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Golden jubilee profile – Simon Kooper

Dr Jeff Ramsay


Yesterday this author was pleased to be able to take part in the opening ceremony of the Nama Cultural Festival, held at Lokgwabe in the northern Kgalagadi District. The location of the festival, which continues through today, is appropriate.

 Lokgwabe, whose population was recorded as 1,417 in 2011, may appear unremarkable to outsiders.

Its founding in 1909 was, however, the outcome of high level negotiations between London and Berlin, during which the British acted as facilitators to bring a final end to the German-Nama War. 

While the conflict started in Namibia, but ended up being fought in western Botswana as well.

Along with the Ovaherero, in 1904 Namibia's Nama took up arms due to the German policy of depopulating large areas for European settlement. 

Measured in terms of the affected territory's demographic loss, the conflict was perhaps the most horrific of Africa's many anti-colonial uprisings. Its genocidal impact can be summarised by the fact that it claimed the lives of not less than half of the Nama and over 70% of the Ovaherero at the time.

The Nama revolt was initially led by Hendrik Witbooi. But, after his death while fighting in October 1905, leadership of resistance passed to Jakobus Marenga and Simon !Gomxab Kooper (also often rendered as Kopper or Cooper). The latter had by then been the leader of the Kharakhoen (Kai//khuan) or Fransman Nama for over four decades.

With their supply routes and sanctuaries in then Bechuanaland and adjacent areas of the Cape Colony, as well as ability to survive in the most arid reaches of the Kgalagadi, the audacious duo kept on hitting the Germans skirmish after ambush after lightening raid. Their exploits further inspired the other commando leaders, including Hendrik's son Isaak !Nansemab Witbooi, to continue in their struggle.

A key factor in the relative success of the Nama resistance, beyond the munitions they received from trans-Kgalagadi smugglers such as the notorious Scotty Smith, was their superior ability to sustain themselves, along with their horses and livestock, on tsamma melons and other desert resources.

In this they had the advantage of years of conditioning as well as their indigenous knowledge.

After finding that their own horses could not be readily adapted to tsamma consumption, the German military responded by introducing camels into the region.

It was based on the German example that camels were subsequently adopted by the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police as well.

Cross border Anglo-German cooperation resulted in Marenga being killed in September 1907 by British forces, leaving Kooper as the last major holdout among the Nama.

From his constantly shifting headquarters within Botswana, Kooper's commandos continued to launch attacks inside Namibia, repeatedly ambushing the Germans, while also eluding British paramilitary police efforts to bring an end to their resistance.

On the 3rd of March 1908 a six man German patrol was wiped out by Kooper's men just inside Namibia.

After notifying the British High Commissioner of their intentions, the Germans responded by sending a force of 520, mounted on camels, across the Bechuanaland border in hot pursuit.

On 15th of March, the Nama spotted the German force near their principal camp at Seatsub or Sitachwe pan, located inside what is today the Kgalagadi Transnational Park. Initial reports reaching Kooper led him to believe that the enemy unit was small patrol rather than the main invasion force.

Due to this misinformation he chose leave the camp with much of his commando to intercept what he believed to be the location of the main German force.

Finding the camp thus exposed the Germans, making lethal use of their four machine guns, attacked the Nama still at Sitachwe at dawn. From behind their barricades and trenches the Nama returned fire, killing the German commander Friedrick von Erckert.

The defenders also withstood a bayonet charge but, fearing encirclement, they subsequently fell back after two and a half hours of fighting. German losses were 11 dead and 19 wounded, while 58 Nama corpses, including some woman, were latter discovered.

The fallen Germans remain buried Sitachwe, although tombstones bearing their names are located at a war cemetery at Gochas, Namibia.

Frustrated, the Germans agreed to accept British offers to negotiate an end to hostilities with Kooper in the context of the cessation of hostilities elsewhere.

Thus it was that in 1909 Kooper signed a treaty with the British agreeing to settle his followers at Lokgwabe.

They were also granted additional land rights in the then Kgalagadi Crown lands as well as financial "compensation" from the Germans in return for their promise to refrain from crossing the border.

Kooper died on 13th of January 1913 and was subsequently buried Kaartle pan near Lokgwabe.

There, in 2011, Nama from both sides of the border finally came together to dedicate a gravestone at his burial site.

It was then further announced that authorities in Namibia and Botswana would cooperate with community efforts to create a heritage trail that would highlight important sites on both sides of the border associated with the great resistance leader. This week's cultural festival, which has also attracted participants from both sides of the border will hopefully bring this commitment closer to fruition.

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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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