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Pioneers of the Nation

Jeff Ramsay

On the 4th of September 1939, just four days after Britain’s declaration of war on Nazi Germany, the Bechuanaland Protectorate’s Resident Commissioner, Arden-Clarke, met with the leading dikgosi.

He informed them that as the ranks of the officials were to be reduced “greater responsibility will devolve upon the chiefs for the maintenance of order and the detection of crime.”

Indeed, by the beginning of 1940 46% of the white officials and about 10% of the territories total white population had already enlisted in the military.

Wary of offending the Pretoria, the War Office in London initially dismissed offers by the Dikgosi to help raise a Bechuanaland Corps for the British Army. For their part the Dikgosi refused to sanction their people’s enlistment in the unarmed South African Native Military Corps, although at least one thousand Protectorate Batswana working in the South Africa were enlisted in the unit.

At the beginning of 1941, by which time Britain stood alone in Europe against Germany, Italy and the smaller Axis states, a now desperate British Government changed its mind by agreeing to the formation of the British Army’s African Pioneers Corps (APC) made up of Basotho and Swazi as well as Batswana troops.

Thus it was that between 1941 and 1946 just over 10 thousand men served in the APC’s Bechuanaland Protectorate Companies. This contribution represented nearly 20% of all able-bodied adult male Batswana. No part of the British Empire provided a greater proportion of fighting men.

When it came to combat Batswana units played a particularly prominent role throughout the Italian campaign, such as at Salerno where they were part of the “thin red line” that stopped German armour units from driving the US 5th Army off its beachhead, or at Syracuse where they were responsible for the shooting down of over half of all enemy aircraft.

Botswana's contribution to the war effort, however, went beyond its provision of troops as local society became fully mobilised around the war effort. By the end of 1943 over 21,000 additional men were in South Africa, labouring in its vital war industries. Villages across the country were thus deprived of between 45-65% of their manpower. At home, women were forced to work on "war lands", in a largely futile effort to boost local food security.

Many became "Woman War Workers" who sent "gifts and comforts" to the troops.

Children also played a role by helping raise funds for the construction of two RAF Spitfire aircraft, named "Bechuanaland" and "Kalahari".

Besides being a significant event in our past, the Batswana experience during the war arguably holds lessons for the present in such areas as the challenge to achieve greater productivity.

It is one of the sad ironies of human history in general is that notable examples of high 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, not come as a surprise that one also finds incredible examples of productivity among the Batswana APC.

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 78,000 gallons of petrol.

Another 70-man unit did 57,000, while a 120 man group prided itself on a consistent output of 10,000 gallons an hour.

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

In 1943 the Bakwena of 1969 Company won special praise, as well as a front page photo on the then bestselling international “Life” magazine for their speedy construction of what was then the world’s biggest ever prefabricated bridge over the Sangro River in Italy.

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” can today be found on Italian roadmaps as SP21.

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 the pre-war Mussolini) who “kept the trains of Italy running on time”.

These and other achievements, along with the sacrifices born by Batswana on the Battlefield and at the Home Front, will be the subject of a free open to the public Golden Jubilee Botswana Society lecture by this author at the University of Botswana this coming Wednesday evening at 6 PM (UB BLOCK 247 LECTURE THEATRE 1).

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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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