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The Wretched of the Republic: Students, Youths, Workers and Election Oblivion

Teedzani Thapelo

Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner, and runner up national poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo*, argues that by sheer force of numbers and the level of political commitment students, youths and workers will determine who wins elections in 2019. He cautions if their decision is going to do Botswana any good they must root for proper and most efficient guardians of the republic, and they must ignore what politicians say, go with what they see, what they experience and what they fear most. They must learn to judge and punish politicians, and in their struggle for national renewal they must take no prisoners.

The avid reader will immediately note the first part of the article is borrowed from two great classics; Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and The Wretched of the Earth by Martinique revolutionary prophet and dialectician, Frantz Fanon. The French connection is obvious, and the political symbolism no less important and the story might have ended there; for here I am writing about Botswana.

It occurred to me though after reading Hugo’s 1269 pages 2012 Canterbury Classics edition for the third time, alongside Fanon; my 1961 penguin edition is prefaced by French existential philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. How appropriate. How fitting. The Botswana we live in today evokes powerful memories of all the characters, episodes, incidents and major themes that inform these works by Hugo, one of the finest French poets and novelists, Fanon, a medical doctor turned revolutionary, and Sartre, a Nobel Award winning dramatist, philosopher, and writer; he refused to accept the Nobel Prize on moral and political grounds. Such scholars are rare. They certainly don’t exist in Botswana.

But all apprehended our human condition with such fierce an intellectual grasp, with such frightening spiritual contemplation, one could be forgiven to think they already knew what would happen to us, what would happen to our country, what would happen to our lives, what would happen to our children, and what would happen to our future. Scholarship does not reach more universalism than this.

To say our lives are miserable is to state the obvious. So many Batswana just don’t bother to think about our condition, and declining circumstances. I have been following the growth of our political literature this past couple of months with great interest. Everybody knows what is happening to students in this country. Everybody knows what is happening to the youth in this country. Everybody knows what is happening to workers in this country.

All of us, excluding BDP of course, know these things very well. What surprises me is in our writings we seem to pay too much attention to the electoral fortunes of political parties, and we seem not to notice who really counts in the coming elections; voters. I am guilty of this omission myself, and I apologise. Look at things this way. The 35 000 students who wrote form five last year will be voting in 2019, and so the more than 40 000 who sat for form three exams.

All form five leavers for the past three years and next three years will vote in 2019, and so a considerable number of those who fall off at form three. Our unemployed youth number somewhere in hundreds of thousands. Government alone employs more than 140 000 workers, and thousands work in the private sector or for themselves. We are talking here altogether about almost 400 000, and perhaps more people, and BDP does not notice these people; it cares not for them, it scorns their expectations, undermines their efforts at mere survival, derides their complaints and concerns, ignores their pleas for help, despises their political opinions, laughs at their lamentations, impugns their sorrows, and censure their demands for justice, freedom and happiness; and all these people are going to vote come 2019.

In the last election only about 600 000 Batswana registered to vote and not all of them cast their vote. Of those who voted more than half the number went with the opposition. As I write official statistics indicate a fifth of our population, that is about 420 000 people, are roaming the streets looking for jobs, more are on temporary and insecure employment, and more than 30 000 college and university graduates join the unemployment lines every year; and our population stands at only 2000 000. 

We know this excludes thousands of discouraged workers who are now alcohol and drug addicts, prisoners who are victims of this catastrophic social landscape, structurally unemployable Batswana who have been rejected by our small and inflexible labour market thanks to wayward economic policies and workers who though still willing to work are now so deskilled, illiterate even (most of these are young mothers who dropped out of school, single mothers, and housewives) they feel ashamed to even apply for any jobs and are quietly wasting away in the animal jungles of our towns and cities or waiting for death in bucolic villages and settlements, some of which BDP only recall when it wants their votes.

What is happening to Batswana is a sombre nightmare that would make even black hearts bleed. But at BDP they sleep easy in comfort and debauchery, laughing at us all. Yet these appalling statistics are actually a language, and they speak a lot. What does this tell us? What is the meaning of these numbers?

One obvious thing BDP has no mandate to rule this country. The numbers clearly show the opposition won in the last election but BDP stayed in office because our electoral system is rigged in favour of the political establishment. Second, and more significant for the coming elections, Batswana are obviously beginning to ask themselves serious questions about the direction things are taking in their country. Yes, there certainly is change in political temperament and temperature in this country.


People are worried about their lives, and livelihoods, about their declining fortunes, the absence of opportunities in life, the bleak, humdrum, and drudgery of everyday existence, the meaningless routine of monotonous life with its endless troubles, the boredom of BTV, the rude pretentiousness of BDP politicians; there really is nothing exciting about life in this country anymore. Every day that the sun rises in this country all human potential goes to waste. We really are no different from people who live in a war zone.


Under such conditions people ask themselves: who am I? What am I doing here? What is the meaning of my life? Where am I going? What will happen to me if things continue this way? What will happen to my life? What will happen to my children? What will happen to my country? Will I too end up without a life like so many unemployed people? Will I too end up without a country like so many refugees? Will I start aging at the age of twenty? Will I ever be truly free and independent? Will I ever own anything that is truly mine, earned through my own labour and intelligence? Do I count for anything in this life? Do I count for anything in this country?

Our poor and brutalized students, our unemployed youths who face shame and humiliation at every turn of life and our workers who earn, and live on peanuts, ask themselves such questions every day, and only one thing can bring a semblance of response to their agitated minds; the voting hour, the voting day. It is on this day that many people try to square their miserable fate and chose a better and more meaningful path into the future. In that hour, on that fateful day, Batswana must judge for themselves what needs to be done.

2019 gives every voter the right, and might, to make that most fundamental decision in their life: who is going to direct my future? Who is going to manage my public affairs? Who is going to be guardian of the fate and destiny of my nation, my republic, and fellow citizens? It is the most important day in our life, and in the coming election the decision made by our students, youths and workers is going to bind us all and redirect the fate and fortunes of all citizens.


But in making this decision, I do think, it is critical they consider in detail how much more risk they are prepared to take with their lives. How much more they are prepared to lose in terms of the great possibilities of life offered by modern society, possibilities and opportunities that fail to reach many because of bad politics, bad policies and indifferent officialdom.


Is our economy competing well? Do we possess accurate information about the state of the nation? Is the country prepared to deal with the risks and crisis of today? Are we investing enough in the education and health of the nation? Do Batswana have confidence in their economy? Do they have confidence in the BDP? Are we comfortable with the rising level of the national debt?


Do Batswana have good and secure jobs? Are the incomes of workers rising? Are we comfortable with our standards of living? Is enough being done to protect the environment and rural livelihoods? Is BDP promoting the best use of our natural resources? Is the use of our natural resources sustainable? What is the best way of building strong resilience in terms of managing the economy?


Does the BDP understand the facts, risks, and uncertainties of managing the economy in a rapidly globalising and fervently unpredictable world? Are BDP public policies informed by good choices? Are BDP policy instruments agile and adaptable enough to respond to the management of serious risks and crisis in modern society?

Are Batswana comfortable with BDP philosophy of fast-fail projects that put us top of the flops in policy sciences; BDC, BMC, Air Botswana, BCL, what next? Are these people really capable of making economics work in this country? Do they care about the welfare of Batswana? Do they care about the future of this country? Can Botswana ever be a safe, efficient and sustainable economy under the watch of BDP?


Can we ever develop effective speed for responding to fast-changing circumstances and learn to create opportunities from the crisis that befall us so frequently? Can we ever be a dynamic, entrepreneurial nation that creates good, secure jobs, with rising incomes? Can BDP ever manage to envision, enable and engage Batswana so they can fully participate in public life as moral citizens determined to recapture and redefine their future lives and the destiny of the nation? Does the country have a clear plan to match into the world of tomorrow confident, prosperous and secure in the knowledge we can even go further and surpass our own expectations?

Questions like these make people to sit up and think, and it really would be a good thing if Batswana could think this way before they cast their vote. Look at your country. Look at your own life. Look at the lives of your children, the lives of friends, family members and the state of your community. Consider your own future.


Consider the future of your country, the future Botswana that is going to be the home of your grandchildren and their own children, and ask yourself; is enough being done to protect all these people, to secure and protect the world of tomorrow? If the answer is no, then forget about BDP. Don’t vote on the basis of what politicians tell you, what they promise.


Worse, don’t even bother about what they claim to have done for you in the past; they got paid for that, and always remember you too do your bit in your own small way to build this country every day. Accomplishments of the past belong to us all. We all take credit for that. What is important is to look at missed opportunities, and ask yourself; but why? Why don’t we have six cities the size of Johannesburg that could be employing our children today as per the gigantic diamond wealth that disappeared into thin air?


The best way to think about the future is to look ahead, not to think about the past; the past belongs to another country, and it becomes foreign and irrelevant the older you get, and the more troubles you have to deal with just to cope. But remember crimes of the past can still ruin the future. So never forgive political actions that ruin the future of your country.

In short before you cast your vote you really have to give yourself time to think things out on your own. Writing this article right now, thinking the way I do, I too am still thinking about how I am going to vote in 2019. Voting is a terribly serious decision; just like thinking of getting married. Don’t rash things. Think hard and then vote in the knowledge you are really doing the right thing at the right time for yourself and your country.


Voting is key to social innovation. A radical transformation of political direction overnight in a small country like Botswana can have a strong bearing on how things are done in government. If we are to succeed in solving social and economic problems we must first understand that this is best done through social learning, and politics is a learning process. Politically active citizens always find solutions for the problems they face.


The best politics encourages mutual learning and a dialogue of trusting relationships between people. Social movements and loose coalitions in communities are always strong forces in the struggle for structural change. In America, for instance, political parties always encourage voters to recruit each other on voting day.


If you support a certain political party they always ask you to invite no less than ten friends and family members to accompany you to the polling station on voting day and make sure they vote the party that you support. If a school PTA committee, for example, is angry about the way educational issues are being handled at their local school they are encouraged to canvas and vote out the local council authorities. If the sheriff is incompetent an entire community can vote him out of office. Rooting for your party as a local activist is very important even if you are not running for office yourself.

People in government fear genuine grassroots politics because it is the most effective way of destroying corrupt and incompetent political administrations. Politicized public life requires a community that is active, that exercises some control over the conditions of its livelihood, and that can hold the state accountable. It is the best way of making a direct contribution towards the transformation of the structures of political governance. It is through such struggles that people engage in the social production of their lives.


It is not enough that people remain consumers at the end of a delivery process as it happens in Botswana every day. BDP is teaching Batswana very bad politics. In a true democracy power, politics and participation reside with the people in living and vibrant communities, communities with strong voices. In a true democracy people learn about themselves and about the material conditions of their lives through doing, through hard work and personal sacrifices. In a true democracy public policy is a process of public learning, a means of finding ways of improving the capacities and opportunities of people, a means of doing a better job of ameliorating the human condition.

It is time Batswana learned these things. It is time Batswana learnt the real value of politics. Politics is supposed to encourage and support people in solving their own problems, and not giving them food parcels and blankets. The job of a government is to make the laws of a country, make the economy work, grow, create jobs, expand the tax base and regulate all public conduct; working together with law courts, security personnel and communities and citizens.


A government that fails to do these things must immediately be kicked out of office. Voting day is a day of output judgements of political conduct. On voting day citizens sit the bench as judges over politicians. It is the day voters decide if rhetoric matches up with reality, a reality that they themselves understand well. It is a day of reckoning, a day of self-public assessment. It is not just a ritual. On voting day citizens directly measure the value of their participation in the political process by grading the quality of public policies, public servants, political parties and the political process itself through the casting of their vote.


Many questions are asked and answered by each voter on that day; has the economy been growing, do people have jobs, are workers and households making more money, do all people live well, are the lives of citizens safe, do children get good quality education, are hospitals doing well, is the use of the environment and natural resources done well, is there justice for all in society, are there thieves in government, is everybody paying taxes as they should, is the country’s money used well for the benefit of all in society, is the future of the country in safe hands?  

In other words, has the policy process improved, solved problems or made things worse? Has the ruling party delivered on its mandate as governor and have they fulfilled their promises as custodians of public goods? If the answer is no, vote the party out of office. Replace them with another party. It is as simple as that. This is how things are done in every country. Why should we do things differently in Botswana? People must always remember they can only reward good political behaviour.


If politicians are nasty, arrogant, and stupid rascals use your vote to kick them out. If they steal, benefit only their friends and relatives, use your vote to kick them out. If they treat you like dirt vote them out. If they are too old to do things well kick them out. If they are out of touch with reality kick them out. There is no point in keeping a politician who is not civil and considerate in office. Such people will always sit on your rights and expectations. Always watch what a political party is doing and judge the things they do. This will always tell you a great deal about politicians and the way things are going in country. The one mistake we do is to forgive bad behaviour in politics. Never do that.


Everything that happens in politics is done wilfully and deliberately. Punish a political party for every bad thing it does. Discipline politicians the way you discipline naughty children. If they steal a penny from the treasury send them to jail and then vote their political party from office. Never allow them to explain bad behaviour. They will never tell you the truth, and they always laugh behind your back. Naughty children. Don’t forget that. Political parties have important impact on public policy. Voting a different party into office means you are choosing new values, beliefs, and expectations.


It means you are looking for a different way of solving problems, a different way of doing things, a different way of going into the future. Voting the same political party into office again is a different thing altogether. It means you remain stuck with the same politicians, the same policies, the same rhetoric, the same values, the same everything, and worse the same gravity of domestic and global risks and threats to the national economy and the environment.


There are always severe limitations on what such a party can do to change or improve anything in public life; the same commitments of the past, the same policies and attitudes, the same interests, the same sense of purpose. If they hate a particular person or community they will keep on hating and harassing those people, if they love foreigners and despise their own people they will continue favouring foreigners over Batswana, if they enjoy stealing public money they will continue doing the same thing and if they have no respect for the laws of the country and no respect for judges of the high court they will keep on doing as they like.

In short there is no incentive for a political party that has been returned to political office to change things around. People are always comfortable with things as they are if they live well. If you vote for BDP again, for example, don’t expect them to stop dinning with Indians, watching birds with white foreigners and dancing polka at Khawa village while BCL group of companies are crushing to the ground leaving close on 60 000 Batswana facing ruined livelihoods and ever greater threats of death from hunger and diseases like HIV/AIDs.


Political parties are terribly important to policy and outcomes. Batswana must understand the simple fact that in times of difficulties the need for movement is more than just important; it is critical. If you want things to start moving, if you thirst for change, vote for a different political party. A new political administration can have an impact on economic policy, it can remove a lot of constraints that act against economic growth, find better and different markets for local products, start working with all Batswana and not just a bunch of well entrenched foreigners, fight corruption in public life, direct public expenditure to the most deserving sectors of the economy, create better jobs, raise incomes and forge a new direction in national life and public expectations; giving every citizen new hope and ambition to succeed in life.

Never underestimate the number and quality of things a new political administration can do. As they say in policy sciences a new party in power stimulates a Moving Consensus in which the need for movement to deal with problems is as important as consensus. A new party in office also promotes a new re-assessment of democracy by citizens in the new faces in politics, and new entrants into office are usually more approachable to ordinary people, and more eager to help.


They also want change like you and they are more likely to work better with you to start doing things properly. They bring a breath of fresh air in public life. They are more likely to distribute resources in a more equitable way, especially in areas of public expenditure and more importantly only a new party can terminate unpopular public policies and introduce radically new development programmes.

As things stand right now BDP has no working policies at all. Their daily political behaviour is reactive; concerned only with getting out of difficulties and crisis, things which they do not even understand. Is it proper to govern a country in this way? Public policy cannot operate by escape seeking. It must be based on potential possibilities of success. So what is it going to be?

Students, youth and workers, the future of this greatly troubled country is in your hands. What direction must we take? What future must we envision and pursue? Who will be the leaders of Tomorrow? To answer these questions properly and sufficiently on voting day keep your eyes on all the things going on around you, the things happening in your life, the things happening to your life, and if you really do that well then this great nation has nothing to fear.

We shall survive. There will be another tomorrow, and in the brave new world our children will thrive and live well.

Novelist, poet and historian, Teedzani Thapelo*, is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and Africa Studies, University of London. He is author of Seasons of Thunder, and the forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, and Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe.

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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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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