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Language politics take centre stage


Greek philosopher Aristotle once asserted that a human being is by nature a political animal and his counterpart Pericles maintained that just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics won’t take an interest in you. Even Plato cautioned that one of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.


Like death we cannot dodge politics because nothing is inseparable from it and all decisions made at whatever level are political. They can try to ban politics in the civil service, military barracks or chieftainship, but like a virus, politics will manifest itself in all forms and reclaim its rightful position.


Local politics seem to be more interesting, especially after this year’s polls. It is only a matter of time that Botswana catch up with more advanced and mature democracies like United States. Multitudes of Batswana are now becoming politically conscious as politics continue to dominate the business of the country. On this note, Batswana deserve a pat on the back because political illiteracy is now the story of the past. Recently we have witnessed another form of politics in language politics.


In the past only academics, language activists and politicians have been at the helm of language politics, but recently members of the public have joined the fray. As it stands, two camps have emerged and clashed over each other in all possible platforms. One camp believes that it is high time that the government changed its position on marginalised minority groups while the other believes that the government must maintain its position and interestingly both the camps have advanced their reasons. We take a look at these two camps.


In the academic arena, Professor Lydia Nyathi Saleshando lead this camp and her efforts are consolidated by Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and minority language activists such as Domboshaba Cultural Trust, Mukani Action Campaign, First People of the Kalahari, Lentswe La Batswapong and Kamanakao Association. All the people who make up this camp share the same sentiments, mission and core objectives.

One of the objectives is language development and the camp wants each of their ethnic languages be introduced in the school curriculum to facilitate the learning process, which, they say, is a determinant of academic achievement. In addition, members of the camp have already published their orthographies and to them the only stumbling block is the government that has refused on several occasions to advance their interests.


The mission of the camp is also cultural development of which they say if nothing is done their culture will die out. Lastly, the camp wants the government to amend all discriminatory laws including section 77 to 79 of the Constitution, the Chieftainship Act, the Tribal Territories Act and derogations in section 15(4) (d) and 15 (9) of the Constitution.


They allege that their cultural rights are being trampled upon and what add insult to injury is that their languages are not allowed in the public domain and mainstream media, hence, if nothing is done, they face extinction. They have even gone to the extent of calling on the government to imitate the Delimitation Commission by not naming land boards and districts along tribal lines. Their efforts to convince the government to establish community-based radio stations have proven futile but the fight is far from over. One of the camp members, Never Tshabang, who lost in the Nkange parliamentary elections, translated his party manifesto into iKalanga.


During the swearing-in of Members of Parliament (MP) Bagatia Arone, who forms part of the camp, deliberately made his speech in his mother tongue, Hambukushu, against the parliamentary Standing Orders, and he was forced to read his speech again in English. Arone is to table a motion in Parliament, requesting government to have news read in the so-called minority languages. The camp wants the government to benchmark in Namibia and South Africa in order to review its language policy.


One camp, as expected, wants the government to maintain its position especially on language policy. Visible on the camp is Professor Thapelo Otlogetswe, who has constantly accused the other camp of being in so much with English and hatred for Setswana. He went on to say though Setswana is spoken by 78 percent of the population as mother tongue albeit with limited usage in public domains is seen by minority language activists as an impediment to the development of minority languages.


Otlogetswe argues that though English is spoken by only two percent of the population as home language, it continues to enjoy more usage than any other language but surprisingly the so called minority language activists do not have the problem with that. English is the country’s official language and is used in almost all government businesses, including Parliament and courts of law. The Queen’s language also dominates the print and electronic media (both private and government owned), secondary schools and universities where it is used as medium of instruction.


Thapelo insists that he fails to understand this fixation and bitterness towards the Setswana language. At times, Otlogetswe and Saleshando have squared off in their academic articles. The government of the day is also the member of this camp. It has on number of occasions insisted that all languages in the country remain equal but due to financial constraints the government cannot afford to develop all the languages. In addition, the government fears that usage of all languages in the public domain might spark tribalism and threaten nation-building.


On incorporation of all 26 minority languages into the school curriculum, the government has argued that that is practically impossible because unlike in South Africa, Botswana ethnic groups are scattered all over, making it impossible for implementation. Other members of this camp have contended that the other camp envy the development of Setswana more so that it was recently recognised by the African Union (AU) as language that can be used for regional integration.


 Some have submitted that perhaps the other camp do not perceive English as a threat to their languages simply because it is an European language as such it has been detribalised. They conclude that to be part of the global village, one has to learn more international languages and in this era there is no use of mastering indigenous languages other than for the sake of preservation.

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Khan: Boko, Masisi are fake politicians

18th January 2021
Masisi & Boko

While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.

Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.

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Ookeditse rejects lobby for BPF top post

18th January 2021
LAWRENCE-OOKEDITSE

Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.

Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.

Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”

“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.

He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.

He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.

According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.

There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.

Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.

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BDP cancels MPs retreat

18th January 2021
President Masisi

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.

“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication.
The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.

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