Mmegi Blogs :: Remembering BDF heroes at 40
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Friday 20 April 2018, 13:36 pm.
Remembering BDF heroes at 40

Botswana Defence Force (BDF) is a force to reckon with at age 40.
By Richard Moleofe Thu 13 Apr 2017, 15:31 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Remembering BDF heroes at 40

The military organisation was established through an Act of Parliament in April 1977 as a result of a growing threat from our neighbours who were predominately white minority ruled. The final straw came as the Rhodesian Army incursions grew from strength.

I have respect for the first batch of officers and men who become the founders of our military. They were 69 in total. They took a hard decision of leaving their comfort zone in the Police Mobile Unit (PMU), which served as a paramilitary wing of the police. Before the establishment of BDF, the PMU was charged with the role of patrolling our borders.

Forty years later, all the founders are gone. By the way, Gen Khama has a medal coded FOM. The holders of the Founder Officer Medal are slowly dwindling in numbers and Khama remains to be one of the few holders of the medal. This is his most valuable medal.

Growing up in the early 1970s, we understood Khama as an accomplished traffic officer. He was an addend motorcycle rider. When he was not on the white government motorcycle, he would be found on his private blue and probably riding with his twin brothers.

All of a sudden we heard that he was now a brigadier at BDF. So actually Khama might be the only founder officer who has come from the traffic department. Someone needs to inform us here.

The PMU which served as a precursor to BDF, the organisation was surrounded by a myriad of problems ranging from arms and equipment. The neighbouring forces were far much superior even though most of them were armed with WW2 weapons’ systems.

In 1975, the PMU met its worst challenge in their operations. A  Belgian mercenary named Ranglese entered the country with his 4x4 disguised as a tourist. At a later stage, he single handedly took on a PMU section of 10 men. Ranglese ended up killed after a long battle in which he killed Sgt Kgari who was the section leader.

The oral stories passed on to us from the PMU are very much interesting. We are told that after the Belgian was killed, it took months before they could figure out how to even cog his weapon. The reason he was killed is because he attempted to fight his way out after being captured. No one could drive his 4x4 and therefore he was allowed to move it to the nearest police camp.

After the transition to BDF, the challenges grew bigger as the Rhodesians increased their incursions into Botswana. One of the well known heroes of BDF era was Captain Tswaipe. In 1978, Tswaipe killed two South African soldiers while on patrol in the Tuli Block area. The two were killed under some of the most controversial circumstances. I wonder if we will ever come to know the truth. At the moment, we are hanging between truth and none truth to be polite.

Because of his heroic actions, Tswaipe shot to stardom overnight. The people across the


country were very proud of his actions because he had killed our enemies. But the law had something different for the officer. He had to be tried in the High Court of Botswana in Lobatse for murder. That was one of the few times I felt the anger of Botswana’s peaceful population. The people rallied behind Tswaipe.

Ordinary people from the most rural villages of this country were putting pressure on Sir Seretse Khama asking for Tswaipe to be acquitted of his charges. In 1978 Seretse was already showing signs of weakness as he suffered from bad health. For the ordinary Motswana, his absence from court was conspicuous even though he had no business to attend to in the High Court. Ultimately Tswaipe was acquitted of all charges and even though I was still in primary school, I could tell that was as a result of public pressure.

No historian can write the history of BDF and omit to mention the Lesoma massacre of 1978. This is where the Rhodesian forces killed 15 of our soldiers at Lesoma in the Chobe.  The reason why the mood in the country was what it was during the trial of Tswaipe was for the reason of Lesoma. His killing of two white soldiers was regarded as an act of vengeance across the country.

Once Rhodesia became history, South Africa started what they called Total Onslaught on the neighbouring countries. The result of that was the Raid on Gaborone in June of 1985. The heroes of 80s include Sgt Kgantlepe and Cpl Manjesa.

Kgantlepe was responsible for letting off the hook some South African commandos who had gone to attack a house in Broadhurst. Why do I call Kgantlepe a hero when he was charged with cowardice? After South Africa’s independence in 1994, it came to light that during the 1985 Raid on Gaborone, there were at least 50 main battle tanks waiting between Gaborone and Zeerust just in case the commandos met any serious resistance from BDF. Kgantlepe saved lives with his cowardice and hence I regard him as a hero.

Cpl  Manjesa was a section commander one night when he ordered fire on a suspicious vehicle in Mogoditshane. Unknown to him and his section, the occupants of the vehicle were two young Batswana lovers. Manjesa went on to be tried at the High Court and was ultimately convicted for manslaughter.

Another hero of that era is only known by his nickname, “Kea-ispana.” During the 1986 sunrise raid in Mogoditshane by SANDF, the South Africans had their helicopters hovering over BDF headquarters at SSKB. The timing was so wrong for BDF as those on night duty had gone to their houses to refresh. “Kea-ispana” was the only hero who attempted to fire a weapon.

Many of our heroes are walking the streets with little recognition for their heroic deeds. We are not doing our country any favour to celebrate this military milestone of 40 years without casting their names in stone.

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