With Zambesia secure as a British sphere of influence, Rhodes set out to gain a monopoly of its mineral wealth. Zambesia was where he hoped and expected to discover a ‘second Rand’, even more valuable than the Witwatersrand. During a visit to London in June 1888, arranged mainly to discuss his diamond ventures with Lord Rothschild, Rhodes met the Conservative colonial secretary, Lord Knutsford, and raised the possibility of forming a chartered company to handle Zambesia. In other areas of Africa, the British government had looked favourably on the formation of chartered companies as a way of extending Britain’s writ without the expense of maintaining colonies or protectorates. In 1886, the Royal Niger Company had been granted a charter to act as an official commercial and administrative organisation in what was to become Nigeria. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company had been awarded a similar charter. What was clear was that the British government had no appetite for establishing new protectorates like Basutoland and Bechuanaland that were costly to run and provided no revenue. Rhodes’ difficulty was that he possessed no concession in Matabeleland, or elsewhere in Zambesia, on which to base his plan for a chartered company. Writing to Shippard about his discussions with the ‘Home Government’, Rhodes explained: ‘They appeared favourable but unfortunately I had no concession to work on.’ Nor was he the only one in the field. Lobengula was soon besieged by concession-hunters bearing gifts.
Among them were serious contenders. A London-based consortium, the ‘Exploring Company’, had already been formed for the purpose of exploring Zambesia. It was led by two entrepreneurs with powerful connections: one was Lord Gifford, a former British army officer who had won a Victoria Cross during the Ashanti war of 1873-4 and participated in the Zulu campaign; the other was George Cawston, a London financier. In April 1889, the Gifford- Cawston syndicate bought the concession that Frank Johnson had obtained from Kgama in Bechuanaland and then turned their attention to Matabeleland, appointing as their agent Edward Maund, a former British army officer. Maund had met Lobengula in Bulawayo in 1885 when he was sent on an official mission to explain the purpose of the new British protectorate over Bechuanaland to the king, and he claimed to have established a warm relationship with him. Maund was duly despatched to Bulawayo in July to obtain a concession.
Rhodes too had powerful allies, most notably the support of Hercules Robinson, the high commissioner in Cape Town. Along with Rhodes, Robinson had become a leading advocate of Cape colonialism, collaborating with him in the same cause. ‘The true British policy for South Africa,’ Robinson argued in 1889, ‘seems to me to be what may be termed Colonialism, through Imperialism; in other words, colonial expansion through imperial aid.’ Another British official in league with Rhodes was Shippard in Bechuanaland, who favoured annexation up to the Zambezi River. Rhodes, moreover, could count on the support of the Afrikaner Bond.
After returning to Cape Town in July 1888, Rhodes had a long private discussion with Robinson, outlining his plan for a chartered company, linked possibly to De Beers. Robinson immediately threw his weight behind the idea, reporting to Knutsford:
It appears to me that, looking to the reputed wealth of Matabeleland and its tributaries, the country is sure sooner or later to fall under the influence of some civilized power, and that a scheme such as that designed by Mr Rhodes might possibly provide for the security of Native rights and interests, as well as for the beneficial development of the resources of the waste lands by British Capital, without entailing on British taxpayers the burden which would be imposed on them by the annexation of the country, and its formation into a Crown Colony.
Mr Rhodes considers also, and I think with reason, that the extension of British interests in the interior of South Africa by a chartered company with Cape associations would be more in unison with the Africander sentiment than if the same result were attempted by the establishment of another inland Crown Colony.
Knutsford duly took the point, replying that no charter could be awarded to any enterprise that lacked Cape support.
Nothing could be accomplished, however, without a concession from Lobengula. Determined to overtake Maund’s mission, Rhodes despatched a three-man team to Bulawayo, led by his trusted business partner, Charles Rudd. The two other members were both personal friends: Frank Thompson and Rochfort Maguire, an Oxford-educated lawyer who had served as a British official in Cape Town. They carried with them a letter of introduction, on official notepaper, to Lobengula from Robinson, referring to them as ‘highly respected gentlemen who are visiting your country’ - without a word of the purpose of their visit. In a long letter to Shippard written on 14 August, Rhodes told him:
Rudd is going up to look at the country and see what he can do . . . My only fear is that I shall be too late with Lo Bengula as, of course, if his whole country is given away to adventurers, it is no use my stepping in for my Company to assist in the government of a shell . . .
If we get Matabeleland we shall get the balance of Africa. I do not stop in my ideas at [the] Zambesi, and I am willing to work with you for it.
Rhodes wrote to Rothschild in a similar vein:
I have always been afraid of the difficulty of dealing with the Matabele king. He is the only block to Central Africa as, once we have his territory, the rest is easy.
The Rudd party reached Bulawayo on 20 September, three weeks ahead of Maund who had decided to delay his journey in Bechuanaland. Rudd counted some thirty other concession-hunters waiting around the king’s encampment. As the king emerged from his private quarters to meet the new arrivals, the Rudd party rose, took off their hats and saluted him as ‘Kumalo’ in acknowledgement of his status as a royal chief. Rudd then offered Lobengula a present of 100 gold sovereigns. ‘The King,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘is just what I expected to find him - a very fine man, only very fat, but with a beautiful skin and well proportioned.’ He was naked except for a skin apron and a waxed head-ring. ‘The King has a curious face; he looks partly worried, partly good natured and partly cruel; he has a very pleasant smile.’
Also staying in Bulawayo at the time was John Moffat, Shippard’s deputy, on hand to offer Lobengula discreet advice. Moffat suggested to Lobengula that it would be advantageous for him to work with one company rather than to disperse concessions among a number of smaller entities, but advised him to make no decisions until Shippard arrived on an official visit.
Lobengula, in any case, was in no hurry to make a decision. Not only did he have to contend with a horde of concession-hunters but with his councillors - indunas - hostile to the idea of allowing foreigners entry into Matabeleland. Young Ndebele warriors were keen to ‘make a breakfast’ of all the whites in Matabeleland. Lobengula was also unsure whether he could trust British officials. In conversation with Charles Helm, a missionary from the London Missionary Society, who acted as his interpreter, Lobengula remarked:
The Boers are like the lizard, they dart about quickly, but the English proceed more cautiously. 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 the other. At last, when well within reach, he darts out his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly.
But Helm himself, given the task of explaining Rudd’s business to Lobengula, was hardly neutral. According to Frank Thompson, he was working ‘through thick and thin in our interests’.
For the concession-hunters, the waiting seemed interminable. ‘Nobody can conceive the weariness of the ensuing days,’ recalled Thompson. ‘We were reduced to spending every day in our little camp, most of the time playing backgammon and reading. We did not dare to go far afield in case we might be called by Lobengula.’
Rhodes, meanwhile, bombarded Rudd with messages, warning him to keep an eye on Maund, suggesting that he ‘buy him personally’. In any event, Rudd was told to stay in Bulawayo as long as necessary. ‘You must not leave a vacuum,’ Rhodes insisted. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum and if we get anything we must always have someone resident or else they [other whites] will intrigue and upset us.’
Shippard eventually arrived in Bulawayo on 16 October, accompanied by a police escort and dressed in a tightly buttoned frock coat, patent leather boots and a white solar topee. He purported to be acting as an impartial official but used his position discreetly to advance Rhodes’ cause. The Rudd party, he told Lobengula, represented a group with substantial resources, solid backing and the support of the Queen. ‘Shippard and Moffat did all they could for us,’ Maguire later confided to a friend.
Shippard had developed a particular aversion to the Ndebele and their plundering activities and he was already convinced about their ultimate fate. ‘The accounts one hears of the wealth of Mashonaland if known and believed in England would bring such a rush to the country that its destiny would soon be settled whether the Matabele liked it or not,’ he wrote to a member of his staff.
After leaving Lobengula’s capital on 22 October, Shippard wrote in his official report: ‘For my own part I can see no hope for this country save the purifying effects of war.’ In a private letter to his assistant, Francis Newton, he was even more blunt: ‘I must confess that it would offer me sincere and lasting satisfaction if I could see the Matabele . . . cut down by our rifles and machine guns like a cornfield by a reaping machine . . . The cup of their iniquities must surely be full or nearly full now.’
One week after Shippard’s departure, and after a series of consultations with his indunas, Lobengula summoned Rudd, Thompson and Maguire to a meeting. ‘We all went in and found the old king on a brandy case in a corner of the buck kraal [one of his private enclosures], ’ Rudd recorded in his diary. ‘He said “Good morning” very good-temperedly but appeared much hustled and anxious.’ For half an hour, Lobengula prevaricated, then told Helm to give him the document. ‘The Concession was placed before him, and he took the pen in his hand to affix his mark, which was his signature,’ recalled Thompson. ‘As he did so, Maguire, in a half-drawling, yawning tone of voice, without the ghost of a smile said to me, “Thompson, this is the epoch of our lives.”’
The concession that Lobengula signed on 30 October 1888 was highly controversial from the outset. He agreed, as ‘King of Matabeleland, Mashonaland and certain adjoining territories’, to assign to Rudd, Thompson and Maguire ‘the complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals situated and contained in my kingdoms, principalities and dominions together with full power to do all things that they may deem necessary to win and procure the same and to hold, collect and enjoy the profits and revenues . . . from the said metals and minerals’. Lobengula also gave Rudd and his partners authority to exclude all others seeking land, metals, minerals or mining rights from his territory.
In exchange, Rudd promised to pay Lobengula and his successors £100 every month and to provide 1,000 Martini-Henry breech-loading rifles, together with 100,000 rounds of ammunition. He also undertook to deliver an armed steamboat for use on the Zambezi River - an idea that came from Rhodes.
What was not included in the concession, according to Helm, was a promise made by Rudd and Thompson that no more than ten white men would be brought in to dig in his territory and that they would abide by the laws of Matabeleland. Lobengula was clearly under the impression that the document he had signed was limited in scope.
Moreover, though it may have pleased Lobengula to be described as the ‘King of Matabeleland, Mashonaland and certain adjoining territories’ and it certainly suited the interests of Rudd and company, Lobengula’s rule extended effectively over no more than Matabeleland; Mashonaland and other areas were subject to intermittent military raids but not ruled by him.
A further flaw was that both Cape law and the terms of an international treaty prohibited the sale or gift of firearms to Africans living outside the Colony. Anyone who transported guns or ammunition across state boundaries could be fined or imprisoned. On that basis alone, the Rudd concession could be judged illegal. Yet it was the promise of guns more than any other factor, that persuaded Lobengula to sign the concession, believing that it would help protect his independence; without it, he had no reason to sign.
Rudd lost no time in rushing back to the Cape with his concession. The document was signed in Bulawayo at midday and by late afternoon he was on his way by mule cart, leaving Thompson and Maguire ‘to hold the fort’. Rhodes was jubilant. ‘Our concession is so gigantic, ’ he crowed, ‘it is like giving a man the whole of Australia.’ Robinson gave the Rudd concession his full support, recommending that it should be recognised by the British government. ‘It appeared to me,’ he recalled, ‘although a monopoly of the kind was not free from objections, it was, on the whole, in the interests of the Matabele that they should have to deal with one set of substantial concessionaires, instead of . . . with a number of adventurers of different nationalities, who would have quarrelled among themselves and with the natives, and who would have been amenable to no practical control.’
Though the promise of arms to Lobengula was in flagrant breach of British policy, let alone Cape law, Robinson raised no objection. In a cable to Knutsford, he explained away the offer by implying that if Lobengula did not get arms from Britain, he would turn to rival states - the Transvaal - that would be only too eager to oblige in exchange for concessions.
In his memoirs, Graham Bower, Robinson’s deputy in Cape Town, recorded: ‘It was clearly illegal to deliver Martini-Henry rifles to a native chief. On the other hand unless the rifles were delivered the contract was not complete and the concession was invalid. Sir Sidney Shippard [in Bechuanaland] solved the problem by issuing a permit on his own authority.’
But there were soon signs of trouble. On learning that the concession had been obtained with the promise of guns, the Anglican Bishop of Bloemfontein, George Knight-Bruce, protested publicly. ‘Such a piece of devilry and brutality as a consignment of rifles to the Matabele cannot be surpassed,’ he declared. Rhodes acted quickly to ‘square’ him. ‘Without telling you a long story,’ Rhodes wrote to Rudd, ‘I will simply say I believe [the bishop] will be our cordial supporter in future. I am sorry for his . . . speech . . . but he has repented.’
More serious ructions occurred in Bulawayo. Rival concession-hunters, aggrieved by what they had heard about the Rudd concession, warned Lobengula that he had, in effect, ‘sold his country’. Alarmed by such talk, the king despatched two indunas to London to make enquiries. According to Moffat, Lobengula told the indunas, ‘There are so many people who come here and tell me that they are sent by the Queen. Go and see if there is a Queen and ask her who is the one she has really sent.’ He instructed them to deny that he had ‘given away his country’. He also issued a statement sent to a Bechuanaland newspaper saying that in view of the controversy he had suspended the concession ‘pending an investigation’.
Desperate to keep the concession alive, Rhodes organised delivery of the first consignment of arms and ammunition, relying on Shippard to clear it through Bechuanaland. Unless he could fulfil his side of the bargain, the concession was bound to expire. Rhodes entrusted the task to his old Kimberley friend Starr Jameson and another Kimberley doctor, Rutherfoord Harris. Both had been involved in the ‘pink slip’ scandal during the smallpox outbreak there. On their arrival in Bulawayo in February, Lobengula remained distrustful, but readily took his monthly stipend of £100. Jameson further earned Lobengula’s gratitude by easing his gout with morphine. But Lobengula refused to accept the arms and they were left untouched in stacks at Thompson’s camp. Jameson made a second delivery, but with the same result. The arms remained untouched for three years.
To bolster his position with the British government, Rhodes agreed to a Colonial Office suggestion to amalgamate his venture with the rival London consortium led by Gifford and Cawston. He also ‘squared’ a number of other claimants, paying out substantial sums. He then made plans to travel to London himself to persuade the British government to award him a charter. But the difficulties he faced were formidable.
The arrival of Lobengula’s indunas - Babayane and Mtshete - in London in February 1889 became one of the events of the year. Accompanied by Edward Maund, they were taken to the ballet, to the London zoo, to the Bank of England, to Westminster Abbey and a military display at Aldershot. They were also granted an audience with Queen Victoria - the ‘Great White Queen’ - at Windsor where they delivered Lobengula’s message. ‘Lobengula desires . . . to ask [the Queen] to advise and help him, as he is much troubled by white men who come into his country and ask to dig for gold.’
There were many in London at the time who sympathised with Lobengula’s plight. Rhodes’ old adversary John Mackenzie was active in mobilising the missionary network to protest against the Rhodes group. ‘They would “hammer” the natives, and rob them of their land and never recognize their right to own land, or to possess any civil right except to pay a hut-tax,’ said Mackenzie. ‘They would “level-down” the Cape Colony constitution to the condition of those [Boer] republics where a man, no matter how good he is, or how much he knows, or how much he has, in character, knowledge or property, can have no citizen rights, because he is a native African in his own country of Africa.’
A powerful lobby group - the South Africa Committee - argued vociferously in favour of imperial trusteeship in Africa. Its members included the Liberal politician Joseph Chamberlain and the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, W. T. Stead. London businessmen resented the idea of a Cape monopoly getting preference. Within the Colonial Office, there were strong doubts about granting a royal charter for Zambesia. ‘This is a mere piece of financing,’ wrote Edward Fairfield, an Africa expert. ‘Something is to be got which will look well enough to invite fools to subscribe to. Such a Chartered Company would never really pay. It would simply sow the seeds of a heap of political trouble and then the promoters would shuffle out of it, and leave us to take up the work of preserving the peace, and settling the difficulties.’
Among those present in London who objected to the Rudd concession was Fred Selous. He had travelled there hoping to secure support for a prospecting expedition to Mashonaland. Having spent nearly twenty years in the region, he was regarded as its foremost expert. During his travels, Selous had developed a paternal liking for the Shona people and consequently an abiding dislike of Ndebele warriors who raided their territory. When the Anti-Slavery Society invited him to address a breakfast meeting ‘in honour of the two Matabele envoys’, Selous declined, describing the Ndebele as ‘a people who, year after year, send out their armies of pitiless, bloodthirsty savages and slaughter men, women and children indiscriminately - except for those just the ages to be taken for slaves’.
Selous’ objection to the Rudd concession, as he explained in the Fortnightly Review, was that although some Shona tribes adjacent to Matabeleland paid tribute to Lobengula, others were remote from Lobengula’s influence. ‘There are numerous tribes of Mashunas who are in no wise subject to Lobengula.’ Rhodes’ claims in Mashonaland, based on the Rudd concession, were therefore fraudulent; he had no legal rights there.
Shortly before the indunas returned to Matabeleland, the colonial secretary, Lord Knutsford, furnished them with a letter for Lobengula which appeared to be a lethal blow to Rhodes’ prospects:
In the first place, the Queen wishes Lo Bengula to understand distinctly that Englishmen who have gone out to Matabeleland to ask leave to dig for stones have not gone with the Queen’s authority, and that he should not believe any statements made by them or any of them to that effect. The Queen advises Lo Bengula not to grant hastily concessions of land, or leave to dig, but to consider all applications carefully. It is not wise to put too much power into the hands of the men who come first, and to exclude other deserving men.
Couching his remarks in a manner he thought might appeal to Lobengula, and made popular by Rider Haggard, he continued:
A King gives a stranger an ox, not his whole herd of cattle, otherwise what would other strangers arriving have to eat?
Arriving in London in March, Rhodes not only had to contend with this adverse tide of opinion, but deep suspicions about his own character. Little was known about Rhodes in London and what was known was largely unfavourable. In government circles he was regarded as a troublesome Cape nationalist who in the past had quarrelled with John Mackenzie, Livingstone’s heir, and obstructed Colonel Warren during his Bechuanaland assignment. ‘Rather a pro-Boer MP in South Africa, I fancy’, remarked Lord Salisbury, the Conservative prime minister. Moreover, there was the matter of Rhodes’ arms deal with Lobengula. Edward Fairfield’s verdict on Rhodes was damning: ‘In some aspects of his character, Mr Rhodes is apt not to be regarded as a serious person . . . he is grotesque, impulsive, schoolboyish, humorous and almost clownish.’
Rhodes’ visit to Britain in the spring of 1889 thus turned into a tour de force of trying to overcome a host of obstacles. One by one, he picked off his opponents, offering some of them high positions or valuable share options in his new venture, bribing others with cash, stressing all the while the civilising mission that he intended to carry out in Zambesia. The editor W. T. Stead, once a staunch ally of Mackenzie, was one of the first to be ‘converted’. Introduced by a mutual friend on 4 April 1889, he spent three hours with Rhodes and, after the offer of a gift of £2,000 he needed to settle a libel judgement and the promise of an additional £20,000 contribution to the Pall Mall Gazette, withdrew his reservations. ‘Mr Rhodes is my man,’ Stead wrote to his wife immediately afterwards. ‘He is full of a far more gorgeous idea in connection with the paper than even I have had. I cannot tell you his scheme, because it is too secret. But it involves millions . . . His ideas are federation, expansion, and consolidation of the Empire . . . It seems all like a fairy dream.’
Other journalists whom Rhodes recruited to his cause included Flora Shaw, colonial correspondent of The Times; the Reverend John Verschoyle, deputy editor of the influential Fortnightly Review; and Sir Charles Dilke, a Radical MP who wrote on imperial matters for the Review.
Even more important was Rhodes’ success in attracting members of the British establishment to join his venture, including those who had previously opposed him. The Duke of Abercorn, a wealthy landowner, accepted the post of chairman; and the Earl of Fife, soon to become the son-in-law of the Prince of Wales, accepted the post of vice-chairman. Neither of them had previously displayed any interest in Africa. Abercorn was preoccupied mainly with his estates in Ireland and Scotland. Fife had little experience of business. From Rhodes’ point of view, they were ideal figureheads: neither had any taste for the drudgery of reading reports or overseeing company administration, leaving him free to run the venture in his own manner without interference.
Rhodes’ most significant catch was Albert Grey, heir to the earldom of his uncle, a renowned former colonial secretary. Grey was a member of the South Africa Committee, well known as a champion of African rights, a close associate of Mackenzie, ‘the Paladin of his generation’, with a long record of conscientious public service. Grey justified his decision to become a director, telling Mackenzie that he would do more good from inside the company than remaining outside as a critic.
Other support came from Lord Rothschild, who was offered a tranche of shares for free. The secretary of the London Missionary Society, Wardlaw Thompson, was won over with promises of official backing in Matabeleland. From Cape Town, Robinson weighed in with dramatic advice in a letter that reached London in April. The only alternative to the proposed monopoly, he told the Colonial Office, was a free-for-all. ‘Lo Bengula would be unable to govern or control such incomers except by a massacre; a British Protectorate would be ineffectual.’ The choice then would be to let Matabeleland fall into the hands of the Transvaal or to annex it at great cost to the British taxpayer.
Rhodes also had the support of Irish members in the House of Commons. On a previous visit to London, he had agreed to pay the Irish nationalist leader Charles Parnell the sum of £5,000 in exchange for the backing of his bloc of eighty-five votes, with the promise of a second instalment of £5,000 at a later date.
To counter the onslaught from Mackenzie and the humanitarian lobby, the Rhodes group insisted that their consortium had been formed ‘mainly in the interests of the natives and missionaries, to prevent unprincipled white men going in and ruining everyone’.
Despite his misgivings about Rhodes himself, Salisbury eventually concluded that Rhodes’ venture offered the best prospect of extending British hegemony in southern Africa at no cost to the exchequer and would, at the same time, bring order to the fractious problem of the Matabeleland concessions. It could be used as a financially self-sufficient arm of imperial policy. There were additional advantages. When applying for a charter, the Rhodes consortium included a number of proposals that the British government welcomed: as well as developing mineral resources, it undertook to extend the railway and telegraph northwards through the isolated Bechuanaland protectorate; to encourage English immigration and colonisation in Africa; and to promote British trade and commerce in the hinterland. As a way of empire-building on the cheap, all this was difficult to fault.
While the charter was being drawn up, Lobengula sent the British government a letter which left no doubt about his attitude. Written on 23 April 1889, it arrived on 18 June. ‘Some time ago a party of men came into my country, the principal one appearing to be a man called Rudd,’ he wrote. ‘They asked me for a place to dig, and said they would give me certain things for the right to do so . . . About three months afterwards I heard from other sources that I had given by that document the right to all minerals in my country . . . I will not recognise the paper as it contains neither my words nor the words of those who got it.’
When Rhodes was shown the letter, he replied that it was probably not genuine, but written by ‘a certain section of the white inhabitants of Matabeleland’ - in other words, rival concession-hunters. The British authorities made no further enquiries.
On 10 July 1889, the cabinet approved the granting of a charter to the Rhodes consortium. With nothing more to be accomplished, Rhodes set sail for Cape Town. ‘My part is done,’ Rhodes told Maund. ‘The Charter is granted supporting Rudd Concession and granting us the interior. I am just waiting until I hear of its signature and to finish many small details . . . We have the whole thing recognised by the Queen and even if eventually we had any difficulty with king [Lobengula] the Home people would now always recognize us in possession of the minerals, they quite understand that savage potentates frequently repudiate.’
The mood in Bulawayo, meanwhile, had become ever more tense. The Queen’s letter to Lobengula, deliberately delayed en route, served to intensify all his suspicions. In August he replied, thanking her and adding, ‘The white people are troubling me much about gold. If the Queen hears that I have given away the whole country, it is not true.’ The letter did not arrive in London until November.
As Rhodes’ representative in Bulawayo, Frank Thompson was at serious risk. Time and again he had asked to be relieved, but Rhodes would not hear of it. Writing from the Westminster Palace Hotel before he left England, Rhodes urged: ‘Stick to it. I trust you alone. Upon you depends the whole thing . . . I ask you is there a better chance in the world for you? Besides being one of the richest men in the Colony, you will have the kudos.’
Angry crowds of Ndebele began to gather in Bulawayo. ‘Thousands came from all directions to ask the king if it were true that the white dog Thompson had bought the land,’ Thompson recalled. ‘Among the Matebili I was now the most notorious person in the country, and among a section of black and white schemers the most hated.’
In September, Thompson and Lotse Hlabangana, Lobengula’s principal adviser, were hauled before a council meeting of three hundred indunas and faced a barrage of accusations of treachery and deception for ten hours, squatting on their haunches under a broiling sun. Lotse was condemned to death:
I saw the poor old fellow stand erect. He handed his snuff box to a man standing near. He was taken outside the council kraal, and on kneeling down he said, ‘Do as you think fit with me. I am the king’s chattel.’ One blow from the executioner’s stick sufficed.
The ostensible reason for Lotse’s execution, wrote Thompson, was that he had advised the king to accept the rifles and sign the concession. ‘But in reality he had been made the scapegoat to protect the king from the rising tide of suspicion among the Matebili that their king had traded away their rights in their land.’ Scores of members of Lotse’s family - men, women and children - were killed that night.
The next morning as he was preparing to ride to a nearby mission station, Thompson was given a warning by an African who followed him. ‘Tomoson,’ he called quietly, ‘the king says the killing of yesterday is not yet over.’ Thompson took off instantly on horseback, with no food or water, losing his hat in the scramble. When his horse collapsed, he continued on foot. On the third day, he was rescued by a trader. On reaching Mafeking, he telegraphed his wife, whom he had not seen for fifteen months, and sent a message to Rhodes, who was in Kimberley. He was, he said, ‘surprised and disappointed’ by Rhodes’ reply. ‘I want you to return because the king recognises you as the Concession’, said Rhodes.