My last Peace Corps assignment for integration was to collect community stories. I have a notion this was sort of thrown in as a way to stay busy when the school is closed. Surely there are many stories I can and eventually will collect, I just feel that it will happen naturally over my two years so I need not force it this week.
Nevertheless there is one story in particular, that I was told by one of the teachers at school, that I want to briefly share. He had initially told me this story a few weeks back when we were both waiting for a taxi to head into town. We were lazily chit-chatting when we saw a donkey cart go by our post. The basic set-up of the donkey carts is an axle and wheels stripped from a car with a make-shift seat built on top which is all harnessed to a couple of donkeys. Certainly thrown together and shoddy but I give credit for initiative. After this teacher saw the donkey cart, he was prompted to tell a story about the Setswana homeland during apartheid, Bophuthatswana.
I was completely unaware of this history before hand. It is somewhat strange that this information wasn't given during training. All history was much more broad even though some specifics about the province I was heading to might have been appropriate. That is beside the point though. During apartheid, a homeland was setup for the Setswana people just like there were homelands for the Sepedi, Xhosa and Zula etc. I think superficially these homelands were presented as a compromise but I think the goal was also to keep the groups separate and keep the idea of tribalism relevant. Employing the tactic of divide and conquer.
Bophuthatswana, which translates to "the gathering of the Tswana people", is roughly the same as where the Northwest is now situated. During the time this story takes place, the president of Bophuthatswana was Lucas Mangope. Near the end of apartheid when the writing was on the wall and Mangope perhaps saw his presidency coming to an end, he pulled an almost unbelievable stunt. He sent out messages to rural areas requesting they bring in their donkeys to be injected with medicine and/or vaccines. Many people jumped at the opportunity to help safeguard from disease their donkeys which act as a means of transportation, as beasts of burden, and in some cases food. When the people brought their donkeys for treatment they didn't find it. Instead they found armed soldiers who opened fire and killed all of the donkeys, and in doing so a substantial part of some people's wealth. It is hard for me to imagine that kind of carnage. This man said that more than 400 donkeys from his area were slaughtered by the presidents troops. This directive was carried out many times in many different areas.
Mangope's reasoning was that the donkeys were grazing too much and in doing so were eating up all the food for the cattle. So these seemingly useless animals were taking away from what was clearly the more profitable animal. This man was leading the province 16 years ago and still resides here. Although this action was enough to forever show his character, he is far more notorious for his forceful use of the military to suppress the protests and demonstrations of the time. When I last talked to the teacher who told me this story, he said that Mangope was helping support the campaign of a local politician. I am at a loss as to how this man can still be influential and in some form of power after doing so much to subjugate and oppress his own people. It really just fills my head with questions that will surely go unanswered.