Botswana: Late British colonialism (1945-1966)

Updated June 2009

Incorporation of the Bechuanaland Protectorate into the Union of South Africa continued to a real prospect in the period immediately after the Second World War, but with the accession to power of the National Party in South Africa in 1948 and its vigorous implementation of Apartheid the British increasingly came to recognise that this was not desirable (Acemoglu et al 2001, 14). The changing situation was vividly demonstrated by the Ngwato chiefdom accession crisis: During his minority, the young chief designate Seretse Khama studied at Oxford and then married an Englishwoman who was accepted by the Ngwato on the couple's return to the Protectorate and Khama's chiefship was endorsed (Land 1966, 10). The inter-racial marriage offended the South African government's racist sensibilities and at their behest the British government attempted first to bribe Khama to abdicate in 1950 and then, when he refused, deposed and exiled him (Land 1966, 10; 11; Parsons 1999).

In the meanwhile, the ramshackle British administration of the territory limped on with all initiative for development in the hands of the chiefdom heads. The colonial administration's development policy in the early 1950s was to alienate additional land on the eastern border areas with for White cattle ranches while political evolution took the form of creating a Joint Advisory Council in 1950 from Colonial officials, the European Advisory Council and African Advisory Council (Murray & Parson 1990, 166, 167; Acemoglu et al 2001, 14). In 1949 the first secondary school, financed from the Native Fund, was established on the initiative of the chiefs and others followed in the 1950s; for the first time chlidren did not have to be sent to schools in the White colonies (Murray & Parson 1990, 183). Only when South Africa cut off access to its schools to people of the Protectorate did the colonial authorities make investments in education, but as a result primary school enrolment rose rapidly from 16 000 in 1950 to 71 000 in 1966 (Murray & Parson 1990, 183).

Only in 1954, in the wake of the Symon Commission's Report that showed how little had been done to develop the infrastructure of the Protectorate, were belated efforts made by the colonial authorities and expenditure was dramatically increased from £123 500 in 1953/4 to £550 000 in 1956/7 and then rising further to £1.8 million by 1964/5; though the one fifth of the spending went on developing Gaborone into a capital for the territory and on expanding the civil service, but an abattoir was also established to stimulate the meat exporting industry, measures were taken to strengthening peasant farmers, water provisioning was developed and veterinary services expanded (Murray & Parson 1990, 166). The transformation of Gaborone into a capital was necessitated by the recognition that the Protectorate was to become independent, but that its seat of governance lay at Mafeking in South Africa; in 1965 it became the capital of the Protectorate (Murray & Parson 1990, 184; Dale 1994, 14).

British handling of the Ngwato chiefdom accession crisis outraged the people of the chiefdom and the supporters of Khama formed political organisations to lobby on his behalf, while members of the traditional aristocracy across the country, offended by the high handedness of the British in dealing with one of their own, adopted the new nationalist feeling that was emerging (Parsons 1999). Khama renounced the chiefship in 1956 and was permitted to return to Bechuanaland where he threw himself into politics, taking a seat in the Joint Advisory Council as leader of the burgeoning movement (Acemoglu et al 2001, 14; Land 1966, 11).

By 1958 a consensus had emerged between the members of the three Councils that a Legislative Council should be created for the Protectorate as had occurred in other British colonies in Africa (Polhemus 1983, 398). Eventually in December 1960 a constitution was granted that provided for a Legislative Council (LEGCO) and an advisory African Council, which were constituted in 1961 (Polhemus 1983, 399; Parsons 1999). LEGCO consisted of 10 colonial officials, 10 African representatives, 10 members directly elected by Whites, one member directly elected by Asians and a few coopted members (Proctor 1968, 60). The ten African representatives were chosen by the African Council which was comprised of heads of the eight Tswana chiefdoms and some elected members (Proctor 1968, 60; Parsons 1999). The African Council was the forum for discussion on issues specifically pertinent to Africans and no legislation affecting them could be considered by LEGCO without its prior scrutiny (Proctor 1968, 60).

At this time political parties began to emerge, starting with the short lived Bechuanaland Protectorate Federal Party (BPFP) in I959, the Bechuanaland People's Party (BPP) in 1960, Seretse Khama's Bechuanaland Democratic Party in 1962 and the Botswana National Front (BNF) in 1965 after the elections of that year (Polhemus 1983, 398; Parsons 1999). Party formation was stimulated by the politicising presence of South African refugees streaming into the Protectorate from March 1960 onwards (Dale 1978, 10; Polhemus 1983, 399). The BPP, which was particularly influenced by the African nationalism of the South African expatriates, advocated independence for the Protectorate and appealed to the small urban population and to workers (Acemoglu et al 2001, 14). The leaders of the BPP quarrelled: The secretary general was expelled from the party in 1962, his wing developed into the Bechuanaland Independence Party (BIP), and then in 1964 the party split again into factions supporting the President and Vice President, but only that of the Vice President proved enduring and captured the BPP name (Polhemus 1983, 399). The BNF was formed after the 1965 elections in an effort to rally the fractured opposition behind a single banner opposed to neo-colonialism, but instead added yet another party to the fray (Polhemus 1983, 402).

The BDP, though dominated by an elite of large scale cattle owners, committed itself to non-tribalism and to the relegation of traditional authorities to the periphery of political governance, to western multi-party democracy, free market economics and to social justice (Comaroff & Comaroff 1997, 136). The party support base included not only the chiefs, but through the tributary client-patron relations that existed also their commoner subjects while the high western education of Khama appealed to the salaried classes, primarily teachers and civil servants (Acemoglu et al 2001, 15; Curry 1984, 452). From the beginning the party enjoyed the approval of the colonial authorities and privileged access to state resources and also during the first elections financial support from White ranchers and businessmen (Comaroff & Comaroff 1997, 137; Good 1992, 73).

In 1961 the British government formally abandoned the incorporation of Bechuanaland into South Africa and began to move towards full self-government for the territory instead (Acemoglu et al 2001, 14; Proctor 1968, 61). During 1963 and 1964 constitutional discussions were held that included three representatives of the chiefs, three of the Whites, one of the Asians, two officials and three representatives each from the BDP and the two factions of the BPP (after the second split in 1964 each of the three BPP factions were represented. Proctor 1968, 61; Polhemus 1983, 399). It was during this period that public facilities were racially desegregated; state funded schools, for instance were only opened to all in January 1964 (Munger 1965, 32, 47). In the end it was agreed that the National Assembly would be elected by universal adult franchise by plurality for a term of five years from 31 or 32 single member constituencies (according to delimitation requirements) and an additional four members would be indirectly elected by it (Munger 1965, 32, 33). There would be an advisory House of Chiefs that would have to be consulted on legislation touching on traditional law and custom and tribal institutions, but that would not be able to retard the passage of legislation, consisting of the heads of the eight main Tswana chiefdoms and four representatives elected by the smaller tribal authorities (Munger 1965, 32, 33; Proctor 1968, 61-65). The leader of the party with the support of the National Assembly would become Prime Minister (Proctor 1968, 65).

In terms of these provisions on 1 March 1965 elections based on universal suffrage were held for the first time (see The 1965 Pre-Independence General Election for details). The election evinced a high voter turnout of 74.55% and this was a remarkable achievement considering that it was the first election held, that voter education had been unevenly undertaken and that many voters had to walk long distances to vote (Comaroff & Comaroff 1997, 137). Khama's BDP won 80% of the vote and 28 of the 31 seats (90%) while the BPP obtained 14% of the vote and 10% of the seats (see 1965 National Assembly results). Consequently the Bechuanaland Protectorate attained full self government with BDP leader Khama as Prime Minister (Proctor 1968, 65). In preparation for independence as a republic the constitution was modified to provide for the election of an executive president and the House of Chiefs was enlarged to include three members elected by the House (See Constitution). On 30 September 1966 the protectorate became fully independent as the Republic of Botswana and Seretse Khama was elected its first president by the National Assembly (Land 1966, 10; Parsons 1999).


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