UN Refugee Officer Who Never Went Back Home

| November 5, 2014 | 0 Comments

In 1968, thousands of Hambukushu refugees fled from Angola to Shakawe due to Portuguese inspired political instability.

It was at the same time that the United Nations (UN) asked the newly established Republic of Botswana to offer refuge to those fleeing violence.

Thereafter, Mr Thomas Malcolm came to Botswana in 1969 as a refugee officer under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. Mr Thomas was given the assignment to resettle the Hambukushu refugees in Botswana.

Mr Malcolm explained in an interview recently that he was born in 1937 in Wales and brought up in England where he did his primary and secondary school in South Wales where his father was a miner.

After completing his education, he said that he worked as a draftsman in the gold mines, a job he said he hated before flying to Israel where he was introduced to his refugee career by a friend who was working in Ethiopia.

Even though he did not meet the entry requirements to be a refugee officer like having an agricultural background, a university qualification and religious status, he was nonetheless chosen to lead and save the suffering Hambukushu tribe.

He said that he was selected because of his capabilities, hard work and courage he had demonstrated when he worked in Uganda and Ethiopia.

The Botswana government, he mentioned, allocated Etsha for the Hambukushu refugees after it was cleared of Tsetse fly which was terrorising at that time.

Mr Malcolm mentioned that he moved the first people on the 12 of May 1969 with two trucks donated by the UN from Shakawe to Etsha, a trip that took approximately five hours as they were no proper roads.

He said they called the place Karubi before they met a camp of river Bushmen who told them that the land was called Etsha, meaning a water lagoon.

He said that the land used to be full of Mophane trees and a wide range of wild animals.

In addition, he said it was not easy to move the Hambukushu from Shakawe as the people he was supposed to assist did not trust him because of his dark skin, brown eyes and black hair as they thought he was Portuguese, the very people they were running away from in Angola.

“They thought I was moving them to a concentration camp where I was going to get them killed and the rumours were spread in Shakawe.

A few days later, I took one man from each family and loaded them in a truck and drove back to Shakawe with the mission to tell their relatives what we were doing in Etsha,” he said.

He said the following day when he woke up from his tent he found hundreds of people waiting outside asking him to take them to Etsha which allowed him to continue his assignment moving thousands by truck.

Mr Malcolm said that he moved more people in September, more than four thousand of them. The Hambukushu arrivals were supplied with tools and donkeys to use in building their new homes and for ploughing, he added.

He said that he was surprised by their hard work ethic compared to people in Ethiopia and Uganda where he had previously worked.

For administration purposes, he said people were settled in thirteen villages which were a mile apart. He said after the establishment of the villages, people needed a shop where they could sell their products as they were farmers while some were recruited by South African mines.

“At the time there were no shops and people went on shopping trips in Gumare and Sepopa where there were shops,” he said. However, he noted that some of the residents decided to open a co-operative shop after the government failed to build them a shop. He noted that he marshalled enough courage to translate the idea into reality.

Luckily, he explained, the American Embassy provided funding for the construction of a shop and purchasing of a safe and cash register.

He said with the help of these hard working people they managed to build the shop on December 12, 1972 and unexpectedly made a P2000.00 profit at the end of 1973. He said they got their supplies from Francistown which was seven days away.

After this, he said more people arrived in Etsha 6, more especially, the Wayeyi from other settlements like Jao, Gumare, Sepopa, Ghudha and Xurube. “The people built their homes around the Co-op shop and this turned Etsha 6 into the capital of the thirteen Hambukushu villages.

The refugees, he noted, were given citizenship status at Etsha in 1975. His contract was now in its last days and was supposed to leave the country back to Ethiopia but he decided not to go and has instead settled in Etsha.

Malekomo, as he commonly known across the region, can speak and understands Sembukushu more than Setswana. He also has five children, three daughters and two sons.

Source : BOPA

Source : Botswana Daily News

Category: General

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