Mmegi Blogs :: Warrant Officer Potongwane holds BDF’s institutional memory
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Monday 24 September 2018, 15:01 pm.
Warrant Officer Potongwane holds BDF’s institutional memory

The departure of the fifth commander of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is a welcome development because unlike his four predecessors, he has broken ranks by not asking for a contract extension in the BDF or BDP. The first two went on to be part of cabinet while the last two served their contracts in the military.
By Richard Moleofe Fri 26 Aug 2016, 14:57 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Warrant Officer Potongwane holds BDF’s institutional memory

I still foresee a situation where the second pair goes on to enjoy government cushioning through appointments in the diplomatic service. I have always wondered why Lt Gen Masire is still somewhat left in the cold in terms of key political appointments. We all know that he seats in this and that board but that is far from enough in terms of what we already know to be precedence.

I can with a degree of certainty predict that Gen Masire is going to be a beneficiary in the coming changes in government. Parliament has just passed through key changes in the number of specially elected Members of Parliament as well as the increase of cabinet. If Gen Fisher has achieved a post in the diplomatic service, Gen Masire deserves better. The latter was more loyal than his predecessor and for that reason he deserves better.

With all that said and done, there is one single denominator that defines these men. It is clearly undisputable that they are taking with them what we can refer to as institutional memory. For the length of their service which altogether exceeds a combined 160 years, these men are leaving the institution with a wealth of experience.

Institutional memory is always accompanied by experience. Experience is what all these five generals carry with them. No country in the world trashes its generals. There is a special way of recycling them through the system in order for them to continue to impart their knowledge to the younger generation.

My experience in this area particularly comes from the US military. I have in the past been given a rare opportunity to visit the headquarters of the United States European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. At the time in 1992 this was the biggest US military establishment outside of the United States. An estimated one third of their staff was drawn from retired officers.

The tradition of giving old soldiers and their generals a productive life is for one big reason; and that is for passing on institutional memory. This transfer happens at different levels and stages of life in any institution and it does not only come from generals.

There are so many things that Gen Galebotswe can pursue in life. Other than farming, he can go on and teach at the Command and Staff College or the University of Botswana. Furthermore, he could become even more valuable in any such institution in any one of the SADC countries.

This is a man who has spent a total of 33years as a soldier and he knows nothing better than soldiering. He does not only hold good leadership credentials, rather he remembers the history of the institution.

For anyone who has been a soldier at BDF headquarters, can bear witness that there is one aging warrant officer who literally knows all the corners of the building and the


institution. WO Potongwane will soon be 55 years old, a mandatory age of retirement for BDF.

The fellow has served under all the five commanders. Beginning with Gen Merafhe, WO Potongwane has been serving in the registry office. To this very hour he is still working in the same office in the building that houses BDF HQ.

He is known by all good names and this is the fellow that no officer wants to cross paths with.  That is not because he is arrogant. It is because he just knows too much and everyone else depends on him. One lieutenant colonel once questioned why this warrant officer has been in one unit for so long. The idea in the past has been to send officers and men around to gain experience in this and that field. However, it has always been difficult for anyone to move Potongwane because of his wealth of knowledge.

It is in the interest of every staff officer to find information at their fingertips especially when it’s demanded by the high office. This warrant officer has all files wired into his memory and would remember the exact movement of every individual. Truly speaking, I wish he could be employed by Kweneng Land Board and be posted in Mogoditshane just across the road from BDF HQ. I still fail to understand how this land office is ever going to overcome the stigma of “faele ga re e bone.”  In fact he would become useful to both institutions at the same time because surely BDF would time and again refer to his trove of knowledge of the institution.

It is always different to write an opinion piece while you have at one point or another played part in the very institution in question. In my case I enjoy writing about BDF because the characters I write about are real and I have had interaction with them.

Last week I discussed with one officer at BDF about the departure of Warrant Officer Potongwane. I expressed my impressions about this man at the way he treats his work and the level of his institutional memory. However, the officer had a different viewpoint. He disagreed with me when I called Potongwane the “memory of BDF”.

The officer thinks Potongwane must go because the organisation has moved on into the digital era while the warrant officer remains in the analogue. He says the fellow is even afraid of using the computer.

One thing I can tell here is that, Gen Galebotswe and Warrant Officer Potongwana are both leaving this organisation having passed on their knowledge to their subordinates. BDF HQ will not collapse when the two depart. Like Moses in the Old Testament, they have raised the Joshuas of their time. These are men and women who are certainly ready to take the organisation to greater heights.

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