This week we conclude the story of the development of Zimbabwe’s borders by looking at thje eastern border and how the British blocked Rhodes from gaining a seaside for Zimbabwe.
Were the Portuguese idly sitting by during the 1890 land grabs?
A definite boundary could not be established to the east of Zimbabwe without the consent of the Portuguese who claimed that their sphere of influence extended into Mashonaland beyond the Sabi River. Rhodes’ BSA Co, on the other hand, claimed that Portugal had never been in effective occupation of the area and proceeded to use mineral concessions obtained during 1890 from Chief Mutasa in northern Manicaland and Chief Gungunyana of Gazaland as a basis for pushing for the sea. Rhodes wanted control of the whole territory claimed by Portugal including the port of Beira, which would have given his company a much shorter route to the sea, had he not been restrained by the British government.
The BSA Co brought mounted police to Mutare while the Portuguese troops marched to Macequece, a few miles from modern day Manica. It is reasonable to claim that the British Government was not, in itself, adverse to territorial expansion at the expense of the Portuguese but were in this case, pressured by France and Germany to respect Portuguese interests. Messages were sent to Sir Henry Loch, Governor of the Cape Colony and British High Commissioner for Southern Africa insisting that the boundary line must be settled by peaceful means. The BSA Co refused to accept these conditions and confidential instructions were issued to its agents to quickly press forward whenever they could.
How were the concessions gained?
Rhodes, at a very early stage in his planning, was determined that Manica, described to him by the hunter and explorer Frederick Courtenay Selous as healthy and mineral-rich, should belong to Britain. Rhodes wrote to EA Maund in late 1889 saying: “I have claimed as the boundaries that they should recognise no claims of the Portuguese west of a straight line drawn down from Tete”.
Accordingly secret instructions were given to the Administrator of Mashonaland, Archibald Colquhoun to obtain a treaty with the chief of the Manica. So on September 3, 1890 Colquhoun left at the head of a body of men destined to become famous in their new land including Selous, Jameson, Nesbitt (winner of a VC in the Mazoe Patrol episode) and Lionel Cripps (first Speaker of the Southern Rhodesian Assembly). They reached their objective on the 13th and arranged a meeting for the following day with Chief Mutasa, also known Mafamba Busuko – the Lion Who Walks By Night.
What did they agree to?
Colquhoun first confirmed that Mutasa had not signed anything with the Portuguese. The Chief did admit he had given permission to the Portuguese to dig for gold within his territory. Excitedly Mutasa claimed that if he lied the whites could cut off his right hand. The treaty was signed and witnessed and it gave extensive rights to the BSACo. These included mineral rights, a pre-emption clause for the sale of land and permission to create public works, banks and other civil administration necessities. The leader’s sovereign rights over his people were to remain.
Tensions rose …
Selous continued east to Macequece where he met Baron de Rezende, the representative of the Portuguese Mozambique Company. The Baron objected to the British presence saying the whole area was Portuguese. Colquhuon sent a formal reply and carried on to the then Salisbury (Harare) where he despatched Major Forbes with a small police force to Manicaland to counter any Portuguese moves in the area. The Portuguese arrived with a force of 200 men which seems to have greatly intimidated Mutasa who immediately denied having made any treaty with the British but he also refused to admit he had any earlier agreement with the Portuguese.
As historian Warhurst notes, Mutasa showed a certain astuteness in his strategy since by denying any British connection, he could always claim duress but to have accepted any earlier Portuguese claims would have been harder to explain away. The fact that Mutasa was prepared to deny the latter cast grave doubts on Portuguese claims to sovereignty although he was technically their subject due to his allegiance with Gungunhana, the leader of who are the Ndau people today.
Then came the “Forbes Incident” …
Forbes has been unkindly described by one noted historian, Peter Gibbs, as a typical British bulldog with as little sense. Thus it is hardly surprising that Forbes was responsible for almost single-handedly starting a war with Portugal when he arrested their representatives in mid-November and sent them on to Harare for Colquhoun to deal with. Forbes cut down the Portuguese flag at Mutasa’s homestead and marched for Beira hoping to take that coastal town. He was stopped and recalled less than two days march from the coast by the British Government who had made a temporary agreement with the Portuguese.
Could all this be resolved?
The bickering over the territory continued and in April 1891 rumours surfaced that a large Portuguese force was gathering to attack the eastern border so Colquhoun sent reinforcements to Manicaland. On May 11, Captain Melville Heyman led an attack on the Portuguese fort of Macequece.
The Portuguese had about 100 whites and 300 blacks while the British had under 50 men. With imaginative use of his seven-pounder cannon and accurate rifle-fire which eventually blew up the explosives storage, Heyman was able to throw the Portuguese forces into confusion who then retreated, leaving 20 dead. Heyman later occupied the fort at Macequece and sent a small force under the command of Eustace Fiennes to push for the coast. Whilst making plans to storm Chimoio, Fiennes met up with the redoubtable Anglican Bishop of Mashonaland, Knight-Bruce, who informed him that Major Herbert Sapte was close behind with instructions that were to change the make-up of the whole eastern frontier.
Who was Sapte?
Herbert Langton Sapte is an unsung hero amongst the annals of Zimbabwean history – for he is one of the few people in this country who can claim to have almost single-handedly stopped a war. The son of an English churchman, he holds a small yet significant role in British military history since he is the last person to buy an officer’s commission in the British Army. Sapte worked as Henry Loch’s Military Secretary from 1889 and in 1891 was seen as just the man to ensure that Whitehall’s orders regarding the burgeoning conflict with the Portuguese were carried out.
Basically the British ordered that any future advance eastwards was forbidden and that the soldiers were to withdraw to Mutare. After a long and difficult journey, Sapte was able to deliver his instructions to Heyman in person on June 2 and soon afterwards, the Portuguese abandoned their claim to the country east of the Sabi and Britain its claim to Macequece. The Manica Mountains were recognised as the main boundary. Rhodes was furious as the despoliation of his plans and later is said to have remarked to Heyman: “But why didn’t you put Sapte in irons and say he was drunk?”
How was the border line settled?
The second Anglo-Portuguese Convention was signed in Lisbon on June 11, 1891 between British Queen Victoria of and King Carlos of Portugal. It shifted the boundary in the north-east slightly to the east and clarified its point of origin in the north.
Significantly, the agreement also shifted the middle section of the boundary eastwards, bringing much of Manicaland within the British sphere of influence, but excluding Gazaland. In tracing the boundary line along the eastern slope of the highlands, the Portuguese were not allowed to come further west than 32°30’E nor were the British allowed to go east of 33°E. A slight deflection westwards was made so as to include the settlement of Macequece within Portuguese territory.
Another significant factor, though not important at the time, is that the boundary was to run along the upper part of the eastern slope, rather than along the main line of summits or anywhere to the west. This definition formed the basis for inclusion within the British sphere of a large portion of the Eastern Highlands, comprising the scenic Nyanga and Vumba Mountains in the north and centre and the wilder, more rugged, Chimanimani Mountains in the south.
Surely this must have been the end of it?
You would think so but the haggling continued. In 1894 when negotiations failed to produce an agreement, the dispute was referred to an Italian government minister, Paul Vigliani, for arbitration. The result of the arbitration was submitted in January 1897 and accepted by both governments. In all, Britain was awarded approximately 3 461 square kilometres and Portugal 826 square kilometres of the 4 287 square kilometres in dispute. Disagreements continued over the exact path the boundary line should take.
The southern sector between the Sabi and the Limpopo rivers was only demarcated in 1903. An agreement covering the two sectors from 18° to the Limpopo was signed in 1907. Between 1932 and 1937 a joint boundary commission adjusted and re-demarcated the boundary from 18° to the Limpopo River and final agreement on this stretch was reached through an exchange of notes between Britain and Portugal in October 1940.