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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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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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