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What a Burke!

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

In 1987 one David Augusts Burke  downed an entire commercial airliner, killing the crew and passengers as well as himself, in retaliation for his recent  dismissal from work.  The story is worth telling, not just for the incident itself but for the subsequent investigation and the minutiae of the tragedy that emerged:

On the 7th of December 1987 Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771, flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles, crashed in Cayucos, California, as a result of a murder–suicide by Burke.  All 43 passengers and crew aboard the plane died, five of whom, including the two pilots, were seemingly shot dead before the plane crashed. The above-named Burke, was a former aircraft cleaner for USAir, the parent company of PSA, who had been terminated for petty theft from in-flight cocktail receipts. 

He had also been suspected of involvement with a narcotics ring.  After meeting with Ray Thomson, his manager, in an unsuccessful attempt to be reinstated, Burke purchased a ticket on Flight 1771, on which Thomson was a regular commuter passenger, then, using  USAir employee credentials that he had not yet surrendered and armed with a .44 Magnum , he was able to bypass the normal passenger security checkpoint at LAX.  On board he wrote a message on an airsickness bag:

Hi Ray. I think it's sort of ironical that we end up like this. I asked for some leniency for my family. Remember? Well, I got none and you'll get none. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the sound of someone entering and then leaving the lavatory, probably Burke, where he drew his revolver before killing Thomson. Captain Gregg Lindamood and First Officer James Nunn were asking air traffic control about turbulence when the CVR picked up the sound of two shots being fired in the cabin. 

The most plausible theory as to what happened was deduced from the pattern and audible volume of the shots on the CVR.  It is likely that Burke first shot Thomson twice, 2 bullet holes being found in the recovered seat. First Officer Nunn immediately reported to air traffic control that a gun had been fired, but no further transmissions were received from the crew. The CVR then recorded the cockpit door opening and flight attendant Deborah Neil telling the crew, "We have a problem!", to which Lindamood replied, "What's the problem?" A shot was heard as Burke shot the flight attendant dead and announced "I'm the problem."

He then fired two more rounds, incapacitating, if not outright killing both pilots. Several seconds later, the CVR picked up increasing windscreen noise as the airplane pitched down and accelerated. The remains of the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) indicated Burke had pushed the control column forward into a dive. A final gunshot was heard, followed by silence. It is most likely that was Burke killing Douglas Arthur, PSA's chief pilot in Los Angeles, who was also on board as a passenger and who may have been trying to reach the cockpit to save the aircraft. 

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were joined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the crash investigation. After two days of digging through what was left of the plane, they found the parts of a handgun containing six spent cartridge cases and the note on the airsickness bag written by Burke. FBI investigators were even able to lift a print from a fragment of finger stuck in the revolver's trigger guard, which positively identified Burke as holding the weapon when the aircraft crashed.  This disproved earlier speculation that  Burke shot himself and indicated that he was alive and he was holding the gun until the moment of impact.

Apart from being an amazing  illustration of the investigative skills and  professional thoroughness of the FAA and FBI  in uncovering the events as they played out in the skies above California, this is an extreme example of an employee with a grudge combined with severe mental health issues. However, a recent survey has indicated that the desire to kill one’s boss is a lot more common that we might like to suppose.

The question “Do you hate your boss?”  was recently asked of a a scross-section of British workers by the  London-based entrepreneurial research  group, Focus, intent on finding out the state of employee/employer relationships.  Now, if you replied yes, when you read that, then you’re not alone – it turns out 22% of people feel the same, and unhappily admit to hating their boss

The unhappiest industries
Sadly, more than one third of respondents said they dread going to work every day, and two thirds said they ‘live for the weekend’. One in five also said they ‘hate their job’, with 52% naming their boss as the main cause of their dissatisfaction. In fact, one in five people would forego a pay rise in exchange for having their boss fired. The unhappiest industry was retail, with 30% of retail workers claiming to hate their job. This was closely followed by construction (27%), and public sector workers (25%).

The most ‘murderous’ industries

While the Jennifer Anniston movie, Horrible Bosses, might be a work of fiction,  the survey revealed that it may not be all that far from the truth. Unbelievably, 12% of respondents admitted to having actually imagined killing their boss.  Construction workers emerged as having the worst relationship with their line managers with nearly a quarter admitting to murderous thoughts (22%) followed closely by those working in media (15%)

Construction                                    22%
Media & Communications               15%
Science & Technology                    14%
Arts & Entertainment                      13%
Retail                                              13%
Transport                                        12%
Finance                                          12%
Public sector                                  11%
Energy                                            9%
Health      & Social workers            7%
Admin                                             7%
Hospitality & Leisure                      7%

Over in Japan, the phenomenon is even greater, with a quarter, or 25%, of workers admitting to murderous thoughts toward their boss.  Psychologists are quick to point out that there is a quantum leap between thinking and doing;  that an employee might fantasise about murder but only as a form of mental catharsis, a harmless way of  righting  workplace wrongs, imagined or real,  no different to joining the local gym and using a punchbag to represent the hated figure of authority and absorb some pent-up aggression. 

Of course for most disgruntled employees, that’s as far as it goes.    However there are at least 18 further instances in the United States of former employees returning to their former place of work and killing their ex boss, often taking out a few current employees at the same time and 7 such instances in Japan. 

The high incidence in the US can be attributed partly to the ease of obtaining guns and ammunition but nonetheless it’s still a worry how a murderous thought can tip over to intent and follow-through in what would be appear to be a similar state of mind to the French ‘crime passionnel’  – a temporary loss of balance of mind caused by a severe emotional upset.  When we consider how long we spend at work, what a large part of our lives our job comprises and how vital it is in terms of income and lifestyle, it’s scarcely surprising that sudden unemployment through termination or retrenchment can deal a devastating blow.

Putting those statistics into proportion, they add up to only a minute number of misguided people who see murder as the appropriate revenge for dismissal.   But as one media boss remarked when those UK stats were published ‘It does make me wonder if I should be looking over my shoulder more often’!

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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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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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