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Remembering the unwanted: Paul “Ostrich” Rantao (1945-2005)

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

We continue with the series where we remember those of our heroes and heroines who, though unwanted, made immense contributions to the legacy we will be celebrating this year. This week we discuss Paul Rantao who passed away on 19th May 2005.

In remembering Rantao’s contributions we shall not pretend that he was without fault. His failures and faults will be exposed with the same vigor as his achievements and successes will. Yet, emphasis will be made that his faults notwithstanding he deserves a place in our country’s history. He at least deserves a mention when we celebrate fifty years of independence.

According his obituary, Rantao was born in Lehurutshe, Zeerust District in South Africa on 25th June 1945. He started his primary school education at St Condrad's Catholic Mission School in Ramotswa where he grew up.

Rantao then proceeded to St Joseph's College in 1965 where he obtained a Cambridge School Certificate in 1969 after he joined Radio Botswana as "Newsreel" programme producer. He studied for Mass Communications Honors Diploma at the University of Nairobi, Kenya between 1972 and 1974.

On his return from Kenya, he was appointed Editor of government run Kutlwano magazine. In 1976 he became Editor of the Daily News. In 1979 Rantao obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism and Political Science (double major) at Memphis State University in the State of Tennessee in the United States of America (USA).

When he came back from the USA he resumed his editorship of the Daily News until 1980 when he was promoted to become the Deputy Chief Press Officer with the Botswana Press Agency (BOPA). As Chairman of the Botswana Journalists Association (BOJA) he took part in the inauguration of the African Journalists' Union (AJU) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Perhaps because government had detected his political affiliation and was afraid that he may use his position in the government media to favour the Opposition, he was transferred to the Ministry of Education as the Principal Administration Officer. When he left the civil service, Rantao worked for the Botswana Federation of Employers, currently called Business Botswana.

Rantao, no doubt, did a lot for Botswana’s media. No wonder during his funeral the then MISA Botswana Chairperson, Amelia Malebane, said "…Rantao was well informed, a good reader and writer, a man with a razor blade sharp mind. Students of Media Studies at the University of Botswana were lucky to have been taught by such a man.’

Rantao, who became a Botswana National Front (BNF) activist in the 80s following his retirement from the civil service, had a selfless political career which was even admired by his political adversaries. He was elected Councilor for Village Ward in Gaborone in 1984.  

During Rantao’s funeral, the then Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Daniel Kwelagobe, said “Rantao's death is a great loss. He was a functionary in his party and very articulate in discussing national issues. He was a very effective representative of the people”.

The then Specially Elected Member of Parliament (MP), Botsalo Ntuane, said Rantao's untimely death came as a great shock to him as a Parliamentary colleague. He continued to say "… despite being in the Opposition, he was an MP that I looked up to for Parliamentary practice and experience. His incisive and spot on contributions were always laced with good humor. In Parliament Rantao was friendly with everybody. We will miss him greatly."

Kwelagobe and Ntuane could not have been more right for Rantao’s life was lived for the people. In 1984 he was elected Councilor in the Gaborone City Council which he served until he was elected Mayor, a position he held until the early 90s when another BNF Councilor, Ginger Enerst, ousted him. In 1994 he contested the then newly delimitated Gaborone West constituency and became its first MP.

However, Rantao’s political career was blemished by his decision to defect from the BNF. Following the infamous BNF infighting at a congress held in Palapye in 1998, Rantao, together with eleven other MPs, defected from the BNF and formed the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). In the 1999 general elections he lost his Parliamentary seat to Robert Molefhabangwe of the BNF.

It is this defection which negated the gains the BNF had made over the years and ensured the BDP’s recovery and continued rule to date. Were it not for the defection and the formation of the BCP, of which Rantao was instrumental given the influence he wielded at the time, the BDP would have likely lost the 1999 general elections.

At the BCP Rantao’s political life waned and although he was the party’s spokesman until he re-joined the BNF in 2002 his political life was never the same. In his apology for defecting from the BNF to the BCP he said "I used to be Saul now I am Paul".

Rantao was a journalist by training who put his journalism training to great use. As Information and Publicity Secretary, he effectively communicated the party position and rebutted BDP media statements that were detrimental to the party.  

After politics, he returned to his first love-journalism. He worked as a journalism lecturer at the University of Botswana, albeit for a short time. Rantao departed this world having authored the following publications: Botswana Political Diarist magazine; Independence Pimples and Payoffs; Impact of the Press of Public Policy Making in Botswana (MA Desertation, University of Botswana), and Makatolole Number One.

At the time of his departure from this world, Rantao had just authored and caused to be published an educative and scholarly book entitled Setswana Culture and Tradition. He was still working on the launch of his book entitled “Mokatolole.”

Rantao, affectionately called “Ostrich” because of his height and majestic walk, understood the plight of workers. When he left Parliament in 1999 he championed labour issues and represented workers through the labour consultancy company he ran with Jerry Gabaake. He also worked for the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU).

In June 1999 Rantao moved the famous motion where he wanted government to accept the 154 per cent wage increase demand by the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Manual Workers Union.

In motivating the motion Rantao said "…in the interest of social and distributive justice, Parliament should request government to accept the long-standing demand for a 154 per cent wage increase to cushion the effects of the rising inflation which has substantially eroded their purchasing power."

Rantao said it was important to listen to workers' unions when they complain about their salaries. He said government had ignored the workers for a very long time, noting that since the Union asked government to increase the minimum wage to P600 eight years ago, it had now been eroded by inflation.

Rantao’s shortcomings notwithstanding, he is no doubt a hero who deserves mention as we celebrate our country’s 50th anniversary of independence. I cannot put it better than Malebane who, during his funeral, said “Rantao's life was dedicated to politics, journalism, education and knowledge. He propelled the society towards the realization of Vision 2016. He suggested achievable things; he talked about achievable things…”

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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