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The Fighting Becs Part 9 – The daring dozen at Bari

Jeff Ramsay
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA

We left off in on the 18th of September 1943 with the US 5th Army, including the Batswana gunners of 278, 279, and 280 batteries of the 87th HAA Royal Artillery Regiment, linking up with the British 8th Army, which by then included some 3,000 additional Batswana combatants brought over from North Africa.

In the days that followed the Batswana HAA batteries helped provide artillery cover for the 5th Army’s advance on the major Italian port city of Naples. As part of the frontline they thus became engaged in the final, fierce stages of the heavy fighting at Chiunzi Pass, otherwise known as “88 Junction” for the number of troops cut down by the notorious German .88 flak guns.

In the shadow of the famous Mount Vesuvius volcano, the pass had been taken by US Special Forces of the 3rd and 4th Ranger Battalions at the beginning of the Salerno campaign. But in the context of the near disaster at the beach head they had subsequently found themselves cut off behind enemy lines for eighteen days.

As part of the relief column, the Batswana gunners were among those who took causalities in the face of a constant barrage from German mortars, flak guns and armour. For its part the Germans 10th Army continued to put up a stout resistance, taking advantage of the mountainous terrain to once more initially stall the advance of their opponents.

The tide of the battle began to shift on the 27th of September 1943 when the people of Naples rose up in a popular uprising that over the next four days largely liberated their city from the German occupiers; an important milestone in the emergence of the Italian Resistance as a significant force in the unfolding struggle.

Finding their position now untenable the Germans concentrated on destroying the harbour’s infrastructure before finally evacuating the city on the 1st of October. The 10th Army, however,  quickly redeployed to form part of the defensive "Volturno Line" that by then ran across Italy from Castle Volturno on the west coast to the Adriatic port of Bari on the east coast. The latter town was captured by the 8th Army on the 4th of October.

After securing Naples, the 5th Army advanced to the Volturno River where it challenged the Germans for control of the strategic bridges at Capua, Grazzianise and Cancello. In this battle the "Becs" of the 87th artillery helped secure the skies with their mobile 3.7 guns, while other Batswana among the "Desert Rats" of the 7th armoured division carried out field firing for the advancing infantry.

On 19th of October 1943 the Volturno Line was broken, but the Germans continued to inflict heavy casualties on the various allied forces now arrayed against them, while falling back to their more heavily fortified "Gustav Line". In this further advance the Batswana gunners were once more ordered to revert to field firing on German panzer (tank) units in the hills around the Gulf of Gaeta.

Thereafter, a Luftwaffe attack on the Bangwato and Bakwena gunners resulted in the downing of six German planes around the small coastal town of Mondragone. Former APC Pioneer Corp Major R.A.R. Bent later wrote:

"The fine work of the regiment from Salerno to the Garigliano approaches had earned its Colonel the D.S.O. [Distinguished Service Order], and the honour of one was the honour of all. The spirit of the Bangwato gunners during these months of battle is hard to describe; it was sufficient to say that they were on top of the world, serving and firing great guns which were of no mean account in forcing the enemy from one position to another. No effort was too much for them, nor could anything terrify them: the African gunners’ dream of firing in the field had been fulfilled."

Meanwhile, at Bari, the Batswana of 1979 APC Smoke Company also distinguished itself during a massive evening Luftwaffe raid. The enemy had hit an ammunition ship close to a 24 man Batswana platoon, which began to burn out of control.

Aware of the danger the Batswana held their ground. When the explosion occurred five were killed and another seven critically wounded. One of the wounded was 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.

During the raid the dozen survivors struggled to maintain the screen surrounded by fire and death. A total of thirteen ships were sunk during the raid, all from hits sustained in the four minutes before the smoke screen was raised and maintained.

But for the men of 1979 Company, in particular, a bad situation could have undoubtedly been much worse. For personal heroism in rallying his men following the explosion Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while the platoon's officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was awarded an M.B.E.

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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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