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Gaborone was initially built for 5000 people!

In deliberating the site of the new capital there were obvious differences among the members of the Legislative Council. The deliberations were thorough and protracted. At the end of it all a vote decided that of the 33 members of the Legislative Council, 22 voted for the capital of Botswana to be located in Gaborone and 11 wanted it located in the center or where there was an abundance of water supplies in places like Mahalapye, Palapye, Shashi or Francistown.

Looking at the circumstances of the time, what appears to have persuaded the majority of the members of the Legislative Council to opt for Gaborone were several advantages found to exist in Gaborone. First there a guarantee of ‘adequate’ water supplies after ‘thorough’ investigations. Second, there was the availability of Crown land which meant that the administration would not have to buy or request land from any of the nearby ethnic groups. Thirdly there were a few humble infrastructural developments in Gaborone such as police, former Assistant Commissioner‘s and Fort Gaberones buildings, running water, a Post Office, railway line and roads. Fourthly, Gaborone was located not too far from six ‘principal’ ethnic groups considered to constitute the bulk of the population of the BP and by that virtue it would be understood to stand for centrality. These factors, together with the time available to identify and build a capital as soon as possible prompted the administration and Legislative Council hurriedly settle for Gaborone.

Persuaded by the arguments of the few members of the Legislative Council of the time who argued against Gaborone as the capital, this paper takes the position that the choice of Gaborone was a grave and expensive error. Obviously, the members who opposed the location of Gaborone were in the minority and that being so, were out-voted, but that did not mean the majority was right, indeed the majority is not always right. A close examination of the factors that led to the establishment of Gaborone as the capital reveals that some these factors were questionable. Perhaps at the time these factors were straight forward, but even then some of the members questioned them at the tme. It is even worse so on hindsight, or fifty years later.

The administration, its Investigating Committee, and the majority of the members of the Legislative Council were convinced that Prof Midgley’s investigations had revealed that there was adequate water in the Notwane dam and that some additional dams could be built in and around Gaborone. Examining other sites, could it be realistically said that the little Notwane River could be found to have more water than say, the Mahalapye, Shashi or even the Tati Rivers and therefore suitable to sustain the capital of a country? Messers Taylor, Shaw, van Gass and predicted at the time, that the water was more in the north than in the south and that in fifty years time the north would supply the south with water. But at what cost it may be asked.

Another advantage that attracted the administration and the majority of the members of the Legislative Council to the Gaborone site was the availability of crown land. How much crown land was available and what consideration there was for expansion in the future was not immediately clear. The minority members of the Legislative Council did point out that Gaborone as a capital had limited land in terms of expansion, predicting at the time that in the future it would not be able to expand to the north, east, south, or west without encroaching on ‘tribal’ lands. Today, fifty years later, that prediction could not have been more on the mark.

The decision to locate the capital in Gaborone was in part influenced by the fact that it was accessible to the six ‘principal’ groups which factor assumed that most of the population of the country was in the southern part of the country. That assumption appears to have been erroneous as the table below gives a picture of what the population of the south compared to the north was like in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Related to the population factor was that the administration’s Investigating Committee had suggested that the capital be built for 5,000 people out of a population less than 600,500 people for the whole country. Granted at the time it could have been appropriate, but 5,000 was an awfully small figure especially that there was no indication or specification that the capital would move any time soon. It is baffling that a capital of any country should be planned around a small figure such as 5,000 as if its population, and that of the country for that matter, would forever remain dormant.

The infrastructure and communication did not make Gaborone particularly stand out as advantageous compared to say, Lobatse, Mahalapye, and Francistown. All the three were accessible by roads and rail. Small commercial and industrial centers were available in these places. Also available in all the tree places were humble buildings which included police stations and running water. It would appear that communications and infrastructure were not peculiar advantages to Gaborone.

The decision to find an appropriate place for the location of the capital of Botswana appeared to have been taken in a rush on the part of both the administration and the members of the L egislative Council.

In their deliberations about the site of the new capital, member after member talked about the short space of time within which the location of capital had to be identified73*. The apparent ‘ hurry’ was tied to the financial issue. Botswana then was known to have been one of the poorest countries in the world, dependent on subsistence farming and agriculture and to a very large extent to the British government’s grants-in-aid. It goes without saying therefore that by 1964-65 the country had no money to absorb the expenses of the movement from Mahikeng, let alone build a new capital. Mention has already been made that the British government had pledged the sum of R4 million for the movement of the capital. If the administration and the Legislative Council members delayed in identifying the site for the capital for anything from one to three years, then there was no guarantee that the British government would hold its pledge for that long. Fear of losing that opportunity, compounded by the fact that the movement of

Head Quarters was long overdue any way, were in the minds of the administration and members of the Legislative Council. In those circumstances, the possibility of hurriedly making a decision on the site for a new capital could easily lead to miscalculations and ‘grave and expensive errors’.


The choice of Gaborone as a capital, like other capitals of the world, was influenced by several factors.

Top among those was the availability of water. In the case of Gaborone sufficient water was found in the Notwane River where, by 1965, a dam had been built and ready to supply the new capital. Land was also a determining factor in the choice of the capital. Gaborone had crown land, which meant that the land would not have to be bought, lent, borrowed from, or given by, the ethnic groups in the precincts of Gaborone. It also was thought to be close six of the eight principal ethnic groups suggesting that the location of the six ethnic groups determined the density of the population of the whole territory. The capital was built for 5,000 people. At the time it could be argued that it was practical, considering that the population of the entire country was less than 500,000. Related to the population was the issue of centrality and accessibility of the capital. Given the situation of the time, the presence and locality of the six ethnic groups, determined, to the extent possible, the centrality of Gaborone in relation to the population of the country. Communications and infrastructure also determined the choice of the capital as Gaborone had a few administrative buildings set up during colonial times, the Post Office, a rail line and roads although they were not paved.

Taking into consideration the above factors, the recommendations of the Investigating Committee were taken to the representative body of Legislative Council for deliberation and owning the decision to locate the site of the capital. The deliberations were protracted and thorough, but not overwhelmingly unanimous. The majority of the members approved Gaborone as the new capital while one third, eleven out of thirty three, opposed the capital ‘s location in Gaborone citing several disadvantages about Gaborone and doubting the thoroughness of the Investigating Committee, suggesting other places where the capital could be located.

This paper takes the position that while the choice of Gaborone as a capital was dictated by the circumstances of the time, it would appear that that decision was somewhat rushed. It is difficult to be convinced that the waters found in the Notwane River could have been more adequate than those of the Mahalapye, Shashi and Tati Rivers. The crown land that was available in Gaborone appears not to have had a long term plan for expansion as presently it is difficult to expand to any direction without infringing upon ethnic rights; in addition, it baffles the mind why a capital of a country could be built for 5,000 people only as if it was guaranteed that its population would forever remain dormant. The paper has demonstrated that the population of the country was not denser in the south because of the location of the six principal ethnic groups, and that the assumption that the population was more in the south was inaccurate. By the same token the location of Gaborone could not be said to have been central and therefore accessible to the rest of the population. Located in the south eastern part of the country, Gaborone’s centrality and accessibility are not conspicuously obvious. The infrastructure and communication lines were available in other places other than Gaborone. Lobatse, Mahalapye, Palapye, and Francistown were linked by rail and roads so that that prerogative was not only for Gaborone. Finally the finance issue put pressure on the members of Legislative Council to hurriedly locate the capital at the expense of investigations which would take a little bit more time but nonetheless thorough. Some members of the Legislative Council did mention that they preferred thoroughness than rushing to take a decision that would not only be a miscalculation but ‘a grave and expensive error’. It is arguable whether if the capital had been located elsewhere other than Gaborone so much monies would spent, and are continuing be spent, on ferrying water supplies to sustain the capital.

this presentation by Prof Part Mgadla on the topic: 'A Very Grave and Expensive Error'? : The choice of a new site for the Capital of Botswana 1958-65 to generate interest in you as we celebrate 50 years of independence. Thepresenters are coming up with arguably new information about Botswana.

The paper was presented and discussed at the University of Botswana on Thursday as part of the ongoing BOT50 lecture series

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Can we cure ourselves from the cancer of corruption?

28th October 2020
DCEC DIRECTOR: Tymon Katholo

Bokani Lisa Motsu

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.

This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.

The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.

Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.

Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.

Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?

This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.

The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.

So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?

This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.

Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.

I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’  I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’

Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message.  Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?

The answer is – as always: now.

This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.

We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.

It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.

Let us start today.

*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana

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Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020


His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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