Intelligence sources suggested that President Lt Gen Ian Khama then deputy commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) defied his father Sir Seretse Khama and secretly helped Zimbabwean fighters against the Ian Smith regime ÔÇô WikiLeaks cables released last week revealed.
Although Botswana had a stated policy against being used as a launching pad by freedom fighters to attack the Smith regime in Rhodesia and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, WikiLeaks revealed that the country was having difficulties enforcing the policy.
The American and British governments who were keeping a close eye on the goings on in the region came across public and intelligence information that Lt Gen Khama was helping Zimbabwean freedom fighters behind the back of Sir Seretse Khama and the government enclave.
States the US cable released by WikiLeaks: “In assessing the will of the GOB ( government of Botswana) to deny the use of Botswana territory to guerrillas for the launching of attacks on its neighbors and its performance in implementing this policy, it is of course easier to determine what has happened than to explain why events have taken place. We know, first, that the GOB has a stated policy against allowing such use of its territory. This policy has been stated repeatedly to us in private and publicly through the media. We know further, that implementation has been very difficult between February 27, 1978, when 15 BDF soldiers were killed by Rhodesian forces after reportedly having disarmed and arrested two guerrillas and December 26, 1978, when some 60 guerrillas were arrested by a combined police/BDF patrol, there appear to have been few guerrilla arrests. We have conflicting explanations for the lack of effectiveness in the implementation of the policy. The South Africans and Rhodesians concluded that the BDF was aiding the guerrillas with or without the consent of the GOB. The South African Directorate of Military Intelligence suggested that Ian Khama was aiding the guerrillas in defiance of his father’s policy and without the knowledge of the BDF commander (Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe). The British speculated that both Ian Khama and Major General Merafhe, his commander, were consciously winking at the guerrilla presence in Botswana. The GOB itself explained that the Lesoma incident had reinforced a natural sympathy with the guerrillas and antipathy toward the Rhodesian Defense Forces within the BDF and that the rank and file of the BDF, believing that the Lesoma incident was precipitated by the apprehension of two guerrillas, were wary of risking a repetition through zealous pursuit of the GOB’s policy. Further, the guerrilla groups encountered are often more numerous and better armed than their BDF counterparts and have already shown an inclination to resist arrest on at least one occasion.
US envoys stated in their demarche that, “during recent conversation with US, BDF Commanding General Merafhe and Brigadier Ian Khama reiterated their determination, consistent with meager capabilities of BDF, to counter incursions by any of the Rhodesian combatants. Khama also refuted allegations that he opposes GOB efforts to control ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army, and has clashed with Botswana’s civilian leadership over the issue.
He attributed these reports to the active rumor mill among Gaborone’s expatriates and the bias of the Rhodesian and South African press. The demarche states that “Brigadier Khama (after departure of Merafhe) also discussed with attaches and emboffs charges made about him by South African and Rhodesian media. Specifically, Khama said that he was aware of rumors that he is “turning a blind eye” to ZIPRA infiltration into Botswana and from Botswana into Rhodesia. He also referred back to reports arising at the time of the September 1978 student unrest at UBS, when “for once the BDF was not involved, but only the police.” he said the rumor was that because of alleged sympathies with students (over trial of BDF Sergeant Tswaipe who had been accused of murdering three whites on Rhodesian border), the BDF had been confined to barracks and brigadier Khama had allegedly had serious differences over policy with Minister of Information Kwelagobe (who also acts as Minister of Defense). Rumors had gone so far as to allege that he (Ian Khama) had been placed under “house arrest”. Brigadier Khama said that he considers himself a victim of “bad press” in South Africa. As an example of media cheap shots at him, Khama cited persistent charges that he is “anti-white”, notwithstanding fact that his own mother is white. Pointing out that “I have a commander” who is ultimately responsible for the BDF’s conduct, Khama seemed to be emphasizing his personal subordination to MG Merafhe and the BDF’s respect for civilian control. With regard to alleged BDF collaboration with ZIPRA, Khama pointed to his recent interview with a Lesotho-based journalist in which he had reiterated the commitment of the BDF (and by extension his own personal dedication) to carrying out GOB policy. When asked where rumors concerning him originate, Khama replied without hesitation “from here” meaning Gaborone (apparently the expatriate community here).”
The cable states that “reports of Ian Khama’s acting at cross purposes with GOB policy have come from British, Rhodesian and South African sources. We share Ian Khama’s opinion that many of them emanate from one source – the expatriate community in Botswana. More important these stories do not track with our own observations and discussions with the parties themselves. Because of these discrepancies, we wish to alert addressees to the possibility that we may be witnessing a campaign of deliberate misinformation.