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African American history in Botswana

Jeff Ramsay

In the United States February is annually marked as Black History Month. It is in this context that, for the eleventh year in a row, the American Embassy has partnered with the University of Botswana to locally “celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans to the United States and the world.”

At the centre of this year’s programme were three films on aspects of the African-American experience, being documentaries on the rise of Barack Obama and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, along with “12 Years a Slave.”

The latter feature film is an unvarnished portrayal of the brutality of slavery based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and enslaved in 1841. Many readers will recall that the film won last year’s Best Picture Oscar, being the first time such an award went to a black film director and producer, Steve McQueen; with newcomer  HYPERLINK "" Lupita Nyong'o also taking the supporting Actress Award for her role in the film.

While the above stories are certainly of universal relevance, what nonetheless appears to have been missing is any direct reflection of the global role played by African-Americans much less black people in general. One cannot, for example honestly speak of 20th century African political thought without reference to the influence of such Diaspora figures as W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey and George Padmore among others.

Longstanding Pan-African ties are further reflected in the fact that many prominent African nationalists were profoundly shaped by their own experiences living in segregation era America. Among these was the founding father of the African National Congress, Pixley Seme, who while graduating with honours from Columbia University in 1906, was also awarded the institution’s George William Curtis medal for oratory for his poetic as well as prophetic address on “The Regeneration of Africa”. This author’s favourite passage:

“Oh, for that historian who, with the open pen of truth, will bring to Africa`s claim the strength of written proof. He will tell of a race whose onward tide was often swelled with tears, but in whose heart bondage has not quenched the fire of former years. He will write that in these later days when Earth`s noble ones are named, she has a roll of honour too, of whom she is not ashamed. The giant is awakening! From the four corners of the earth Africa’s sons, who have been proved through fire and sword, are marching to the future’s golden door bearing the records of deeds of valour done”.

Among those who followed in Seme’s footsteps were such figures as Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Hastings Banda and Eduardo Mondlane.

Less well known and celebrated has been the role played by black migrants from the USA and the Caribbean in Africa itself. During the nineteenth century Cape Town in particular became the home of many such figures. One of these was the earliest know African American visitor to Botswana, the pioneer trader explorer George Fleming. Between 1849 and 1856 he accompanied David Livingstone and others on four pioneering expeditions to Ngamiland and the middle Zambezi.

An ex-slave, George Fleming arrived in Cape Town as a sailor from the West Indies. In his correspondence Livingstone further claims that he had originally escaped from slavery in the US. Otherwise not much is known about his life before 1849 when he was hired as a cook by William Cotton Oswell to take part in the first ‘European’ expedition to Lake Ngami, along with Livingstone and others. The journey organized by Dikgosi Letsholathebe and Sechele, working with Oswell, to further promote the arms for ivory trade.     
In 1851, Fleming once more travelled with Oswell and Livingstone to the Makololo kingdom, from where they further explored the middle Zambezi. During this expedition Fleming may have been with Oswell when the latter became the first European to spot Mosi-oa-thunya (four years before Livingstone who had remained behind).

Fleming subsequently succeeded in obtaining financial backing from a Cape Town merchant named Howson Rutherford, in order to establish himself as an interior trader. In a letter to Oswell, Livingstone thus reported: “Your cook George Fleming proposes to go up country on his own account some months hence. Mr. Rutherford seems to approve of the plan and so I think will give him goods to trade with.”

It was in this independent context that Fleming ultimately joined Livingstone in returning to the Makololo country in June 1853. The two parted in November 1853 with Fleming travelling back to Grahamstown with a profitable load of ivory.

Fleming’s final known expedition was in 1856 when he was entrusted by the London Missionary Society with the task of carrying supplies to Livingstone whose exact whereabouts were then unknown. The two were thereafter reunited at Quelimane in Mozambique. After a further journey to Mauritius, Fleming appears to have remained in Cape Town.

While it is clear that a genuine bond of friendship existed between Fleming and Livingstone the latter’s obsession with taking sole credit for his supposed ‘discoveries’ along with the racism of the era has served to obscure Fleming’s legacy. Sadly unlike his contemporary Northup, Fleming only appears in the writings of others.

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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