Traditionally Botswana's Defence Force Day is held in April and as rehearsals had not started before, I left for my first trip to the UK, my homeland, since 2018, I had presumed that this year's event was yet another that had not made the recovery from Covid. So imagine my surprise on Wednesday when the presidential jet sailed past my office window flanked by a quartet of PC-7IIs, roaring over Gaborone just underneath the low cloud layer. BDF Day was back!
The National Stadium was filled to capacity for the first BDF Day since 2019
In fact, this year's event had been rescheduled due to operational commitments as part of the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM). The BDF has had a rotating deployment of just under three hundred troops, also supplying the force with its Deputy Force Commander. The BDF is reported to have lost six soldiers, both in combat and accidents, since the start of its deployment in July 2021.
BDF Troops deploy to Mozambique (VOA/Public Domain)
Pre-Covid, BDF Day was always one of the big events on the social calendar in Gaborone, the country's capital. The draw of these events can be measured from the fact that people would queue for entry from six in the morning, knowing the stadium would be filled to capacity by the start of the show at nine. This level of interest reflects the Botswana public's relationship with the BDF, who they recognise as professional and approachable. It is always interesting to note that when extra security is deployed in Botswana, such as during Covid or through a recent spate of cash in transit heists, the BDF always has huge support from the general public.
Creating an Obstacle Course
The level of commitment in Mozambique meant that the usual helicopter flypast carrying the flags of Botswana and the BDF was absent. However, the usual entertainment within the national stadium was back with a bang. This involved everything from dance groups to snake handling (if you find a snake in your house in Gaborone, you call the BDF!), and from obstacle courses to horse racing.
The horse racing included a cowboy style shootout as well!
Public tours were given of all the vehicles assembled
Outside of the stadium, groups were given tours of the large collection of BDF Vehicles that had been assembled for the occasion. While inside the stadium, the finale of the ground-based events was a set piece battle after a group of 'rebels' had captured a local village. This was entertaining, even if the final dispatch of the rebels may have raised questions as far the Geneva Conventions go!
The rebels take the village!
Time for the fly-past. Normally, this consists of a gaggle of at least half-a-dozen helicopters, followed by a C-130 and at least one C-235, and then the PC-7IIs, followed by the F-5s and the presidential jet. While the F-5s have been retired, the fact the flypast was reduced to OK-1 (the callsign of the Presidential Global Express) and the quartet of trainers was a real indicator of the efforts that are being expended in Mozambique.
OK-1 Flies approaches the stadium with a close escort. Thankfully, by Saturday the weather was perfect!
1000 feet up, the formation sweeps past the stadium
The PC-7s then returned for a flyover directly over the stadium before departing, leaving a high-flying C235 the only aeroplane in sight.
PC-7IIs, which form the training arm of the BDF Air Wing.
Departing over the stadium (Credit - India Laverick, Age 7!). Incidentally, the hills in the background mark the border with RSA
From the CASA came a group of BDF skydivers equipped with mainly parachutes in national or BDF colours.
These made precise landings within the stadium, much to the appreciation of the tens of thousands present.
Their arrival wrapped up proceedings and President Masisi was then whisked away, around to the back of the stadium where his departure was completed in a 412 that kicked up a massive cloud of dust as it lifted off from the dirt soccer pitch.
President Masisi departs from one of the training pitches behind the stadium
What sums up the BDF is the fact that, despite their role, they feel part of the community. When the crowds departed the stadium en-masse after the president departed, I found myself ten paces behind a staff officer in full dress uniform (complete with ceremonial sword!) holding the hand of his small child, just part of the sea of people walking home after a great morning out.