South Africa and Botswana have recommitted to work together to deepen the strong cultural and historical ties that bind the two sister countries.
An inter-departmental delegation from South Africa is in Botswana for a four-day visit aimed at developing plans for the collective memorialisation of the region’s liberation heritage.
“The main objective of the visit is to recognise the role, contribution and sacrifices that the people of Botswana played in the struggle against apartheid and for the total liberation of the oppressed people of South Africa,” said the Department of Arts and Culture’s Director-General, Vusi Mkhize.
Mkhize is leading the delegation that has already met with the High Commissioner of South Africa to Botswana, Rosemary Mashaba, to brief her about the objectives of the visit.
Botswana is one of the countries that helped many freedom fighters as they crossed the borders of South Africa to pursue the struggle against apartheid. It also played an instrumental role in supporting other liberation movements of Southern Africa, including SWAPO, ZANU PF, FRELIMO and MPLA.
Mkhize said the visit also serves as a platform to acknowledge, recognise and mark the momentous Lobatse Conference in Botswana, which took place in 1962 as one of the significant turning points in the liberation struggle. It was an historic conference that allowed the ANC to formally adopt the armed struggle.
Botswana was also home to the MEDU Cultural Ensemble. Many artists from South Africa found refuge in Botswana during their days in exile.
“To work towards the systematised collection, documentation, conservation and commemoration of SADC’s liberation heritage accumulated during the struggles for liberation and independence, is a critical process to establish a National Heritage Liberation route not only with memorialization but around economic opportunities, tourism and making this UNESCO-declared region a point of visit for all,” said Mkhize.
Gaborone was also the site of one of the most gruesome and brutal attacks perpetrated by the apartheid regime against the people of Botswana and South Africa when on 14 June 1985, the South African Defence Force crossed the borders of South Africa and illegally and indiscriminately attacked innocent people in Gaborone, leaving 12 South African and Botswana nationals dead and scores seriously injured.
During this visit, there have been constructive discussions where South African representatives presented a concept document, which was warmly received by both the representatives from the Botswana government as well as key stakeholders.
There has been a clear commitment from the Botswana government to engage with all proposals contained in the concept document, as well as a commitment in working together between both countries to memorialise the Lobatse Conference site and the site of the Gaborone Massacre.
“The purpose of the meetings between Botswana and South Africa is to discuss ways of how best to memorialise the people and events that contributed in the liberation struggle, with the construction of museums and monuments,” said Gaogakwe Phorano, the Director of the Department of National Museum and Monuments in Botswana.
The second day of the visit encompassed a government-to-government meeting between the representatives of both governments. It was closely followed by both governments meeting with stakeholders who are part of the process, including the struggle veteran Ntate Michael Dingake, who served a long-term prison sentence on Robben Island, as well as representatives from the late Fish Keitsing family, who accommodated many ANC exiles, including Nelson Mandela, who were crossing the border to join Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Both teams will together visit the sites in Lobatse as well as Gaborone.
The delegation also includes the ANC, Freedom Park Trust, the Department of Military Veterans, the South African Heritage Agency, South African Heritage Council, the North West Department of Arts and Traditional Affairs, as well the Government Communication and Information System.
The visit will conclude on Friday.