Former cabinet Minister, who was at some point a leading candidate for the portfolio of Vice President in the former President Festus Mogae administration, David Magang has again took a shot at the government of Botswana for lack of sight and vision with regard to the beneficiation of her mineral resources.
Magang shared his assessment of government at a public lecture organized by the University Of Botswana Department Of History on Thursday where he was the guest speaker. As a key presenter, his particular focus was to lead discussion in interpreting and interrogating a quote “A nation without a past is a lost nation” as extracted from a speech by Botswana’s founding President Sir Seretse Khama which he delivered during the 1970 University of Botswana (UB), Lesotho and Swaziland Graduation Ceremony in Swaziland.
Magang said he has been singing the same song to government since 1978 until 2006 when government heeded and implemented the long call for diamond beneficiation. “In Botswana, the one great lesson we have learnt is the belatedness with which it dawned on us that it was time we beneficiated our mineral resources, an imperative I obsessively kept calling attention to as far back as the early 80s and to which the powers-that-be were so lackadaisically resigned,” he lashed out at the government during the deliberation to the audience who were almost full in capacity at the state of the art new UB conference facility in Gaborone.
He continued to point out that sadly, in addition to the diamond beneficiation fracas, there is still a whole host of lessons that government has chosen to simply ignore. For example, he said Botswana’s examination-based educational system has on balance been resoundingly vain owing to its archaic emphasis on rote-learning instead of spontaneous internalization of the inculcated knowledge. “It should have been discarded a long time ago, like the Scandinavian country of Finland has, but why we continue to cling to it so boggles the mind as to numb the senses altogether,” the suburban Phakalane township developer maintained.
The business mogul also revealed why there was suddenly a need for a Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) which was later established in 1994 – in order to combat corruption and economic crimes in the country. Economic prudence and a characteristically peace-loving bent on the part of Batswana are not recently nurtured virtues, he observed. He maintained that, “of course we have over the years seen the emergence of a level of greed and self-aggrandizement in certain quarters that is eye-poppingly brazen and blatant – necessitating our putting into place graft-bursting institutions such as DCEC to provide the necessary checks and balances – but that is more of an anomaly than an all-encompassing national trait.”
The property magnate said that in terms of the education, he also points a finger at government for not having listened to the late Patrick Van Rensburg in relation to embracing education with production at an early stage. The 79 year old hailed Patrick Van Rensburg as a pioneer educationist who founded the highly efficacious Brigades movement in Botswana at a time when Batswana were desperate for the barest vocational skills. He said “if we had keenly embraced his concept of education with production, the country’s unemployment levels would not be this acute. Although a vociferous proponent and practitioner of vocational education for self-employment, Patrick van Rensburg did not advocate for marginalisation or abolition of history in the school system as seems the case currently.”
He continued to take a shot: “yet all the above fair-skinned personages are not spoken of in the same glowing terms as the equally illustrious indigenous Batswana. None of them has been put on a particularly towering pedestal by the chroniclers and savants of our national history or merited a posthumous nominal honour after a national landmark,” he pointed out in his 1 hour 30 minutes long lecture to the audience.
According to the former ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) legislator, the blame, as far as he is concerned, “lies squarely on those who devise the curricula in the history departments at both the high school and university level. I need not stress that those who perform sterling in any facet of national progress must be equally lauded and proportionally projected irrespective of skin pigmentation. Colourbar must not be allowed to factor into the appreciation and salutation of our national heroes.”
When hitting at the UB academics on equal token as he did to a large extent to the government of the day, Magang highlighted that “my own hosts today, the University of Botswana authorities, bear their share of this oversight I regret to say.” He said he is given to understand that there is a long-held tradition at the national university whereby buildings and other constituent facilities are officially known by mere numbers instead of being named after national heroes some of whom he had made mention of in his address.
“Maybe the recent re-naming of the hospital at the University of Botswana after the recently departed Sir Ketumile Masire is a signal on the part of the university authorities that they are intent on making amends in this regard.” The former Lentsweletau Member of Parliament reminisced that once he asked the late Professor Thomas Tlou also why most of the theses of Botswana’s indigenous historians were based on research conducted in other countries when ideally their own country ought to take pride of place.
“The professor laid the blame squarely on Government: he told me whereas other governments were prepared to avail funding for research to even non-citizen historians, ours didn’t seem to care an iota,” he said. Magang continued: “almost every University of Botswana lecturer I have had occasion to talk to over the years bristles at the stigmatic absence of a printing press at a university that prides itself as one of the best on the continent. An in-house printing press would make information dissemination by way of books easier and cheaper. It would open the floodgates of indigenous bibliographical output, which presently comes only in trickles as international scholarship arbiters repeatedly lament.”
Magang asserted that Africa is rich in an indispensable amount of epoch-making history and yet Caucasians, who document much of world history, typically dismiss the continent as inconsequential by any stretch of the imagination. He said this same cynicism was directed at Botswana by the colonialists, who regarded the country as far from historically worthwhile when he cross-examined Sir Khama’s appeal for Africans to break-away from the shackles of mental oppression, and become masters of their own destiny by writing their own history. Magang asked to what extent are efforts made to see to it that certain misconceptions or seeming ambiguities do not hold or are clarified.
For example, he wondered why most Batswana continue to cling to the erroneous position that The Three DiKgosi went to England to ask for British protection when the fact of the matter was that the protectorate – or a profaketorate as he calls it – had been imposed on the country, suddenly and unheralded, by the British government a decade earlier in 1885 and that the object of The Three DiKgosi’s mission was to register their revulsion at the planned handover of our country to Cecil John Rhodes. In the 1960s, he stated that Botswana was perceived as a country which was virtually without history which made the country earn a tagline: “happy is a nation that has no history. By this standard, there can be few nations happier than Bechuanaland.”
Part of the Sir Seretse’s speech reads: "we were taught, sometimes in a very positive way, to despise ourselves and our ways of life. We were made to believe that we had no past to speak of, no history to boast of. The past, so far as we were concerned, was just a blank and nothing more. Only the present mattered and we had very little control over it. It seemed we were in for a definite period of foreign tutelage, without any hope of our ever again becoming our own masters.”
“The end result of all this was that our self-pride and our self-confidence were badly undermined. It should now be our intention to try to retrieve what we can of our past. We should write our own history books to prove that we did have a past, and that it was a past that was just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must do this for the simple reason that a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past are a people without a soul," it continued. Magang interrogated the famous speech, and how it was subsequently misread or misunderstood, in order to be able to explain Sir Seretse Khama’s vision of Botswana’s development with the country’s history as a cardinal aspect of nation-building.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.