Thursday, July 2, 2020

Remembering June 14 raid by South African commandos

In the morning thirty-five years ago today, authorities in this country were still verifying the number of dead in the South African raid on Gaborone. At the end of counting, the number remained at 14. They had been killed during military raids at Bontleng, Broadhurst and Tlokweng. June 14 is a day every Motswana who was in Gaborone by then, especially those who heard the intermittent sound of automatic gun fire at the three targeted suburbs cannot afford to forget.        

The SADF seemed to have been proud that among their kill, was one Thami Mnyele, described as a junior MK leader. Also among the dead, was Duke Machobana. I remember Machobana because when he first arrived in Botswana from South Africa, he chose Mochudi as his base as he linked up with other refugees who already chose the village as their second home. Duke Machobana was a football player. He signed for Mochudi Rovers soon after his arrival. He was with another player called Trinity. I partnered with him as strikers at Rovers especially when the formation was a 4-4-2 and when we changed to 4-3-3-, Trinity would join us up front. Duke was a very good ball passer but unlike me, he was slow and did not have the speed and could not produce powerful shots.        

However, he was a provider. After the games we would go together with Razor Motlhagosi, Mapotsane Setshwane and Solomon Montlane to Motimalenyora for to quench thirst.  Off the field, he was one of those who used to whale time at Kgosi Linchwe II’s home. It will be recalled that Kgosi Linchwe was friendly to all those South African refugees who stayed in Mochudi. Like many ANC resident in Mochudi, Duke Machobana was fond of sometime disappearing for a day or two and would not explain his absence to his team-mates except to Kgosi Linchwe. The Chief would later tell me that he had gone out on an ANC “mission to the east”, pointing out to the direction of South Africa.        

After all, Mochudi was cited as the best place for South African refugees at a meeting attended by Kgosi Linchwe while a student in the UK, Lady Mitchison, officials of Amnesty International and Pan Africanist Congress representative in London in 1962. That meeting resulted with the building of the community centre in Mochudi in 1964. The centre was to be home for South African refugees.  

After sometime, Duke left for training elsewhere and returned to Mochudi two or three years later. He did not rejoin the Rovers upon his return to Mochudi. But he made me aware that he was back. It appeared he was preoccupied with liberation matters.        

I still have one of the leaflets the invaders dropped along the streets of Gaborone as they hurriedly exited the city. It bears the symbol of the South African Defense Force. The message is addressed to the people of Botswana. It reads, “South African troops have carried out an attack against houses used by ANC in your country. These ANC gangsters infiltrate into our country to murder innocent women and children of all races. We regard the people of Botswana as our friends and neighbours. We have no fight with you. Unfortunately your government assists these ANC gangsters to terrorise innocent people in our country. For your own safety you should not allow ANC members to live amongst you. We have no choice but to remove them from their nests wherever they may be”.       

A message such as this one can only be described as nothing but makgakga. Everybody knew that the apartheid regime in Pretoria had never been our friends. Everybody knew that they tried to force us into establishing diplomatic relations with them but we refused. Everybody knew that when that country declared war on its people, Botswana warmly received those fleeing from political persecution. It was madness for the racist regime to suggest to the world that they were friends of Batswana. The June 14 raid was not the first and was not the last. There had been several similar acts involving the apartheid country. A letter bomb that killed Abram Onkgopotse Tiro at Kgale, a car bomb blast in which David Nkadimeng was killed near North Side school in Gaborone, the killing of the Chand family at Sikwane in the Kgatleng District, the shooting of  a Botswana police patrol team at Kgale, the car bomb blast in Mochudi which killed four people, bomb blast  which reduced a house at Jinja in Gaborone to rubbles in an attempt to kill ANC’s Nat Serache, the raid at a residential complex at Mogoditshane and an attempt on the life of anti apartheid activist, Ronny Watson at President Hotel in Gaborone  are just a few incidents which show that  Botswana and apartheid South Africa have never existed as friends.        

Following the raid on Gaborone, a Botswana Guardian reporter called “Ace” was deported from Botswana for undisclosed reasons. But the timing of the deportation made everybody link it to the raid. The deportation came shortly after the BDF hierarchy had addressed a press conference on the raid. Private media houses which were functional at the time criticized the government for deporting “Ace” whose real names were Mxlolisi Mgxashe. He was a PAC activist who had fled to Botswana arriving in Mochudi in September 1966 as a refugee. He is the author of the book, “Are you with us?”  Some local newspapers claimed that “Ace” was deported because he had asked the BDF hierarchy “a search question” which embarrassed the defence force.         

Some years following the deportation of “Ace”, a certain Eeben Barlow authored a book titled “Executive Outcomes” in which he confirmed that the raid on Gaborone was carried out through the help of SADF spies based in Gaborone.  One such a SADF agent was a person called “Ace”.  It is not clear whether “Ace” the journalist is the same “Ace”, the SADF spy. Eeben Barlow states in his book that by late 1984, he had recruited a well-known South African left-wing journalist, a serving middle-ranking officer in the BDF, a low-level ANC operative and a PAC courier. Certainly it would be an interesting coincidence if there were two Aces both based in Gaborone and both belonging to the PAC.  A certain Harry in Gaborone was also given the task of determining what the BDF’s likely reaction would be if a Special Forces raid was to be mounted in and around the environs of Gaborone.        

Over a period of several weeks, they were able to build a comprehensive picture of the BDF, its activities and training areas.Whether “Ace” is the same person or not, the story is interesting. “Ace” used to provide Eeben Barlow with sensitive information relating both to the PAC and ANC/MK in and around Gaborone and Francistown. He had at times acted as a courier for those organizations, passing their documents on to Eeben Barlow for photocopying before continuing with his journey to deliver their mail. According to the book, Eeben Barlow knew a little about the geography of Botswana. He went to school in Francistown when he was a kid. He had also operated in Angola and Turkey. But the little that he knew was helpful to the SADF.He claims that by 1985 the ANC was well established in Botswana and that the majority of its “sabotage and terrorist actions” were planned and launched from Gaborone and its surroundings. It said that ANC had become a thorn in the side of not only the South African Government, but also the white farmers, who suffered most from their actions.

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