- EFF leader calls for closure of US military base in Botswana
- Says the military base is a security threat to southern Africa
Julius Malema of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has sustained his attacks on Botswana about the presence of an American military base that he says should be closed because it is a threat to the security of the entire sub-continent.
The outspoken opposition leader was speaking on South Africa’s Human Rights Day March 21, that is also used to commemorate Sharpeville Day, the day in 1960 when apartheid police fired on an anti-pass demonstration and killed 250 people in the black township near Vereeniging that became a precursor to the banning of the ANC and PAC in April 1960.
News of an American military base in Botswana spread in 2007 following a report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) that listed Botswana as one of several countries in Africa that had shown an interest in hosting the Africa Command of the US military that is known by the short acronym of AfriComm.
The CRS reported that the US military has facilities known as lily pads or co-operative security locations in African states, among them Botswana, Algeria, Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.
But the Government of Botswana has always denied the presence of an American military base in the country.
Addressing the Russia-Ukraine conflict this week, the SA opposition leader Malema said his party stands with Russia. He charged at the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the intergovernmental military alliance of European and North American countries, for its expansionist stance.
“Today here in southern African we have American military base in Botswana which threatens our security,” Malema said. “If they were to fly a fighter jet from that place to Union Buildings, it would take them two minutes to bomb the building. Why do you allow them to have a military base in Botswana because no one can prepare to defend themselves in two minutes?”
“Once America declares war against us, they will do it in two minutes and finish the Union Buildings. That is why that base has to be closed because it is the security threat to the whole southern African countries.”
He appeared on South African Broadcasting Corporation Television (SABC1) and other media outlets saying this.
This is not the first time that Malema has lashed out at Botswana. As an ANC youth leader during former president Ian Khama’s tenure in 2011, he attacked the ruling Botswana Democratic Party and threatened to bring about regime change in Botswana.
“The ANC youth league intends on establishing a Botswana command team (to) work towards uniting all opposition forces in Botswana to oppose the puppet regime led by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP),” he said. “The BDP is a foot stool of imperialism, a security threat to Africa and always under constant puppetry of the USA.”
Always cantankerous, Malema was later suspended and eventually expelled from the ANC but for reasons that had nothing to do with his anti-Botswana outburst.
Claims of an American military base in Botswana have consistently been dismissed as untrue by the government. However, a 2013 newspaper report said Botswana had given the American military permission to start construction of facilities inside its Thebephatshwa Airbase.
“The United States, working with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), has contracted the construction of facilities to support future, mutually-agreed bilateral and multilateral exercises at Thebephatshwa Airbase, Molepolole, Botswana,” the report quoted then American deputy ambassador to Botswana, Michael Murphy, as saying.
“The facilities, which will cost close to P100 million, will be the first known involvement of American military presence inside Thebephatshwa.”
IS US AFRICOM BASE IN BOTSWANA CLOSED?
However, information gathered by this publication suggests that the Botswana outpost was slated for closure around 2019. A respected muckraking investigative report by The Intercept claimed: “The 2019 Africom planning documents provided information on five bases slated for closure, including a long time enduring site in Gaborone, Botswana and four contingency locations, or CLs, in Faya Largeau, Chad; Lakipia, Kenya; Benina, Libya; and Gao, Mali.”
Shuttering the CLs, according to the documents, is part of an effort to “seek efficiencies by consolidating functions at a reduced number of posture locations,” while the removal of Gaborone was chalked up to “a lack of DoD (Department of Defence) property or routine DoD presence” and the fact that Botswana does not acknowledge or desire any formal DoD access at the international airport.
At the time of going to press, efforts to solicit comments from the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Dr Lemogang Kwape, proved futile. The Minister of Defence Kagiso Mmusi was also not available to comment.