Institute of International Education Fellowship Award Winner, and runner up national poet to the 2016 Share Botswana Tourism Fiction Award, Teedzani Thapelo*, ponders the nationwide devastation wrought by ex-Dineo, her unchecked tempestuous depredation, and expresses his shock at national unpreparedness for this catastrophe, arguing that this horror, and its merciless cutting blade, tearing up roads, sending rooftops flying, stealing chicken and pigs, laughing at feeble BDP policy institutions, reflects lack of planning, the absence of fences and defence mechanisms against disasters, poor knowledge about the hazards of nature, and BDP flagrant disregard for human effort and national dignity.
The first part of the title comes from a novel by Bessie Head, a South African exile writer who lived and died in Serowe. I am very glad to note her works still hold place of pride at UB, no, not UB at Gaborone, but the University of Buffalo, in the US. There is nothing more fascinating to students of African literature these days than the literature of exile and refuge studies, and Head, sits among the pantheon of literary giants whose works still evoke tremendous intellectual fascination in both the West and Africa.
She had such a delicately sensitive feel about the land and people of her adopted political home, Botswana, that many still regard her as our only literary voice. South Africans, of course, don’t want to hear about this, and already they have usurped her genius and firmly implanted it in their canon and national consciousness, naming libraries and streets after her to promote public admiration and readership of her works. What do the people of Serowe have to say about that, I wonder? BDP government does not care.
As far as they are concerned she never lived here, she means nothing to our cultural heritage. Oh, boy, talk about ignorance. Can anyone imagine British authorities allowing Poland to do the same thing with that celebrated genius, Joseph Conrad? Enough about literary gems we will most probably never possess. Let’s get down to more mundane things; rain, rain, rain; and the horror, the horror!
Well, my grandma, Balebi Thapelo, also had a very strong and rather feverishly sensitive feel about our land. She was, I should think, a very spiritual woman. Trouble with her religion of things, was that it intermingled with too much booze. I witnessed the remaining part of her spiritual journey towards the declining years of her life, and just when I had managed to pluck enough courage to put her through a thorough interview about the whole mystical business she died. That saddened me a great deal.
To date she is the only person whose funeral I attended. One thing though stays in my memory, her stupefying knowledge of gathering clouds and impending rains. In this field she was miles ahead of Radithupa Radithupa. She rarely erred. Come every rain season, and we were in for great drama. I wonder if my family siblings still remember those mind-boggling escapades. The most fascinating thing is that hers was always a solo fetishism. She demanded no audience. We the kiddies could gather around her and enthusiastically clap our hands to her gyrations but you were not allowed to ask any questions; as I said she was a true weather woman.
Try to interfere with her furious dance and strenuous invocations of the rain and the river gods, and you could easily lose a leg. Everything was very solemn, just the way they do things at St Peters Square in the Vatican City, and we lived at Jacklas Number 1 village, right here in good old Botswana. Like most kids we feared the roar of thunder, and granny could imitate it; perfectly, and fearfully, substituting along the way the even more ferociously roars of lions, and yelling of hyenas; a perfect cacophony, but symphony to her ears.
In this way she taught us that even wild animals feared thunder. That man had good reason to fear and welcome thunder at the same time, it was the way of the world, the only way to live with turbulent, and unpredictable nature. Whenever the rain season started approaching she would insist all the huts be fortified with mud and cow dung. Stone bricks were also used. The whole thorn yard fence had to be overhauled; rotting corner poles replaced. Tall trees in the neighbourhood pruned.
It was heavy work, and we all did it; grandma breathing on our backs like an army general. Of course we grumbled a lot, and my uncles’ wives worried she was using up seed for ploughing to brew her ‘religious beer,’ but she stuck to her guns like a true commander in chief. I learnt early at home there is no government without critics, and I enjoyed it all. It was good education. It prepared me for the world of the future, the world of today; the world of tomorrow.
Grandma was the family matriarch, and she did her job well. By the time I was eight I had learnt to respect thunder, and I could take out our cows to grass, clad in a very heavy but very useful sack raincoat, and when it started raining, and the cows started gambolling about mooing wild-to dissipate their own fear of thunder, I would just sit on a rock and watch them dance till they tired, and started falling into small tribal groups for mutual protection and assurance. All these things I learnt from my grandma. They made my life easy, and happy.
I always felt safe because I trusted her government and her religion of things. I only regret I never had the chance to talk to her about these things. I always noted the roll of thunder would go on accompanying her performance till she fell to the ground exhausted, or dead drunk, or possessed by some awfully powerful spirit, or all these things combined, and then, lo and behold, the heavens would open, and at times it could rain non-stop for days and nights. We always had a hard time of it lifting her and taking her to her shrine. Like all governments she was big. Oh, those were thrilling times.
I have been thinking about these dramatic personal experiences the past few days as our country was going through the most magnificent, and equally frightening, heavenly showers in living memory. I also took the trouble, whenever I could, to venture out and witness this unfolding drama first hand. Drama? Well, those of us who grew up on that stupendous intellectual extravaganza, Greek literature, will no doubt see what I mean; read Homer’s Odyssey.
Batswana who know nothing about Homer must still have seen something of his stunning apprehension of the world of man and nature in the continuing struggle for survival on planet earth these past few days as ex-Dineo hit home with garrulous impetuosity tearing up roads, sending rooftops flying, knocking down doors, stealing chicken and pigs, laughing at Government Enclave and generally making our lives miserable. Oh, I know some people are hurting, terribly, and I sympathise.
But we did say we wanted rain. Radithupa warned us to expect a deluge of it nationwide; a perfect storm in the tradition of Hollywood films, and we did nothing to prepare ourselves. Grandma would have done a good job of yelling, cajoling and putting up fences and defence mechanisms in place to avert disaster. It would appear to me the fact it caught us napping is no reason we should be cursing heaven. We have got only ourselves to blame. In a world so full of dangers and risks people must always be prepared for anything.
In fact by definition human life is temporal, mortal, existential, and mostly insignificant in the face of assault by the elements, especially water and fire. If we don’t evolve safety measures to protect ourselves then we do not have anyone to blame but ourselves. Government should take the lead in building such defence mechanisms and educating people about the hazards of nature, but BDP is not the sort of government up to such tasks.
Keep looking up to them for protection and guidance and you will find yourselves sheltering under one huge blanket, donated by Indians, the next time another cyclone, another Dineo comes visiting. What good will that do? Ask the people of Mozambique what a really furious hurricane can do. A blanket, no matter how well knitted, will just not do. I doubt even Homer would have cast BDP in his works; they are just too dismal characters. I miss my grandma’s government.
Homer would not have had much trouble casting grandma in his work, even the weathermen of our time. The rain season is a unique experience. Most Batswana think about it only in terms of ploughing and harvesting. That is not good enough, and the present season clearly demonstrates why we should evolve a new convention with nature when it comes to this time of the year. If we don’t, there is no telling what is going to happen to both our lives and our properties in the future, to both our land and country in the future, and to both our universe and planet in the future.
These are fearful things to put to people who have up to now taken such things for granted. In other parts of the world already people do things differently. Let us not wait for a national catastrophe to hit home before we put the necessary defensive mechanisms in place. I doubt though Government Enclave will heed this call. Unlike Grandma’s authority, these people are really not a government. They are a social club; a gormandizing social club. So long as their stomachs are full they never care about tomorrow, they never plan ahead, and this explains the horrors of ex-Dineo in many parts of our country.
A few incidents awakened my personal consciousness to the gravity of floods in the face of relentless rainfall and devastating rolls of thunder. I did not even know some parts of Botswana are so prone to lightning. Had I interviewed my grandma, no doubt I’d be already a very informed man about these things. Unfortunately I didn’t, and now remains the task to spend long hours poring over literature in public libraries. No matter. I am used to this sort of thing.
As soon as reports of floods and public damage started filtering in through social media, I raised my antennae, broadened my intellectual radar, and hit the road. The precautions I took along the way, excluding the sack raincoat, I learnt from my grandma. In one plain field I encountered an old woman with about three Zimbabwean help hands. She didn’t mind my enquiries about the feel of the land. Also I had good chilled water to which she seemed very partial. So we conversed freely.
The clouds were dark, and heavy, and I knew I had to be careful. It could rainy anytime. She, however, was not concerned with that. Her concentration was on the soil. She took a pinch of it and ate it. I was so startled I must have ejaculated my astonishment. Grandma used to do exactly the same thing. I saw her roll the dirt round her mouth, and, I think, she swallowed some of it. The remaining bit she spat to the ground with knowing satisfaction, and a very grave face. Then she shaded her poor eyes with her right hand, and looked at the gathering clouds for several seconds. After a heavy sigh, she waddled to her dilapidated truck and collapsed into the front seat.
I followed her and put a direct question to her about that startling incident. She tried to dodge it. So I explained about my grandma. She listened to me very carefully, asked a few questions of her own, and I answered as best I could. It soon transpired she came from Matebeleng village in Mochudi. She spoke both Ikalanga and IsiNdebele well. She told me all she thought she knew about people like my grandma, and her quaint religion. I know Matebeleng well but I did not let this out. In a way I was not surprised.
Her field is just on the road to that village, and my guide had informed me I would probably meet only people from the neighbourhood in our trip. But I had hit a jackpot. This old woman seemed to be cut from the same cloth as my grandma. Unfortunately she clumped her mouth shut soon as she realized I had company; the local guide. They started arguing about some old money debt, till we left. Once again I had failed to connect with my ancestral past regarding the rituals of rainfall. When it started raining I was already on my way home, and a very disturbed man.
That evening, and in subsequent news, I really was not surprised by the devastation shown on television. Thanks to my grandma I had read the signs well. What shocked me was the level of unpreparedness throughout the whole country. Just what good is our government? What do these people do on a normal day? Who really are these people? Are they Africans? Did any of them go to any schools? What do they want in office? How come the nation is so vulnerable and the whole country so fragile? Ai madoda, I really do miss my grandma’s government.
This is not the way to live. People can just not get anyway this way. There’s terrible rot in our political system, in our public institutions and moral consciousness as a nation and a republic. If we don’t change the way we do things, and do so fast, there is no telling where we will be as a people in five years’ time. I mean who wants to build a house today and have it ruined tomorrow? Who wants to travel a road today and see it destroyed tomorrow? Who wants to build a bridge today and see it collapsed tomorrow? Who really wants to live in a world of futility? Why do we permit these fatal arrangements? What is wrong with us? Why can’t we create enduring things? Why do we hate beautiful and useful things?
Take Nata for example. It is a long time since I travelled that part of the country. But I loved it enough to write some reasonable good and memorable poems about my adventures there: One night in a lodge Is all it takes to savour A country feel to my land One amazing ride in the river Bathing off the spleen of rage And sleepless nights Is all it takes to savour A pleasant bush….
A blinding beauty Blighted my sight This day Marooned Amid flamingo bird And barren wasteland A transit landscape Fit only for the intrepid spirit Possessed of passions Infinite In a rugged land Of mysterious trunked trees Robust flowers Of an age….
The girl flirts about the green field, And screws up her lips Into a raw pout of tenderness, Playing a dialogue of wanton carelessness, And watching her, I fear tomorrow There shall be tears upon this score….
I remember well, my bothers The luxurious sturdiness of childhood, But why remind me old age, Of the disastrous sojourns of time past, At this hour of truth, When I stand an indistinct spectre, In the cruel theatre of life, And one foot in the grave, When the bones now can only rattle in the body?
I just picked out four parts from my poems; A Country Feel About my Land, Makgadikgadi Pans, Foul Field and Memoriam, from my collection of poems, Black Sunlight, and all these were written during that memorable trip to Nata and beyond. Later on I would write the 600 words poem Okavango Delta which won a literary award.
This is what natural beauty does for people who care about their country, it inspires them, it makes them human, it gives them culture and knowledge. So you can guess how I felt when I saw want happened to the land and people of Nata and surrounding areas; poor planning and ignorance killing hope and human livelihoods. Who should I blame for this negligence but BDP?
I am angry, and disappointed. But that is what BDP wants. They trade in misery of citizens. People in that region are mostly very poor. They need help, desperately. But I can bet my last coin nobody is going to help them get out of this rut. The land there is beautiful and rewarding. But nobody is going to do the best they can to put things to rights after these horrible floods and destruction.
How sad. How truly sad.
Novelist, poet and historian, Teedzani Thapelo*, is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the School of Oriental and Africa Studies, University of London. He is author of Seasons of Thunder and the forthcoming books; Battle Against the Botswana Democratic Party: the beginning of the point of departure, Politics of Unfulfilled Expectations in Botswana: a dangerous mess, and Philosophy of Death and the Ruin of Selibe-Phikwe.
British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”
The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.
As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.
We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.
Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.
Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values. This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.
Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.
Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.
Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.
We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.
These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.
Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.
The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.
Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.
One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.
When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.
The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.
The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.
As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.
When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.
“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.
Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.
This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.
So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.
Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana
This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world. By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy. But the people of Ukraine are resilient.
They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world. The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country. By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.
When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.
United in Our Response
This will not end well for Vladimir Putin. Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable. As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.
President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology. After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.
Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.
By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime. In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.
We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military. We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy. And we are prepared to do more.
In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.
We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies. President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.
He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense. There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world: NATO is more united than ever.
The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies. We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.
Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War
This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time. He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border. He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.
He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.
Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do. We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas. We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine. We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.
Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there. We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.
And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law. Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine. Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.
We have been transparent with the world. We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up. Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.
Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever
Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed. In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity. We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.
Putin has failed to divide us. Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies. And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.
The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine. Putin has unleashed great suffering on them. But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.
The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.
Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically. The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.
Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression. In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake: Freedom will prevail.