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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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Fate of Africa: Underdevelopment Authored in the Corridors of Western Intrigue   

17th November 2020
Howard Nicholas

There is a saying in South Africa which avers that, “the White   man has no kin: his kin is money”.  The saying rings very true considering what Mayer Amschel Rothschild – he of the planet’s wealthiest family – once said, that, “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!”

To the white man, the dollar sign looms so large in his optics that it was precisely the reason he appropriated Africa towards the end of the 19th century. The idea was to develop his continent, Europe, at the same rate as he underdeveloped Africa. Yet he was driven as much by economic imperatives as by sheer greed and prejudice.

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The Desolation Sacrilege

17th November 2020

 A “pagan” King violates the Jewish Temple by setting up an idol in the Holy of Holies


Why, General Atiku, has the Judean setting (present-day Israel/Palestine) being the focus of so much geopolitical fervour over the ages when it is so resource-poor and is not even that agriculturally fecund being a virtual desert? Why have all the superpowers of history locked horns over it since days immemorial?

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Joy or grief in the hereafter

17th November 2020

Just a ‘teaser’: we are all complaining of the ‘hot weather’ and ‘heat’ – but think about it, is this a reminder / warning from the Almighty that if we find this weather ‘hot’ can you imagine what the ‘fires of hell’ will be like should we get there?

Let us take this as a reminder and a ‘warning’ that we should change our lifestyles so that we follow in the path of righteousness and that which our Lord has directed. Failing this we will face the ‘fire of hell’ which undoubtedly will be many times worse than what we are facing on this earth.

Because as humans we have been favoured and bestowed with the power of intellect thus we enjoy greatness over other creation, coupled with a greater responsibility. Should that responsibility be misused then only on the Day of Reckoning will he know we will live in joy or in grief forever.

Since the dawn of creation Allah has sent down thousands of messengers, dozens of Divine Books but only ONE universal Message to humanity. That message of Divine Revelation and guidance is clear, unambiguous and eternal:

  • Allah is One, He is Master and Creator of the universe and of mankind and to Him is due all worship and obedience.
  • He has sent humanity Divine Revelation and guidance through His Messengers and His Books.
  • As death is inevitable in this world, equally is our resurrection in the Hereafter where everyone will face the consequences of their belief, unbelief and conduct in this temporal world.

This is the basic message, teaching and belief of every religion and without doubt we will all be called to account for our lives in this world and the manner in which we conducted ourselves, will be rewarded thereafter, the consequences of which may be joy forever for some or grief forever for others.

“It is He [Allah] Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds and He is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (Qur’an: 67: 2)


In Islam the teachings of the Qur’an and the Last and Final Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) give clear guidance to the believer on how to live a life in this world so as to achieve success in the Hereafter.

‘If any do wish for the transitory things of this life, We readily grant them, such things as We will, to such persons as We will…… those who wish for the things of the Hereafter and strive for them with all due striving, and have faith, they are the ones whose striving is acceptable to Allah’ (Qur’an 17: 18-19)

In this world when a person sets out on a journey towards our Maker (Allah), he finds two paths, one leading to God and the other path to different destinations. A sincere and faithful believer will always try to find the right path and to live by the Divine injunctions, laws and code that his religion lays down. This requires us to live in harmony with the will of the Creator, in harmony with our own selves, and with the needs of the rest of creation. Unfortunately we have a tendency at times to toy with Divine Law and to surrender it to the laws of man and in the process to translate and interpret them into what fits in with our lifestyle of today.

If we are to use the intellect and the freedom of choice bestowed to us by God Almighty and follow His guidance, we will then live consciously in a state of “submission’ to Him, thus we will be virtuous. On the other hand when we ignore our Creators injunctions we work against the natural order, we tend to create discord, injustice and evil – and we become one without guidance. Therefore it is the intellect and the freedom of choice given to us that we are fully responsible for whatever we do.

However, it would be foolish for us to think of ourselves as totally independent and self-sufficient. If a person thinks in this manner, we become proud and. We will be inclined to become ungrateful for the bounties that we enjoy – the air that we breathe and the food we eat to sustain us, the eyes and ears we use to perceive the world around us, the tongue and lips we use to express our needs, wants and our inner most feelings and emotions. And being ungrateful, we will be inclined to forget or to reject the truth of the existence of God Almighty.

Unfortunately, people have varying views with regards to what the most important characteristic of a person is: for some it is the colour of his skin; for others, it is his economic situation – whether he is wealthy or poor; others think it is his , social or political standing, whether he is ruler or ruled; for others it is his social standing as an aristocrat, middle or working class; yet for some is his birth place and the language he speaks or the tribe he belongs to, etc..

‘Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe”, and they will not be tested? We tested those before them, and Allah will certainly those who are true and those who are false’. (Quran 29: 2-3)

In Islam, these have no significance rather they are merely taken as signs of the creative power of God to enable people to recognise one another. The Almighty declares “O Mankind! Indeed we have created you as male and female, and have placed you in nations and tribes that you may have mutual recognition. However, the most honourable of you, in the sight of Allah is the one who is most God-conscious” (Qur’an: 49: 13)

Hence, the most important characteristic of a person is whether he is conscious of his Creator, believes in Him and through that consciousness submits to Him at all times and in all circumstances.

According to the Islamic view man is created by Allah in a pure state, free from sin. He also created us with the capacity or power to do both good and evil. He gave us the freedom to choose between doing good or evil. The good and evil therefore is connected with mankind’s freedom of choice and responsibility for their actions. “Good” may be whatever is pleasing to Allah and therefore beneficial to us.  Whereas “Bad/evil” may be whatever incurs the anger of God and is therefore harmful to man.

‘By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right – truly he that succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it….. (Quran 91: 7-10)

Therefore one of mankind’s main tasks is to keep away from and ward off evil. This is why Taqwa, piety and God consciousness is repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an as the most important quality a person should develop in this regard. This means one must be conscious at all times not to over step the limits set by God. It works as a defence against evil and temptation by keeping a person within the boundaries of piety.

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