Monday, April 12, 2021

“Batswana are Cameroonians” – the story of the two flags

Batswana are Cameroonians. If Roy Sesana and Stephen Corry visited the exhibition, they would find material they can use as propaganda in their campaign. A miniature Botswana flag has been carried to the moon and back. At its going rate, the cost of just one visit to space as a tourist (P150 million) is way too steep even for the richest Phakalane resident. This exhibition at least affords one the opportunity to see how a moon rock looks like.

Although there is the possibility of some throwing up, you would learn very valuable information about Botswana, Batswana, astronomy and much more as you shuffle around the Main Gallery of the National Museum where a one of a kind exhibition is being held.

The story of Botswana’s beginning is best told by a black-and-white picture taken on the eve of Independence Day. People in the picture are dressed warmly against what the caption describes as “a bitterly cold dust-storm”. The main reason why they were braving such weather was to witness the hoisting of the new Botswana flag which was replacing the Union Jack.

One of those who were present at the ceremony is George Winstanley who worked in both colonial Bechuanaland and independent Botswana between 1954 and 1972. In his book Under Two Flags in Africa, Winstanley writes that the new Botswana flag “proved obstinate and needed a few tugs” before it could open. The Union Jack replaced by the Botswana flag was later donated to the Botswana government by the British High Commissioner and is being exhibited at the museum.

The fate of that first Botswana flag to be hoisted is unknown but on the other side of the gallery is a miniature Botswana flag in a glass casing that has been places. During Richard Nixon’s presidency, the flag was carried to the moon and back on Apollo 11. The flag, plus a fragment of the moon’s surface were presented to the Botswana government when the spaceship came back to earth. It rightly sounds all exciting and out of this world but some people would not accept that the flag is Botswana’s because its blue is not the right shade.

Also donated to the Botswana government by the Americans was a food sample for the sustenance of astronauts when they are in space. The caption reads: “Eating in space is difficult since food floats around the astronauts’ cabin. So the astronauts’ food is free ÔÇô dried and sealed in airtight packets. If the astronaut wants to eat the corn in the plastic packet, he adds three ounces of hot water through the top opening, waits for minutes and then sucks out the warm corn through the plastic tube at the bottom.”

One sample is compressed powder sealed in an airtight packet labeled “orange”.

It is the first time an exhibition of this sort has been held at the museum and as the visitors’ book reveals, a majority of those who have walked through the gallery’s doors have been most appreciative. “Amazing”, “beautiful”, “breathtaking”, “great”, “fantastic”, “informative”, “eye-opening”, “thrilling”, “educative” and “impressive” are just some of the words that have been used by visitors to describe the quality of the exhibition.

Not every visitor who jotted down their thoughts on the pages of the visitors’ book thinks that the exhibition is a breath of fresh air. “I am worried about the smell inside this area. Please try to improve. I nearly vomited,” wrote a sick Warona Noge as she came out. There indeed is an unpleasant smell that hits your nostrils as you go into the gallery. The smell, the museum attendant explains, comes from the bales of Lucerne next to glass-encased guns lent by the Botswana Defence Force for the period of the exhibition. The grass was freshly cut when it was brought in and as at last Friday, gave off the smell of under-developed, low-grade weed smuggled from Mozambique.

Atop the Lucerne bales are baskets containing agricultural produce like beans, maize, corn and peanuts. There is no “thanks for the peanuts” in the visitors’ book but the museum attendant says that the peanuts have been disappearing at an alarming rate, courtesy of some visitors. One, more daring visitor/thief nicked a tin of canned beef from the Botswana Meat Commission.

The exhibition’s minus is that there are some information gaps on some of the exhibits. There is no caption next to the leopard skin hanging from the wall. A Motswana who is more than just a Botswana citizen would readily know that the skin is a symbol of royal power and authority but not everybody who visits the museum is a Motswana.

The caption on a rusty ancient farm tool simply reads “Phangule ÔÇô Kalanga marriage hoe”. A bit more information would have been helpful.

Nametso Serakalala, another one of people who have penned her thoughts in the visitors’ book, felt that the exhibition “should add a little bit of other cultures”. Valid point because if you have exhibits about Kalanga, Ngwato, Mbukushu and Sarwa cultures you would be hard put to explain why you left out other cultures.

The archaeology section is perhaps the most interesting. According to information in this section, Batswana originate from present-day Cameroon.

“They arrived in present-day Botswana with their knowledge of metallurgy, pottery making and agriculture about 1600 years ago,” the explanatory notes read.

It will be some time ( a couple of decades it seems) before we qualify for the World Cup but it is real nice to know that in the interim the football team from our ancestral would be representing us.

Through this connection we should be able to claim to have played in the World Cup.

In the same section is an assertion that would fit perfectly in a High Court affidavit of the CKGR case: “Archaeological research shows that the Basarwa are the earliest inhabitants of Botswana.”
The exhibition will run until December.


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