Africa Today 47.2 (2000) 205-207
[Access article in PDF]
Neil Parson's work King Khama, Emperor Joe, and the Great White Queen describes the odyssey of three Bechuana (p. BaTswana) paramount chiefs, Khama, Sebele and Bathoen, who traveled to London in 1895 to protest against the proposed annexation of their land in the Bechuanaland Protectorate by Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company (p. BSAC). Rhodes planned to use their land as a staging area for an eventual raid into the Transvaal, which became the ill-fated Jameson Raid of 1895. During their stay in Great Britain, the Chiefs, with the aid of George Willoughby, an L.M.S. missionary from Khama's country, canvassed all of the major cities and over forty principalities in an effort to whip up support for their cause against the BSAC. The chiefs delivered speeches at many religious gatherings and met many important religious and political figures, culminating [End Page 205] in an audience with the Queen of England and the Prime Minister, Joseph Chamberlain, hence the title of the work.
Ultimately, for Parson, the visit of Bathoen, Sebele and Khama to Great Britain was a success because it stirred up elements of the British nonconformists, who were a power base for Chamberlain, against the BSAC annexation of all of the Bechuanaland protectorate. Consequently, following Chamberlain's settlement of the issue, the chiefs were able to hold on to parts of their land, as opposed to losing everything to annexation by the BSAC.
Parson's work relies mainly upon press clippings to reconstruct the panorama of the Bechuana chiefs' momentous visit to Great Britain in the literary form of a diary. From those press clippings, Parson is able to reconstruct their visit down to the most minute details concerning finance and the personal conflicts among the chiefs.
From Parson's reconstruction of their stay in Great Britain we learn that, far from being compliant puppets in the hands of their L. M. S. associates, the chiefs were politically savvy in manipulating the British public to their cause. For instance, initially they emphasized the negative effects of the liquor trade associated with BSAC rule, rather than plunging immediately into an attack on their intended object, the British South Africa Company. This strategy, besides reflecting the strong antiliqour stance of one of the Bechuana chiefs, Khama, also served to get the temperance groups in Great Britain on their side. All of the chiefs emphasized in their speeches the imperial benevolence of British rule over the Bechuanaland protectorate, versus the prospect of the rapacious colonial rule of the British South Africa Company. This called forth the paternalism in their British audiences. In addition, during their frequent speeches, one of the chiefs, Sebele, though not a member of the L. M. S., nor for that matter an abstainer from alcohol like Khama and Bathoen, consistently conjured up the memory of David Livingston, who had taught him early in life, to win over the British audiences.
Parson's use of the diary format, coupled with his fluid writing style, makes the book an enjoyable reading experience. His attention to detail in describing the chiefs' journey yields a story which describes events at ground level. The author is a professor of history at the University of Botswana and has done previous work on Botswana and Southern African history.
The subtitle of the book is "Victorian Britain through African Eyes." However, the book is less about the chiefs' perceptions of Britain than about British perceptions of the chiefs. This is due in part to Parson's heavy reliance upon press clippings. On this account the book does not achieve its objective. Instead, it is more of a narrative account of the political climate in London surrounding the ill-fated Jameson Raid. However, Parson's work is a worthy contribution to the historiography of Botswana. His book casts light on the myths associated with Chamberlain's...