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Postage stamps – A major unsung success story

SANDY GRANT
It was seeing the Minister of Environment, Wildlife & Tourism, Tshekedi Khama on TV presenting someone with a standard, tired boxed basket that made me wonder why he would opt for baskets and not, for a change, stamps.

Yes, baskets and tourism do tend to go together but one reason for producing stamps, it is said is to promote tourism. In reality, both items, the basket and the postage stamp, are produced in order to make money, not to promote tourism.

That said, it would be obvious that stamps, as an important local product would benefit, as do baskets, from an occasional push by the Minister – thus occassionally replace the boxed basket with a prepared display of this country’s very beautiful stamps? But stay with baskets and stamps a moment to note one important difference. To build up a collection of baskets as an investment would be very strange.

To collect stamps as an investment, even though they may be no more than a colourful receipt, makes much sense. In addition, we could note that whereas a flawed basket is effectively valueless, and cannot be returned to the maker, a flawed stamp may have a much greater value than one which is A1 perfect.  But passing on, let’s also note that whilst there are increasing attempts to identify projects which could be viable and utilise and encourage locally available talents and skills, Botspost, in its various historical manifestations, has been quietly and unobtrusively doing just that. The achievement has ben largely unrecognised.  In a way, this is unsurprising. Even for Botspost, the production of stamps may have been viewed as being one of its lesser responsibilities. Indeed it is possible that even now it may not have fully realised that its achievement in successfully producing high quality, interesting and attractive stamps picks it out as one the country’s major post independence achievements. Stamp collectors and specialists have long been aware that this is so. In contrast, the government appears to be unaware of the multiple benefits that stamps bring to the country. Day in and day out, here and throughout the world, stamps project an image, positive or negative, of the country producing them - unlike commercial adverts that may locally appear for a day or two and are then gone. 

Stamp addicts, therefore  may have noted with dry amusement the eagerness with which the government invests much cash in finding a logo, a brand which would titillate, excite and promote the country whilst being perhaps unaware that postage stamps have been performing that role since the country became independent

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in 1966. 

 Of course, stamp production has always been a back room affair. Generally, it has not been known how postage stamps were so regularly produced, who took the decisions about them, did the designs, commissioned the printer, checked to eliminate error and then got the accounting in good order. Maybe Sheila Case, one of the heroic figures who needs to be credited with much of what has been achieved, can be persuaded to contribute to Botswana Notes and Record a history of those fifty past years.  She will be, however, anxious to affirm that two others who kept the show on the move were Andy Anderson and Alec Campbell. Without such dedicated people, nothing would lave been achieved. Ironically, however, it seems probable that they were able to succeed because the government had so little interest in what they were doing. 

If it had been more aware, it would undoubtedly have insisted, with its habitual commitment to bureaucratic absurdity, that Sheila, Andy and Alec should all have been routinely replaced on the Stamp Committee by woefully disinterested people who had not the slightest interest in stamps, but would happily gobble up the sitting fee. But let’s think a bit more around postage stamps, what they do, what they are and what they are supposed to do. The President, a few years back, gave, what was then understood as being the first ever push to open the way for local artists. Yet, with little fuss,  Botspost, has been offering local artists, perhaps their one and only opportunity in those years, to contribute and get their name better known. 

It may now all seem to be routine and dead easy. Yet, so much can so quickly go wrong as is evident in Lesotho, for instance, where it is noted by the Historical Dictionary that the very remarkable David Ambrose, ‘has been unstinting, if not always successful, in his efforts to have Lesotho’s stamps accurately reflect themes germane to Lesotho’.

 It follows that stamp production for other countries may have been fraught with problems that were not experienced here. The need now is for Botspost to work out how the golden goose of the last fifty years can be safeguarded so that it continues to produce in circumstances that are bound to be very different from those which preceded it.



Etcetera II

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