The Kalahari Killings

September 22, 2015

Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Laverick

Jonathan Laverick is Director of A Level at Maru-a-Pula School and has lived in Botswana for 17 years. He is also Botswana’s leading Aviation Artist (in a field of one!) and he recently achieved his dream of learning to fly.

What is The Kalahari Killings about?

The book tells the gruesome true story of the murder and dismemberment of two RAF pilots by Tyua Bushmen near Nata in 1943 and the subsequent trial. The book is really two different stories, told until they merge with the killings.

The first follows the life of Gordon Edwards, one of the murdered pilots. Gordon grew up in Wales before joining the air force at the start of the Second World War – much against his mother’s wishes. He then had a very varied career as a mechanic, in the UK, Northern Ireland, Russia, and Egypt, before being sent to Bulawayo, in what was then Rhodesia, for pilot training.

Partly because I wanted to make the book accessible for the general reader in the UK or US, the second theme is dedicated to the history of Botswana – especially of the Khama dynasty and the Tyua Bushmen. I also wanted to make clear the contribution Bechuanaland had made to World War Two, something that is often forgotten both here and overseas.

What inspired you to write the book?

I was doing research for a painting when I came across the story on a website forum, where Gordon’s great nephew was looking for more information on the case. The idea of the clash of cultures, where you have two pilots using the latest technology coming up against a hunting party of Bushmen was fascinating.

The other thing was the fact that when I told people in Botswana about the story the general reaction was one of disbelief. Bushmen/San have a reputation for being peaceful and ‘living in harmony with nature’. This has become such a part of popular culture through writers like Van der Post and organisations like Survival International. Yet, when I was doing research there is little evidence for this. Perhaps I should say that the San are as peaceful (or violent!) as everyone else. The murders, which involved cutting off the men’s private parts for muti, were certainly violent!

Finally, I have a love of aviation and Botswana – the book gave a great opportunity to combine them.

What were your two most notable experiences while writing the book?

Meeting some of the surviving Botswana veterans was the most humbling experience. It was very hard to imagine leaving Botswana in the 1940’s to become part of the most diverse fighting force ever assembled in the shape of the British 8th Army. To go from a traditional village to Rome must have been an amazing journey, yet most of the 10,000 Batswana simply came home after the war and settled back into everyday life, while their sacrifices were slowly forgotten.

The other memorable moment was interviewing Gordon’s niece, who was a lovely old lady and the last person alive to actually have met Gordon. It was her first video call!

What was your time frame for writing The Kalahari Killings?

The book took about 18 months. I was writing to a contract deadline, which kept me going, but there were certain sections I could not write until I had completed the research by actually visiting relevant places. This mainly applied to information I could only get from the UK in person, but I also had a trip to Bulawayo.

Were there any notable challenges that you had in obtaining factual information from both Botswana and the UK?

Not really! The biggest surprise was how helpful other people were in sharing information. Robert Hitchcock, who has researched indigenous peoples in Southern Africa since the 70’s, was a great help. He had written a paper on the murders 35 years ago and had interviewed many of the people involved in the murders. The Australian author, Tony Park, had used a version of the murder as an opening to one of his books (African Sky) and also shared his research.

The Botswana National Archives and Records Service were incredibly helpful and the Archives are a real treasure trove of information, including all of the original court documents. The UK archives also have a big file on the case, but the UK archives are on a slightly different scale to the Botswana ones!

The only problem was that I was constantly relying on secondary sources as everyone with an active part in the murders and subsequent trial have all long since passed away.

How can people get hold of The Kalahari Killings?

The book is available at Exclusive Books, Riverwalk, for P250 or is available from all major online outlets ( etc.) either as a paperback or eBook.

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