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The Roots of Botswana Nationalist Politics Part 9:

Jeff Ramsay

“Simon Ratshosa on bolata”

The following is from a 6th March 1888 statement by the Under Secretary of State, Baron Henry De Worms, M.P., before the British Parliament: –

“A certain portion of the inhabitants of Bechuanaland known as the Bakalahari stand, or rather stood, in an ill-defined relation of dependence and servitude towards the Bechuanas proper. According to native custom these persons can, and do, hold property of their own. Their servitude towards the Bechuanas takes the form partly of actual labour rendered, and partly of tribute paid in kind. They themselves stand in a position towards the Bushmen somewhat similar to that which they occupy towards the Bechuanas.

“The Secretary of State has laid down the following principles for the guidance of the Local Authorities on the subject: – (1) Within the British border all these people are in the eye of the law already free men. (2) He takes for granted, as far as Courts held by magistrates are concerned, that any magistrate would, as a matter of course, refuse to recognize or enforce any claim arising out of the supposed relation of master and slave, and would punish, as an infringement of personal rights, any attempt to exercise forcibly the claims of a master over a supposed slave. (3) The Local Administrator is to take every opportunity of informing Chiefs and Headmen, who exercise jurisdiction, as to the state of the law, and to warn them against recognizing or enforcing rights which are incompatible with it.”

In our last instalment we looked at the role of the Ratshosa brothers, more especially Simon Ratshosa, as opponents of Tshekedi Khama’s alleged autocracy. In his writings Simon did evolve a rather comprehensive critique of colonial era bogosi. But, his perspectives were largely confined at a small elitist circle.

Simon Ratshosa did, however, gain the attention of a much wider audience, both at home and abroad, when he began to publicly proclaim that the condition of Barwa, more properly Khoe, servants kept as malata by Bangwato and others was equivalent to slavery. As slavery was then against international as well as imperial law, the charge that bolata reduced local Khoe to mere property of their masters was very embarrassing to colonial administrators, who knew that it was well founded.

In 1923, for example, a Khoe man known to officials as “Masarwa Charlie”, had taken the bold step of appealing to the Government because his Mokgalagadi master (who was himself the servant to a well-to-do Mokwena) had sold his family from him.

Other cases of murder and rape committed against Khoe by their overlords also reached the ears of Magistrates, though prosecutions were rare notwithstanding London’s 1888 instructions on the matter.

In 1926 the High Commissioner, Earl of Athlone, toured the Protectorate reaffirming Government’s opposition to “Bushman” servitude, but still nothing effective was done to enforce it. His action had in fact been motivated from London in the context of the passage of the League of Nation’s ILO Convention on Slavery.

It was not until 1932, after Simon had threatened to “astound the whole civilized world” with proof that slavery was still practised under the British flag, that officials began to seriously concern themselves. Their outward response remained one of denial. In the same year they thus released an official report denying that bolata was slavery, while also arguing that the institution was disappearing.

The report, however, failed to bury the issue. The trial of some prominent Bangwato for flogging a Khoe to death kept allegations of slavery in Bechuanaland alive in newspaper headlines and colonial dispatches.

Further official reports denying the existence of Khoe slavery followed a high profile visit by a group of liberal human-rights activists (accompanied by the journalist Leonard Barnes previously referred to) who fully embraced Ratshosa’s allegations. Thereafter the London Missionary Society as well as a Government was obliged to send reports to the League of Nations in an effort to downplay the issue.

Yet, notwithstanding their denials, in 1936 the Bechuanaland authorities once more felt compelled to issue a legal proclamation affirming the abolition of slavery in the territory.

As in his other criticisms, Ratshosa’s own focus of bolata arose from his highly personalized conflict with Tshekedi. It was only after Tshekedi had freed Simon's own malata that he took up the issue in a seeming attempt to embarrass his nemesis.

Besides Simon, there were other early voices calling for democratic change through some form of national council with real legislative authority. At the inaugural 1921 session of the Native Advisory Council (NAC) the Resident Commissioner dismissed Motswareledi-Kgosi Isang Pilane's call for the body to be invested with genuine legislative powers through the adoption of a Constitution based on that of the African National Congress.

But the issue remained. By 1931 Drs. Silas and Sebophiwa Molema were able to present themselves before the NAC as the popular choices of the Barolong booRatshidi lekgotla. But, their appeal to both the imperialists and dikgosi to adopt this supposedly democratic practice elsewhere fell on deaf ears, as did their further calls for the creation of a two chamber council divided between Chiefs and commoners.

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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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