Rhodes’ wild ambitions

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PRIOR to the advancing of the armed Pioneer Column into Shona territory, Lobengula had been besieged with requests for land grants.
In 1887, the government of the then Transvaal Republic attempted to secure their own northern border by making Lobengula sign a treaty giving Transvaalers special privileges north of the Limpopo River under a resident Boer Consul.
Cecil John Rhodes, by now Premier of the Cape Colony, had his own ambitions for spreading British control northwards; frequently citing his ambition to build a Cape-to-Cairo railway through ‘British controlled territory’ for the entire length of the line.
As such, attempts to take control of parts of Mozambique in 1890-1891 were thwarted by the Anglo-Portuguese Convention of 1891.
The final determination of the boundary between Rhodesia and the then Portuguese possessions to the East was made in January 1897; without the indigenous peoples’ knowledge, participation or consent.
A later attempt to secure the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) also failed.
In order to promote his ambitions, Rhodes encouraged Sir Hercules Robinson, the Cape’s High Commissioner, to proclaim that Matabeleland and Mashonaland were within the British sphere of influence.
In the face of competition, and without permission from London, High Commissioner Robinson dispatched Reverend Moffat, then Assistant Commissioner in Bechuanaland (Botswana), to travel to Bulawayo to meet Lobengula and to protect British interests.
As a close friend, Moffat easily persuaded Lobengula to repudiate the Transvaal Treaty which was claimed to have been fraudulently extorted, and instead, enter into an agreement with the British. Lobengula agreed not to enter into any foreign correspondence, or cede any territory, without the permission of the British High Commissioner.
Thus, Moffat had in effect turned what they considered as Lobengula’s ‘kingdom’ into a British protectorate.
Rhodes immediately dispatched his own agents – Charles Rudd and Company — to Lobengula and persuaded him to trade all the territory’s mineral rights in exchange for £1 000 (pounds) a year, 1 000 rifles, one 100 000 rounds of ammunition and a steamboat, which Lobengula did not receive, on the Zambezi River.
Armed with his Concession, Rhodes proceeded to attain permission from London to charter a company in order to exploit the vast concession.
Once permission was granted, the British South Africa Company (BSAC) was formerly initiated on firm conditions that the Company would be responsible directly to the Colonial Office in London for the “…handling of Native Affairs, … accept some London appointed directors, … and only exercise governmental powers with the consent of the ‘Native Ruler’.”
The Company was also obliged to pay off all previous concessionaires. Furthermore, the Charter could be revoked at any time. These stiff conditions were ostensibly to mitigate the exploitation of Africans as had happened in the Transvaal Republic during the Witwatersrand Gold Rush.
The BSAC was a mercantile company based in London; incorporated, under a Royal Charter in October 1889, with the object of acquiring and exercising commercial and administrative rights in south-central Africa; namely what is currently Zimbabwe.
The Charter, initially granted for a 25-year period, was to incur the risk of expanding the infrastructure of modern capitalism; including railways that it owned, into African territories for the benefit of the British Empire without costs to the British taxpayer.
In return, the British government guaranteed the BSAC a monopoly in the areas it operated and, as a last resort, the British were prepared to support the BSAC militarily against any rival European powers or local rebellions.
The BSAC was permitted to profit commercially, either through its own operations, by renting out land (which they were not legally entitled to exercise or to bestow); receiving royalties on the mining of minerals, levying customs duties and through collecting sundry other fees to meet the costs of administration as well as garner cheap African labour required for the establishment of economic activities.
Because wage labour was alien to the indigene, most of them were not willing to work on the white settlers’ farms and in their mines.
But with no meaningful monetary economies in their newly-acquired territories, most colonial governments, particularly in British Kenya and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), resorted to compulsory tax, such as the Hut Tax, Poll Tax, Dog Tax and sundry others, payable only in cash, to force indigenous people to offer themselves as cheap labourers.
In order to collect taxes, the colonial governments relied on the ‘Native Ruler’ — the indigenous local leaders, especially chiefs. In the absence of chiefs, or if chiefs were unco-operative, the colonial powers appointed new ones.
Furthermore, to motivate chiefs to generate as much tax revenue as possible, the colonial administrators allowed them to retain a part of it.
For example, the chiefs in Bechuanaland (Botswana), mandated to collect taxes, retained 10% of the total tax collected in their area.
The financial gains pocketed, accruing from the amount of taxes collected, transformed some chiefs into willing agents of colonialism, giving new meaning to the ancient traditional practice of giving gifts which had existed in different parts of Africa long before colonialism.
Thus, the introduction of a monetary tax and the manner in which taxes were collected, some scholars suggest encouraged corrupt behaviour and was a significant way by which colonial governments fostered the growth of colonial bureaucratic corruption.
Unlike other companies, the BSAC was permitted to establish political administration with a paramilitary police force in areas where it might be ‘granted rights by local rulers’. However, the consent of the local indigenous rulers was regularly evaded or misrepresented.
Initially, the company’s operations entailed flagrant acts of military conquest. Later, the profits earned by Rhodes and his associates from established southern African diamond and gold interests were speculatively reinvested in the BSAC; and thus in the conquest of regions of Africa were looted cattle, gold, other minerals, land and assets that included the exploitation of indigenous labour.
In 1915, the Charter was extended for a further 10-year period, expiring in 1914. Rhodes retained effective control of the Company until his death in 1902.
Rhodes and his BSAC concession-seekers also operated North of the Zambezi River. the area appropriated became Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), where a similar uprising of the Ngoni people in Northern Rhodesia, was equally suppressed during 1897–98.
Their ambitions of territorial acquisitions being halted only in Katanga, on the borders of the Congo, by rivals financed by Belgium’s King Leopold 11
The participation of the BSAC in the unsuccessful Jameson Raid of December 1895, and its misgovernment in Matabeleland that culminated in the ‘First Ndebele Uprising’, was seen as a serious and expensive rebellion that was only quelled through the intervention of British troops resulting in a review of the BSAC’s Charter; but it continued to operate none-the-less.
After 1897, the BSAC encouraged the immigration of white settlers with exaggerated tales of gold deposits. When these claims proved to be overstated, settlers were encouraged to turn to farming.
Under pressure from white settlers, the BSAC appropriated more and more prime land.
Land alienation became widespread, often building up to punitive evictions of indigenous Africans.
From 1898, by dispossessing indigenous
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