Sunday, July 5, 2020

Save Botswana Military History (SOS)

Over the past months I have been going through this country’s military history on this paper starting with the participation of the Ngwato Defence Force (NDF) in the downfall of King Lobengula of the Ndebele. General Khama IV was personally in charge of this operation as he commanded the NDF on a southerly assault on Bulawayo. Last week we were going through the return of the Second World War heroes.

I had intended to transition from there on and get into discussing military history in Botswana from the first day of our independence. Truly speaking there was nothing happening militarily in the period between WW II and 1966 when this country attained independence. But interesting enough I have found myself stuck because there is very little information available in our country about our country.

It was not difficult to draw some write up for all the previous military campaigns in which Batswana participated. But it is proving a little difficult writing about the establishment of the Police Mobile Unit, a para-military wing of Botswana Police Force. This was a precursor to our current military as Botswana Defence Force was founded on this police unit. A good number of the men that belonged to PMU are still alive in their old age. But they are slowly disappearing as determined by nature from the day they were born.

There is nothing on record about PMU on the internet. I must admit that doing newspaper columns does need some research effort but in the case of post-independence military history, the information can only be accessed in the National Archives. I do get a lot of readers giving me feedback on my writings. Mr Sandy Grant privately told me that he enjoys reading what I write even though at times it gets a bit “wobbly.” Of course I have my limitations because I do not have the resources to do in-depth research. I am not a historian but I am a writer who has keen interest in following the events of history.

So going forward with little available archival material, it’s not going to get wobbly but the boat is really going to rock. I have read some works of Sandy Grant and I find him to be more refined in his work and I am looking forward to reading his recently published memoirs. Dr Jeff Ramsey has equally done this country a great service in following up certain elements of our obscure history and particularly its military aspect. He does so much in-depth research to a point where others think he is writing fiction

Another historian of note is Professor Neil Parsons who used to be a teaching professor at the University of Botswana. This is the man who brought it to our attention that what we learnt at school as our history was something cooked up particularly regarding the trip to England to request for protectorate status. That whole trip is a fallacy and you must go and read his book; “King Khama, Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen.” That status was actually determined by the events of the Jameson Raid which occurred at the end of that trip.

I know that there are indigenous historians of note but there is a reason why I have exclusively acknowledged the work of these three white men. It is a pity that it is not easy to get meaningful scholarships for indigenous people to do meaningful research. Otherwise we have so many people who are able to write our history.

Our country needs to look at its history in a different way going forward. This paradigm shift will only occur if the young aspiring historians are funded to do their research. We no longer can afford to have someone to come from abroad and teach us our history while we have remained in the dark. We as a nation need to take our history seriously so that we may appreciate the current affairs which are surely influenced by the past.

Our president is a historian himself and we are looking forward to seeing him elevate this subject. One of the things that need to be done as a matter of urgency is to withdraw our colonial records from Mafikeng. Tons of paper lie in the corridors of Mafikeng Museum waiting to be collected. This city used to be our administrative capital and hence the existence of our records in that foreign land.

In the last two weeks I have been calling several members of Botswana Police who were there at the time of independence to establish the truth on certain aspect of the history of the PMU. There is so much conflicting information to a point where I decided to withhold writing anything about this organ of the police until I have fully verified them as facts. One of the questions I was asking is the sequence of events regarding the ascension of Ian Khama.

One of these grandfathers told me that I was asking very difficult things because no one would have ever been noticing when and how the president’s son was trained and how he progressed. The only meaningful answer I got was from Mr Lesedi Mothibamele who was Khama’s immediate superior. While he served as Station Commander, Gaborone Central Police Station, Khama was his traffic officer at the rank of inspector. It was a very interesting interview that Mr Mothibamele gave and at the end of it I realise how much we are losing from that aspect of our unrecorded history.

It will be in the interest of the police commissioner and the BDF commander to commission a team that can record such vibrant history. The interesting thing is that we still have people that can deliver oral accounts of what happened back in the days. There is not much these old men are doing and from my interaction with them I have come to the conclusion that it really recharges them to reminisce on their youth.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

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