Thursday, June 13, 2024

Sandy Grant’s new book to help sell Botswana abroad

Sometime in the sixties and somewhere in England, there lived a man called Martin Ennals. He was the secretary general of an organization called Amnesty International. That man donated Sandy Grant to Batswana. What a wonderful thing! Perhaps he was hopeful that by doing that he was doing a wonderful job but could not predict to what extent the man would be considered a resourceful individual. All he knew was that he was donating Sandy Grant to supervise the construction of a facility in Mochudi to serve as a transit home for South African refugees fleeing political persecution from that country. Both men had never been to Bechuanaland, but had seen in the map that it shared the border with apartheid South Africa and Mochudi was best suited for such a facility.

The arrival of Sandy Grant in Mochudi in the middle of 1963 followed consultative meetings between Ennals, Lady Mitchison and an African school boy called Linchwe Kgafela who later became Kgosi Linchwe ll. Having agreed on the construction of such a facility, Annals persuaded Sandy Grant to undertake a trip across the seas to the remotest dusty village of Mochudi in Bechuanaland, soon to become the Republic of Botswana. The facility was completed and served its purpose to the fullest with Sandy Grant at the helm. While here, Sandy Grant did not confine himself to the work of the facility. He stretched the wins and involved himself in other tribal and national projects. The Phuthadikobo Museum in Mochudi being one of them. Bechuanaland was going through severe drought spell. Sandy Grant worked to provide relief and to foster local development initiatives.

He also became an established photographer, author and columnist. It is him as an author that I am writing this piece. He has authored five books so far one of them being “Decorated Homes in Botswana.” The other one is “Botswana: Choice and Opportunity”. His latest book is titled, “Botswana: photographs of a country in transition people and their places”. The photographs date from 1965 to 2016. It is often said that “don’t judge the book by its cover” whatever that means. However, in this book, the cover page tells it all. It invites the reader to look for what the inside pages contain. It shows how the village of Serowe looked in the years preceding independence, small roundvels encircled by what looks like moreomotala plant known elsewhere as motsetse and no toilets at all. All the photographs selected for the book are of historical perspective. I remember seeing a photograph of Kgosi Linchwe and his deputy, Phulane Pilane dividing the cattle of the deceased persons to the beneficiaries at their cattle post.

During those days, it was a norm for people to verbally inform Kgosi Linchwe about the arrangements they wished carried out following their deaths, especially when they foresaw the likelihood of dissension. Fore-worded by the former President, Festus Mogae, the book is the first  of photographs of people of Botswana to be published since independence. In contrast, there have been many great wonderful works published during those years about the country’s wildlife and wilderness.

A press release issued by the author early this year quotes a Professor John Comaroff at Harvard University in the US as saying Sandy Grant’s photos “are a great national and regional treasure”, adding that, “I have not seen many other images of Botswana during this period with similar content”.   One wonders how long it took the author to make a careful selection of 350 photographs in the book.  Another professor who commended on the book is Jack Parson. He is said to have said the author’s pictorial history of the first 50 years of the country’s independence ably tells a story of the dramatic changes that took place chronicling that which has been lost and that which has been gained. Chedza Mogae is another who has perused the book. She is said to have said to Sandy Grant, “I went through your book the other day. It spoke of simpler, kinder and better times. It’s an important contribution to history”.

 Indeed it is a remarkable contribution to the country’s history. Imagine what would have happened if the publisher had refused the publication of this book. No doubt the photos would ultimately go into the dust bin. The book shows changes that have taken place since the past to the present. It is a record of the past. It is something which will help the tourism people sell Botswana to the outside world. This is the book that all the Botswana embassies and high commissions should have in their offices. Photos were taken at various places including the otherwise remotest villages of Bobonong and Lesenopole at the time.

While perusing through it, I spotted magnificent photos some showing what would be termed a graveyard of a multiple ox wagons which gives an idea of the mode of transport used in the country in the past. Those were the years of the ox-wagons and sledges. The years when the sight of a motor vehicle traversing villages was a rare and an exciting opportunity. A photograph of the last black smith in Mochudi, Koos Davis, the father to the late MP for Mochudi East, Isaac Davis is also there.

Another significant photo is that showing boys wearing the customary loin cover and barefoot. Nowadays, this type is unseen and unheard of. Those were the years when some communities in this country had not spotted a train or even the railway line. Those were the years when the country’s motor vehicle registration numbers had three letters. For instance, in his book, Sandy Grant has captured a “BPB 115” motor vehicle registration number for Serowe. For Gaborone, the registration number was BPD while Molepolole was BPE. Sandy Grant hopes to release another book on Botswana later this year. The title is “Gaborone: Birth of the capital.


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