Thursday, March 4, 2021

Botswana’s military history started before 1977

I had the opportunity to attend the Botswana Society sponsored Public Forum where Dr Jeff Ramsay made a presentation titled “David Livingstone and the making of modern Botswana: Portrait of a young Radical”.

What came out clear for me was that Botswana’s military history did not start in 1977 when the Botswana Defense Force (BDF)was formed but dates back to the relationship between Sechele and Livingstone in which Livingstone facilitated the acquisition of guns and ammunition. This led to the defeat of the Boers at Dimawe in 1852 during the Batswana-Boer War. I agree with the words of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda as quoted by Ramsay that Livingstone’s role as “Africa first Freedom Fighter” is not given the prominence it deserves. It is sad to say the forgotten role of Livingstone role as a freedom fighter seems to have rubbed on Batswana in that our military prowess also seems to be disremembered.

However, the Public Forum reminded me that I had not concluded my rejoinder to Thomas Nkhoma’s Editor’s Note “Let’s Have a National Heroes’ Day” in Kutlwano Volume 51 Issue 4 – April 2013 where he states that; “Batswana have never fought for peace and independence. One would say we were lucky we gained independence without any bloodshed.”

Nkhoma is not the first person to propagate this myth-simple ways of explaining the world, which may have a weak and uncertain basis in fact but have gained the status of ‘truth’- that Batswana never fought for independence. This falsehood, which has been repeated many times and at many places, is usually the loudest during the June 16 commemoration of the Day of the African Child.

I am picking on Nkhoma, who is my former colleague at Botswana Press Agency, because I know his intellectual prowess and capabilities. He will also not be resentful but instead will engage in clean and robust debate in which the winner will be the truth.

I am proud to say Botswana is a nation with great military history. The unfortunate thing is its ‘relative obscurity in contemporary consciousness’ (Dr. Jeff Ramsay “Patriots Past” Botswana’s Blood river- The Battle of Khutiyabasati (part 1) The Patriot on Sunday April 07, 2013).

Nkhoma should use the Kutlwano platform to remove this great history from obscurity in contemporary consciousness to be at the fingertips of everyone Motswana.

My point of departure is that there was no need for Batswana to fight for independence because what other nations were fighting for or against, Batswana defeated a long time ago, for example at the Tswana/Boer War at Dimawe in 1852.

Our victories at Dimawe were consolidated at the negotiation table and diplomatic level when three Batswana chiefs travelled to the United Kingdom to seek a protectorate. Tshekedi Khama and Bathoen II also fought against the incorporation of Bechuanaland in to the Union of South Africa.

Countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa started their liberation wars long after us.
For example Zimbabwe liberation war was fought to get independence from the Cecil John Rhodes colonial legacy and this very Rhodes was out-smarted by the three Batswana chiefs led by Khama III in the 1890s.

As for South Africa they wanted independence from apartheid regime of the Boers which Batswana defeated at Dimawe. I believe if Batswana were staying along the coast in South Africa they would have long defeated and pushed the Boers ‘in to the seas’ something which the Xhosas and Zulus as well as African National Congress and Pan African Congress of Azania failed to do that. Remember the PAC objective of pushing the whites in to the sea.

Why do you people want us to have fought enemies that were defeated by our great grandparents? Guerilla wings of South African political parties such as Umkhonto we Sizwe and Poqo were formed in the 1960s well over 100 years after Dimawe as such you cannot compare Batswana with latecomers in the battle for independence.

Another example of the contribution of Livingstone who facilitated the acquisition of guns by Batswana will be defeat of the Ndebeles were defeated at the battle of 1884 Battle of Khuti ya Basadi by Batawana/Bayei alliance who had superior weaponry as opposed to Ndebele assegais and shields.

The long and short of what I am saying is that as we celebrate 200 years since the birth of Livingstone we should take stock of ourselves as a nation to defend our rich military heritage. Instead of knowing more about Shaka Zulu and his military strategies such as cow-horn formation, introduction of short stabbing spear and scorched earth policy, I should be knowing more about the Battles of Dimawe and Khuti ya Basadi.

As a way forward I propose that:

1. the security sector should be at the forefront of educating the public about our military history for example through BDF Day celebrations.

2. As a way of building patriotism and readiness to assist our regular army (BDF),able bodied men and women should undergo some basic military training where we will be taught effective use of firearms so that we can defend our country when the need arises. Botswana is under threat from poachers, armed criminals and the Boko Harams who threaten to bomb our malls. In view of this situation Batswana should be taught modern methods of warfare so that we are ready for any eventuality.
I believe the reason the Battles of Dimawe and Khuti-ya-Basadi were won is because all Batswana regiments were acquainted with the use of arms unlike today where most of us don’t even know how to shoot. As boys growing up we had a skill of making small guns to hunt birds and rodents with using basic material such as steel pipes for barrel, matches as gun powder, and bicycle spokes for bullets. That is skill is disappearing.

Even the way we discuss issues around military issues, that is, what the BDF has or does not have is a sign of ignorance on our part on the strategic importance of the military. We need help as a nation to understand issues of security.

*(Views expressed here are my own and do not represent those of Botswana Government where I am employed)

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