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THE FORGOTTEN WAR – BATSWANA IN THE MIDDLE EAST 1945-48

Jeff Ramsay
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA

When Batswana enlisted in the African Pioneer Corps from 1941 they were assured by both their Dikgosi and British officials that their tour of duty would last until the final defeat of Hitler’s Reich. Thus in the aftermath of the 8th May 1945 unconditional surrender of Germany most of the “fighting Becs” expected that they would soon be able to finally return to their country and loved ones.

For their part the British had also initially timetabled the return of all of the High Commission Territories Pioneer units (APC), i.e. Basotho and Amaswati as well as Batswana, by September of 1945. Yet by the end of the month only 14% of the force had actually been repatriated.

As it was, the last of the Batswana companies recruited for the war only departed from Egypt in March of 1946, arriving at Clairwood Camp in Durban the following month. There they were finally discharged with each being given a new suit, their accumulated back pay and an additional £10 to cover transport home.

The reason for the delay in the APC’s demobilisation was twofold.

On the one hand in the aftermath of the war there was a genuine shortage of shipping to cater for the return of British Empire servicemen. This situation was further aggravated by the fact that the Japanese only agreed to finally surrender three months after the fall of Germany, in the wake of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the imminent prospect of a joint US-Soviet invasion of their home islands.

In the above context, the APC was ultimately given lower priority than the return or redeployment of service men from other areas. While the preference given to some, such as liberated POWS from East Asia, can be seen as having been routinely reasonable, it is also true that white units, as well as units whose post-war loyalty was more suspect than the APC were placed ahead of the queue by the British War Office (WO).

There was, however, an additional motive for the delay. With the drawdown of Indian, South African and Australia-New Zealand (Anzac) forces from the region, Britain’s Middle East Command (MEC) found the continued presence of the APC units to be useful for upholding their authority in Egypt and the adjacent territory of Palestine, where imperial interests were coming under increasing challenge.

Thus it was that although by August 1945 all of the APC companies had been withdrawn from Italy and elsewhere, most remained stationed for another seven months in these two territories, in the face of growing post-war resistance to continued British occupation.

Their final withdrawal, moreover, nearly coincided with the arrival of 3,600 fresh troops of the APC’s rebranded successor force – the High Commission Territories Corps.

Although recognized as an independent kingdom in 1922, Egypt had remained under defacto British occupation, which up until 1952 was exercised through a royal puppet regime. Nationalist resentment in the country had been aggravated by the virtual British military takeover during the war, which had effectively shattered all pretence of Egyptian sovereignty.

Although most of the British, including Batswana, forces were confined to the Suez Canal Zone in 1947, their continued presence in the country was still resented. Like other imperial forces, the Batswana troops thus experienced mutual hostility from the local Arabic speaking population. As one Motswana veteran, Selebatso “S.G.” Masimega, noted:

“Arabs were a peculiar people I can’t understand. They saw Africans as very queer, pro-British, and some of them would often speak to the African soldiers to tell them that the Batswana take the British to be their gods…Arabs regard Africans as a minor people under the British; the called us ‘British dogs’”

In Palestine the situation was much more tense with both Zionist (Jewish) and Palestinian guerrillas fighting the British, as well as each other, in the run up to the full scale 1948-49 war that would ultimately give birth to the State of Israel, along with the uprooting of much of the Palestinian Arab population that is the foundation of today’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From late 1945 many Batswana and Basotho companies that had been battle hardened in Italy were thus deployed in Palestine over their protests. Most were stationed either at Esdraelon, near the biblical town of Nazareth, or in Jerusalem. As part of the British occupation they were targeted by Zionist and Arabs insurgents alike, although the former claimed more APC casualties. As another veteran, Julius Segano, observed:

“(Our) coming home was delayed because of Palestine and the Arabs. So now is another experience, guerrilla warfare. We used not to carry guns when going into villages, but there in Palestine we had to.”

In December 1945 resentment among Basotho APC troops boiled over into a full scale mutiny after four of their comrades were killed in a Zionist (Irgun) bombing of a Jerusalem police station. The mutiny was ultimately put down by force, during which three Basotho were killed and a dozen more wounded. (To be continued)
 

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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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