The new conditions of ‘effective occupation’, set at the Berlin Conference put most European powers on the African continent off balance, thus setting off the stampede to physically occupy African territory in earnest writes Dr Felix Muchemwa in The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe (1890-2010) that The Patriot is serialising.
THE second half of the 19th Century saw industrialising Europe looking to Africa for raw materials and markets.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, European presence in Africa had been mainly for slaves but now, the search for industrial raw materials and markets practically required them to stake territories and stay. That is how the partitioning of Africa among the European powers began.
However, until as late as the 1870s, it remained mainly an Anglo-French contest in which ‘missionary influence’ played the larger part of creating exclusive ‘spheres of influence’ for the industrialising powers. The real scramble for Africa only came in 1884 when the industrialising Germans challenged Anglo-French dominance of the African continent.
The German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, convened the Berlin Conference (November 1884 to February 1885) in which he challenged British claims on South-West Africa (now Namibia) and introduced new conditions of ‘effective occupation’ to validate any European claim to African territory. The new conditions of ‘effective occupation’ put most European powers on the African continent off balance, thus setting off the stampede to physically occupy African territory in earnest.
The Scramble for Zimbabwe
Meanwhile, the ‘scramble’ for the territory making up present-day Zimbabwe had already been underway even before the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. Feeling threatened by the northward British advance from the Cape Colony, the Portuguese had seriously begun a second bid to occupy the Mwenemutapa Empire.
Since 1870, they had accelerated their supply of guns to Shona chiefs and paramount chiefs to the extent that by 1889 the balance of power between the Shona and the Ndebele had been upset. As already mentioned in Chapter One, paramount chiefs like Mutekedza, Mazorodze and Mashayamombe would be heavily armed and able to resist most major invasions.
On the British side, a critical player in the European scramble for Africa was Cecil John Rhodes, whose vision was British rule ‘from Cape to Cairo’. He followed up the Berlin Conference by staking a British ‘Sphere of Influence’ over Zimbabwe through the Moffat Treaty signed between his agent John Moffat and Lobengula on February 11 1888. It was approved and certified by the British High Commissioner for South Africa on April 25 1888 thus becoming the first initiative by the British to take over and control the land between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers.
The Moffat Treaty
John Moffat, whom Rhodes persuaded to negotiate an understanding that would bring the land between the Limpopo and the Zambezi under the British sphere of influence, was the son of Robert Moffat, the missionary who had founded Inyati Mission in Matebeleland. He had himself also been a missionary before taking charge of British Bechuanaland’s diplomatic relations with the Ndebele Kingdom.
The Moffat treaty was signed on February 11 1888 and, it is worth noting that it was written in the white man’s language, which neither Lobengula nor his Indunas could write or read.
Special attention is also drawn to how the same Lobengula was made to address himself as: ‘… ruler of the tribe known as Amandebele, together with the Mashona and Makalaka tributaries of the same …’
‘AmaNdebele’ referred to the Zansi and Enhla class of the original Ndebele tribe who came from South Africa under Mzilikazi.
‘Makalaka’ referred to the Kalanga people in the northern part of the Ndebele Kingdom.
‘Mashona’ referred to the ‘Shona’ or ‘Maholi’ people who formed two thirds of the Ndebele population within the Ndebele Kingdom. Tributaries of the same meant the Ndebele tributaries of the Venda and Birwa in the south, the Mhari and Dumbuseya in the East, and the Masiri, Nambiya and Tonga further north.
The Moffat Treaty had, however, only staked a British ‘Sphere of Influence,’ and not granted right to effective occupation of territory in Lobengula’s Kingdom as required by the Berlin Conference to validate any claims over African territory now called Zimbabwe. What was now required was a land concession permitting physical occupation.
The Rudd Concession
The Rudd Concession, which was signed on October 30 1888, was the next initiative in Rhodes’ quest to take over and control the land between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers.
The Rudd Concession, was again written in the white man’s language which neither Lobengula nor his Indunas could write or read, and it was a deliberate and complete distortion of the true extent of Lobengula’s Ndebele Kingdom. In language that he could not read, Lobengula who was very conscious of his kingdom’s boundaries and that he was definitely not King of Mashonaland was, all the same, fraudulently made to address himself as: ‘King of Matabeleland, Mashonaland and certain adjoining Territories.’
That way, the Concession gave him extra-territorial powers over ‘Mashonaland’ which was four times bigger and clearly demarcated outside the Ndebele kingdom on the maps of the time.
To understand the fraud, it is critical to appreciate that at this stage the Portuguese were moving fast, advancing as far into Mashonaland as Nemakonde and Mangwende in the north-west and central part and making treaties and arming Shona polities as far south as the upper Sabi. (Beach, 1974: p.648)
Rhodes’ understandable British fear was therefore that if the Portuguese were allowed to create an effective presence between the Sabi and the Ndebele Kingdom to the west, then British occupation north of the Limpopo would be restricted to the Ndebele Kingdom itself and not Mashonaland.
That is the reason why the concession, which neither Lobengula nor his Indunas could read, was fraudulently worded to include Mashonaland as part of the Ndebele Kingdom. And, on the same basis, Queen Victoria, through her ministers, did not waste time writing to the Portuguese Government that: ‘His (Lobengula’s) authority over Mashonaland is so complete that no person of any nationality can enter it without his permission’.(Palley, 1966: p.28)
Once the Portuguese were excluded thus, the next thing on Rhodes’ mind was ‘effective occupation’ to validate British claims over African territory as agreed at the Berlin Conference. But, he still had another hurdle to deal with because Lobengula ‘inevitably’ discovered that the Rudd Concession was fraudulent and quickly denounced it, arguing that he gave only mining rights (‘one hole’) between the Tati Concession and the Ramaquabane River in his ‘Ndebele Kingdom’ near the Botswana border, and not in Mashonaland.
He was emphatic to Jameson that because the Rudd Concession was fraudulent it was (as far as he was concerned), dead and buried. Consequently, he refused to accept the rifles and money which were part of the Rudd Concession contract and went further to denounce the concession not only through newspaper advertisements in many British papers but also through a personal letter to Queen Victoria.