At the time of independence Botswana’s new leaders deliberately rejected the opportunity to establish a national army, opting instead for a small para military capability in a Police Mobile Unit.The country’s modest resources reinforced the decision: there simply was no money for a larger public sector. That choice, however, was soon severely challenged by the violent decolonisation struggles in the region, a traumatic process directly involving several of Botswana ’s neighbours including Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe ), Angola, South West Africa (now Namibia ) and ultimately South Africa. Military and insurgent forces in these conflicts were significantly larger and better armed than Botswana ’s small police force. None of the neighbours hesitated to violate Botswana ’s borders when it suited their purposes.
Rhodesia posed the most pressing security challenge in the early years. In 1965, in an effort to avert black majority rule, the white minority government of that colony made a unilateral declaration of independence from the United Kingdom. By the late 1960s, Rhodesia ’s government was engaged in an escalating conflict against two indigenous insurgent armies.The war drove a steady flow of refugees into north-eastern Botswana. It also motivated Rhodesian insurgents to seek safe-haven and (later) lines of communication and routes of infiltration through Botswana among a population that generally was sympathetic to their struggle. Botswana’s government studiously refrained from involving itself in liberation wars, but by the mid-1970s Rhodesian security forces were making regular incursions into Botswana to kidnap or kill anti-Rhodesian dissidents.These operations did not discriminate between insurgents and local citizens; nor did the Rhodesians make significant efforts to limit collateral damage.
The Rhodesians were not the only threat on the borders. South African agents kept tabs on anti-apartheid activists in Botswana and by the late 1970s had been responsible for a number of assassinations and kidnappings in the country.8 At the same time, the conflict between the South African administration and its insurgent opponents in neighbouring South West Africa (now Namibia) increased in intensity, threatening Botswana’s north and west border regions with flows of refugees and armed groups. The Botswana Police could not cope with these threats, and citizens threatened by the cross-border violence increasingly clamoured for protection from their government in Gaborone.
As a result, in April 1977 the country reversed its earlier decision, and by Act of Parliament, established the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), an unambiguously military establishment. The nucleus of the new military – 132 men – was drawn from the Police Mobile Unit.The Deputy Botswana Police Commissioner, Mompati S Merafhe, was commissioned a major general and appointed commander of the new force.His second-in-command, holding the rank of brigadier, was Seretse Khama Ian Khama, the 24-year-old Sandhurst-trained son of Botswana’s founding president.By the end of 1977 the new Botswana Defence Force numbered some 600 men. It contained five light infantry companies, a reconnaissance company, an air arm and a variety of small support units.It was headquartered at a military installation just north of Botswana ’s capital city with the Air Arm stationed at a base within Gaborone itself.
The establishment of the BDF was clearly a reaction to the deteriorating regional security situation in the 1970s, but Botswana ’s options had also been fundamentally transformed by the discovery of diamonds earlier in the decade. Botswana would ultimately become the world’s leading producer of gem diamonds, and the government proved very astute in the management of its newfound mineral riches. By the late 1970s the new diamond wealth was flowing to the government’s priorities, including defence, in a manner unthinkable in the years immediately after independence.
The early years
While the new military establishment initially was quite popular among Botswana ’s citizens, its capabilities were very limited.The numbers were small and the equipment was very light. The BDF lacked the training and experience to confront the Special Forces of its belligerent neighbours. This was made painfully clear in February 1978, less than a year after its founding. Responding to reports of a Rhodesian military incursion along Botswana ’s north-eastern border near the village of Lesoma, a BDF-mounted patrol drove directly into a Rhodesian ambush, sustaining 15 dead.The ‘Lesoma Incident’ was a tragedy and a harsh lesson for the fledgling force. But it galvanised an intention among Botswana ’s leaders to improve the country’s military capabilities. The Lesoma tragedy is still recalled in Botswana as a key event in BDF history.
See earlier post with reference to a Rhodesian Air Force Alouette 3 helicopter flown by Chas Goatley with Beaver Shaw as his gunner shooting down a BDF Islander Defender in August 1979.
- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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08/31 - 09/07
- WILLEM RATTE IN RHODESIAN SERVICE
- FIREFORCE POINTS TO PONDER
- SUPPORT COMMANDO RLI CIRCA 1979 -SOF EXTRACT
- RHODESIAN INDEPENDENCE COMMEMARATIVE MEDAL
- RHODESIA BECOMES ZIMBABWE
- JOHN VORSTER AN INSIGHT INTO THE MAN AND HIS THINK...
- RHODESIAN ARMOURED CAR REGIMENT
- MASSACRE IN MOZAMBIQUE -ANOTHER INSIGHT
- WIRIYAMU HOUSE OF COMMONS DEBATE
- ADRIAN HASTINGS AND THE WIRIYAMU MASSACRE
- MOZAMBIQUE INSURGENCY AGAINST PORTUGAL
- INSIDE THE ZIPRA CAMPS IN ZAMBIA
- TANGO ROMEO A BOOK ABOUT JACK MALLOCH
- THE BOTSWANA DEFENCE FORCE
- SCALE DRAWING HUNTING P56 PROVOST MK1 RHODESIAN AI...
- AIRCRAFT NOT USED BY ZIMBABWEAN AND RHODESIAN AIR ...
- HUNTING P56 PROVOST MK51 RHODESIAN AIR FORCE
- ONE COMMANDO
- FARM DEFENSE IN RHODESIA
- RHODESIAN COVER SHOOTING
- MACHEL KILLER?
- THE MEN BEHIND THE MOZAMBIQUE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMEN...
- RHODESIAN DOCUMENTS
- IMAGES OF WAR IN RHODESIA
- RHODESIAN AIR FORCE RECRUITING AD
- TA GROUP AD
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