This past Friday, somewhere in the privacy of a few homes across Botswana and in neighbouring South Africa, a thought must have crossed the mind, and a quiet moment, a prayer, a short discussion may have taken place.
While for many of us, this was just another day, maybe caught up in the debate around the Gaborone High Court decriminalising laws on homosexuality. But for these families, what happened 34 years ago must have been what occupied the mind.
On this day, June 14, 1985, around 1.30 am, the South African Defence Force (SADF) arrived armed to the teeth for a massacre of innocent people in select locations around the capital Gaborone.
When General Constand Viljoen’s mission, of by the Rhodesian trained Sellous Scout, left that morning, 12 lives had been sniffed out.
Of these, only four were South African refugees, who despite the apartheid government justification for raiding a peaceful Botswana were dangerous terrorists, were just ordinary hardworking mothers and fathers, amongst them a four-year-old boy. Amongst the South African refugees, who left orphans behind were the Phahles, Lindiwe the social worker and businessman husband, George.
To recall names of all others who died in the raid, the sixth since 1981, is hard. This is to show just how ordinary the victims of apartheid South Africa were.
Thankfully, during that time, very few of us had television sets to watch the apartheid regime president, PW Botha, gloating at the “successful” raid of four cities in the southern African region – Gaborone, Maseru, Mbabane and Lusaka – in one morning.
But the stories shared of what happened when the team led by the man nicknamed Kraal Dog, Gray Brandfield, gave many of us young ones nightmares.
When parents who until then made home for refugees, called us indoors, and in hushed voices told us never to utter a word about the aunt or the uncle, who of late only turned up late at night and left at dawn, the terror of June 14 became real.
The images of that night, were relived during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings post the 1994 democratic dispensation.
It was during the Archbishop Desmond Tutu-led hearings in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, when I first got to understand just what was meted to our innocent peaceful people, when Viljoen and his criminal lot appeared to seek amnesty for their handiwork.
For me it became so real, when amongst the askaris (a term given to Black freedom fighters turned sell-outs) was a man called Joe Mamasela, who told whatever he was prepared to share about the 1995 raid and the Mogoditshane one year later. Mamasela, who was based in Botswana, as a MK fighter, was in a fact working for the Boers. He admitted before the Commission that he was the one who collected and passed on information about the South African refugees to the Kraal Dog and his team.
It was at the hearings, which unfortunately the Botswana government officials, some implicated by Mamasela, refused to participate in, where we got to learn that one man decided, against his commanders’ order, to revenge the attacks.
On June 14, 1986, a bomb exploded at Magoo bar, in Durban. This was a hangout of mostly SADF operatives. The man who led the sole mission was Robert McBride. He had been a resident of Gaborone a year before, and had lost friends in the raid. He settled the score.
Typical of our world politics, lives of White soldiers had more weight of the many Black civilians. Those who terrorised and killed many Blacks within and outside South Africa, got amnesty for “telling the truth”, and continue to live lives of luxury. McBride and many others, said “eye for an eye” have little to show.
This is one man who had been through many trials. But in my books, he remains the hero that Botswana can tip a hat to.
It is however worth noting that every year, the Botswana government and the South African High Commission join family members of the June 14 victims to lay a wreath of remembrance at the Extension 14 cemetery.
It is these small acts that over time, can bring about healing. For the healing of the acts of the apartheid regime is not only for the people of South Africa. Small Botswana in economic and military statuses did whatever it could for centuries, to protect the many who crossed into the country to flee persecution in their land.
I recall in our young, militant minds, we would condemn the “weak” government of the late Sir Ketumile Masire, for, whenever under pressure and fear from the attacks of the apartheid regime would deport some of the refugees, who unfortunately included some media colleagues.
But as much as some actions could not be truly understood, it has become evident over time that the Botswana government was left with little or no option. There was a need at times to put national security first. Even then, as alluded to, many still made home in our land.
It is ordinary Batswana though, who would walk through days as June 14, and remember with sadness because they were refused to be intimidated. Even with death ever present, many Batswana continued to give shelter to many South Africans.
Let’s engage on firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook page, Pamela Dube or WhatsApp no 77132086