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The Fighting Becs Part 7 – The Invasion of Italy

Jeff Ramsay

We left off in July 1943 with Batswana APC companies in the thick of the fight to secure the Italian island of Sicily. The campaign resulted in the worst single attack suffered by Batswana during the war when 5 were killed and 26 severely wounded by German anti-personnel bombs.

The tragic event also resulted in five Batswana Pioneers being commended for their unfailing courage during the raid: Sergeants Otukile and Petoro, Corporals Phatsimo and Ditogile with a post-humus award also going to Private Ntshonyalo who had been among the fallen.

The invasion of Sicily led to the swift collapse of Italian Fascism. Fighting on the island was still ongoing when; on the 25th of July 1943 the country’s notorious Dictator, Benito Mussolini, was deposed and arrested by his own Grand Council.

The last Axis resistance on the island capitulated on the 17th of August 1943, by which time an interim Italian government under Marshal Badoglio, backed by the King Victor Emmanuel II, was engaged in secret negotiations to switch sides in the war from the Axis to the allied or United Nations (UN) camp.

The negotiations resulted in an agreement that Italy’s announcement of the shift on the 3rd of September 1943 would be followed by the first of a series of landings on the Italian mainland.

On the 3rd of September, in what turned out to be a diversion, units of the British 8th Army still under General Bernard Montgomery carried out Operation Baytown. The Operation involved crossing the narrow Strait of Messina, which separated Sicily from the Italian mainland, at Reggio.

Operation Baytown went off without serious incident. The Italian Forces either stood down or cooperated with the invaders, while the Germans pulled back. Within 24 hours of the initial landing, Batswana of 1977 Smoke and 1990 Pioneer Companies had joined in the push up the toe of Italy to the strategic town of Crotone.

On the 8th of September 1943 the bulk of the 8th Army unleashed Operation Slapstick, which involved their landing at the major port city and naval base Taranto. Welcomed by the Italian forces on the scene Taranto and the surrounding region were also quickly secured despite numerous logistical hiccups, which resulted in British troops speaking of the landing itself as “Operation Bedlam.”

A total of five Batswana Companies- 1966, 1967, 1969, 1975 and 2302 participated in Operation Slapstick. Having recovered from its losses at Lentini, the 1967 Support Company was kept busy arming and fuelling RAF planes.

From Taranto, 1966 Company joined the advance on the Adriatic port of Brindisi, establishing along the way ammunition and fuel dumps for Montgomery’s armoured divisions. The heavy 3.7 guns of the other units provided air cover. By October 1943, seven more Batswana companies had joined the 8th Army from Sicily and the Middle East. At the time the greatest danger was seemingly on the sea rather than land.

In May 1943 the Bakgatla of 1974 company watched helplessly as the lives of 624 of their Basotho comrades were lost when the troopship S.S. Eripura was torpedoed in front of them by a German U-boat. For many of the masole their narrow escape from this tragedy, like that of the earlier, First World War, sinking of the S.S. Mendi that had also been mostly carrying Basotho troops, confirmed the power both of their Christian prayers and dingaka’s charms.

The biggest and riskiest of the landings, which was timed for the 9th of September 1943, was Operation Avalanche, which involved the America 5th Army reinforced by the British 10th Corps landing at the seaside town of Salerno.

The senior UN commander General (later U.S.A. President) Dwight Eisenhower and overall theatre, British General Harold Alexander, along with his two senior deputies, Montgomery and U.S. 5th Army Commander General Mark Clark, were confident that Italy’s surrender and defection to the UN camp would pave the way for a rapid UN advance through southern Italy in order to quickly secure the capital, Rome.

But this scenario was not to be. Instead Batswana gunners of the 278, 279 and 280 HAA Artillery Batteries were prominent among those who prevented a near disastrous American defeat at Salerno

During the landings, the Germans unleashed a new super weapon on U.N. shipping and port facilities in the Mediterranean, the “Fritx X”. The world’s first operational guided missile, when mounted on specially designed Dornier light bombers the Fritz X was a formidable challenge to the UN forces including Batswana gunners and smokescreen operators.

On the 9th of September 1943 the British and now allied Italian fleets suffered heavy losses when the Fritz X was deployed for the first time. This further complicated the task of Gen. McCreery's 10th Corps, incorporating 1976 (Bangwato) Company, which had landed at Salerno as the spearhead of Operation Avalanche only to find themselves in front of reinforced units of the German 10th Army holding the high ground.

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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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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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