Exactly a year into his retirement, immediate past Botswana Defence Force (BDF) commander, Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe sits with Mmegi Staff Writer, ZOLANI KRAAI and reflects on his life and times in the military, in this two-part special
Lieutenant General Gaolathe Galebotswe is just now settling into civilian life following his retirement as BDF commander last September, after 32 years in the military.
The period of relative calm provides him an opportunity to reflect on his career at the helm of the army and some of the issues that grabbed the headlines. Galebotswe served as the BDF commander from August 2012 to September 2016, retiring due to age.
For many Batswana, one of the major hot potatoes that dominated Galebotswe’s tenure was the extra-judicial killing of suspected notorious criminal John Kalafatis. While the actual killing occurred prior to Galebotswe’s ascension to the top post, the soldiers convicted in the murder were pardoned and reinstated during his tenure, amidst strong public outrage.
Today, Galebotswe washes his hands of the affair.
“The notification (on the pardon) came directly to my office and as such I had to deal with it. We had only one option; to consider requesting the soldiers to reapply, which they did, and then we followed the re-employment process and eventually employed them again.”
The former commander also says the higher echelons of the military were not clued in about the plan to tackle Kalafatis. At the time of the murder, Galebotswe was assistant chief of staff (operations) at the BDF headquarters. He would rise to commander of the ground forces in April 2010, before being promoted to deputy commander in May of the same year. “One may be a general officer but not be part of the process in terms of dispensation over the conduct of the military operations.
“I was not happy with the allegations that my office was directly involved.
“The BDF command then, myself as the commander and my subordinates, were never instructed about his killing. It could have been another structure at any strategic level that dealt with the matter but not my office.
“It could have been any other security or intelligence agency. Intelligence operations are on the need to know basis and you may be the general officer but not part of the process.” It is now generally agreed that Kalafatis was killed as a result of a joint operation between the Directorate of Intelligence and Security as well as the Military Intelligence wing of the BDF.
The matter rubs Galebotswe the wrong way, as he believes the media and the public wrongly blamed the BDF.
“The media was clubbing everybody, but hard-core intelligence operations are on a need-to-know basis. I was not privy to the Kalafatis operation and I also saw it in the media.” In general, Galebotswe is not easily ruffled by criticism. GG, as he is known to the many who have befriended him during his 32 years in the military, first joined the army on May 17, 1984 as an officer cadet. “Like many young boys in our days, we would debate on what careers we intended to venture into upon completion of secondary school.
“Queuing up at Mogoditshane barracks was a simple walk to go and look for job. We joined the force because we wanted jobs, and here I am retired with pride, though I had no idea that
In December 1984, he attended a standard training course at the Royal Military Academy in the United Kingdom and in September 1986, proceeded for Special Forces training, a move that would change his military background for the better.
GG became part of an elite team of commandos in the BDF and rose through the ranks, to become a troop leader of the commando unit. He subsequently became commanding officer between 1995 and 2000.
“This is a unit where team spirit is essential, and with the trust I gained from my mates and principals, my leadership abilities were testament, to my then and current professional sphere,” Lt Gen Galebotswe says.
In 1998, then occupying the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Galebotswe’s leadership capabilities were further tested.
He was assigned to lead a battalion contingent during Operation BOLEAS that was conducted by Botswana and South Africa, under SADC, as a military intervention in Lesotho crisis.
He continued rising through the ranks, being appointed assistance chief of staff, then chief of staff before becoming ground forces commander in April 2010.
GG subsequently was appointed deputy commander, holding the role between May 2012 and August 2012, when the Commander in Chief, Lt Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama picked him as BDF commander.
In his maiden address on August 10, 2012, GG promised to “motivate for best human resources practices to develop key skills and competencies”. He also pledged to make essential the development of force personnel and also ditch old personnel management practices, saying they impeded organisational growth.
Among the measures that Galebotswe put in place in his first 100 days in office were the reintroduction of a standard physical code of practice.
The code required that soldiers trim their hair to a very specific height, a practice keeping in line with old standards that had since been abandoned. “Trimming has always been a military standard practice but it nearly faded away over the years. I decided to bring back the standard as it gives a professional appearance and uniformity among the soldiers.
“Keeping hair also has a medical bearing and so, we documented the standard for all officers, that is the 6 millimetre trim across all cadre.” General Galebotswe faced resistance from some commissioned officers when he moved to stop the carrying of the stick of honour.
“Those affected were from the rank of 2nd Lieutenant to Major.
“Only officers from the rank of Lieutenant Colonel are to carry the stick of honour, and the decision was justifiable as it was part of cost-cutting.
“The stick is actually outdated and to me it doesn’t add any value to the uniform. The stick was too cumbersome for the uniform, and was also an old practice with no significant value especially at that level of 2nd lieutenant and Major, since they work hands on.
“In fact we had initially wanted to stop the use of stick of honour for all levels, myself included. Many armies have actually stopped using the stick of honour,” the General says.