Bechuanaland chiefs

Bechuanaland chiefs

Halifax hears the Bechuanaland Question

King Khama

In 1895, three chiefs from what was then Bechuanaland (now Botswana) came to England. Their visit, supported by the London Missionary Society and the Temperance Movement, was intended to enlist support for their campaign to protect their tribal lands from colonial expansion.

It was at Halifax, while they were staying with the Whitley family at Greenroyds, that the three men first encountered snow, and in an interview with the Evening Courier agreed that the worst part of Britain, for them, was the weather! Their best experience, they said, was the warmth with which British people had greeted them, and this was shown at the Halifax meeting.

The three chiefs – Khama, Sebele and Bathoen - spoke in Halifax at the Mechanics’ Hall, now the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), on October 29, assisted by the Rev. W.C.Willoughby as interpreter. They were opposing Cecil Rhodes’ attempt to incorporate their lands into the assets of his South Africa Company, which would facilitate not only his vision of a pan-African railway line from the Cape to Cairo, but also the expansion of colonial lands and the exploitation of mineral reserves. The hall was packed, and hundreds of people, unable to gain admittance, thronged corridors leading to the Hall.

The foreign guests were given a standing ovation and unanimous support for their petition; many of the audience also signed a memo to Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary. Similar receptions occurred all over Britain, and the chiefs went on to meet Chamberlain and Queen Victoria in person. Moreover, Bechuanaland was never colonised, but became a British protectorate, allowing traditional social organisations to continue.

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