The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) backbench, among them former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe famously joined hands with the 13 opposition legislators to oppose the intelligence security bill, which created the notorious Directorate on Intelligence Security Services, commonly known as the DIS.
When then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Phandu Skelemani tabled the bill, the BDP backbench went for the jugular, stating profusely that it was a bad Bill. Among the cohort of MPs who joined Kedikilwe in resiliently opposing the Bill were Botsalo Ntuane (Specially Elected) , Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri (Molepolole North), Duke Lefhoko (Shoshong) and Keletso Rakhudu (Gaborone North).
The Intelligence bill came at a time when BDP was polarised in the wake of the 2003 and 2005 Congresses in which the A- Team faction took control of the party. Mogae had dropped Barataphathi kingpins; Kedikilwe and Daniel Kwelagobe from the cabinet. The decision to leave out Barataphathi faction from the cabinet after the 2004 election saw the emergence of maverick MPs who made it a habit that they scrutinised government bills with the same grit as of the opposition parties.
When debating the bill after tabling, Kedikilwe said the bill could not pass because there was a huge potential for abuse by those in power especially the president. Kedikilwe wanted incorporation of a clause making it possible for parliament to impeach a sitting State President if it is established that the President abused the intelligence law.
PHK, who had fallen out of favour with Mogae said there was no guarantee that Botswana would continue to be as fortunate as she has been over the years where there has been no free reign in the abuse of legal instruments. Kedikilwe is quoted in one of the local publications as having said: “We have been fortunate in the past and it is evident that we are likely to be fortunate in the foreseeable future. But there can be no guarantee that we shall continue to be as fortunate as we have been. Therefore we must have built-in mechanisms.”
Kedikilwe called for the Intelligence bill to be referred to the Parliament Select Committee to study and have it properly constituted to protect both the individuals from harassment by state agents as well as abuse by the executive and the sitting president. Buoyed by the backing of powerful figures such as PHK, then young legislator, Ntuane was perhaps the most vehement in opposing the bill. Ntuane told parliament then that cases involving searches on private property had to be treated with extreme caution.
"Africans must be protected from themselves," said Ntuane. Ntuane argued that history had shown that African countries had a tendency to use their intelligence units to invade the civil liberties of fellow Africans. Ntuane’s opposition to the bill was based primarily on the fear that DIS would violate people’s civil liberties.
Matlhabaphiri garnered enough support in the initial stages of the debate as the bill was suspended, after the then Molepolole North MP called for the bill to be referred to the parliament select committee. Among other MPs who supported Matlhabaphiri’s proposition to refer the bill to the committee was Botlogile Tshireletso.
MOGAE CABINET RE-SHUFFLE AND PASSING OF THE BILL
Following resistance from the backbench to pass the bill, under pressure Mogae, in a strategic reshuffled cabinet and brought in Barataphathi kingpins to cabinet. Mogae created new ministerial posts to accommodate Barataphathi factions. New ministries included Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture as well as several assistant minister portfolios. In the the resultant cabinet reshuffle, Kwelaboge (Presidential Affairs and Public Administration), Kedikilwe (Minerals, Energy and Water Resources) and Matlhabaphiri (Assistant Minister, Labour and Home Affairs).
The appointment to cabinet of key Barataphathi faction MPs impaired what initially looked like a victory for the backbench and the opposition. The trio, as members of cabinet were forced to go mum on their earlier hard stance. Even Skelemani, who had promised to support the idea of having the bill referred to the Parliament Select Committee for review of its clauses as requested by MPs, reneged on his promise and went ahead with the bill.
Rakhudu and Lefhoko joined the civil society hand in the final moments leading to the enactment of the bill, as they tried to kill the bill. Botswana Council of Non Governmental Organisation (BOCONGO) called an emergency meeting, which was also attended by the current Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, meant to find ways of influencing improvements on the bill to address issues of concern to the civil society and the public in general.
"We were of the understanding that generally the minister was not unfriendly to the idea of consultations especially having the piece of legislation put to a parliamentary committee but we were surprised when he seemed to turn against that. MPs are not averse to the bill going through; we are just concerned that this is a very sophisticated bill.
We want certain aspects of it to be changed and we worry that any mishandling of such legislation may have major repercussions for our society in the future,” Rakhudu was quoted as saying by the media. This was after his motion to have the motion referred to the Parliament Select Committee was defeated.
DID OPPOSITION MPS ABDICATE THEIR RESPONSIBILITY?
The 13 members of the opposition, among them Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader Dumelang Saleshando received criticism from the then BOCONGO Executive Secretary Baboloki Tlale who said while he understood their grievances in Parliament, it was important for them to join the debate in order to have an input on the bill.
“The walkout has had its time. I think the opposition should move back into the House and tough it out. They have the responsibility to represent their voters and they should get back and make their numbers count by having their amendments adopted. The boycott is not helping,” Baboloki was quoted as saying by Mmegi.
Ntuane, who was part of the brigade which fought the bill until the end, also expressed his disappointment in parliament. "By playing to the gallery the opposition is letting not only this House down but the nation at large," he said. "It would have made more sense that the fellow MPs sit through this process, get their amendments debated and fight for them so they can have an influence on the events rather than boycott.
They are missing out on an opportunity to have their views on this Bill heard," said Ntuane. The former Gaborone West South legislator said the opposition had abdicated its responsibility, warning that despite their boycott "they are going to live under this creature".
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”