Bechuanaland meant the country of the Tswana and for administrative purposes was divided into two political entities. The northern part, administered as the Bechuanaland Protectorate, had an area of 225,000 square miles (580,000 km²), and became the Republic of Botswana (Lefatshe la Botswana in Tswana) upon independence within the Commonwealth on September 30, 1966. The southern part was administered as the crown colony of British Bechuanaland; it was incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1895. Situated south of the Molopo River, it had an area of, 51,424 square miles (133,190 km²) and today forms part of South Africa. The stamps of British Bechuanaland will be dealt with in its own article, as will Stellaland.
The history of Bechuanaland starts more than 100,000 years ago, when the first humans inhabited the region. The original inhabitants of southern Africa were the Bushmen (San) and Khoi peoples. Both speak Khoisan languages and lived as hunter-gatherers. About a thousand years ago, large chiefdoms emerged that were later eclipsed by the Great Zimbabwe empire, which spread into eastern Botswana. Around 1300 AD, peoples in present-day Transvaal began to coalesce into three main linguistic and political groups, including the Batswana.
Prior to European contact, the Batswana lived as herders and farmers under tribal rule. As groups broke off and moved to new land, new tribes were created. Some human development occurred before the colonial period. Bechuanaland was visited by Europeans towards the close of the eighteenth century. The generally nomadic and peaceful disposition of the tribes rendered the opening up of the country comparatively easy. The first regular expedition to penetrate far inland was in 1801-1802, when John Truter, of the Cape judicial bench, and William Somerville, an army physician, were sent to the Bechuana tribes to buy cattle. The London Missionary Society established stations in what is now Griqualand West in 1803, and in 1818 the station of Kuruman, in Bechuanaland proper, was founded.
In about 1817, Mosilikatze — the founder of the Matabele — nation began a career of conquest while fleeing the king of the Zulu, during which he ravaged a great part of Bechuanaland and enrolled large numbers of Bechuana in his armies. Eventually, the Matabele settled in the north-east of the region. In 1821 Robert Moffat arrived at Kuruman as the agent of the London Missionary Society and made it his headquarters for fifty years. Largely as the result of the work of Moffat (who translated the Bechuana language to writing), and of other missionaries, the Bechuana advanced notably. The arrival of David Livingstone in 1841 marked the beginning of the systematic exploration of the northern regions. His travels, and those of C. J. Andersson and others, covered almost every part of the country hitherto unknown. In 1864 Karl Mauch discovered gold in the Tati district.
Although under strong British influence, the country was nevertheless ruled by its own chiefs, among whom the best-known in the middle of the nineteenth century were Montsioa, chief of the Barolong, and Sechele, chief of the Bakwena and a friend of Livingstone. At this period the Transvaal Boers were in a very unsettled state, and those living in the western districts showed a marked inclination to encroach upon the lands of the Bechuana. In 1852 Great Britain acknowledged the independence of the Transvaal by the Sand river convention.
Boers assaulted the Bakwains (Bakwena) by attacking Sechele at his capital of Kolobeng, and the European stores and Livingstone’s house there were looted. In 1858 the Boers told the missionaries that they must not go north without their (the Boers’) consent. Robert Moffat of the London Missionary Society complained to Sir George Grey, the governor of Cape Colony, through whose intervention the molestation by Transvaal Boers of British subjects in their passage through Bechuanaland was stopped. Periodic attempts by the Boers to harass settlers in the region led in 1878 to the military occupation of southern Bechuanaland by a British force under Colonel (afterwards General Sir Charles) Warren. A small police force continued to occupy the district until April 1881, but, ignoring the wishes of the Bechuana and the recommendations of Sir Bartle Frere (then high commissioner), the home government refused to take the country under British protection.
On the withdrawal of the police, southern Bechuanaland fell into a state of anarchy, nor did the fixing (on paper) of the frontier between it and the Transvaal by the Pretoria convention of August 1881 have any beneficial effect. There was fighting between Montsioa and Moshette, while Massow, a Batlapin chief, invited the aid of the Boers against Mankoroane, who claimed to be paramount chief of the Batlapin. The Transvaal War of that date offered opportunities to the freebooting Boers of the west which were not to be lost. At this time the British, wearied of South African troubles, were disinclined to respond to native appeals for help. Consequently, the Boers proceeded without hindrance with their conquest and annexation of Stellaland territory.
In 1882, the Boars set up the Republic of Stellaland with Vryburg as its capital, and also set up the Republic of Goshen, farther north, in spite of the protests of Montsioa, and established a small town called Rooi Grond as its capital. The efforts of the British authorities at this period (1882-1883) to bring about a satisfactory settlement were feeble and futile, and fighting continued until peace was made entirely on Boer terms. The Transvaal government was to have supreme power, and to be the final arbiter in case of future quarrels arising among the native chiefs. This agreement, arrived at without any reference to the British government, was a breach of the Pretoria convention, and led to an intimation on the part of Great Britain that the new republics could not be recognized. In South Africa, as well as in England, strong feeling was aroused by this act of aggression. Unless steps were taken at once, the whole of Bechuanaland might be permanently lost, while German territory on the west might readily be extended to join with that of the Boers.
In the London convention of February 1884, conceded by Lord Derby in response to the overtures of Boer delegates, the Transvaal boundaries were again defined, part of eastern Bechuanaland being included in Boer territory. In spite of the convention the Boers remained in Stellaland and Goshen which were west of the new Transvaal frontier, and in April 1884 the Rev. John Mackenzie, who had succeeded Livingstone. was sent to the country to arrange matters. He found very little difficulty in negotiating with the various Bechuana chiefs, but he wasn’t successful in dealing with the Boers. In Goshen the Boers defied his authority, while in Stellaland only a half-hearted acceptance of it was given. At the instance of the new Cape government, formed in May and under control of the Afrikander Bond, Mackenzie, who was accused of being too pro-Bechuana and who had been refused the help of any armed force, was recalled on July 30, 1884, by the high commissioner, Sir Hercules Robinson. In his place Cecil Rhodes, then leader of the Opposition in the Cape parliament, was sent to Bechuanaland.
Rhodes’ mission was attended with great difficulty. British prestige after the disastrous Boer War of 1881 was at a very low ebb, and he realized that he could not count on any active help from the imperial or colonial authorities. He adopted a tone of conciliation, and decided that the Stellaland republic should remain under a sort of British suzerainty. But in Goshen the Boers would let him do nothing. Commandant P. J. Joubert, after meeting him at Rooi Grond, entered the country and attacked Montsioa. Rhodes then left under protest, declaring that the Boers were making war against Great Britain. On September 10, 1884, the Boers proclaimed the country under Transvaal protection. This was a breach of the London convention, and President Kruger explained that the steps had been taken in the interests of humanity.
Indignant protest in Cape Town and throughout South Africa, as well as England, On October 29, 1884, the British Government appointed Sir Charles Warren as Special Commissioner of Bechuanaland, charged him to head an expedition to remove the filibusters, to bring about peace in the country, and to hold it until further measures were decided upon. On November 13, 1884, Parliament voted a sum of £675,000 (this is equivalent to over £32 million today) for military operations in Bechuanaland. Sir Charles Warren was authorized to recruit an irregular force of 1,500 in South Africa in addition to the regular troops that would be provided.
A force of 4,000 troops under Warren, set off to recapture Stellaland and Goshen, reaching the Vaal River in January 1885. On January 22, Kruger met Warren at the Modder River and endeavored to stop him from proceeding further, saying that he would be responsible for keeping order in the country. Warren, however, continued his march and reached Vyburg on February 7, 1885. He captured this principal Stellaland town without firing a shot and then continued to Mafeking, the principal town in Goshen, capturing that as well. By April 8, 1885 Sir Charles Warren notified the British Government that he had occupied Bechuanaland and had entirely restored order. The two Boer republics had collapsed without any bloodshed.
Bechuanaland was formally taken under British protection on September 30, 1885, and the sphere of British influence was declared to extend north to 22° S and west to 20° E which marked the eastern limit of German South-West Africa. The natives accepted this and the Khamas’ territory was renamed as the British protectorate of Bechuanaland. Stelaland, Goshen and other territories lying to the south of the Molopo river were constituted as British Bechuanaland which was governed as a crown colony.
The Bechuanaland Protectorate was technically a protectorate rather than a colony. Originally the local Tswana rulers were left in power, and the British administration was limited to a police force to protect Bechuanaland’s borders against other European colonial ventures. The protectorate was administered from Mafeking, creating the unusual situation of the capital of the territory being located outside of it. The area of Mafeking in which the administration was housed was called ‘The Imperial Reserve’.
On May 9, 1891, the British Government gave the administration of the protectorate to the High Commissioner for South Africa, who started to appoint officials in Bechuanaland, and the de facto independence of Bechuanaland ended. Khama and two other Bechuana chiefs traveled to England and protested against this arrangement. The result was that their territories and those of other petty chiefs lying to the north of the Molopo were made native reserves, into which the importation of alcohol was forbidden. A British resident officer was to be appointed to each of the reserves. A stipulation, however, was made with these chiefs that a strip of country sufficient for the purposes of a railway to Matabeleland should be conceded to the Chartered Company.
In December 1895, the Jameson Raid started from these territories and prevented the completion of negotiations. The administration of the protectorate remained in the hands of the imperial government as a result. The natives proved loyal to the British during the war of 1899-1902, and Khama and other chiefs gave help by providing transport. Anxiety was caused on the western frontier during the German campaigns against the Hottentots and Herero (1903-1908) when many sought refuge in the protectorate. A dispute concerning the chieftainship of the Batawana in the Ngami district threatened trouble in 1906, but was brought to a peaceful issue. The Bechuana were entirely unaffected by the Native rebellion in Natal.
The Tati Concessions Land Act of January 21, 1911, transferred new eastern territory to the protectorate which was originally claimed by Matabeleland. In 1887 Samuel Edwards working for Cecil Rhodes obtained a mining concession, and in 1895 the British South Africa Company attempted to acquire the area, but three Tswana chiefs visited London to protest and were successful in fending off the BSAC. This territory forms the modern North-East District of Botswana.
When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 out of the main British colonies in the region, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland (now Lesotho), and Swaziland (the “High Commission Territories”) were not included, but provision was made for their later incorporation. However, a vague undertaking was given to consult their inhabitants, and although successive South African governments sought to have the territories transferred, Britain kept delaying, and it never occurred. The election of the National Party government in 1948, which instituted apartheid, and South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961, ended any prospect of incorporation of the territories into South Africa.
An expansion of British central authority and the evolution of tribal government resulted in the 1920 establishment of two advisory councils representing Africans and Europeans. Proclamations in 1934 regularized tribal rule and powers. A European-African advisory council was formed in 1951, and the 1961 constitution established a consultative legislative council.
In June 1966, Britain accepted proposals for democratic self-government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved from Mafikeng in South Africa, to newly established Gaborone in 1965. The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence on September 30, 1966. Seretse Khama, a leader in the independence movement and the legitimate claimant to the Ngwato chiefship, was elected as the first president, re-elected twice, and died in office in 1980.
A postal service for Bechuanaland Protectorate was inaugurated on August 9, 1888, The first postage stamps were issued on August 7 as a temporary measure with the object of assessing the cost of this service. These were produced by overprinting stamps of Bechuanaland (some overprints of British stamps and some issued specifically for the colony) with PROTECTORATE added. In 1889 a ½ penny stamp of Cape of Good Hope was overprinted BECHAUNALAND / PROTECTORATE. From June 1890 to 1897, the Protectorate used stamps of British Bechuanaland (with which its postal administration was amalgamated in 1890-5). From 1897 to 1925 more British stamps were overprinted using the protectorate’s name in various layouts. In 1910, a 6-pence stamp of Transvaal was also overprinted; although it was intended for fiscal use, postal uses are known.
The first stamps inscribed Bechuanaland Protectorate appeared in 1932. The 12 values, ranging from ½ penny to 10 shillings, all used the same design; a group of cattle next to a baobab tree, surmounted by a portrait of King George V. The usual Silver Jubilee omnibus issue appeared in 1935. A Coronation issue appeared in 1937 and a definitive series in 1938 with King George VI replacing his father on the 1932 cattle and baobab tree design. The protectorate’s Peace issue of 1945 was produced by overprinting Bechuanaland on South Africa’s Peace stamps. Stamps were issued for the Royal visit in 1947, and for the usual omnibus sets of the period.
Queen Elizabeth II replaced her father in a definitive series of 1955, the rest of the design matching the previous definitives. Three stamps in 1960 commemorated the 75th anniversary of the protectorate, then in 1961 Bechuanaland converted to the South African rand, necessitating surcharges on the existing definitives in February, followed by a new definitive series in October that was mostly pictures of birds, with some showing people at work. Standard Commonwealth omnibus issues appeared up until independence, along with a June 1, 1966, issue commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Bechuanaland Pioneers and Gunners.
All Bechuanaland Protectorate stamps were withdrawn from sale on September 29, 1966, the day before the region became the Republic of Botswana.
Scott #96 is a ½ penny green stamp of Great Britain bearing a portrait of King George V and overprinted BECHUANALAND / PROTECTORATE in 1927. The British stamps had been originally released in 1924 on paper watermarked with crown and block GvR, perforated 15×14.