Thursday, July 18, 2024

Open Letter to the Commander, BDF

Having served the country’s military for twenty years and being the recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM), I am at a vantage position to be one of those who can advance their advice to the military leadership of this country. In any case, I have been privileged to advice several commanders in the past and especially Gen Khama. 

There are many retired soldiers who share the very sentiments I am about to express in this article and I dedicate this read to all the military veterans in this country. I have written in the past about the military history of Botswana and have had a lot of feedback from serving and retired military men and women. 

When doing my research and particularly at the National Archives, I have unearthed materials I had not anticipated and this trove of information dates back to colonial times. Unfortunately we have restricted our military history on the Second World War and after. There is a lot more and one of the interesting aspects of military history in this country is in regard to military operations of the Anglo-Boer War.

What I would like to challenge the commander to is in regard to the history of the very military establishment he is leading. The future of our military looks bright while the past is all covered by a thick fog. This is how I can sum up the situation of our military regarding its history. 

BDF has had very humble beginnings and the youth of today marvel at the stories. But these stories have somewhat become mythological narratives that are orally passed from one generation of soldiers to the next. We are slowly losing our history and it is high time we do something about it.

Like I earlier said, I have in the past written about the history of our defence force that is going to waste but this time around I have been challenged to write this particular article by members of the BDF Retired Members Association. We often engage in rich discussions about the past operations of our military.

During the years I served as an officer I have had an opportunity to do several military courses run by BDF. It was during these courses that I realised that examples of good and bad operations were always taken from other countries. We have our own examples here from the different operations from the days of the Para Military Unit (PMU) into the days of the Rhodesian War after the formation of the BDF. 

I learnt something very interesting from these veterans as we had our discussions. We have always known PMU to stand for Police Mobile Unit, this was never the case. The veterans from this unit tell us that it was initially named as Para Military Unit. This needs to be demystified and the record of history needs to be set straight.

Coming back to what we teach to our young soldiers, we need to bring our own failed and successful operations into our curriculum. A bad example of running logistics during operations has always been taken from the Korean War and the campaign by India to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan. Speaking to our own veterans, I have come to realise that there is a lot we can learn from them in regard to their operations.

It is through this article that I am literally conveying the sentiment of these veterans from PMU and BDF. They are asking that history be written. One of the most outstanding operations during the days of the PMU is the killing of Reni Les (known as Rangles by our people). This man was a Belgian fugitive and he was killed after he himself had killed Sergeant Philip Kgari and critically injuring Constable Kaizer Mokokwe in 1975.   

Then during the days after the establishment of the BDF, one of the most outstanding operations has been that which resulted in the killing of Lt Allen York of the Rhodesian Army. These are operations that need to be discussed at Staff College and at the Force Training Establishment during military courses. The participants in these operations are still alive and when they relate these stories, it is like it happened last month.

The other part of history that we need to preserve is with regard to military relics of the past. BDF has already lost most of it valuable history in terms of vehicles and equipment. It is high time that this organization establishes a military museum.

When you visit Zimbabwe, they have several stations where they display their military history from the colonial era. In fact when one passes through Gweru on the way to Harare, the military articles are so inviting by the side of the road. Most people will have a midway stop here just to appreciate this history. In the process they will spend money in that town and help grow its economy.

BDF needs to learn from Botswana Police Service when it comes to preservation of institutional history. I always marvel during Police Day when I see them display those old uniforms and the old Bedford vehicles that were split between the cabin and the load body. People called it sekete le bolausu (skirt and blouse) because the split was so significant that it was like this vehicle was pulling a trailer instead. 

Where are the early Land Rover vehicles BDF used in those challenging operations? It’s a pity your predecessors decided to sell them through public auctions. But there is still a chance to salvage whatever remains in private hands throughout the country. As I write, there is an old Mercedes Benz troop carrier from the early days parked in front of Mogoditshane Police and this vehicle has been ceased for illegal sand mining.

I personally can help in the collection of these items because I am always on the lookout for these articles of history. I personally bought a Land Rover 109 from an auction in 1993 which was a great machine. I traced its history and it happened to have been a personal vehicle for Lt Col Ratshipa who was the Commanding Officer of E Company which is now 12 Infantry Battalion. The vehicle was registered as BDF 1037.

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