Saturday, July 4, 2020

Sandy Grant: Memoirs on Botswana’s Development

Last week I received a soft copy of a recently published book by one of the pioneering developers of this country. After reading my article on the Ntsweng Heritage Site, Sandy Grant granted me a copy of his newly published book via email. The book is titled; Botswana: Choice and Opportunity, A Memoir 1963 to 2018 and this is published by Humming Earth of Scotland.

This has been an inspiration to me as I intend to publish my first book in several months to come. What caught my interest the most has been the history that the author has shared in this book. Grant’s memoirs point to how rudimentary things were at the time he arrived in this country and how he has been a partner in development. Of course this is not his first book and I find this one to be a very fine read. Grant came into pre-independent Botswana as a volunteer if one may say. He was immediately hooked up with development work in Mochudi. In 1964 he was involved in his first major project which was the building of the Community Centre which was to become so pivotal in the development of the village and the entire Kgatla district.

While reading this book, I literally shed a tear while looking a one of the photographs in the book that depicted child labour in colonial times. Grant writes with so much pride about the Mochudi Community Centre and even goes on to show a picture of primary school children carrying bricks for the project on their heads. Depending on your worldview, you will have different emotions about the picture and about the book itself.Without the involvement of children in this project, it may never have come to completion in time. Children depicted in this picture seem to have adopted the work ethic of ants as they haul their loads in a well-coordinated manner.

In Africa children have always been part of the workforce and they are given to do the little bit they can manage to perform. And this is how they are trained and it is here that they develop necessary work ethics.And why did I shed a tear when reading through and seeing this picture? At the age of sixteen, during the August school holiday in 1983, I was employed by Quarries of Botswana as a translator and clerk. Raised by a single mother who was finding it very difficult to take two of her sons through secondary school, I had no choice but to indulge myself in the world of paid work.

The company had just won the contract to be a partner in developing Gaborone International Airport with Alfred McAlpine which was the main contractor. I had arrived at the company site at 8am and I had to wait for an hour or so for the company owner to arrive and meet me. I had stated my case to the foreman who actually laughed off at the idea of a sixteen year old getting a job in a mining environment. The man was partly right because I looked rather too small for my age. Lack of proper nutrition had robbed me of my actual stature. Soon the owner of the company arrived in a modest car and was roughly dressed and ready for manual labour. He was in a jovial mood and he immediately asked me for my name. Richard Smith was quick to call me namesake right after I introduced myself.

I was immediately employed and Mr Smith as I would from that moment on refer to him did not even allow me to go back home and prepare for my first day at work the next day.80% of the men working for the company were former South African miners. Mr Smith was having a hard time as an Englishman in a setting where Fanakalo was the common language. I had knocked at his door at the right time. I was issued with an overall and they had to go through the whole store to find me a fitting size or there about. A yellow hardhat was issued to me with an oversized pair of boots with a steel toe cover and they somewhat resembled the head of a ferocious bulldog.

I actually had two jobs at the company. I went around with Mr Smith as his translator and when he was away I doubled as a PLO (Petrol, Lubricants and Oils) Officer. It was rough at the quarry when Mr Smith was away as I worked in an environment that was never created for a Form Two boy that I was at the time. The language was as rough as a miner’s mouth can get. The “F” word was the order of the day. One ex-Rhodesian soldier who worked with us on site even used the “F” word on me even when he was appreciating. He told me that I was f…ng good for an untrained PLO Officer as I got the machines rolling in and out of the open cast mine pit every day and production was impressive. Within a week of my arrival there were two spot checks by the Department of Mines. This was a new mine and very close to the capital town and getting to the site was very easy for the government officials.

It was obvious that they would raise an alarm if they came across me. Mr Smith had hatched a plan on how I would disappear the minute the inspectors showed up.There was a big steel cabinet in the prefabricated office and we had already practiced the drill on how I would stash myself tight in there until someone came to knock and announce the departure of the inspectors who were known to be very strict. One day the inspection started in the office and ended in the pit. After an hour I was still in the cabinet in the sweltering summer heat as they all had forgotten about my temporary residence in that box.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.