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The role of Batswana in the liberation struggle in Southern Africa

MICHAEL DINGAKE
A scene from Born Around Here. PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
UB has been running a series of public lectures under the theme: ôTowards a proud and united nation.ö I missed lecture: ĹCapturing Botswanaĺs major milestonesĺ, and all the others except one delivered by former Francistown mayor Iqbal Ibrahim:

‘Towards the next engines of growth,’ which the cabinet should have been compelled to attend. It was very educative. The second, by anonymous, was, ‘Upholding a Culture of Human Rights…” which was difficult to judge and a bit controversial according to part of the audience. On the eve of the Golden Jubilee celebration, larger audiences should have been expected at the lectures.

I regretted most for missing, ‘The role of Botswana in the liberation struggle in Southern Africa’ as many may know, it’s one of the columnist’s pet subjects. Professor P Mgadla, who delivered the lecture is an authority on the topic, having contributed on the theme in publications and symposia before. I was lucky to be invited to Maitisong last week to see the play, ‘Born here,’ recounting the experiences of the bygone days, by local playwright Gao Lemmenyane. I attended with friend GW Matenge who in spite of his eyesight said he enjoyed the drama exceedingly. The play was due to feature in a Cape Town theatre for a week, beginning 16th of the month.  I was overly impressed with the play. I tipped friends and  relatives in Cape Town not to miss it. The play graphically depicts the warm welcome, refugees enjoyed in Botswana in those days of the Chimurenga/freedom  struggle

Sorry many Batswana missed this gripping play. South Africans and Batswana haven’t appreciated the solidarity that prevailed in those dark days of the apartheid menace. Yes, some Batswana may know of the four Batswana accused in the 1956 Treason trial: Messrs Motsamai Mpho, Fish Keitsing, Theophilous Mmusi and Jonas Matlou and another who served some stint near Cape Town. Some may know of Comrade Segola who had to relocate to Lusaka when Boers bayed for his blood. The six Batswana were but a drop in the ocean in the SA liberation struggle. Many more ordinary Batswana were involved in the SA, Namibia and Rhodesia struggles.

Batswana were involved because they’ve blood relatives across the borders. Zipra, MK, Apla, Swapo  freedom fighters, found a home from home among Batswana. Sechele’s language when Paul Kruger’s  men came looking for Kgosi Mosielele was the language of Batswana: “Mosielele is in my tummy/o mo mpeng yame,’ was the audacious  response to Kruger’s reconnaissance scouts  by Sechele. Batswana never deviated from the unshakeable solidarity.  In 1964 I was excited to find Matlhakus, Bra Ish and Ausi Martha, whom I had known in Soweto as Sowetans, home in Mochudi, hosting refugees in their house. Kgabo –Kgosikgolo Lincwe meantime, as was revealed by the former SA President, Thabo Mbeki at Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation, a couple years back, was one of the underground smuggler of the MK ordnance

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into SA! Not only ordinary Batswana  were prosecutors of the freedom struggle, even royalty and government were practically, part of it! At the launch of book, “Thabo Mbeki I know,”  Sir Ketumile Masire the keynote speaker at the launch, revealed the Botswana government role:

“The ANC presented a very delicate request to President Khama verbally at an OAU summit in Addis Ababba. Oliver Tambo was asked to put the request in writing. The request was indeed put in writing but the response was not. We told them we had considered the request but that we found it difficult to accede to it because we did not want the apartheid regime to use such presence to justify its lingering suspicion that we were militarily aiding the liberation movement. However ANC members would be allowed into Botswana, if they would come in quietly…Then came the next request …….. Which was whether we could facilitate a military training venue. Much as the ANC struggle was ours as well, we had to weigh other options….…We told Tambo and Mbeki that if apartheid SA government learnt that we had allowed the ANC military training facility they could come into our country claiming to be in pursuit of these groups…So we presented an alternative somewhat audacious plan: ‘If you could come through in a way that we cannot see you, then we will not have seen you.’ So we agreed on those terms…..Our official policy was that we did not allow the liberation movement to use Botswana as a springboard to launch attacks on neighbouring countries . If the ANC managed to infiltrate arms and guerrillas through Botswana we could claim not to have seen them pass through our country.”

Evidently, though there wasn’t formal collusion between Botswana government and ordinary Batswana, the government and Batswana saw eye to eye on the imperative to support the liberation struggle. Without any fear of contradiction or exaggeration, Batswana played a crucial role in SA liberation. Many Batswana unbeknown to many of us, died, were imprisoned, tortured, their houses destroyed during  liberation. In the xenophobic attacks that occur from time to time in SA, no Motswana has been reported as a victim of the xenophobic attacks. The reason may be that Batswana don’t live in identifiable cluster ‘colonies,’ like Africans from Somalia, Zimbabwe or Nigeria  etc. All African countries contributed to the freedom of our SA brothers/sisters; some more than others.

On the 50th anniversary of independence, Batswana can loudly claim and joyfully celebrate, they fought for independence and freedom of the African continent.  The majority may not be conscious of it, but it’s a legitimate claim to make and to celebrate!.



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