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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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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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