Outgoing Mahalapye East legislator Botlogile Tshireletso, whose career in politics spanned over 40 years has said her greatest regret is bowing out of the public stage having failed to convince her colleagues to change the electoral system to accommodate for more female representation in parliament.
Tshireletso will retire at the end of her current term next year, worsening Botswana’s standing in women representation in the National Assembly. The latest Global Gender Gap Index 2017 released towards the end of 2017 ranked Botswana 122nd out of 144 countries, owing to its overly male dominated parliament. Botswana currently has only five female MPs in a 63 seat parliament.
Three of the current female legislators will be not returning to parliament in 2019. Joining Tshireletso in retirement is veteran lawmaker, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi while specially elected legislator Dr Unity Dow, will not be contesting as well. “Prior to 2009, I had tabled a motion before parliament requesting for the introduction of First-Past-The-Post which is mixed with Proportional Representation. The system will enable parliament to have elected legislators as well as those who are part of the list, therefore allowing those elected through the list to give women a higher ratio in representation,” Tshireletso told WeekendPost this week.
“In other countries such as Tanzania and Uganda they also have what they call reserved seats for women. We must also consider this to improve women representation because women are many, and even play crucial roles in party activities.” Tshireletso says, although there is no incentive for women to serve in parliament, women should avail themselves to contest leadership positions. “I cannot take my daughter to come and replace me. Women should bring themselves forth and show passion and willingness to serve,” she said.
Tshireletso had also tried to trigger constitutional amendment to increase the number of specially elected MPs from four to eight of which four seats would be reserved for women. The motion was opposed famously by then Specially Elected MP Botsalo Ntuane, who argued that increasing the number of special parliamentary seats may not be the best way to increase women's representation in Parliament.
Ntuane suggested that it would be better to change Botswana's electoral system to proportional representation than to add new Specially Elected seats in Parliament. He argued that the voters were not in favour of increasing the number of special MPs because they dilute the power of the elected MPs.
The motion was however adopted by parliament, but nothing more was done to implement the motion. In 2016, parliament increased the number of specially elected MPs to six MPs, electing two more MPs in a controversial fashion. Former legislator, Reggie Reatile and then 29 year old female, Bogolo Kenewendo were the beneficiaries for the created posts.
On abortion, homosexuality, intersex, and prostitution
Tshireletso has been a strong advocate of issues of abortion, homosexuality, intersex, and prostitution. Her views, especially regarding legalisation of abortion and prostitution have attracted criticism from some section of the society, especially religious organisations. Ahead of the 2014 elections, Evangelical Churches of Botswana (ECB) targeted Tshireletso and others politicians who supported abortion, homosexuality and prostitution. ECB encouraged its members not to vote for politicians who supported the aforementioned positions.
“We must legalize abortion so that we can have facilities that have doctors and other professionals to help individuals who need this kind of help. We may as well decrease the number of abortion cases because we will also have counsellors in the facilities who will be able to guide on the importance of having kids,” said Tshireletso.
“I am not saying people should not have babies. I am looking at the dire consequences of abortion cases that happen outside the realm of health professionals. Some end up infecting themselves while trying to abort, and it is government who eventually incurs the expenses for those affected.” As for sex workers, Tshireletso still urges government to put measures in place to help against the abuses, both physical and emotional that they (sex workers) are subjected to by their customers.
“As government we should not turn a blind eye to these things. These are our people, we are parents. We should engage them and see how we can help them,” she said. “Some of them have shared their experiences with me in confidence. They are being harassed even by police officers under the disguise of public nuisance offence.”
Tshireletso also cautioned government against failing to protect transgendered people through legal or policy framework. She said, more often than not, a mistake is made in a child’s early years if he is intersex resulting in one of genitalia being removed without allowing the child to grow first.
“They should be proper health facilities as well as the legal framework that support minority communities like those. We should not rush to make decisions because sometimes it takes up to puberty to recognise the real identity of the person. That is when we can make such decisions also with regard to what the person concerned indentifies themselves with which gender. People should be allowed to be what they think they are, not making decisions for them,” she noted.
On politics and party factions
The watershed moment for Tshireletso’s political career came in 1977, when the BDP introduced the party youth wing. Tshireletso, then a 24 year old young lady working in one of the village Co-operatives, was lured into a party meeting by then area MP Gaolese Koma who sold the idea of the youth league to the prospective young activist.
By the time delegates departed the youth wing’s inaugural congress, Tshireletso’s fate was sealed. In 1979 Tshireletso contested in the party primary election for a council seat and won. Subsequently she bagged the ward in the general elections. She would occupy that seat for the next 25 years. In 2003, Tshireletso tried her luck in for the parliamentary seat for the newly created Mahalapye East constituency and won. She won the resultant general elections.
In her career as a politician, Tshireletso remains one of the few who rose through the ranks without being offered favour perks in form of special nomination either to council or parliament. On all occasions, she had to battle it out with men, trouncing them in their trade. It was inevitable that Tshireletso, having been part and parcel of the BDP structures since 1978, got involved in the BDP factions. Though she played a limited active role in the factions, her bid for Women’s Wing Chairpersonship in 2001 saw her drifting towards the Barataphathi. That was a time when Barataphathi, led by Daniel Kwelagobe and Ponatshego Kedikilwe, controlled every structure of the ruling party.
“I was a member of the Big Five because of my association with Merafhe [Mompati], but when we went for the 2001 women’s wing elections; our team had two people, me and Tebelelo Seretse who wanted to contest the chairperson position. My team favoured Seretse ahead of me,” remembers Tshireletso.
“That was when I drifted towards Kwelagobe’s team because they did not have a candidate. Since then people started associating me with the Barataphathi faction, but I was not necessarily its member.” Tshireletso will retire from politics at the end of her term in 2019, after serving three consecutive terms as MP for Mahalapye East.
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.”