Tuesday 21 May 2013

Bwana wa Polisi

The story of a Policeman's Life in
England, Nyasaland and Bechuanaland
1952 - 1967

by Christopher Bean

Edited by Ian "Witty" Whitfield
(of the St Andrew's 'Federal Saints' Group)

[To be Published soon by "30 Degrees South"]


Gods From the Sky

Whilst I am on the subject of the Makarikari Pan, in Bechuanaland, I will recount a quite unique incident which occurred some twenty years before I arrived in the BP.

During the Second World War the R.A.F. maintained a large Training Base for Pilots in Bulawayo. In 1944 a DC3, the old workhorse "Dakota", left Bulawayo on a training flight which took it out over the Kalahari. Something went wrong with the plane’s direction finder and radios and it flew until it ran out of fuel. The Pilots, two in number, seeing the wide, flat, white expanse of the Makarikari below them, were able to land safely on the salt. At that time they would have been within a hundred miles of Bulawayo as the crow flies. There was nothing wrong with the plane, it was just empty and they suffered no harm at all. But nobody knew where they were.

Within a short time they were approached by a group of real Bushmen, the "San", who had observed the Plane’s descent from the fringes of the Pan where they were camped. The Bushmen of course spoke no English, indeed they only spoke their own “Click” Language which very few White Men then understood. They had never seen white men before and were quite convinced that these creatures were 'Gods' who had come from the sky. Many African Tribes believe that if they eat a part of another influential being, such as, a rich man, a powerful man, a wise man or a beautiful woman, they will be imbued with that person’s envied qualities. This has always been a very common belief. So they lead the two Pilots to their rudimentary camp on the edge of the Pan, fed them up for three days and then cut them up and ate them!

Meanwhile of course, the R.A.F. had not been idle. After an appropriate period of time they had started their 'Square Searches' during which they search from overhead in series of squares, increasing in size to cover ever wider areas. But they had an idea of the area in which the Dakota could be and of course they were looking for wreckage. To their surprise, after some days, the Dakota was spotted sitting in the middle of the Salt Pan apparently, and in fact as it turned out, undamaged. They managed to land small Aircraft and were very puzzled by the fact that the two Pilots could not be found. The Pilots were trained to stay by a downed aircraft as this is the most obvious place for rescuers to look and it could not be believed that they had wondered off by themselves, especially as there were no signs of injury or struggle.

The R.A.F. and the Bechuanaland Police were ill equipped to conduct the kind of search now required and the British South African Police, (B.S.A.P.), from Rhodesia were called on for help. They came down with expert Trackers who soon picked up the spoor of the Bushmen together with those of the two Pilots. There were still no signs of struggle, nor would any be expected as the Bushmen are a very peaceful people. They were tracked to the edge of the Pan where the temporary encampment was found, (Bushmen in any event only ever build temporary encampments as they are semi-nomadic), and the trail continued further into the Bush. Eventually the group of Bushmen was found and they quite voluntarily told the B.S.A.P., through Interpreters, what had happened. They were quite oblivious to the fact that they had committed Murder and Cannibalism and were sure they had just eaten some fortuitously arrived Gods!

They were arrested, twenty eight of them, and charged with Murder. The case was heard in the High Court at Lobatsi and the Judge, who would have been British, found them guilty. However, in sentencing them he took account of the fact that they had no knowledge of the White Men’s Laws, had in fact never seen White Men and had simply acted in accordance with their Tribal Beliefs. He said it would be immoral and unjust to impose any sentence on them other than to discharge them and tell them not to do this again. They were released and taken back to the Kalahari. This must surely be a Murder Case unique in the annals of British

Thanks to Ian Whitfied for making this article available to ORAFs. Thanks also to the author, Christopher Bean, we wish him well with the sales of his book.

Ian is hoping that someone might know further information on this matter and he asks that you contact him on whitfield@federalsaints.net

Comments are welcome - please send them to Eddy Norris at orafs11@gmail.com

Christopher Bean, (Nyasaland Police  Superintendent (Ret)), 

To view the Blog Home Page - Please Click Here
(Please visit our previous posts and archives)
Ref. Rhodesia

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At 21 May 2013 at 20:32 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Hal Bowker (RhAF) Writes:-

I just read the story about the DC3 pilots and the San people in the Makgadigadi with interest. That story is unfortunately incomplete and inaccurate. My late father was working for the Bechuanaland government at the time of that sad story and he used to go to that area often to maintain the water supplies. He also went to Chaplin school in Gwelo at the same time as did Ian Smith, although my old man was a few years younger than Ian Smith. He also did live for a while on a farm from which Thornhill air base could be seen and was familiar with the types of aircraft there as well as the aircraft at Moffat air field, ie Ansons. My father was born in Middleburg Cape and grew up mostly in Gaberone.

According to him the aircraft involved in the story was an Anson navigation trainer from Moffat in Gwelo that got lost. The crew ( I believe there were 3 men) set off towards what they thought was a village. On the way, according to footprints and San statements etc, they came across each other and failed to communicate well enough to survive. They apparently thought the San were taking them to safety but the San thought they were under arrest for poaching a giraffe. On the 2nd or 3rd night the San killed them all and burnt their bodies away completely. The site of the burning was discovered by investigators who also managed to make out the shape of the bodies in the sand because of the body fat that dripped into the sand and stayed there for a long time. The culprits were found and put on trial. I forget the exact outcome of the trial and judgement but I have some vague memories that they were released but later killed by tribes people from another tribe and that at least one had died in jail as they are known to do which may have been the cause of their release as a jail term to them would be the same as a death sentence anyway!! They were given some other form of punishment instead?

Anyway, the Anson was refuelled and flown back to Gwelo.

I have landed on the pans many times in a 1946 J3 Cub and more recently in a Bellanca Decathlon and can tell you that it is a Huge place! Each pan could be 150 km long depending on what you call the end! The main pans break up into thousands of smaller pans and spiky grass flat lands. The grass is very nutritious and is an important part of the diet of Zebra, Wildebeest and others on account of the rich salts in it. I love that place and highly recommend it to anyone who loves wide open places, solitude and alternative bird and game viewing, and especially star gazing!

Those poor chaps in the Anson would have viewed the place very differently! A very sad story all around!

Thanks very much for your efforts in bringing us all the stories, news and pictures that you do.
Thanks to Hal for sharing this information with ORAFs

At 23 May 2013 at 16:44 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Alan Simmonds Writes:-

I am reading a book entitled " The Hunting Blackbeards of Botswana" edited by Brian Marsh. This is the story of Dennis Blackbeard who lived at Serowe and operated all over Botswana as a professional hunter and later hunting safari operator. He relates this story (or a very similar one) on page 34. Here the writer (Dennis' records) says that the bushmen had actually recently killed a giraffe and as the pilots wore uniforms they assumed they were police out to arrest them for the killing. After feeding the pilots and going to sleep for the night the bush folk discussed things among themselves and decided it safest to do away with the supposed policemen.

If you haven't read this book it is one I would recommend.

At 21 June 2013 at 23:29 , Blogger jblaverick said...

Botswana Notes and Records Vol 23 has a piece by an American professor who researched this incident. An extract is include below. The aircraft was almost certainly an Airspeed Oxford and the pilots involved were Walter Adamson and Gordon Edwards. Eight Basarwa stood trail and were found not guilty.

"Some of the most detailed testimony came from Temee Rasitora, a 16 year old
boy from Nekati who had been with Twai Twai and the others at Kuacaca at the time of the fliers' disappearance. He stated that he and about a dozen others were part of a hunting party under the leadership of Twai Twai. They were at the water hole at Kuacaca when they saw a plane fly low over their heads, heading towards the east. The next day they hunted in the area to the west, and the day after that they slept at a place where they had killed a giraffe. While out on a hunt the following day, they came across the plane in the open country at Chaiyo. The hunting group followed footprints to the east and eventually came across two Europeans. They took the men to Kuacaca on a donkey and a horse. At the camp near Kuacaca, they gave them giraffe meat, and
the two men went to sleep in a shelter belonging to Twai Twai.
During the evening, according to Temee, there was discussion over whether or not the fliers should be killed. As he put it, "They said we should kill them because we had killed a giraffe and they would report us and we should be put in gaol".9 Later that night, Temee said, two members of the hunting party, Twai Twai Molele and Tammai Kashupatsela, opened fire on the two sleeping pilots. One of the men was dispatched with his airman's axe when he did not die from the gunshot. Twai Twai and Kiree Koetobe then carried one of the bodies away from the site toward Cutiko, and the other was carried by Tammai and several women (Haukwe, Autwa, and Anchere). The next morning the people returned, saying that the bodies had been burned in a large fire.
That day the group had a "big dance". The following day they moved from the site where the airmen had been killed, some people heading toward Cutiko and others to Kombe.
One of the reasons given at the trial for Twai Twai killing the fliers was that he reputedly was a "witch doctor" who wanted to use the bodies for medicine. Temee testified to the effect that human remains were in the possession of those who returned to camp after carrying the bodies away. None of this material was found at the site, and the only possible substance that might have been human was some fat found in a bottle
belonging to Twai Twai. Analysis of this material was inconclusive."

At 2 May 2015 at 14:48 , Blogger jblaverick said...

The (hopefully!) definitive account of these murders has just been published in the UK by The History Press. The Kalahari Killings tells the full story behind the murders as well as the contribution to the war effort by Rhodesia and Bechuanaland. See http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/the-kalahari-killings-pb.html

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