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Botswana Sitting on Ethnic Time-BOMB

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy

Utterances linked to Phagenyana Phage have been the subject of heated discussions on face-book and mainstream media.  Because the issue was raised at a political forum it is difficult to disassociate it from partisan politics.

Opposing political formations have weighed in to say that the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) must take responsibility and apologise without condition. It would appear an apology by the BCP Secretary General rubbed Batswapong cultural activists the wrong way. In particular they rejected the Bangwaketsi and Barolong analogy.  They were dead correct in the sense that the relationship between Bangwaketsi and Barolong or Bangwato and Bakgatla is not identical or similar to the relationship that exists between Bangwato and Batswapong.  

Under the current set up that is perpetrated by the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) by the way, Batswapong  are subjects of Bangwato.  This is the case despite the fact that the constitution of Botswana declares as unlawful discrimination of all forms including one based on gender, ethnicity, and disability.  Therefore the issue of distasteful jokes or go taopa does not arise in relation to Batswapong and Bangwato.

Having been closely associated with Phagenyana Phage over several decades I can attest to the fact that he is not a bigot in any way. He is a skilled political orator full of humour. However, the issue is not whether he is tribalistic or not, but how people to whom the utterances were directed feel.  Batswapong and Batswana of all persuasions were obviously hurt.  I know that others are asking themselves why there is such an outcry when so many distasteful jokes have been said about Batswapong in song, music and poetry.

The painful truth is that Botswana is sitting on an ethnic time-bomb. The expressed anger is a culmination of prolonged cultural deprivation as well as oppressive and discriminatory laws that have been allowed to exist for more than half a century since independence. This could be the last straw that has the potential to break the camel’s back. The so-called minority ethnic groups feel despised and marginalized.  They legitimately feel aggrieved. Recent developments have not helped the situation.  

It all began with the Wayeyi who successfully challenged the discriminatory laws culminating in the recognition of the ethnic group.  It is only in Botswana where a whole tribe has to go to court to seek official existence and recognition.  Surprisingly it turned out to be a hollow victory since the Kgosi from Wayeyi is not treated the same way as Dikgosi from the eight so-called major tribes.  One of the stumbling blocks for full ethnic equality is the Tribal Territory’s Act. Needless to say it is government of the day that is unwilling to amend such offensive and divisive laws.

Carter Morupisi, a man of Tswapong origin, who happens to be the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) and government chief policy advisor, is partly responsible for the current state of affairs. He cannot absolve himself from the mess.  I still recall an incident where a Senior Minister of Ngwato background officiating at a cultural gathering organized by LLB at Ramokgonami addressed the people as Bagammangwato. He further reminded Batswapong not to be misled to think that they are an independent ethnic group.  I was among a few people who immediately objected to such an insult and wondered how a person who holds such views was considered suitable to officiate at an LLB cultural event.  

The recent fury over the objection of Bangwaketsi tribal leaders against having Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele adorned with a leopard skin during his coronation reignited the sensitive issue of ethnic inequality in Botswana. Following the Phage debacle we came across comments from unexpected individuals with close links to the ruling BDP and an Assistant Minister attempting to speak against a policy of ethnic inequality that continues to be promoted and defended by their party. These individuals are obviously being disingenuous.

They have no track record of fighting for the rights of minorities. Instead they have stood with their party in its stance of perpetuating the marginalization the majority of citizens based on their ethnicity. When the BDP government forcibly removed residents of Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve peddling lies they were conspicuously silent. The voice of the BCP was loud and clear in rejecting a ruthless government policy.  

In 2014 general elections BCP was unequivocal about the rights of minorities. We advocated for the introduction of mother-tongue as a medium of instruction.  In fact we were the only political party that translated our election manifesto into three minority languages. We have been consistent. Our position on these issues has unsettled government and some ethnic supremacists who frequently accuse us of tribalism. This was not helped by the fact that out of four individuals who ever led the BCP only one was from the so-called major tribes.

The Assistant Minister mentioned above was present when his party abused its majority to defeat a motion to review the Botswana Constitution by Dithapelo Keorapetse, Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West.  Both Members of Parliament representing the two Tswapong constituencies toed the party line to defeat the motion. Ntlo Ya Dikgosi also shot down a similar motion presented by Kgosi Galeakanye Modise of Tswapong Region following strong objections by Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration representing government.  The motions by Keorapetse and Modise were partly aimed at ensuring that there is real equality of citizens before the constitution.

I have come across face-book postings from some individuals challenging me to say something about the issue at hand.  Without enquiring why, I could only speculate that they made the demand because they know my position on the national question in general and the issue of ethnic inequality in Botswana in particular; a founder member of Lentswe La Batswapong (LLB), a pressure group promoting cultural diversity and ethnic equality; and also the Deputy Leader of the BCP which without doubt is the leading voice advocating for ethnic equality.  I took the challenge well aware that the issue is being addressed at the highest level between BCP and LLB.

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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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