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Golden jubilee profile: Lenyeletse Mpetwane Seretse (1920-1983)

Dr Jeff Ramsay


Botswana's second Vice-President was born on the 25th of June 1920 in Serowe, of a prominent Bangwato family being a direct descendent of Seretse aKgosi Sekgoma I. From early childhood he grew up as a close friend and confident of his paternal cousin Seretse Khama, emerging from the 1950s as his brother in law as well as key right hand man.

The early relationship between Lenyeletse and Seretse was apparently encouraged by the latter's uncle and regent Kgosi Tshekedi Khama who is said to have taken an active interest in assuring that the young prince was surrounded by, and forged bonds with, royal relative age mates of good character. These also included Lenyeletse's maternal cousin Dikgakgamatso Kebailele, Segorogola Lekhutile, the son of the then Botalatote headman and Goareng Segotso Mosinyi, the son of the Bakaa Kgosi at Kalamare who had maternal ties to the Khama and Kgamane families.

With Tshekedi's support, in 1937 Lenyeletse was sent to undertake secondary school studies alongside Seretse at Tiger Kloof. There they were also joined by Goareng Mosinyi and Serogolo Lekhutile.

In the winter 1944, following their graduation from Tiger Kloof Seretse and Lenyeletse were inducted into the Malekantwa age regiment. While Seretse was the formal head of the mophato, in apparent recognition of his organisational abilities as well as royal pedigree Lenyeletse was designated as his deputy thus becoming its acting leader.

In the same year Tshekedi showed further confidence in Lenyeletse's status as an up and coming leader among the Bangwato by appointing his as a delegate to the African Advisory Council, the territory wide body that then met in Mahikeng for consultations with the British Protectorate Administration.

When Seretse was exiled to London, Lenyeletse led the group of young, educated Bangwato who agitated for his return, many of whom were drawn from the ranks of the Malekantwa. Included in the circle were such future political stalwarts Monametse Chiepe (brother of Goasitwe Chiepe) Moutlakgola Nwako and Gaolese and Kenneth Koma.

Reaching beyond the ranks of the Malekantwa, Lenyeletse's circle of young intellectuals joined hands with elder political veterans Kgalemang Motsete and Leetile Raditladi to form a political association known as the Bamangwato National Congress to press for local reforms. Besides the return and installation as Kgosi of Seretse Khama their political agenda included the creation of a more inclusive Tribal Council, the end of prohibition and the London Missionary Society religious monopoly in the reserve as well as greater inter-communal solidarity.

After Seretse and Ruth were finally allowed to return from exile in 1956, Lenyeletse served as his Secretary. In this role he is credited with having played a facilitating role in reconciling the factions that had emerged between the previous supporters of Seretse and Tshekedi Khama, along with the Acting African Authority Rasebolai Kgamane.

In 1957, was elected onto the reformed Bangwato Tribal Council, while in 1958 he formed the Serowe Workers Union, which took up the cause of working conditions for employees of local traders. A year later the Union became part of the new Bechuanaland Protectorate Workers Union.

During the same period Lenyeletse was very active in promoting sports and cultural activities, including public debates, as the founder and Chairman of the Serowe Social Club. He also became a husband, marrying Seretse Khama's sister Naledi (Mmashimane).

In 1960, following the banning of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, Seretse deputized Lenyeletse to look after the ANC delegation led by Oliver Tambo, who were given temporary sanctuary in Serowe  as a first step towards the movement's establishment of its exiled wing.

Thereafter under Lenyeletse's leadership the Malekantwa were mobilized to provide discreet protection to the growing number of refugees and freedom fighters passing through Gammangwato, working alongside such ANC ''pipeline activists" Fish Keitseng and Klaas Motshidisi. In 1962 this included facilitating a top secret meeting between Seretse Khama and Umokonto we Sizwe leader Nelson Mandela.


Prominent among the South African exiles who stayed in Botswana and became associated with Lenyeletse's patronage were Patrick Van Rensburg, the author Bessie Head and Mochudi businessman and ANC activist Ishmael Matlhaku.

A member of the African Council, in 1961 Lenyeletse turned down approaches from Motsete and Motsamai Mpho to join the Bechuanaland Peoples Party (BPP). Instead, he was among those who actively urged Seretse Khama to form his own political movement, subsequently becoming a founder member of the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) in 1961-62.

From 1964 Lenyeletse Seretse served as the Bangwato tribal secretary. The following year he refused to stand for Parliament, preferring to concentrate on local politics and business interests in the Central District. He, nonetheless, was often called upon to act as an advisor and right hand man by Khama. In the process he served on a number of Commissions of Enquiry.

As the elected MP for Boteti in 1974 Lenyeletse finally joined Cabinet, where he ultimately held the portfolios in the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Local Government and Lands.

Following the death of Seretse Khama in 1980, Ketumile  Masire picked Lenyeletse Seretse to serve as his Vice President, as position he held until his death on the 3rd of July 1923.

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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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