Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

A Case of Painstaking Planning and Preparation: The Reception of the 1907 Deputation of Basuto Chiefs in Britain

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

A Case of Painstaking Planning and Preparation: The Reception of the 1907 Deputation of Basuto Chiefs in Britain

Article excerpt

Accounts of the 1907 deputation of Basuto chiefs to Britain have tended to focus on events in South Africa prior to the deputation's departure, and on the negotiations which took place once the deputation was in Britain.1 Less attention has been paid to the planning and preparation by sympathisers in Britain in anticipation of the arrival of the deputation in the metropole.

The chiefs were from the Batlokoa and Bakhulukwe chiefdoms.2 They travelled to Britain to pursue a grievance concerning their being dispossessed of large tracts of land which they and their followers had previously occupied in the Orange River Colony (ORC) in South Africa. When they arrived in Britain in January 1907 there was a readymade support network waiting for them. This article seeks to explain how the chiefs came to benefit from such a well organised reception in Britain. I will examine evidence revealing some of the detail of the planning and preparation for the arrival of the deputation and the steps taken to promote and advocate their cause during their first few weeks in Britain, up to their meeting with, and presentation of their petition to, the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The arrangements made to receive the deputation in Britain included the formation of a committee who were informed about, and well disposed to support, the chiefs' cause. Members of this committee were drawn in large part from the British-based humanitarian organisation, the 'League of Universal Brotherhood and Native Races Association' (LUB), who acted as a sort of political host for the deputation when they arrived in Britain.3 The LUB were working closely with the Caribbean born political activist, Sylvester Williams, who was then based in London.

In most secondary accounts of the Basuto deputation it is not clear how the connection was made between the LUB and the deputation.4 Mathurin and, following him, Sherwood, suggest that Sylvester Williams first became involved with the case of the Basuto chiefs during his recent visit to South Africa in 1903-4 when he met King Lerothodi of the Basuto.5 However, although the Batlokoa were originally from Basutoland, by the 1850s they had broken away from the followers of the Basuto leader, Moshoeshoe, in Basutoland, and had established themselves on land in the neighbouring Boer republic, the Orange Free State (OFS). The Bakhulukwe, originally from Zululand, also settled in the area. Both the Batlokoa and Bakhulukwe were induced to fight alongside the Boers in the war of 1867-68 between the Free State and Moshoeshoe and, in return for military service and the payment of cattle, had understood themselves to have been granted the land that they were already settled on in the OFS. However, after serving with the British in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 against the wishes of the Boers, they were forcibly evicted. By the time of Sylvester Williams' visit to South Africa, they had become relocated in Natal and Cape Colony, outside the former OFS (renamed "Orange River Colony" after the South African War).6 It therefore seems unlikely that their cause would have been promoted by the Basuto King.

I want to offer an alternative explanation for the connection being made between the deputation and the LUB. I suggest that the pivotal relationship was that between Sylvester Williams and the black South African political activist, Josiah Gumede, who had acted as an advocate for the chiefs in South Africa and went to Britain with them as their interpreter and counsellor.

Documentation in archives in Natal and the UK, shows that: Williams and Gumede had probably met in South Africa during Williams' sojourn there in 1903-4; and that Williams and Gumede were in communication about the prospective deputation in 1906 while Sylvester Williams was in Britain and Gumede was in South Africa before travelling to Britain with the deputation in December of that year.

Tshangane Gumede (1867 - 1947) was of Zulu descent, but educated at mission school in the Eastern Cape. …

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