It was pomp and fanfare for staff of the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) on Thursday as choral and traditional dance fused in a celebratory mood to push forward the theme of ‘A United and Proud Nation’ ahead of the 50th anniversary commemorations.
To mark the first day of the independence month, HRDC kicked off the countdown in style by recounting highlights of past celebrations to trigger enthusiasm for the golden jubilee commemorations. For the younger generation that might not treat the celebrations with strong national sentiments – they got insight into the meaning of independence.
The event was punctuated with the use of Setswana in the place of English as an official language to deliver speeches, while song and dance were rooted in the idiomatic diction of the mother-tongue to showcase the idiosyncrasies of a united Botswana.
The younger generation benefitted from translation of important messages embedded in the lyrics, or uncommon expressions employed by their seniors. Dipapisa-puo (figurative speech) was favoured over common speech to display the pride of mastering Setswana as a national language.
Masego Mokubung – director for Statistics, Research and Innovation reminisced her teenage days during the tenth-anniversary celebrations that were characterised with song and dance.
“In Setswana – the poetic licence enjoyed by composers is something to marvel. If the singer or poet had an important message to convey to the leader – be it the traditional chief or politician, the admonishment was best encapsulated in the song or poem. Leboko ga le na bosekelo (there is no offence in artistic composition). Nowadays, our praise-poets and singers are restrained by laws that govern freedom of speech and expression. Radio stations no longer play lyrics deemed to be obscene, whereas the artist would have done nothing but to employ the rich language to convey an important message to the larger society. During independence celebrations back then, these were things to look forward to. I did my part as a teenager – if they wanted a watered-down ‘Sebodu-ke-nnenekwane’, the national stadium had me as the centre of attention for the rendition of Speech Madimabe’s folk-song,” She fondly remembered.
Ralph Maganu, acting Chief Operations Officer said the twentieth-anniversary was a poignant milestone that he has cherished the rest of his life.
“I haven’t celebrated and enjoyed independence greater than this time. The torch of unity truly stitched this nation together. I guess it was the creative manner in which it was thought out – you had the young and elderly alike running with the torch along our highways, short and long distances just to participate and pass it on to the next person to show that we are united. I hope the golden jubilee can achieve some excitement as the 1986 celebrations,” he recalled with nostalgia.
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Raphael Dingalo – recollected the rare moment of seeing world leaders at close range as school children lined up the streets in a march to the national stadium for a beehive of activities.
“I saw Dr Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and many others. Vividly, I remember the football match between Botswana and China for the tenth-anniversary celebrations. Unfortunately, we lost two-zero to the giant nation, but consolation was convenient as they looked the same and we justified our loss on the assumption that they [likely] kept substituting players without us noticing each time there was a throw-in, thus running down our boys to clinch a victory,” Dingalo said, amid cheers.
Dingalo reminded the gathering of the relevance of the theme for the 50th commemorations – a ‘United and Proud Nation’ as signifying the diversity in the many languages and cultures across the country, yet bonded into oneness as Botswana.
“The colourful tapestry of our nation is what we are celebrating. It does not mean that we will always agree on everything, but in our disagreements, we must recognize that what unites us is far greater than what can divide us as a nation called Botswana. Let us join together in commemorating this year’s independence with the understanding – celebration of diversity in unity,” he underscored the theme.
The BOT50 Representative, Kagiso Seloma who was the guest of honour reminded the gathering that it was significant for each citizen to uphold national symbols that define us as Batswana. Seloma was mesmerized by the national colours upon entry – a gesture that suggested HRDC had pitched the bar high for creating hype around the celebrations.
“It felt like walking into a Government Ministry and the ambiance was just perfect. I applaud you for the efforts. However, I need to also implore you that in prepping up for the golden jubilee, we must watch out for the correct symbols that define and represent Botswana. The royal blue of the flag is not the national colour – ours is sky-blue. Similarly, I noticed people were walking up and down as the national anthem was sung. We must be in absolute attentive mode. It is sacred. Our national symbols are the coat of arms, national anthem, and the flag – we must give them respect and honour,” he emphasized.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.