Occupation of Mashonaland
Babayane and Mshete had arrived back in Bulawayo in August, accompanied by Maund, and Lobengula had immediately written again to Whitehall, reaffirming that “If the Queen hears that I have given away the whole country, it is not so.” But this letter only reached the Colonial Office in London in late October, too late to make a difference. Meanwhile, the British appointed an official resident in Bulawayo, as Lobengula had requested; much to the king’s indignation, it was Moffat. Maund counselled Lobengula that the concession was legal beyond doubt and that he would just have to accept it. Lobengula rued the situation to Helm: “Did you ever see a chameleon catch a fly? The chameleon gets behind the fly and remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then another. At last, when well within reach, he darts out his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly.”
The charter incorporating the British South Africa Company committed it to remaining “British in character and domicile”, and defined its area of operations extremely vaguely, mentioning only that it was empowered to operate north of Bechuanaland and the Transvaal, and west of Mozambique. Northern and western bounds were not indicated. This was done deliberately to allow Rhodes to acquire as much land as he could without interference. The Company was made responsible for the safeguarding of peace and law in its territory, and licensed to do so “in such ways and manners as it shall consider necessary”. It was vested with the power to raise its own police force, and charged with, among other things, abolishing slavery in all of its territories and restricting the sale of liquor to indigenous Africans. Local traditions were to be respected. The Company’s charter was otherwise made extremely equivocal with the intention that this would allow it to operate freely and independently, and to govern and develop its acquired territories while also turning a profit.
Rhodes capitalised the Company at £1,000,000, split into £1 shares, and used his other business interests to pump capital into it. Rhodes’s diamond concern, De Beers, invested more than £200,000, while his gold firm, Gold Fields, put in nearly £100,000. He himself put in £45,000, along with another £11,000 jointly with Beit. Overall, about half of the Chartered Company’s capital was held by its main actors, particularly Rhodes, Beit, Rudd and their confederates. During the Company’s early days, Rhodes and his associates set themselves up to make millions over the coming years through what Robert Blake describes as a “suppressio veri … which must be regarded as one of Rhodes’s least creditable actions”. Contrary to what Whitehall and the public had been allowed to think, the Rudd Concession was not vested in the British South Africa Company, but in a short-lived ancillary concern of Rhodes, Rudd and others called the Central Search Association, which was quietly formed in London in 1889. This entity renamed itself the United Concessions Company in 1890, and soon after sold the Rudd Concession to the Chartered Company for 1,000,000 shares. When Colonial Office functionaries discovered this chicanery in 1891, they advised Knutsford to consider revoking the concession, but no action was taken.
Rhodes became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in July 1890 on the back of widespread support among Cape Afrikaners. He announced that his first objective as premier was the occupation of the Zambezi–Limpopo watershed. His Chartered Company had by this time raised the Pioneer Column, a few hundred volunteers referred to as “pioneers” whose lot was to both occupy Mashonaland and begin its development. To this end its ranks were filled with men from all corners of southern African society, including, at Rhodes’s insistence, several sons of the Cape’s leading families. Each pioneer was promised 3,000 acres (12 km2) of land and 15 mining claims in return for his service.
Lobengula impassively acquiesced to the expedition at the behest of his friend Jameson, much to the fury of many of the izinDuna, who saw the column’s march to Mashonaland as an appropriation of Matabele territory. Led by Major Frank Johnson and the famed hunter Frederick Courteney Selous, and escorted by 500 British South Africa Company’s Police under Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Pennefather, the pioneers skirted their way around Lobengula’s heartlands, heading north-east from Bechuanaland and then north, and founded Fort Tuli, Fort Victoria and Fort Charter along the way. They stopped at the site of the future capital, Fort Salisbury (named after the Prime Minister), on 12 September 1890, and ceremonially raised the Union Jack the next morning.
The administration of Mashonaland did not immediately prove profitable for the Company or its investors, partly because of the costly police force, which Rhodes dramatically downsized in 1891 to save money. There also existed the problem of land ownership; Britain recognised the Company’s subsoil rights in Mashonaland, but not its possession of the land itself, and the Company therefore could not grant titles to land or accept rents and other payments from farmers.
Edward Renny-Tailyour, representing the Hamburg businessman Eduard Lippert—an estranged cousin of Beit—had been attempting to gain a concession from Lobengula since early 1888. Rhodes saw Lippert’s activities as unwelcome meddling and so repeatedly tried (and failed) to settle with him. In April 1891, Renny-Tailyour grandly announced that he and Lobengula had made an agreement: in return for £1,000 up front and £500 annually, the king would bestow on Lippert the exclusive rights to manage lands, establish banks, mint money, and conduct trade in the territory of the Chartered Company. The authenticity of this document was disputed, largely because the only witnesses to have signed it, apart from inDuna Mshete, were Renny-Tailyour’s associates, one of whom soon attested that Lobengula had believed himself to be granting a concession to Theophilus Shepstone’s son, “Offy” Shepstone, with Lippert merely acting as an agent. The Lippert concession therefore had a number of potential defects, but Lippert was still confident he could extract a princely fee for it from the Chartered Company; he named his price as £250,000 in cash or shares at par.
Rhodes, backed by Loch, initially condemned the Lippert concession as a fraud and branded Lippert’s locally based agents enemies of the peace. Loch assured Rhodes that if Lippert tried to gazette his agreement, he would issue a proclamation warning of its infringement on the Rudd Concession and the Company’s charter, and threaten Lippert’s associates with legal action. The Colonial Office agreed with Loch. Rhodes initially said that he would not pay Lippert’s price, which he described as blackmail, but after conferring with Beit decided that refusing to buy out Lippert might lead to drawn-out and similarly expensive court proceedings, which they could not be sure of winning. Rhodes told Beit to start bargaining. Lippert’s agreement turned out to be an unexpected blessing for Rhodes in that it included a concession on land rights from Lobengula, which the Chartered Company itself lacked, and needed if it were to be recognised by Whitehall as legally owning the occupied territory in Mashonaland. After two months and a number of breakdowns in talks, Rudd took over the negotiations. He and Lippert agreed on 12 September 1891 that the Company would take over the concession from Lippert on the condition that he returned to Bulawayo and had it more properly formalised by Lobengula; in return the Company would grant the German 75 square miles (190 km2) of his choice in Matabeleland (with full land and mineral rights), 30,000 shares in the Chartered Company and other financial incentives.
The success of this plan hinged on Lobengula continuing to believe that Lippert was acting against Rhodes rather than on his behalf. The religious Moffat was deeply troubled by what he called the “palpable immorality” of this deceit, but agreed not to interfere, deciding that Lobengula was just as untrustworthy as Lippert. With Moffat looking on as a witness, Lippert delivered his side of the deal in November 1891, extracting from the Matabele king the exclusive land rights for a century in the Chartered Company’s operative territories, including permission to lay out farms and towns and to levy rents, in place of what had been agreed in April. As arranged, Lippert sold these rights to the Company, whereupon Loch approved the concession, expressing contentment at the solving of the Company’s land rights problem; in an internal Whitehall memorandum, the Colonial Office affably remarked how expediently that administrative obstacle had been removed. The Matabele remained unaware of this subterfuge until May 1892.
Conquest of Matabeleland: the end of Lobengula
Lobengula’s weakened Matabele kingdom uneasily coexisted with Rhodes’s Company settlements in Mashonaland and north of the Zambezi for about another year. The king was angered by the lack of respect he perceived Company officials to have towards his authority, their insistence that his kingdom was separated from Company territory by a line between the Shashe and Hunyani Rivers, and their demands that he stop the traditional raids on Mashona villages by Matabele impis. After Matabele warriors began slaughtering Mashonas near Fort Victoria in July 1893, Jameson, who Rhodes had appointed Company administrator in Mashonaland, unsuccessfully tried to stop the violence through an indaba. Lobengula complained that the Chartered Company had “come not only to dig the gold but to rob me of my people and country as well”. Monitoring events from Cape Town, Rhodes gauged Jameson’s readiness for war by telegraph: “Read Luke 14:31”. Jameson wired back: “All right. Have read Luke 14:31”.
On 13 August 1893, Lobengula refused to accept the stipend due him under the terms of the Rudd Concession, saying “it is the price of my blood”. The next day, Jameson signed a secret agreement with settlers at Fort Victoria, promising each man 6,000 acres (24 km2) of farm land, 20 gold claims and a share of Lobengula’s cattle in return for service in a war against Matabeleland. Lobengula wrote again to Queen Victoria, and tried to send Mshete to England again at the head of another embassy, but Loch detained the izinDuna at Cape Town for a few days, then sent them home. Following a few minor skirmishes, the First Matabele War started in earnest in October: Company troops moved on Lobengula, using the inexorable firepower of their Maxim machine guns to crush attacks by the far larger Matabele army. On 3 November, with the whites nearing Bulawayo, Lobengula torched the town and fled; the settlers began rebuilding atop the ruins the next day. Jameson sent troops north from Bulawayo to bring the king back, but this column ceased its pursuit in early December after the remnants of Lobengula’s army ambushed and annihilated 34 troopers who were sent across the Shangani River ahead of the main force. Lobengula had escaped the Company, but he lived only another two months before dying from smallpox in the north of the country on 22 or 23 January 1894.
Matabeleland was conquered. The Matabele izinDuna unanimously accepted peace with the Company at an indaba in late February 1894. Rhodes subsequently funded education for three of Lobengula’s sons. The name applied to the Company’s domain by many of its early settlers, “Rhodesia”, was made official by the Company in May 1895, and by Britain in 1898. The lands south of the Zambezi were designated “Southern Rhodesia”, while those to the north were divided into North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia, which merged to form Northern Rhodesia in 1911. During three decades under Company rule, railways, telegraph wires and roads were laid across the territories’ previously bare landscape with great vigour, and, with the immigration of tens of thousands of white colonists, prominent mining and tobacco farming industries were created, albeit partly at the expense of the black population’s traditional ways of life, which were varyingly disrupted by the introduction of Western-style infrastructure, government, religion and economics. Southern Rhodesia, which attracted most of the settlers and investment, was turning a profit by 1912; Northern Rhodesia, by contrast, annually lost the Company millions right up to the 1920s. Following the results of the government referendum of 1922, Southern Rhodesia received responsible government from Britain at the termination of the Company’s charter in 1923, and became a self-governing colony. Northern Rhodesia became a directly administered British protectorate the following year.