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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 3)

Newer Lights of Knowledge Must be Taken into Account

I also note to my dismay that our historians don’t seem to be that keen to give history a re-look in light of newer insights that have emerged regarding our origins as the Tswana race and certain of our totemic dogmas that we have all along taken as gospel truth. Researchers, some of whom are not even conventional historians, have turned up virtually incontrovertible evidence that we originate not from Cameroon or the Great Lakes regions of Mother Africa but from southern Egypt.

In my own interactions with and observations of the South Sudanese, I have come to recognise that their traditions and customs as well as the cadences and inflexions of their speech patterns bear striking parallels with our own. To me, they come across as our veritable kith and kin with whom we hot-tailed it from southern Egypt at a time when the white-skinned Hyksos invaded that country and triggered a mass, multi-directional   exodus of Bantus.

Mmegi newspaper columnist LM Leteane has demonstrated, with awe-inspiring originality, that Setswana is actually a primeval language that go back to the Sumerian civilisation of 6000 years ago. It explains why Leteane is able to understand and interpret the Sumerian records much more sensibly and convincingly than scholars who trained in the swashbuckling, Ivy League institutions of the Western world.

I appeal to our historians and other academics, including those in the scientific fields, to reach out to and compare notes with this remarkable, phenomenally gifted man. The local media, both public and private, should also demonstrate a readiness and keenness to provide a forum for profound historical motions as adduced by such percipient, self-driven pundits of history as Leteane.

Revisit those Totems Please

The Ngwato totem of Phuti can also now be put into its proper context thanks to the ground-breaking labours of people like Leteane. Phuti, it turns out, has nothing to do with a duiker that scurried out of a thicket behind  which a Ngwato royal had taken refuge whilst in flight, in the process deflecting his pursuers, as is the ingrained belief. It is actually an abiding reverencing of the great Egyptian god of yore who was known as Ptah, or Enki in the Sumerian chronicles, and who was the most worshipped on the continent of Africa. Indeed, the BaPhuti tribe of Lesotho, the cousins, apparently, of our BaNgwato, do not remotely recall the aspect about the duiker in their peregrinational annals.  

Even my own totem as a  MoKwena, the crocodile,  can also  now  be properly contextualised. It does not stem, I believe,  from our miraculous crossing of a river once upon a time on the backs of  witting crocodiles lined nose-to-tail to form a providential  makeshift  bridge to conduct us to safer shores. Rather, it emanates from our veneration of a water-borne dragon that was the most sacred animal in the Egyptian culture. This dragon, which in Setswana we call kwena and in English crocodile, was known as the messeh in Egypt or mus-hus in Sumeria.   Since as a people we originally came from Egypt, we carried along these cultural lores and in the course of the centuries’-long, stop-go great trek from the north to other parts of Africa, they naturally assumed newer glosses, contexts, and embellishments bordering on sheer mythology.   

I would love to see a new revisionist thrust on the part of our historians where this new enlightenment about our past is zestfully and zealously mainstreamed both in high schools and universities. History is dynamic, in terms of its elasticity and therefore capacity to yield newer lights: it is not meant to stand as unimpeachable testimony before the court of posterity through and through like some kind of Holy Writ. History does not have a tone of finality. It is not as unassailably factual as the hard sciences such as physics or chemistry.  It follows, therefore, that to rigidly adhere to the history that was an article of faith decades ago is a serious indictment on the intellectual vigilance of people who  brandish PhDs in history and on whose word we lay people are of necessity obliged to hang.

If the new narrative about our origins as advanced by the likes of  Leteane is peppered  with cracks and so falls dismally short of verisimilitude, then our conventional historians must make their way to the dais and bravely  debunk it instead of simply nonchalantly and unscholastically dismissing it offhand.  

Festivals, Dances, are for Show Only

Much has been said about the cultural revitalisation witnessed in recent years as a great leap forward in the accentuation of our historical heritage. On one level, this takes the form of popular dances such as setapa, borankana, matshela-kankgwana, dikopelo, tsutsube,  hosanna, etc. On another, it assumes the guise of cultural festivals such as Letlhafula, Dithubaruba, and Domboshaba. The revival of initiation ceremonies such as bogwera for males and bojale for females are also emphatic statements in the crusade for cultural reawakening.

Yet most of these spectacular assertions of cultural renaissance are driven in the main by ulterior economic motives: they are packaged for sale, to either the tourist or the ordinary reveler,  and geared toward sheer entertainment. Instead of focusing on entrenching our history on the psyche of our people, they are tainted with commercial overtones, with the result that what is ultimately put on parade is cultural caricature rather than authentic historicity which reach back to our very genesis as merafe, or polities. So whilst I applaud them – something is better than nothing at all – I am not that seduced, sorry.

The Cost of Western Perversion

What are some of the virtues and values  we have lost on account of our being almost completely oblivious to our past? They abound. We no longer set much store by the primacy of  the extended family system. We address elderly folk by their first names and even when we deferentially address them by their surnames, we do not respectfully prefix them. The specific roles of a female spouse and a male spouse in the household remains a moot point even when centuries of matrimonial ethics lay bare as to who is senior and who consequently should submit to the other. The bone of contention stems from the intrusivist paradigms of “modernity” and “civilisation”, either of which is simply code for the encroachment of Western value systems.  

Our own traditional forms of therapy have completely been discarded with the result that we have to resort to Western-manufactured pharmaceuticals at the slightest sign of even a fleeting ailment.   The white-coated doctors with stethoscopes slung from their necks just will never see common cause with the “primitive” and “benighted” herbalist. Our own spirituality which was based on the invocation of badimo has long been sidelined and forgotten: we’re now Christians or Muslims because some missionary who came with the Bible or Koran in one hand and the gun in the other convinced us that our religion was “barbaric” and “primitive” and we had to convert to a new faith that was progressive and spiritually unsullied.  What this new religion did fundamentally was to turn us into a docile lot eager to offer the other cheek when the white man viciously bludgeoned the other.

We were told that we should not mind a life of hardship and appalling lack in this world as it wasn’t actually our home: our eternal and blissful home followed after death.  Thus whilst the likes of Cecil Rhodes were living life to the full in this very world which was not their permanent home, we ourselves were enjoined to make do with prayer only! To cut a long story short, before we knew what had happened to us, we had lost our lands, our sovereignty,  and our culture thanks to the blindfold called the Bible.  

Even our age-old cultural practices such as bogwera were condemned as primitive and potentially harmful to our wellbeing when in fact they had advantages that disposed men to warding off sexually transmitted  diseases as it has now come to light  in recent times. One of our kings, Sebele II, was hauled over the coals by our  colonial overlords for religiously enforcing the rite of  circumcision: he was deposed, replaced by his estranged and conformist younger brother, and exiled to Ghanzi District, his Siberia.

The Guilty Parties

If our history is not being effectually embedded in the value orientations of our people, the reason for this  tragedy, as I deem it, are legion.   They include the indifference  on the part of Government itself, which seems to relegate history to the very margins of curricula imperatives; the apathy of the private sector; the corruption of Western acculturation, which is more pervasive today than it was in yesteryears; the tendency to adhere to syllabi that have outlived their shelf life; and the lack of drive on the part of our major university to acquire its own printing press.

I remember once asking the late Professor Thomas Tlou why most of the theses of our indigenous historians were based on research conducted in other countries when ideally our own country ought to take pride of place. The professor laid the blame squarely on Government: he told me whereas other governments were prepared to avail funding for research to even non-citizen historians, ours didn’t seem to care an iota. Almost every University of Botswana lecturer I have had occasion to talk to over the years bristles at the stigmatic absence of a printing press at a university that prides itself as one of the best on the continent.

An in-house  printing press would make information dissemination by way of  books easier and cheaper. It would open the floodgates of indigenous bibliographical output, which presently comes only in trickles as international scholarship arbiters repeatedly lament. Equally culpable is the private sector, which is not playing its part in promoting the proliferation of historical literature, though that hardly surprises me anyway as most of the leading lights of Botswana enterprise  are  overwhelmingly domiciled from across the border and therefore their  priorities cannot be expected to be evenly aligned.

A few years ago, I was approached by one gifted writer who proposed a biography on Sechele. Since the project required funding and the idea captivated me, Phakalane Estates made a pledge and even set up an account in which to pool donations from sponsors. The proponent of the project then wrote to more than 100 leading companies in the country for the requisite financial assistance. Only one company made a donation and a very inconsequential one for that matter. More than five years on, the project is yet to see the light of day.
     
All Hands Must be on Deck

Contrast that with  South Africa, where the private sector is typically the prime mover in initiating literary projects from which they do not even directly benefit. Most book projects of a biographical nature in South Africa are bankrolled by the private sector long before they arrive on the desk of  the publisher. It goes without saying that our own, home-grown  pillars of the private sector should emulate their counterpart across the Limpopo, who even when based here in Botswana and making money from Batswana continue to support book propositions in their home country whilst giving ours a cold shoulder.

I appeal to the stalwarts of indigenous Botswana enterprise to join the bandwagon and help bring about an explosion of historical chronicling in our country from across the board.    Such a seismic shift in our view of history would certainly make our beloved founding President Sir Seretse Khama smile in his grave in that the ensuing cornucopia of historical literature would reverse the stigma so that we’re no longer “a people without a past and a people without a soul” but a people with an amply illustrated past and a people with a soul or substance.

In many African societies, the respect for and deference to fallen heroes not only is paramount but palpable. In our case too, kowtowing to the expressed wishes of our leading lights who have long departed the stage must take precedence over everything else. As such, let us in heed of this moral shine the spotlight on Sir Seretse Khama’s concern and accordingly set about embracing and promoting our history with the zest and gusto he envisaged. Trust me folks, the socio-economic and political challenges that currently beset us as a nation would be overcome, not necessarily in one fell swoop but incrementally.  History would be made and we would become a truly united and proud nation.

This is the last 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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Parricide at Herod’s Court

25th January 2021
SAILI

A wife, uncle, and two in-laws fall at the hands of Judah’s despot

The pre-eminent Jewish chronicler, Flavius Josephus, said of Herod the Great that he was “blessed with every gift of looks, body, and mind” but he was a “slave to his passions”. This was in the context of a gloating bloodlust.

His sword knew no sacred cows: neither his own kids, wives, in-laws, next of kin, nor bosom friends were immune from it. He is on record as pestering Caesar Augustus with a barrage of letters seeking permission to execute his own flesh and blood, prompting the Roman emperor to at one time quip that, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son”, which was apt: as a “Jew”, Herod did not eat pork and therefore in the event that he kept any pigs, they would never have to be killed.

You are by now well-apprised of the death of Hyrcanus II by the same Herod, General Atiku, in 30 BC. Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean ruler of Judah twice over, was actually the grandfather of Mariamne I, Herod’s most beloved wife and his second of up to 10 wives. It was Mariamne’s own mother Salome, who dreading Herod’s pathological savagery, pitched Mariamne to Herod in the hope that that would insure her family from Herod’s murderous caprices.

Now, Mariamne, General, was as much a stunning beauty as her younger brother Aristobulus III was breathtakingly good-looking. Having tied the knot with Herod in 37 BC, Mariamne had prevailed over her husband to install Aristobulus as High Priest. The post had fallen vacant on the death of Antigonus in 37 BC and Herod had appointed one Ananel, who had no ties whatsoever to the Hasmoneans, the first such in more than a century, in his place. Unable to resist the spirited entreaties of his beloved wife, who had also lobbied Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her beau Mark Anthony, Herod gave in and replaced Ananel with Aristobulus, who was only 16 years old, in 36 BC.

Because of his enormous charisma and overall affability, Aristobulus was a hit with the masses despite his tender age and Herod was envious of the young man’s rock star-like popularity. To make doubly sure the young man did not harbour a seditious ace up his sleeve, the morbidly paranoid Herod had his spooks watch on both Aristobulus and his mother round the clock. Sensing imminent danger, Aristobulus contacted Cleopatra, asking for a pre-emptive safe passage to Egypt and there enjoy absolute freedom. When Herod got wind of this, he decided to get rid of Aristobulus as he did not wish him to be a perennial thorn in his flesh from the utter safety of self-imposed exile.

The opportunity came at a banquet in Jericho which was organised by Aristobulus’ mother. There, Herod had one of his henchmen cause Aristobulus to drown during a dusk time horseplay in a swimming pool. Of course Herod would forever maintain the drowning was accidental when everybody knew it was in truth a tactical elimination. Poor Aristobulus was only 17 years old having been born in 56 BC. He was the last Hasmonean High Priest and was replaced by the previously deposed Ananel, who was to remain in that position till 29 BC.

HEROD ACQUITTED OVER THE ARISTOBULUS DEATH

It need not be over-emphasised, General, that Mariamne and her mother Alexandra did not take Herod’s line over the all too untimely demise of Aristobulus lying down. If he had reckoned that with the death of Aristobulus he had gotten rid of potentially the most potent threat to his omnipotence, he was totally mistaken. Herod had actually simply fanned the flames of intrigue against him, for mother and daughter confronted him and accused him of murdering their boy in cold blood.

Nor did the two Iron Ladies end matters there: Alexandra wrote a lachrymal letter to Cleopatra to get her to bring her influence to bear on Mark Anthony so that Herod paid dearly and likewise for his nefarious act. Anthony, who at the time was the Roman colossus in charge of the whole of the Middle East, was persuaded and during a visit to Laodicea (in modern-day Turkey, though some accounts say it was Rhodes in Cyprus), he commanded Herod to report to him forthwith and exculpate himself over the affair.

Although Herod put a brave face on the matter, General, he was rather unsure of his eventual fate after the trial. He also suspected rightly or wrongly that Anthony had a thing for the voluptuously beautiful Mariamne and the last thing Herod wanted was for any other man to bed his beloved Mariamne even in death. So before he set off for Laodicea, Herod instructed his uncle Joseph, who was married to his sister Salome, to make sure that in the event that Anthony sentenced him to death, he should immediately put her to the sword. He also detailed a certain Sohemus, a most trusted aide, to stand sentry over the entire womenfolk at the palace.

Herod, however, had the nine lives of a cat, General. Using his immense rhetorical skills and the time-honoured palm greasing, he won himself an acquittal. Meanwhile, the Judean rumourville was abuzz with chatter that Herod had been summarily executed by Anthony, as a result of which people became spendthrifts of their tongues.

Both Joseph and Sohemus disclosed to Mariamne the instructions Herod had left them with in relation to her fate once he was no more. Mariamne was both livid and distraught that her husband regarded her as so easily expendable when outwardly he cherished her beyond words. To her mind, his arrangements with Joseph had nothing to do with love but sprang from sheer monstrosity. She probably thanked God that he was dead, but the fact of the matter was that he was not and when he at long last turned up, she did not want to have anything to do with him, including the conjugation which he so eagerly pined for after such an extended absence.

HEROD KILLS HIS WIFE AND HIS UNCLE

Now, if Herod had a kind of Svengali, General, it was his youngest sister Salome. Salome (65 BC-10 AD) was the most powerful woman at Herod’s court. A sly, scheming, and manipulating vixen, she arguably more than any other living being had the most sway in a negative sense on her brother, who took practically whatever she said as gospel truth.

Let us nevertheless, General, take stock of the fact that the bulk of what we learn about Salome comes from Flavius Josephus, who himself relied on the writings of Herod’s court historian Nicolaus of Damascus. For one reason or the other, Nicolaus did not see eye to eye with Salome and it is therefore possible that much of what Nicolaus relates of her is embellished to smear her before the court of history.
Upon his return, Herod was told of the rumours of his death and so was surprised to find Mariamne alive when Joseph and Sohemus should in the circumstances have had her killed if indeed they were loyal to him. In fact, Joseph had even put Mariamne and Alexandra into the safe custody of Roman legions stationed in Judea just in case Jewish malcontents who abhorred Herod turned their wrath on them.

But there was more. Salome reported to Herod that Mariamne, who she hated like the plague, had had sexual relations with both Joseph and Sohemus, this being Mariamne’s reward to them for dishing out to her the dirt on Herod, and that she had on several occasions before attempted to poison him. Now, no one would hump Herod’s most beloved wife and get away scotfree. It is therefore small wonder that Herod straightaway ordered the execution of Joseph and Sohemus. Joseph was 61 years old at the time of his death in 34 BC, having been born in 95 BC. In the case of Mariamne herself though, he had her subjected to a formal court trial not on charges of adultery but of attempted regicide.

Herod had hoped that the court would acquit her, whereupon he would make bygones be bygones so great was his love for the woman, but sadly for him, General, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Even then, Herod tactfully dilly-dallied on signing the writ of execution and simply had his wife detained at a fortress for some time until Salome prevailed over him to execute her at long last. Writes Josephus: “Thus, with the death of the noble and lovely Mariamne ended the glorious history of the Hasmonean High Priest Mattathias and his descendants.”

For a long time to come though, General, Herod was haunted by the death of his wife to the point of even sometimes coming across as if he had lost his mind. “When Herod realised what this meant (the death sentence passed on Mariamne), he tried in vain to have the verdict changed, but Salome did not rest until the death penalty was carried out,” Josephus informs us. “Herod was heartbroken; nothing could comfort him for the loss of his lovely wife.

For seven years he refused to have her body buried, and held it, embalmed, in his palace. Afterwards, he became so melancholy and despondent, nothing interested him or could arouse any enthusiasm in him for living … He was so far conquered by his passion, that he would order his servants to call for Mariamne, as if she were still alive, and could still hear them … He tried hard to forget his trouble by going hunting and banqueting, but nothing helped. Herod built new cities and erected temples and palaces. He also named a tower in honour of Mariamne.”

HEROD SLAYS SISTER’S EX-HUBBY

Mariamne’s death was not the only one which Herod perpetrated through the instrumentality of Salome. There were actually several and included those of her own husband Costobarus. Salome was married four times, to her uncle Joseph (45 BC); Costobarus (34 BC); Sylleus (circa 27 BC); and Alexas (20 BC).

Like the Herod clan, Costobarus was of Idumean stock. It was Costobarus Herod had made governor of Idumea and Gaza and upon Joseph’s death had him tie the knot with Salome, with the couple eventually siring two children, Berenice and Antipater III. Costobarus, though, soon began to harbour monarchical ambitions of his own and wrote to Cleopatra beseeching her to persuade Mark Anthony to make Idumea independent of Herod and install him (Costobarus) as Rome’s client King of the territory.

Of course upon learning of this, Herod was not amused. It was Salome who pleaded with him not to put her husband to the sword. Next time, however, a dumped Costobarus was not so lucky. Seven years after their marriage, Salome and Costobarus parted ways and a possibly hurt Salome decided to exact vengeance. She informed her brother that he had been harbouring two fugitives from Herodian justice for a full 12 years at his own farm.

The two were simply known as the Sons of Baba. Baba ben Babuta, their father and clan patriarch, was related to the Hasmonean ruler Antigonus, who Herod had replaced and killed in 37 BC with the help of Roman legions. Baba and his sons had resisted Herod at the time, with his sons henceforth persisted in insurrectionist activity against Herod. Baba himself had been captured and blinded by Herod but spared anyway as he no longer posed any threat. Writes Josephus: “Now the Sons of Babas were of great dignity, and had power among the multitude, and were faithful to Antigonus, and were always raising calumnies against Herod, and encouraged the people to preserve the government to that royal family (the Hasmoneans) which held it by inheritance.”

Costobarus had provided the Sons of Baba an indefinite lair “supposing that their preservation might be of great advantage to him in the changes of government afterward”. Following the Salome tip, Herod had Costobarus and the Sons of Baba summarily executed “so that none was left alive of the family of Hyrcanus (the Hasmonean), and the kingdom was wholly in Herod’s power, there being no one of high rank to stand in the way of his unlawful acts” per Josephus.

NEXT WEEK: HEROD’S WRATH ON HIS OWN SONS

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WHAT’S UP WITH WHATSAPP?

25th January 2021

In early January, WhatsApp, part of Facebook Inc., began alerting its 2 billion users to an update of its privacy policy which, should they want to keep using the popular messaging app, they have to accept. Much of the policy, which is about commercialising WhatsApp, states ‘WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook Companies.

We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate and market services’. WhatsApp is now reserving the right to share data it collects about you with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram, regardless of whether you have accounts or profiles there, claiming it needs it to help operate and improve its offerings. More broadly, almost all of the $21.5 billion in revenues which Facebook generated in the third quarter of 2020 came from advertising and there is currently none in WhatsApp.

The company now wants to be able to serve more targeted ads to people on Facebook and Instagram by also garnering their usage habits on WhatsApp and enabling businesses take payments via WhatsApp for items that were selected on other Facebook sites. For long-time users, the option to share data with Facebook was made available in 2016, but it was just that: optional and temporary. It was now to become mandatory for everybody from Feb. 8 but owing to a massive backlash, the company has delayed that to May 15 to try and persuade users to sign up to the new Ts and Cs.

WhatsApp on Monday attempted to address the uproar over privacy concerns with a post on its website, explaining that the update was designed to aid businesses on its platform, as it reiterated in Friday’s post.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

These new terms have caused an outcry among technology experts, privacy advocates, billionaire entrepreneurs and government organisations and triggered a wave of defections to rival services. Elon Musk has urged his followers to switch to Signal and the governments of Turkey and India have threatened to block the app if it insists on proceeding.

‘WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy verges on user surveillance and threatens India’s security’, a petition filed in an Indian court said on Thursday, presenting another legal challenge for the Facebook Inc. -owned messenger. “It virtually gives a 360-degree profile into a person’s online activity,” lawyer Chaitanya Rohilla told the Delhi High Court. Many Indian users have began installing rival apps like Signal and Telegram, pushing WhatsApp to begin a costly advertising campaign to calm its 400 million customer-base, the largest of any country. The change has also met with a challenge in Turkey with the country’s Competition Board this week launching an investigation into the messaging service and its parent company.

Elsewhere too, in spite of Whatsapp protestations, millions of its users are already migrating to alternative platforms. Signal saw 7.5 million downloads last week,  a 4,200% spike since the previous week and large swaths of users also jumped to Telegram, as the platform gained 9 million new users last week, up 91% from the previous week. Both apps are now topping Google and Apple’s app stores,

Facebook could possibly learn a lesson from history here. Every past empire – Aztec, Mayan, Greco-Roman, Sumerian, Mongol, Chinese, Ottoman and more recently British, all saw their star rise, their glory swell, their boundaries grow and yet each eventually fell, often the instigators of their own downfall.

They expanded too far too fast and could not control what they had initially conquered. And now it looks like the same fate might await this large tech giant. Parent company Facebook has also come under fire recently for overt and covert censorship policies with questions raised as to partisanship and curtailment of freedom of speech. Thus one would have to question the wisdom of the timing of this new Whatsapp privacy policy, if nothing else.

To understand its influence and control one only has to check out the un-smart sector of the mobile phone industry which for some time has offered handsets a small step up from the basic starter sets with Facebook and Whatsapp as default screen app settings. These limited internet access options have allowed millions of users to connect with affordable data bundle packages.

And for Google smartphone subscribers, the search engine automatically connects its base to Whatsapp and Facebook – one big, happy family. Facebook is also seamlessly linked to Paypal offering contact-less charges for its boosted post advertising, a somewhat sinister partnership which accesses their Paypal log-in and authorisation details without the need to inform the payee – the transaction is simply deducted automatically from the registered credit card. This is Big Brother with a blue logo.

The bottom line here is that if you have any privacy issues at all – and you probably should – you might as well make the switch now before you are forced to sign away your rights in May. And the plus part is that both Signal and Telegram have the technological edge over Whatsapp anyway, the latter even being accessible on multiple platforms simultaneously, not just on your phone.
Empires take time to crumble and Facebook is not in imminent danger but information is a weapon that can be used in any war, even a virtual conflict, so don’t give this giant any more ammunition than it already has.

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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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