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The Fighting Becs – Part 10: When Batswana built bridges in a day

Jeff Ramsay

We left off with at the port of Bari, Italy, where the Batswana of 1979 APC Smoke Company lost five men, with another seven critically wounded, while distinguishing themselves by putting up smoke screens credited with saving allied ships. For his personal heroism in rallying “the daring dozen” following the initial Luftwaffe attack, Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal.

It is one of the sad ironies of history that great examples of human productivity have often occurred during the course of wars. This was certainly true of the Second World War, which constitutes an extreme example of humankind’s productive as well as destructive capacity. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that one finds incredible examples of productivity among the Batswana APC. As with any military formation the routine tasks of some of the troops were, in this respect, mundane but vital.

Many Batswana, for example, manned petrol depots during the British 8th Army’s advance up the Italian peninsula. In a 12-hour period one 90-man unit was reported to have washed, filled, stacked and loaded 295,000 litres of petrol. Another 70-man unit did 215,000, while a 120 man group prided itself on a consistent output of 40,000 an hour.

Other Batswana companies took pride in their ability to assemble prefabricated Bailey Bridges, designed with the capacity to withstand the weight of entire armoured columns, in a day. Apparently some of these “Bechuana bridges” were at least until quite recently still in service, as are fortifications built by Batswana in Lebanon.

In 1943 the Bakwena of 1969 Company won special praise for their speedy construction of what was then the world’s biggest ever prefabricated bridge over the Sangro River (a feat that was featured on the cover of Life Magazine).

During the winter of 1944, in the face of bitter cold and often intense German shelling, the same Company joined several other Batswana units in building and maintaining a road across the Apennines Mountains from Castel del Rio to Castel San Pietro. The resulting “La Strada di Bechuana” (“Batswana road”) appeared on Italian roadmaps.

The Batswana themselves apparently called the Apennines route “kapoko” (snow or sleet). When the ice melted the corridor enabled the American commanded multinational 5th Army to seize the great city of Bologna, while finally outflanking the German 10th Army in the Po valley.

Batswana were also kept busy laying and maintaining railway track. One war correspondent could not resist the line that it was now the Bechuana Pioneers (rather than Mussolini) who “kept the trains of Italy running on time”.

It is difficult to generalize about the experiences of those Batswana who served in the African Pioneer Corps (1941-46). Only in recent years has there been a limited effort to collect and record surviving accounts. From the available documentary, as well as oral, evidence it is clear that their experiences varied greatly.

Some Batswana were thrust into combat roles. Others were not. Some forged close, even intimate, contacts with foreigners: Europeans, Arabs, other Africans and (especially black) Americans. To others such men and women remained an alien mystery.

About 40% of the masole participated in the bloody two-year allied advance up the Italian peninsula. There they were often cold and wet; spending icy winters in tents or crude billets in the snow covered Apennines Mountains. Most of the other Batswana spent the war more quietly in the burning sands of Egypt and Libya.

Batswana troops were greeted by such notable figures as King George VI, Winston Churchill, Jan Smuts and top Generals like Montgomery and Mark Clark. On 26th of March 1945 a handful of Batswana joined some Basotho and Swazi in having what was considered the great honour of an audience with Pope Pius XII, a reflection of the Vatican's growing interest in the High Commission Territories.

For many, the experience of war strengthened their Christian convictions. This helped to spur a post-war expansion of independent church movements, as well as a more modest growth in the traditional mission based churches, which then enjoyed the exclusive sanction of dikgosi. Before gaining prominence in the Freedom Squares ex-APC Sergeant P.G. Matante honed his oratory skills as a Pentecostal preacher, at one point launching his own “St. Phillip's Apostolic Church”.

A few veterans were exposed to the alternative doctrines of Communism and Pan-Africanism in semi-clandestine meetings. Cross-cultural contact was, however, often limited by language. Only a few Batswana then spoke English, much less Arabic or Italian. From 1943 existing informal programs to promote both literacy and English were given an official boost with the appointment of Education Sergeants.

Another tool for promoting literacy was a newsletter from back home edited by the Director of the Bechuanaland Education Department, Henry Dumbrell. This publication was inserted as a supplement into copies of the APC weekly newsletter Indlovu/Tlou.

The soldiers were also issued with copies of the self-described “leading South African native newspaper” Umtetli wa Bantu, which was sponsored by mining interests and otherwise contained home news forwarded by the colonial government. In 1944 these home news efforts were expanded and consolidated with the launch a new, officially sponsored, Setswana newspaper- Naledi ya Batswana.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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