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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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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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