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The Roots of Botswana Nationalist Politics Part 13: Local Challenges to Bogosi

Jeff Ramsay

Last week’s instalment noted that instances in which the British colonial state moved to suspend or remove uncooperative traditional leaders had a cumulative effect of destabilizing bogosi in many areas, while giving rise to new forms of organized political protest.

In some areas the authority of gazetted dikgosi, that is those formally recognised recognized Tribal Territory Chiefs, was further challenged by growing demands for equal treatment by various local groups. These included members of then subordinate communities, such as Bakalanga, Wayeyi, Babirwa, Ovaherero and Bakgatla bagaMmanaana, as well as members of new religious movements.  

But, perhaps most critically their also began to emerge in the larger villages a network of educated local notables, including local teachers, civil servants and commercial farmers, who by 1960 had begun to constitute an aspirant national bourgeois.

By the mid-fifties the growing challenge to the status quo was beginning to cause serious concern among some officials. In a secret September 1957 memo the Commissioner of Police noted that there would henceforth be:

“A greater concentration by Special branch on Security Intelligence; e.g. subversive activities inimical to Government such as Pan-Africanism and Nationalism, pseudo-religious activities, trade Unionism and subversion of Labour, contacts with Nationalistic or Communistic influences or organizations outside the territory, which are a Security problem. This problem may not be very self evident at present, but with economic development and the growth of education it will undoubtedly become more apparent in the future.”

The Commissioner's memo went on to outline a restructuring of the Special Branch within the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.) to facilitate political surveillance.

A year earlier a confidential study by the then Divisional Commissioner South, Jean Germond, had already concluded that the institution of Chieftainship was only functioning effectively in Gangwaketse, where Bathoen II was described as an "industrious bureaucrat" who although allegedly "unpopular because there is nothing generous in his nature" was nonetheless "respected and feared and his word is law."

Germond's rather personalized analysis of royal decline was shared by a number of other old hands in the administration, who proposed such measures as special education for royal heirs and a strengthening of the traditional councils of royal uncles and senior advisors.

In this they were fighting what they perceived as a "new line" coming from the top in favour of promoting partially elected Tribal Councils to govern alongside the dikgosi. This new line was motivated at least in part by an official appreciation that the chiefly monopoly of power was becoming increasingly untenable.

Even in Bathoen's Gangwaketse, chiefly authority was being openly challenged. There, as elsewhere, there was a rapid growth of independent religious movements such as the Zionist Christian Church (ZCC), Apostolic Faith Mission and Jehovah's Witnesses despite their persecution.

In 1958 Bathoen, with government support, ordered the Zionists to resettle at Metlobo. Thereafter village, along with the BagaMmanaana settlement Moshupa remained a centre of anti-Bathoen sentiment (and post-1969 BDP strongholds).

A smaller, but ultimately more powerful, group of opponents emerged within Kanye among young educated commoners, many of who had been initiated by Bathoen in 1947 as the “Maganamokgwa” regiment. Prominent among the Maganamokwa was Quett Ketumile Masire, who had a series of clashes with Bathoen throughout the 1950s over such issues as his advocacy of the fencing of communal land and criticism of royal marketing cartels for local agricultural produce.

An educator turned Master Farmer and part time journalist; Masire was an archetype of the educated, petty bourgeois, “new men” who throughout the Protectorate were increasingly dissatisfied with the economic and political constraints of “bogosi” to the advancement of both themselves and their communities.

To this end they generally came to favour the creation of a strong central government that would remove racial barriers to their advancement, protect private property and initiative, and be empowered to discipline acquisitive and/or autocratic dikgosi.

For them Bathoen came to epitomize the later, his local transport monopoly's buses being painted with the warning “sekalaba”. Masire himself would later recall: “We the young people wanted to see Batswana acting like a country at the end of the colonial era, not tribes. This is what caused two colleagues and I to want to start a paper. It was not money or politics. We were reading African Advisory Council minutes and seeing that the Chiefs wanted to be big fish in small ponds.”

In the other Tribal reserves a similar mix of opposition challenged what remained of monarchy after the earlier depositions. In Ngamiland the reformist regency of Pulane Moremi (1947-64) was undermined by ethnic separatist movements among the Ovaherero and Wayeyi, as well as a powerful faction of conservative dikgosana seeking to defend their privileges.

Underlying this ferment was the recent collapse of bolata, which up until the 1940s had incorporated substantial numbers of Wayeyi (previously labelled "Makoba" by their masters), as well as Khoe or Basarwa in the region.

In this context, Ngamiland's small educated elite became politically split along communal lines with Batawana reformers like Pulane's secretary Tsheko Tsheko ultimately becoming the nucleus of the BDP, while the future founder of the BPP and Botswana Independence Party (BIP), Motsamai Mpho, supported the cause of his fellow Wayeyi.

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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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