Thursday, June 20, 2024

Tribute to Major General (Rtd) Pule Motang

He stood at 1.75 metres tall and was a strong character whose demeanour could be mistaken for arrogance.

At any given moment, he was given to singing his praises but who could blame him for that because he had earned his bragging rights. The first Botswana Defence Force (BDF) officer to become a Colonel in 1978, “PJ” as he was fondly called by those close to him, would boast years later when he had traded army fatigues for Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) red shirts: “I am the first Morolong to be Major General and the first Major General to become a councillor.” And indeed he was a man of many firsts who also wear many hats.

Pule Joyce Motang was born on June 28, 1935 as the fourth child to Chwaane and Wabola Motang in Goodhope. His father was from Radira ward in Mahikeng, South Africa and his mother from the Kgokologa family in Kanye. The young Motang grew up in the farming community of Barolong Farms where he herded cattle and worked in crop fields. Goodhope was also where he started his primary school but he would later transfer to a Mahikeng school. Then tragedy struck. His father died, forcing Motang to quit school and assume a breadwinner role. Coming back home, he later proceeded to Gaborone ÔÇô “Gaberones” at the time – to look for a job. He hit pay dirt in September 1960 when he was enlisted in what was then called the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police ÔÇô whose name had evolved from the original Bechuanaland Mounted Police and later the Bechuanaland Border Police. Some of Motang’s instructors at the Police College, then at Village, included Paul Holden, Charles Norwebb and Ranthebana Baletloa.

Two months before Motang fetched up at the Police College, another young man, a certain Mompati Sebogodi Merafhe from Serowe, had also been enlisted. It was at this time that the two men formed a bond so strong that one would literally see the other to his grave. In his memoirs, Merafhe says that upon completing his basic training, he was posted to Lobatse. Constable Motang went to a much farther but familiar place ÔÇô Mahikeng, where he was posted at the Imperial Reserve (the headquarters of the colonial administration) to work as a driver. One little known oddity about the Bechuanaland Protectorate is that its capital was outside its borders – which some historians say was a world record. That was how Motang, who was a Bechuanaland Protectorate policemen, came to be working in South Africa.

He didn’t stay long in Mahikeng because a year later, he was transferred to the Police Mobile Unit in Gaberones. And he didn’t stay bare-shouldered for long either because in 1964, he was promoted to the rank of Trooper and three years later, to Sergeant. A year before the last promotion, Bechuanaland Protectorate had gained independence from Britain and become the Republic of Botswana. What had been the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police became the Botswana Police Force and in 1996, would undergo another name change, becoming the present-day Botswana Police Service. With his third promotion to Inspector in 1971, Motang also became a Platoon Commander in charge of border patrols around the country.  He continued to scale the Force’s heights, becoming Assistant Superintendent in 1975.

The Botswana of this time was hemmed in by three vicious, white-ruled states: apartheid South Africa, apartheid Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) and apartheid South West Africa (present-day Namibia). Contingents of soldiers from these countries periodically made incursions into Botswana, often in pursuit of freedom fighters ÔÇô whom they called “terrorists.”

In 1977, the Botswana parliament passed a law establishing the Botswana Defence Force and it was only natural that its first members would come from an already established para-military police unit. Thus it was that following the establishment of BDF, Motang was designated Lieutenant Colonel and Commanding Officer of the new force’s troops. Despite its name, Bechuanaland Protectorate never had defensive capability and infrastructure that the new nation of Botswana would have inherited. Of the money that the colonial government spent on the protectorate, 75 percent went to administrative expenses and a measly 25 percent to arming border communities to “defend” themselves against Germans in South West Africa and Boers in South Africa. As Scott Beaulier observes, with British Empire’s colonial budget stretched by expenses in India, South Africa and Rhodesia, “it simply left Bechuanaland Protectorate alone and hoped for no military conflicts.” For that reason, BDF had to start from scratch in all respects.

One of Motang’s very first assignments in 1977 was to set up the Selibe Phikwe Garrison. A year later, he was transferred ÔÇô on promotion – to Francistown. It was this promotion that provided basis for the boast about him being the first officer in the BDF to become a Colonel. During that time, whenever anyone referred to “Colonel” in Botswana, he was the only who answered to that description. More importantly though, Colonel Motang was part of BDF’s High Command, a triumvirate that was helping BDF take baby steps. Above him were Major General Merafhe as the Founding Commander and Brigadier Ian Khama as the Deputy Commander. This was the same Merafhe that Motang had made acquaintances with at the Police College in 1960. Merafhe had also been going up the ladder at the Botswana Police Force. On one fateful morning, he was called to the Office of the President where President Sir Seretse Khama offered him the job of BDF Commander.

It was while Motang was in charge of the Francistown barracks that soldiers from the Rhodesian army ambushed a BDF convoy on February 28, 1978 in the village of Lesoma, in the process killing 15 soldiers and one civilian. This incident shocked the new nation and its even newer defence force to the core. The heightened security situation called for strong and decisive leadership which, as it happened, Motang had in abundance. Despite challenges of travel and radio communication, he led a platoon of young and inexperienced soldiers from his Francistown base to Lesoma to survey the ambush scene.

Decades later when BDF had acquired highly sophisticated weaponry and was now under its third commander, a group of officers was commissioned to study the Lesoma Ambush. One of those officers, future BDF Commander, Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe, interviewed the now retired Major General Motang who, as Mmegi reports, said that “BDF would not have been able to match the Rhodesian army’s might.”

That last rank had been conferred upon Motang in 1989, some six years after another promotion to Brigadier. On becoming Major General, he was transferred to the Sir Seretse Khama Barracks in Gaborone where he deputised the Commander, Lieutenant General Khama. A year earlier, Merafhe had retired from the army and joined politics. When he retired two years later, Motang’s own post-army career would include politics. Returning to his home village of Goodhope, he first became a respected community leader, often being consulted on development projects and matters relating to tribal administration. Between 1995 and 2000, he served as a member of the Rolong Land Board.

Being back home permanently and in a vastly changed Botswana, acquainted Motang with incidents of marauding bands of youthful hooligans who terrorised residents. For a man who practically grew up in the army and in a much saner Botswana, this made him pine for less troubled days and wish he could do something about this public safety threat. That is the context in which Motang may have been half-serious when he joked that had this hooliganism happened when he was still in the army, he would have crawled on his stomach all the way from SSKB to Pitsane, exterminate the hooligans, then crawl back the way he came. This may have been a joke but the comedian was someone who had received highly advanced military training to do all that and more.

Motang was a certified weapons handler for 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) and the 9mm pistol; had received specialised training in Armour, Mobile Unit Section Leading, First-Aid Instructor and Explosives; had special skills in Law Enforcement, Criminal Investigation, Crime Prevention and Defensive Tactics; and had also attended command courses in Libya and Mozambique as well as senior command courses in India. A highly decorated officer, he was awarded the Founder Officer Medal (FOM) in 1981 and the Duty Code Order (DCO) in 1991.

Major General was buried on the September 20 in Goodhope and is survived by his wife of 56 years ÔÇô Edith Setlhomo Motang (nee Marumoloa).


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