When Western powers changed Africa…gold rush, land occupation took centrestage


BY drawing arbitrary lines on a map of Africa, Western powers effectively changed the course of African history and set the stage for the forceful domination and total exploitation of the African continent and its indigenous people.
From the 18th Century onwards, the south was the main route used to penetrate the Zimbabwean plateau, even before colonisation; with several groups interested in the territory that ultimately became Zimbabwe.
The Portuguese from the east, who had come in search of gold, had considered it their traditional territory, owing to years of interaction with the rulers of Munhumutapa on the Zimbabwean plateau, that stretched back prior to the 15th Century – a complacent assumption that disadvantaged them when their more forceful British rivals came onto the scene.
The Boers of the Transvaal Republic also had a long history of interaction with the people north of the Limpopo until the British outdid them.
In fact, Afrikaner Boer hunters were the first to obtain treaties of friendship.
They concluded a treaty with King Lobengula, considered the most powerful ruler north of the Limpopo, in the early 1880s.
A community of these Afrikaner Boer hunters had developed in the Zoutpansberg since the late 18th Century and regularly crossed the Limpopo in winter to hunt, coming as far north as the Save River in the Highveld.
Entering Matabeleland along the well-travelled Old Hunters’ Road, via Botswana, they had created routes in the forests, as far as the tsetse-fly permitted, in their pursuit of game.
Some members of this community eventually settled in the interior and traded guns with the indigenous peoples that subsequently gave rise to a gun culture; evident in increased number of skirmishes, local wars and incidences of fatalities.
In the end, this expanding community of Boer hunters were overtaken by Rhodes and his team after signing the Rudd Concession of 1888, that culminated in the granting of a Royal Charter in 1889, bestowing sovereignty rights over the entire territory to the British South Africa Company (BSAC).
For the British government, the Charter was a low-priced tactic of preventing the Germans, Dutch Boers or Portuguese from occupying Matabeleland.
It became the instrument which the BSAC used to effect the colonial occupation of Zimbabwe.
After the expulsion of Mzilikazi from the Transvaal by the Dutch settlers, or Boers (from the Dutch word for farmer), where they created very large farms and the need to import labour until 1807 when the British abolished slavery, which angered the Boers.
In 1809, the British passed the Hottentot Law which required ‘all blacks to carry passes with the name of their employer and residence’.
Anyone found without a pass could be taken for forced labour by any white.
They were further angered when Christian missionaries, who began to arrive from Britain after 1815, championed African rights and got the Government to pass Ordinance 50 in 1828, which removed the most restrictive provisions of the Hottentot Law.
For many Boers, the final straw came in 1833 when the British parliament outlawed the ownership of slaves altogether throughout the empire.
Aggrieved, the new law prompted a mass migration of Boer farmers, known as ‘Trekboer’; initially towards Natal, which the British annexed in 1845, then towards the interior in Orange Free State and eventually farther north-east into the region of Transvaal where they, in turn, ousted Mzilikazi.
The Boers greatly resented British rule, though it brought them economic benefits and increased opportunities for Boer farmers to trade sheep, wool and ivory obtained from the interior by the hunters.
The subsequent discovery of the gold reef witnessed an influx of thousands of foreigners known as ‘uitlanders’ (outlanders), who had rushed to the Witwatersrand goldfields in search of good fortune.
The Transvaal government, meanwhile, having learned from the example at Kimberley, that attracted people from all over the world during the diamond rush that turned Kimberley into a town of over 50 000 people within five years, denied civil rights and the vote to the uitlanders.
As a result, the British encouraged the uitlanders to revolt in the hope of annexing the Republic of Transvaal; which resulted in the Jameson Raid in 1895.
Rhodes had sent a detachment of the BSAC’s police force, under the command of his companion Dr Leander Starr Jameson, south from Bechuanaland, to assist in the uitlander’s uprising, but learned too late that the revolt had failed.
He was forced to surrender to the Transvaal authorities on January 2 1896; just under 50km short of his goal!
Following the Jameson Raid, tensions between the British government and the two Boer Republics were at an all-time high.
Jameson’s surrender embarrassed both Rhodes and the British government, since it came as part of an attempt to overthrow a government with whom Britain had a treaty.
Rhodes was forced to resign as the Cape Colony Prime Minister.
A telegram of congratulations sent by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, to President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal after the raid, heightened British fears of a Boer-German alliance; as did the completion of a railroad in 1894 from the Transvaal to Delagoa Bay in Portuguese Mozambique.
British fears were further heightened when the Transvaal government purchased large quantities of weapons from German firms.
A shortage of land developed in the Transvaal owing to the gold rush; parties of ‘Trekboer’ soon began to journey north of the Limpopo in small parties in search of suitable land to settle in Mashonaland and Gazaland (Mozambique); founded by Soshangane in the mid-1800s, after fleeing from Tshaka Zulu.
But President Paul Kruger, who sought to avoid any further confrontation with the British at all costs, left the quest for the road north, which was generally the road to the interior, to be spearheaded by individual Boer trekkers without the Transvaal government’s support.
Mashonaland was known to Europeans south of the Limpopo as the land of the banyai; the people had hosted a number of missionary expeditions from the middle of the 19th Century, including those of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Paris Evangelical Society and the Swiss Vaudoise Mission and were on friendly terms with the Boers.
By the 1880s, as the search for a second Rand intensified, various parties ventured across the Limpopo in search of treaties and mining concessions with local rulers.
In 1889 South African newspapers awash with news of a possible north-bound Boer trek were a source constant of anxiety for the impending pioneers.
Most unsettling was the rumour of a possible co-operation between the Boers and the Portuguese, where the latter were alleged to have given ‘some sort of charter’ to Messers Adendorff Vorster and others, to ‘open up Mashonaland and form a Republic of the North’, thereafter hold a conference with the Portuguese on the partitioning of the rest of Mashonaland.
Around July 1890, a trekboer expedition to Mashonaland arrived in Chivi, just before the Pioneer Column entered the territory; led by Louis Aderndoff who obtained a concession that ceded to himself, Jan du Preez, de Meyer, Brummer and Klein Barend Vorster land stretching 266 miles (438km) in width between the Zambezi and the Limpopo.
The area was to be called the Republic of ‘Banyailand’ – the Chivi District today, with power to be shared among the members of the group who immediately set out to organise an army of occupation.
The Adendorff concession created panic among the British and they began to prepare themselves militarily.


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