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The Roots of Botswana Nationalist Politics Part 8

Jeff Ramsay

“Tshekedi and the Ratshosas”

Our last instalment included an observation by the British journalist Leonard Barnes who during his 1931 tour of the Protectorate detected a degree of political ferment among the “more intelligent men” about the possibility of local tribal development leading to the ultimate overthrow of traditional hierarchy. Prominent among those who had shaped Barnes insight was Simon Ratshosa, who has at times been characterized as an early bourgeois nationalist.

A closer look at Simon Ratshosa's career reveals that his role as an early critic of the colonial status quo was, however, inconsistent and opportunistic. Like such contemporaries as Moanaphuti Segolodi and the young Leetile Raditladi, it furthermore grew out of his highly personalized conflict with Tshekedi Khama.

Educated at Lovedale in the Eastern Cape, Simon Ratshosa had himself been born into relative privilege. His mother Besi was the eldest daughter Khama III, while his father, Ratshosa, served as Khama III’s personal secretary. When Ratshosa died, Simon’s elder brother, Johnnie Ratshosa, took over the post, also serving Khama’s successor Sekgoma II until the latter Kgosi’s death in 1925.

But, when Sekgoma’s (half) brother Tshekedi Khama became regent in 1926, Johnnie along with his brothers, Obeditse as well as Simon, were quickly removed from political influence.

Just 20 years old at the time, Tshekedi had begun studies at Fort Hare University, when he was summoned to return to Serowe in the wake of Sekgoma’s death. On arrival he found that a Council of 12, which included both Johnnie and Simon Ratshosa, had been established to govern until he was formally installed.

As its dominant members, the Ratshosa brothers saw the council as a vehicle to perpetuate their family’s influence. In this respect they had the support of the colonial administration in seeking to maintain the council as some form of advisory and oversight body even after Tshekedi’s installation. As readers may recall at the same time the British were also insisting on a similar council in Molepolole to regulate Kgosi Sebele II.

But, once enthroned Tshekedi immediately dissolved the Council and sacked Johnnie Ratshosa as tribal Secretary. In so doing he had the support of most of the dikgosana, who had come to resent brothers special status.

The Ratshosas responded by shunning Tshekedi, leading to a rapid escalation of tensions. Fed up, the regent summoned the three brothers to kgosing, but they refused to come. He then dispatched his beaters to forcibly bring them to the kgotla, where they were sentenced to flogging for disrespect.

The brothers then attempted to flee. Johnnie was caught and beaten, but Simon and Obeditse escaped only to return to the scene with guns.

The two took aim at Tshekedi and fired. Several shots rang out, but their target was only slightly wounded. Simon and Obeditse then fled to the British Resident Magistrate, who had them arrested and subsequently found guilty of attempted murder; sentencing them to ten years with hard labour (later reduced to four years)

Meanwhile Tshekedi had ordered the brother’s houses be burnt as customary punishment for those committing treason. From prison, Simon Ratshosa spearheaded a legal claim against Tshekedi for their lost property.

The Magistrate upheld Tshekedi’s action, finding it to be in accordance with customary law. Simon then appealed to the Special Court of the Protectorate, where the brothers won their case, with the regent now being ordered to pay them compensation.

Furious at the reverse, Tshekedi in turn appealed to the highest court of the Empire, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

The colonial administration strongly advised Tshekedi to withdraw the case on the ground of the expenses involved, which were greater than any potential compensation claim. But the regent was determined as a matter of principle to proceed. He covered his legal costs by imposing a special tribal levy.

In the end the Privy Council judged that Tshekedi had the right to inflict punishment on the Ratshosas in terms of Sengwato traditional law. But, the victory was tarnished by the Judges’ advice that the customary law should be reviewed

Meanwhile, during his period of imprisonment, Simon Ratshosa drafted an unpublished manuscript entitled “My Book on Bechuanaland Protectorate Native Custom”.  In it he appealed for colonial, rather than popular, intervention to curb what he now denounced as the despotism of dikgosi, further calling for the abolition feudal customs that were a barrier to “native progress and economic freedom”.

The people of the Protectorate, Simon wrote, suffered under the direct rule of often cruel Chiefs who contravened the British system of justice by imposing “feudal customs” on the people, while and enriching themselves in the process. In this respect he denounced the use of mephato on royal projects as “forced labour”, arguing that it led to people neglecting their own livelihoods.

To curb such despotism, he called for the creation of a “Bechuanaland National Council”, made up of educated Batswana, which would also be inclusive of non-Tswana groups in the territory. The proposed Council would serve as an advisory body to the British Resident Commissioner on lawmaking and as a customary court of appeal, which would be empowered to discipline "disobedient chiefs".

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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