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Botswana: Choice and Opportunity

Botswana: Choice and Opportunity
This is a fascinating look into a period of history that is yet to be properly documented. Written with a fresh observer’s eye, it reads more like a historical novel than a standard memoir. Full of rich anecdotes, astute observations and wonderful personal touches, it is also both disturbing and poignant.

The ingredients which made Sandy Grant’s unconventional career are obvious, a feel for history and local history in particular, a regard for historic buildings, an enjoyment of teaching and education, a concern for others and a rare affection for Mochudi, as it used to be. Grant adds authenticity and value to his account by using at-the-time correspondence

The beginning came at the end of 1963 with his arrival in Mochudi from the UK to set up a combined community centre and refugee transit centre at the behest of Martin Ennals, later to be a notable secretary general of Amnesty International. The arrival proved to be the start of a 45-year working partnership with Mochudi’s young Kgosi Linchwe II.

The new community centre was quickly involved in helping to offset the hardships of the 1960s famine with a thriving market garden, a soup kitchen for children and several work for food projects. Other projects came to be a night school, a craft leather work, a printing works, involvement in setting up three cooperative societies and, perhaps surprisingly, a well-supported tennis club.  And then there was his tricky job of assisting South African refugees.

Then, backed by van Hoogstraten of Church World Service, New York, later a lifelong friend, came another six years as the Development Organiser for the newly established Christian Council. In the teeth of continuous resistance from the very people who had appointed him, he led a Service subcommittee chaired by Bishop Murphy, to provide a range of support for NGO projects, many being Catholic, and for the new, impoverished District Councils. Included in this account is his assistance for refugees from Smith’s Rhodesia – Zimbabwe features often in this memoir - comments on the redoubtable Mma Shaw in Palapye, the brave innovative work of Revd. Ben Hopkinson in Phikwe, Peder Gowenius and Odi Weavers and the divisive Maru a Pula saga. 

Then comes a return to Mochudi and his single-handed attempt to save and conserve the very large, abandoned hilltop National School, the first such attempt to be made anywhere in the country. With Kgosi Linchwe’s support, the project gathered pace with the construction of a first ever road to the building, connections to electricity and water and the start of a multi-faceted community museum which included a silk screen printing workshop and shop. It also saw the beginnings of what one consultant described as a ‘triangular contest between the responsible Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Museum and the Phuthadikobo Museum’.

This absurd,

sad and self-defeating scenario became so bad that Grant suggested that the museums ‘might have been in two different countries’. These years saw Sandy’s ‘discovery’ of the abandoned initiation drums, his involvement with bogwera, the acquisition of a harmonium, metal neck rings and involvement with Schapera and his photos. There is also comment on the go-getting author and ‘mother’ of the tribe, Naomi Mitchison and empathetic portraits of many of Mochudi’s key figures. 

In 1998 Sandy’s wife, Elinah, often the star of this memoir, having worked at the Book Centre in Gaborone, became museum director with Sandy as Chairman, having recused himself when the appointment was made. Increasingly the museum was a centre for community activities and a favoured stopover for foreign dignitaries and schools around the country. Very quickly she deepened its community involvement with discussion about HIV/AIDS, initiating schools art competitions and by providing support for the local scouts. Remarkably, she was elected the secretary of the Kgatleng district scout committee. Together the two Grants documented and then published the classic, Decorated Homes in Botswana.

But by 2006 there were the first indications that the project was becoming the victim of its own success and when Kgosi Linchwe died in 2007 the ankle chopping became ever more overt and in a dramatically charged situation, both resigned.

Then came the Grants move to Odi and Elinah’s blocked attempt to start an infant school in Odi, her establishment and management of a football club for teenagers, and Sandy’s Chairmanship of the DR Hospital’s Advisory Committee and his involvement in the Church v Tribe controversy. There then followed his role as a long-term heritage and general interest columnist and his publication of two slim but important books on Botswana’s history.

Afterwards came two part time spells of teaching at UB and Limkokwing and his Chairmanship  of the Botswana Society, helping to get it back on its feet after the removal of foreign donor support had brought it to its knees. Then came his appointment as a member of the first Independent Election Committee, a spell as a member of the national Stamp Committee and then more intriguing research into local history. It needs to be widely read by those here and those many abroad, friends, academics and most certainly the development fraternity here and abroad.  Available at Exclusive Books.


*By Pierre Landell-Mills. This is a cut down version of the review to be Published in Vol. 52 of Botswana Notes and Records

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