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The Vilanders of The Mier Country



In addition to the Ovaherero, Ovambandero and Nama there are additional tran-Kgalagadi groups that historically straddle our western frontier with Namibia. These include predominately Afrikaans speaking communities such as Bokspits, Gakhibane and Struizendam in Botswana.

While outsiders have in the past often labelled the inhabitants of these settlements as "Basters", "Coloureds", and "Hottentots", locally they were from the mid-nineteenth century more precisely identified as the "Vilanders", while their lands were known as "The Mier" country.  The Mier communities trace their common history back to the 1860s when, under a leader named Dirk Vilander (c.1810-1888), they broke away from Jan Jonker's "Orlams" Nama of Namibia to first settle along the confluence of the Aoub, Molopo, Nosop and Kudumane rivers.

There, sometime later, they were there also joined by the followers of another leader named Regopstaan Kruiper Mier is the Afrikaans/Dutch word for 'ant'. It is said that when Dirk Vilander's advance party first entered the region they noticed that, at a certain spot, some ants were bringing wet mud up to the surface of what was otherwise arid ground. This led them to dig for water, which was soon found in quantities that could sustain Vilander's first settlement in the area. Alternatively it is said that Dirk Vilander himself discovered an aardvark burrow filled with water that it was also full of ants.

Vilander and Kruiper's followers ultimately settled on both sides of the Nasop River and can thus still be found in adjacent areas of South Africa and Namibia as well as south-west Botswana. Their largest settlement has been Rietfontein in South Africa, which derives its name from what was a fountain surrounded by reed bush, which was previously used by the !Xo, a local Khoisan or Basarwa community who were already in the area. For a generation thereafter the Vilanders shared the Mier country in relative harmony with the !Xo and minimal interference from others.

But, in the 1890s the area was partitioned between the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Cape Colony and German South West Africa, resulting in subsequent German and Boer settler encroachments. In the 1920s the first National Party regime began to seize the Vilander farms inside South Africa, claiming that they were too poor and overused the land. The Land Inspector who condemned the farms was a certain David DeVilliers who, in the name of the newly formed South African Parks Board, manipulated the farm removals for his personal profit. The Parks Board in the process acquired boreholes, dams and other infrastructure built by the Vilanders, who, being non-whites, were at the time denied adequate compensation.

In 1933 DeVilliers began to press the Bechuanaland Protectorate's Resident Commissioner, Charles Rey, for the removal of Botswana's Vilanders. This was proposed as an anti-poaching measure. Although police on both sides of the border described the Vilanders as a "most law abiding people", Rey was swayed. In 1938 the entire population living north of Twee Rivieren within 25 miles of the Nosop were forced to abandon their farms and resettle around Bokspits. Their only compensation was ten pounds sterling per family for building materials.

Speaking earlier this year to BOPA reporter Esther Mmoloi one senior Bokspits resident, Mr Moses Vanneel, thus recalled that: "It was on 11 March 1938. I was only 11 years old at the time. We were told to make way for the trans-frontier park and given 10 days to have packed our bags and left the place." Nearly 10,000 square kilometres of Botswana was ultimately depopulated of both its Vilander and !Xo inhabitants. On the eve of the 1938 removal Jan Bok and T. Mattys, the then recognised Headmen of Boksprits and Kyky, had tried one last appeal to the authorities in Mafikeng:

"In 1867 our forefathers came into the Mier country under Headman Dirk Vilander and the Auob and Nosob rivers were their hunting grounds, later in 1894 the present Bechuanaland Border was fixed as it is now and our people were still living peacefully in these parts under Headman David Vilander and some of the people still alive today were sent by David Vilander down to Upington to assist as drivers etc. in the Boer War against the Boers, at that time also the country south of the Kuruman river was proclaimed a Game reserve and the country east of the Nosob was given to us by Mr. Gordon.

"From this it is evident that we are occupying the country for a long time and after generations are staying so long in a country it is human to love the country and very hard and heart-breaking to leave such a country." All such appeals, however, fell on deaf ears. From 1940 South African Game Wardens, who were given special jurisdiction in the Kgalagadi District, prohibited Vilander and !Xo hunting so as to force them to "work". But, as Tsabong's District Commissioner noted in 1954: "work there is for all; unfortunately it is all across the border."

While the Mier country remains relatively impoverished, to a great extent its current economic prospects are focused on the emergence of more people centred development of the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park, whose colonial era genesis once threatened the very survival of the region's distinct local culture.

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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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