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“A People Without a Past is a People Without a Soul”

David Magang

Sir Seretse Khama’s Vision of Development of Botswana (Part 1)

No Future Without A Past

In my autobiography, The Magic of Perseverance, I introduce Chapter Six with an epigraph in the form of a quote attributed to Sir Seretse Khama, our founding President, to set the tone for what is to unfold. The quotes says, “A nation without a culture is a nation without a soul”. As rational, insightful, and truthful as the quote sounds, it is not accurate at all, a fact that dawned on me at a time when the book had long left the presses and now loomed large on the display racks in the local bookshops. It’s not that I phrased the quote wrongly or erroneously: I was simply misled by some scribe who had invoked it in a piece and whose credentials, at least prima facie, seemed above board.

Yet that is not to absolve myself entirely of all blame. Had I read much more widely and therefore known history better, or had I not omitted to have the quote cross-checked by other   historians of note such as Neil Parsons, Christian Makgala, or Jeff Ramsay, I would have no doubt nailed it. Seretse’s exact words, uttered way back in 1970, were these: “We should write our own history books … because … a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul.” Seretse alluded not to culture as such as his underlying premise but to our past, our history, and underscored the imperative of documenting this past through the agency and instrumentality of our own people and not through the prism of instinctually jaundiced outsiders. The substitution, in due course,  of “history” with “culture” maybe was done in good faith, but it does not crisply drive home the point Seretse was trying to put across.


Seretse was not a historian: he was a trained lawyer-cum-politician. Yet he was aware of the centrality and paramountcy to a nation of being acutely cognizant of its past, without which it would forever be groping in the dark, without which it would be soul-less, meaning it would be without a definitive identity – without unique or peculiar attributes that set it apart from other nations. Sadly, that’s the anonymity into which we’re headed, if we’re not there yet as Seretse’s concern fell on stone-deaf ears. A case can be made that history as a discipline is not only looked at with scorn by the relevant authorities in the structures of government: it’s verging on near-irrelevance. It’s like there’s a systematic and concerted effort on the part of the powers that be to plot into total oblivion the knowledge of our antecedents as if  that smacks of treachery or perfidy of some sort.  

History has a Wider Scope  
    
If I may venture a layman’s viewpoint that may possibly step on some toes and offend sensibilities to boot, the orthodox conception of, or classical approach to history is blinkered.  History is too superficially defined. Or rather, it is too lopsided in its thematic drift.  
When I was doing  high school at Moeng College between 1958 and 1962, I learnt precious much about Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Shaka the Zulu and the Mfecane, the Monomutapa Kingdom, a bit about “Khama the Good”, how the gun-wielding and horse-mounted Europeans made mince of waves of African warriors with their hopeless assegais or bows and arrows, and the various stages of the evolution of man – from a hominid known as Homo Habilis, or something to that effect, to Homo Sapiens, who I was taught I represented. I learnt close to nothing about edifying African history, of how the great King Sechele I of the BaKwena warded off a Boer incursion into Botswana and in fact had the Boers turn tail in the historic battle of Dimawe of 1852-1853.

But history, anyway, is not simply about the rise and decline of once mighty kingdoms and age-old dynasties. It’s not all about a nation’s arduous and tortuous path to independence and the central protagonists thereof. History is not only about setting down the life trajectory and milestones of a David Magang, a Michael Dingake, or a Gobe Matenge.  History ought to be more overarching than that. It must seek to answer questions such as this: after more than 50 years of nationhood, where are we culturally, politically, macroeconomically, socio-economically, educationally, inventively, innovatively, ethically, infrastructurally, and industrially in terms of our work ethic?

All told, to limit history to archeological excavations, to only seminal socio-politico events of the past, to key developments latterly in the political and cultural firmaments, to factional dynamics in  the ruling party and what the attendant fissures and schisms therein portend,  constitutes, in my own considered view, myopia of the most morbid order. History must embrace and take stock of principal developments in a nation’s every field of human endeavour, including economics, science, and technology, particularly in the context of how these impact the tone and tenor of national development, as its pace and magnitude. Thus if need be, history must attempt to blur the lines between rigidly delineated fields of inquiry without necessarily losing its quintessence in the process.

Lest you call me a hypocrite who is simply quick to shoot from the hip, my own contribution to  eclectic historical discourse is attested by three works to date, namely The Magic of Perseverance, a fundamentally biographical sketch which nevertheless weaves together a host of inter-connected themes into one comprehensive compendium, and Delusions of Grandeur Volumes 1 & 2, which are economic critiques informed by our macroeconomic performance since winning self-determination from Britain way back in 1966.

Why an Understanding of History is Key

Why is a study of a nation’s history crucial and pivotal to national aspirations? Granted, I could posit a whole catalogue of reasons but I will only proffer a handful. History is the ultimate frame of reference in this pilgrimage we call life. It is the compass that helps us navigate the labyrinths, turbulences, snares and other such atrocious terrains of life. If you do not know your history, you will never know how far back your roots reach and therefore will define yourself only parochially and subjectively.

You will never know how and why you find yourself in your present existential station within the larger vista of the human ecosystem, and whether the direction you are headed is indeed the right one in the greater scheme of things.  You’ll simply be drifting along, going with the flow without a proper grasp of your grand purpose in life, even if you may be under the illusion that you are actually the very master of your destiny.

The great African-American writer and author of the once highly acclaimed fact-based novel Roots, Alex Haley, knew the criticality of a reasonable degree of familiarity with his past. Although he was born and bred in the relative utopia that is the US, he still felt a huge identity void and over 12 years of research and intercontinental travel retraced his roots back to his motherland, Africa, where he discovered and reconnected with his kinsmen in a country known as The Gambia.

It is these living links with his West African ancestry going back six generations who helped him fill the jigsaw of exactly how he ended up a denizen of America – through the capture of a certain Kunta Kinte, who was torn from his homeland and shipped off to the state of Maryland in the US, where he was sold as a slave in 1767.  His book was seminal: it led to a cultural sensation in the US and a radically new mindset on the part of African-Americans as to who they exactly were and how they should henceforth chart their destiny as a demographic.

History provides us the raison d’être to contemplate the greatest question that could ever exercise the human mind – why?  In the quest for answers to this great enigma, we get to understand why we live the way we do, and why we are where we are as individuals, as a household, as an extended family unit, as a  clan, as a tribe, as an ethnic grouping, as a social class, as a society, as a municipality, as a province or district, as a country or a nation, as a region, as a continent, as  a species, and ultimately as the human race.

History Teaches Lessons

Our own people take it for granted that Botswana is such an oasis of peace, that it is so economically buoyant by the standards of the Third World, and that democratic governance and the rule of law hold more sway than despotic impulses. Once again, this is all rooted, by and large, in our age-old cultural institutions such as the kgotla system, which had the dichotomous aspect of regnal absolutism and a pluralistic tolerance of the commoners’ viewpoint, and our innate predisposition as a race to be frugal and not unduly extravagant.

Economic prudence and a characteristically peace-loving bent on the part of Batswana are not recently nurtured virtues: they are for practical purposes integral to our genetic make-up. Of course we have over the years seen the emergence of a level of greed and self-aggrandisement in certain quarters that is eye-poppingly brazen and blatant – necessitating our putting into place graft-bursting institutions such as DCEC to provide the necessary checks and balances – but that is more of an anomaly than an all-encompassing national trait.
When we study history, we see societal patterns over the course of time which inform critical thinking and therefore form the basis for decisions about a viable course of futuristic action.  Once we have understood the past, not only will we be in position to predict the future more or less but we will also be galvanised to help create it.

Much of the xenophobia for which places such as South Africa have become a byword can be put to a peripheralising of history – the utter disregard on the part of the relevant institutions to emphasise the instrumentality of fellow African countries in freeing South Africans from the cruel yoke of apartheid. By the same token, the fragile potential for economic and political integration on our continent can in part be ascribed to a reluctance by our leaders to preach supranationalism, like the legendary Kwame Francis Nkrumah impassionedly did, albeit in too precipitate a fashion, as opposed to statism, and the manifest failure by our leaders to articulate both our oneness as Bantus and that most cardinal of human virtues – botho.

In places such as Europe, for instance, where the underlying racial homogeneity is underscored at high-level summits, we see fairly stable economic agglomeration in the form of the EU and even glimmers of political convergence notwithstanding the aberration of Brexit.   Whereas in Europe the buzzword is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, here in Africa we’re busy reinforcing  territorial barriers  and keeping our own brothers and sisters at bay as though they are the very scums of the Earth. It is a shame that Europeans have been more empathetic to Arabs fleeing the conflagration in Syria than we have been to our own people who come knocking on our doors as fugitives from economic hardships.

History puts People on the Alert

Throughout history, there have been both great feats of success and horrific failures. Studying history helps us avoid the pitfalls of yore and build on our accomplishments. Experience is always the best teacher. A people who do not know the missteps in and the blunders of their history are fated to repeat them. History puts all life into perspective. A good grounding in the lessons of history puts us on the alert: it predisposes us to be ever on the qui vive so that we avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The more we study history, the wiser we become. Doomed are those who can't interpret history well, who evaluate it shoddily, or who simply neglect to pay heed to it.

In Botswana, the one great lesson we have learnt is the belatedness with which it dawned on us that it was time we beneficiated our mineral resources, an imperative I obsessively kept calling attention to as far back as the early 80s and to which the powers-that-be were so lackadaisically resigned. Sadly, there is a whole host of lessons we have chosen to simply ignore. For example, our examination-based educational system has on balance been resoundingly vain owing to its archaic emphasis on rote-learning instead of spontaneous internalisation of the inculcated knowledge.

It should have been discarded a long time ago, like the Scandinavian country of Finland has, but why we continue to cling to it so boggles the mind as to numb the senses altogether. (To be continued next week)
This is the first of a three-part comprehensive version of the speech David Magang gave at a UB function on August 17 2017. It is scheduled to appear in BOTSWANA NOTES & RECORDS, the Botswana Society’s annual publication.  

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

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.

POSITIVITY
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”

UNDERSTANDING

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.”

COMMITMENT

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.

ACCEPTANCE

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)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

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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