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A lost story of justice upheld and a gruesome killing

You, I suppose, took the chance of that long holiday to go somewhere far afield.

The rest of us would have stayed put to start work on income tax returns, watch TV or perhaps like me, read a book – in this instance, Jonathan Laverick’s recently published 224 page, ‘The Kalahari Killings’ which is on sale at Exclusive, Gaborone. Given its sub-title, ‘The True Story of a War Time Double Murder in Botswana. 1943’, I was not going to pass up the opportunity to discover who was  murdered, who did the murdering, why they were murdered and what connection there was with the 2nd World War?

It quickly turned out that those who were killed were two British Royal Air Force fliers, Walter Adamson and Gordon Edwards and those who were charged with their killing and tried in Lobatse were eight Basarwa, three men and five women, four being still in their teens.  There was, however, a degree of confusion about motive – the supposition that they had killed those two airmen in order to cover up their own illegal hunting of giraffes was far more likely to attract attention than divert it.

But then these were wild, primitive Bushmen as their legal defence attorney Percy Fraenkel in Lobatse was to claim. The account of the dramatic eight-day trial in Lobatse which must have been extraordinarily difficult for the author to present coherently, is, naturally, the core of the book. In sum, the two RAF sergeants who were stationed at a base outside Bulawayo, lost their way on the return leg of their training flight to Gwanda and landed at  Kuaxaxa pan near Nata. There they were found by a Tyua Bushmen group comprising an individual with a dubious reputation, Twai Twai Molele, Tammai Mashupatsela, Keree Oitube and five women, four of whom were still in their teens.  This group took the airmen to their encampment where, that night, Twai Twai and Tammai killed them, removed the genitals, dismembered the bodies, and then burnt them.

It didn’t take long before the still intact missing aircraft was located but without those who had been flying it – their remains were never found – as were several standard items of equipment which they would have routinely carried.  These too were never recovered. The eight-day trial in Lobatse in September 1943 attracted worldwide attention and a horde of reporters including perhaps, those from the Mafikeng Mail. Had this been the case, however, this book would presumably have included photos of the lead figures in the trial.

As it is only

Captain Langley, the senior investigating officer, appears and then only in a group photo. The trial itself must have been tedious and frustrating with the defendant’s testimony being translated into Setswana and then into English. Seemingly it struck none of the observers as strange that in order to be tried for murder they had to change their usual form of (un)dress for conventional European clothing , including hats, for the men which was presumably provided free of charge by the British Administration! In retrospect, it seems that the court was floundering from the start as it struggled to match its need for precision with the defendant’s inability to meet such requirements in respect of time, colour, gender and unfamiliar European items such as clothing and equipment. 

Nor, on this reading, was I able to equate the ease with which the accused testified with the inability of those accusing them to find common ground – the difficulty the Judge had in understanding the relationships between the eight accused with Keree stating that Twai Twai and Tammai were his fathers in lawand Rekisang testifying against Twai Twai, her own father.  In the event, the five women, seated on a bench with their arms around each others shoulders, were adjudged to have been only accessories to the murder and for lack of compelling evidence the case fell apart and all were adjudged to be not guilty and discharged.

Around thirty years later, reports Laverick, the now legendary Bob Hitchcock, following up the case, met Twai Twai who responded laconically to his questions by asking,  ‘who is still interested in those things?’ So the trial came to an end with British legal justice upheld but with the New Rhodesian newspaper expressing outrage at the outcome. But this book is so much more than an account of the extraordinary trial because Laverick sets his story in a ‘before and after context’ which gives him the freedom to describe great chunks of the history of aviation in the 2nd World War. 

In addition, this approach allows him to take the reader up some of the more intriguing side alleys that he himself discovered during the course of his research. As might be expected of someone who is an aircraft enthusiast, historian and artist, Laverick’s book is copiously illustrated with photos of WW2 aircraft, both British and German - the best known being the Hurricane and Spitfire, as well as some of the less frequently remembered trundlers.

Etcetera II



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