The territories of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland were collectively known as the South African High Commission Territories and were administered directly by the South African High Commission.

The Bechuanaland Protectorate was a large land-locked area in southern Africa, 70% of which was the Kalahari desert. The Protectorate had a small European population and most of the administration was done through existing tribal structures. The population of Bechuanaland in 1911 was 125,350. Despite its direct border with German South-West Africa, Bechuanaland was almost entirely isolated from the effects of the war.

Basutoland was a landlocked country, oval in shape and 150 miles long, completely surrounded by South Africa. Its population in 1904 was 348,848. Only 130 miles long, Swaziland was one of the smallest countries in Africa and apart from sharing a short border with Portuguese East Africa it was completely surrounded by South Africa. Its population in 1914 was 107,117.


CO 1047/276

Northern portion of sketch map of Ngamiland (including western portion of Caprivi Strip) and Ghanzi

CO 1047/276

At the outbreak of war there were concerns in Bechuanaland (now Botswana) about the threat from German South-West Africa and any overspill of violence into the Protectorate. The Resident Commissioner, Colonel FW Panzera, formed a Bechuanaland Protectorate Volunteer Reserve of 100 men to back up the police in administering the Protectorate and putting down any trouble that might arise out of the war (DO 119/889). This never really came to be, although there was a small German raid on a border post at Quagga-oa-nai (CO 417/544). The outbreak of a rebellion in South Africa complicated the situation, and the Resident Commissioner got the Assistant Commissioner together with the Chief of the Bakatla to raise 20 reliable men to patrol the border (CO 417/543). Following the defeat of the rebellion one of the rebel commanders attempted to escape to German South-West Africa through Bechuanaland, but was captured by a combination of British and local forces (CO 417/558).

In late 1914 the South African High Commissioner sent a Bechuanaland Protectorate official to administer the Caprivi Strip, a part of German South-West Africa from which the Germans had withdrawn. He was instructed that ‘it is not desired to assert authority to a greater extent or over a wider area than is absolutely essential’ (CO 417/543).

The inhabitants of the protectorate subscribed enthusiastically  to war funds with 100 pair of socks knitted for troops overseas by the pupils of the Bangwaketse Industrial School at Kanya (CO 417/606).

Basutoland and Swaziland

CO 1047/979

Mbabane District, Swaziland, 1914

CO 1047/979

The isolated position of Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland meant it was unnecessary to adopt the ordinary war measures adopted in in other countries. In fact, no special war measures of an active kind were introduced throughout the conflict. In Basutoland, from a population of 366 Europeans, 190 joined the forces and served on various fronts. The first call for volunteers to join the overseas labour contingent was not successful with only some 250 Africans recruited. The second for 2,000 volunteers was made after full consultation with local chiefs and resulted in over 1,400 men being recruited. They were sent to France with a small number joining the Transport Corps who were sent to East Africa. In Swaziland, the local population showed ‘little interest in the war, or desire to serve’. It was suggested that ‘special inducements’ should be offered but to little effect (FCO 141/387).

Native Labour Contingent

WO 329/2368

Page from the South African Native Labour Corp (Bechuanaland) medal roll

WO 329/2368

The Bechuanaland Native Labour Contingent operated as part of the South African Native Labour Corps which saw service in campaigns in German South-West Africa and German East Africa. From 1917, members of the Bechuanaland Contingent also saw service in France based out of Arques-la-Bataille (WO 329/2368). By 1917 the enthusiasm for the war had faded and the few recruits that could be found were incorporated into South African labour companies (DO 119/923).

Key figures

The Viscount Buxton

High Commissioner for South Africa (1914-1920)

Colonel FW Panzera

BechuanalandResident Commissioner (1907-1817)

Khama III

Chief of the Bamangwato people of Bechuanaland (1875-1923)

Labotsibeni Gwamile Mdluli

Queen Regent of Swaziland (1903-1921)

Letsie II Lerotholi

Paramount Chief of Basuto (1905-1913)

Key documents

MPG 1/1145/1

'Plan of the Tati Territory' Bechuanaland Protectorate MPG 1/1145/1