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A burning issue

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

You will, of course, have seen in the news this week the fire that engulfed the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  The cathedral is one of the most iconic sights on the Parisian landscape, the others being the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur or Sacred Heart, and of course the Eiffel Tower.  Of the 3, it is by far the oldest, having been consecrated in 1158 on the site of 2 earlier churches.  It is situated on a small island in the middle of the River Seine, known as the Île de la Cité or the City Island, and it has a rich history tying it not only to France but to Britain too. 

As far back as 1431 England’s King Henry IV was crowned in the church and Mary Queen of Scots, cousin of Elizabeth 1st was married there to Francis II of France in 1587.  Napoleon Bonaparte was declared Emperor of France within its walls in 1804 and Joan of Arc was beatified there in 1919.  In Notre Dame too, in 1945 General de Gaulle declared the end of World War II and the end of the hated German occupation of the city during the war.

Much of the wooden interior and spire was destroyed in this week’s blaze but most of the cathedral,  many of its artefacts, priceless religious icons and even some of the remarkable stained glass windows survived.  However this is not the first time the cathedral has been damaged.  Over its long history it has suffered decay and damage and indeed it had nearly fallen into a state of complete ruin when Napoleon rose to power and it was he who ordered the first major restoration programme.

France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, was quick to come out and assure the people of France that the church was be restored to its former glory within 5 years, an assurance the nation desperately needed.   The sight of the blazing building was shocking in itself but so was the army of Parisians who stood silently on the banks of the river Seine, watching their beloved church burn.

To understand its significance to the people of France it is necessary to recognise that France, like Botswana, is a country founded on Christian faith, in this case, that of the Catholic  Church.  The name ‘Notre Dame’ translates as Our Lady, the title by which the Virgin Mary is most commonly known in Catholicism.  It was quite remarkable, too, how quickly corporate France responded to the disaster  French billionaire François-Henri Pinault donated €100m (£86.4m) towards efforts, saying  "This tragedy strikes all the French and beyond all those who are attached to spiritual values. Faced with such a tragedy, everyone wants to revive this jewel of our heritage as quickly as possible." 

His donation was shortly followed by LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault who offered €200m (£173m) to reconstruct the "symbol of France".  French energy company Total will donate €100m (P1300m), as a further €200m (P3000m) was pledged by French luxury and cosmetics group L'Oreal and the Bettencourt Meyers family.  Other companies offering money include Tag Heuer, Guerlain, Christian Dior, Dom Perignon and Louis Vuiton.  Even overseas corporates such as Apple   and Indiana’s Notre Dame University have pledged financial support.  Other funding efforts are underway through crowd-funding pages and with   €600m  (P12,000m) raised at the time of writing, the country has announced an international competition to select  the most suitable and talented architect to undertake the restoration.

In complete contrast, across La Manche – the English Channel to you! – in what is becoming an  increasingly secular Britain, James O’Brian, an  LBC Radio chat show host,   rather than praising their generosity and patriotism, was questioning whether Monsieurs Pinault and Arnault could not have found a more deserving cause  on which to spend their money, clearly considering that the restoration of an 800-year old church is a worthless project, in spite of the fact that it’s a much-loved national monument, major  money-making tourist attraction and arguably the most important religious building in the country.   

Sadly none of his phone-in listeners had the gumption to ask him if he was prepared to give up his iPhone in protest, along with banning his wife from using any product by LOréal or Guerlain.  In the ultimate irony, on a day when climate change protestors were blockading vase swathes of London and causing  commuter chaos, he also let it slip that he had only just made it in to the studio in time in his ‘chauffeur-driven limo’,  thoughtfully provided by his employers!  In common parlance, Mr. O’Brian is what might be termed a ‘champagne socialist’ but if so, it’s to be hoped that that doesn’t refer to French champagne and that the limo was not fuelled by Total petrol!

The situation put me in mind of something similar in England in the 1990s when a massive fire broke out in Windsor Castle and the then Prime Minister, John Major, immediately promised that it would be restored to its former glory with taxpayer’s money.  Unfortunately, it came in the same year that Princess Diana and Prince Charles had announced their decision to divorce, Queen Elizabeth II was held partially to blame, lord knows why, and most of the Royal Family were ‘persona non gratis’ in the public’s eyes.  A huge storm played out in the media and the queen eventually announced she would fund the repairs out of her own pocket, later describing the entire year as the worst in her life.  You might think, well why shouldn’t’ she fork out – after all, she lives in the building for part of the year, which is a valid argument but so is the other side which would purport that Windsor Castle, like Notre Dame, is also a major tourist crowd-puller which means money in the Treasury coffers and a nice little earner for anyone and everyone involved in British tourism.

Looked at in that way, our 2 French businessmen are actually relieving the French taxpayer of the financial burden of restoration, making it a very patriotic and charitable gesture.  I suppose, Mr. O’Brian, it’s the difference between Vive La France or the whole country having to ‘Go Dutch’!

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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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