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Remembering the unwanted: Maitshwarelo “Dabs" Dabutha (1937-2000)

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

We continue with the series where we remember those of our heroes and heroines who, though unwanted by government, made immense contributions to the legacy we will be celebrating this year. This week we remember Maitshwarelo “Dabs" Dabutha who was born in Serowe in 1937 and passed away in 2000.

In remembering Dabutha’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.

"Dabs," as he was affectionately called, also had another nickname: "Bombshell." According to the Daily News’s edition of 11th July 2000 “he started his education in Serowe at Western Primary School and proceeded to Moeng College.”

The report goes on to say “after his education Dabutha went to work at Botswana Postal Services from 1961 to 1966. He then left the post office to work at Botswana Breweries and later joined the then Rhodesia Railways.”

It is through politics that Dabs left an indelible mark in Botswana’s history.  As a Member of Parliament (MP) he served in various committees, among them the Public Accounts Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Finance and Government Assurance Committee. In 1997 he served as a member of the Constituency Grading Committee. He was also a member of the Princess Marina Hospital Advisory Committee.

According to the Daily News report, “Dabs joined the Botswana National Front (BNF) and became its councilor for Extension Two in Gaborone in 1979. Five years later he became the party's MP for Gaborone North…”

Dabutha was such a political goliath that, as reported by Lekopanye Mooketsi in Africa News Service’s edition of 31st August 2006,  the then Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MP for Shoshong, Duke Lefhoko, in  lamenting that Opposition MPs had become too quiet, ascribed such to, among other things,  the departure of Dabutha.

According to the report, Lefhoko said “…Parliamentary debates used to be so lively during the days of the likes of the late Opposition MP, Maitshwarelo Dabutha.”

Dabutha, who first won the Gaborone North constituency, was, as stated by then Mmegi Staffers Gideon Nkala, Ryder Gabathuse and Onalenna Modikwa just a week before the 2009 general elections, the darling of the Opposition.

Dabutha was indeed the darling of the Opposition. According to Mmegi’s Online edition of 8th November 2005, “…The 1979 general elections were a nightmare for the BNF. It was a political massacre for the opposition who only managed to attain one council seat through the late Maitshwarelo Dabutha. Dabutha won by a margin of one vote!”

Dabutha also agitated for linguistic and cultural rights. According to Lydia Nyati-Ramahobo’s article entitled ‘The Language Policy, Cultural Rights and the Law in Botswana’ published by the Linguistic Agency (University of Duisburg-Essen) “…in 1988, …Dabutha of the Botswana National Front (BNF) moved that Sections 77,78 &79 of the Botswana Constitution be amended, as they excluded other tribal groups represented in Botswana.”

Unfortunately, the motion did not pass. According to Ramahobo “One of the comments that were made at the end of that debate was made by one of the Tswana Parliamentarians and he said, “we defeated them” (Republic of Botswana, 1988: 511, also see Nyati-Ramahobo, 2000: 291). This is regrettable if this statement was based on ethnicity.

Ramahobo, however, writes that “It could be argued that he statement ‘we defeated them’ may have been uttered along party line rather than ethnic lines, since both non-Tswana and Tswana of the ruling party had voted against it. Thus the defeated in this case was the (BNF).”

Thanks to the seed planted by Dabutha, according to Ramahobo, “… In 1995, a member of the ruling party made the same motion and this time it passed. The opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) had won ten new sits in the 1994 general elections and the ruling party realised that this issue may have played a major role.”

However, Dabutha’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, Dabutha, together with ten other MPs, defected from the BNF and formed the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). In the 1999 general elections he lost his Parliamentary seat.

There are reports that Dabutha’s adversarial demeanor and conduct played a major role in the BNF split in 1998. There were even allegations that he had a gun and wanted to shoot some people during the Palapye congress.

However, during his funeral the then BCP President, Michael Dingake, dismissed such allegations as false, stating that “…It was unfortunate that Dabutha died while trying to clear his name at the High Court.”

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 Dabutha was instrumental given the influence he wielded at the time, the BDP would have likely lost the 1999 general elections.

Dabs, however, did not go into political oblivion since he remained the Director of Elections at the BCP, a position that was synonymous with his name at his first political home, the BNF. He also served as a member of the BCP Central committee.

Dabs was such a colossal figure in Botswana’s politics that during his funeral the then Acting Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Tebelelo Seretse, described him as a founding father of democracy who had taught Botswana the spirit of tolerance. She said “Dabutha was a dignified man who never insulted other people but preferred, instead, to tease them.”

The then BCP president, Michael Dingake, said “…our party has lost a foot soldier… Dabutha was patient and a good speaker. He uplifted the BNF and the party, in turn, depended on him.” The then Deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Bahiti Temane, said “Dabutha always represented the needs of Batswana without partisan bias, whenever he was sent on a Parliamentary mission to other countries… Dabutha would be remembered for among other things, his motion that government should pay full salaries to women on maternity leave.”

Dabutha’s blemishes 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 the then President, Festus Mogae, who, during Dabs’s funeral said “Dabutha’s death is a loss not only to his family but also to Batswana and the country's political discourse.”

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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