Company.
The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty likewise, fixed the boundaries between the British South Africa Company-administered territory of north-western Rhodesia (now in Zambia) and Portuguese Angola.
The northern border of the British territories had been agreed to, as part of an Anglo-German Convention, in 1890.
The border between the British Central Africa Protectorate and the territory of the British South Africa Company was fixed in 1891 at the drainage divide between Lake Malawi and the Luangwa River, in what is today Zambia.
Autonomous African countries were thus carved out and divided up by rapacious Western colonisers over a period of time, with care to ensure the best possible economic and living conditions for the thousands of white settlers foreseen to come.
At international law or custom, the consequence of conquest was that local law applied unless overruled by English law.
Therefore, when the British had to take local law into account when governing a colony of the British Empire, it was almost without exception ignored by their chartered companies that ruled with impunity.
Colonial land dispossession south of the Limpopo River began with the establishment of a colonial Dutch settlement by Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, as a layover supply station for the company’s ships and crew sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
Jan van Riebeeck was given the task of managing the station and planting vineyards to grow grapes in the Wijnberg (wine mountain) area to produce wine that was believed to ward off scurvy for sailors on their voyages along the spice route to the east.
The ever-increasing need for a sustainable source of agricultural and livestock supplies for the sailors required more land.
To expand their farming activities, increase grazing pastures and to establish settlements, land was constantly seized from the Khoi, and later the San, by the Dutch-Boer farmers.
As the Boers set up farms, it resulted in the lessening of grazing pastures traditionally used by the indigenous people, eventually leading to conflicts between the two groups.
In time, the Khoi people were defeated by the Dutch who expropriated more of their land.
Deprived of their livelihood, they were forced, as with all other colonised indigenous people, to seek employment on the farmlands of the colonial white settlers, which they enforced through a plethora of laws, acts and regulations.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail:


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