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Are Batswana truly still a tolerant people?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima


For decades, Botswana has been, rightly so, internationally acclaimed as a beacon of democracy, characterized by, among other admirable attributes, tolerance, peace and unity. This has been our pride as a nation. It is because of this that we have, like a zebra, earned our stripes among the community of nations. This has indeed been our asset; our bargaining power; our leverage in international relations and diplomacy.

Truth be told, it is because of this asset that we have been able to have a seat at tables we ordinarily would not have had a seat at considering the size of our population and the fact that we are a land locked country. Our peaceful nature, predicated on the virtues of Botho, tolerance and unity which are the hallmarks of our being as a people, has made us strategic in as far as the world’s geo-politics is concerned.

Yet, signs are beginning to emerge which show an erosion on this asset we have. For the first time since I was born, I am beginning to ask myself whether we, as a people, are truly still tolerant of one another. By its very definition, tolerance entails broad mindedness; open mindedness; and acceptance. Put simply, it entails accepting others inspite of such differences as race, tribe, gender, religion, political opinion, etc.

Take the case of the former President, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama for instance. Granted, as a result of his rule, and even his conduct after his retirement, our country has become very polarized. But this does not warrant the abuse he has received from some of our people, especially through social media. What else can a comment that suggests that Dr. Khama is not a real Motswana and should go back to England be ascribed to other than racism?

We may differ with Dr. Khama and even admonish him for his leadership failures, but I think it will be wrong for anyone to be so intolerant of his familial origin and skin color as to question his patriotism. Take the case of Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Simply because she decided to exercise her democratic right to challenge His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Keabetswe Eric Masisi, for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) presidency she is being abused, especially in social media. Some have become so petty and desperate as to ridicule her looks.

What comes to the fore from this unfortunate abuse is the fact that her major sin is that she is a woman. This despite the fact that though, as a nation, we have our flaws in as far a gender equality is concerned, many nations look up to us. I was shocked when former president, Festus Mogae, during a recent interview with the Voice newspaper, stated that he is disappointed with Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s decision to challenge H.E Dr. Masisi.

According to him, Dr. Venson-Moitoi has defied the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)’s tradition that once elected a party president is not challenged for the duration of his constitutional term as state president which is an aggregate of ten years. The truth is that it is Mogae’s position which is disappointing for it shows lack of tolerance for Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s freedom to choose when to contest the elections. What is worse is that, in my view, the real reason why Mogae is opposed to Dr. Venson-Moitoi’s candidature is that she is a woman.

Regrettably, Mogae’s views were echoed by former Speaker of the National Assembly, Matlapeng Ray Molomo. The other case that shows lack of tolerance among our people is that of the former Director General of the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Colonel Isaac Kgosi. Following his arrest by members of the DISS, among them his successor, Brigadier Peter Magosi, this week, those who expressed a sympathetic view towards him, and his family were mercilessly abused through social media.

Insults, some of which bothered on tribalism and sexism, were hurled at fellow Batswana for merely asking whether it was necessary for the arrest to be done in such a dramatic manner which likely violated his right to dignity. Only the opinions of those opposed to Kgosi mattered. The other people’s opinions did not matter. In fact, they were labelled as traitors and hypocrites who at one time called for Kgosi’s arrest, but now masqueraded as human rights champions.

The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) was criticized for stating that it is against the holly wood style arrest of any citizen, including Kgosi. But, what the UDC sought to do was to emphasize that while Kgosi’s arrest may be a welcome development, it has to be done in such a manner that does not violate his rights. Granted, Kgosi’s reign as DISS Director General was very divisive and he possibly has a case to answer for some of the allegations levelled against him, but that does not mean that he has no rights as a human being. Like all of us, he has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Even if he is prosecuted and convicted, most of his human rights remain inviolable, some inalienable. The only rights to be limited by the state will be his rights to liberty and freedom of movement, provided that such limitation shall be reasonable. In my view, a nation’s human right record should not be judged by how well it treats its best of citizens, but by how well it treats all its citizens, including the worst. It is very easy to abandon virtue when dealing with those we regard as less virtuous, yet true virtue applies to all, even society’s outcasts.

My fear is that this rising degree of intolerance will imperil our peace and stability, thereby eroding our democracy. Unfortunately, it takes long to attain a state of peace and stability, but it takes a short time to destroy it and plummet into civil strife and war. It takes a few rogue soldiers and elements who are sympathetic to Dr. Khama or Kgosi, for instance, to attempt to overthrow the government, something which will forever affect our peace and stability.

Granted, the attempt may be foiled and fail, but its impact on our image globally will have far reaching implications as we will no longer be regarded as a peaceful country. Once that happens, such terrorist organizations as ISIS may take advantage and infiltrate us. According to Sunday Standard and the Botswana Gazette’s online editions, on Thursday, 17th January 2019, gun shots were fired after a pursuit of men who appeared to have been making a reconnaissance of Brigadier Magosi’s house fled and later abandoned their vehicle, resulting in one arrest.

This comes after media reports last week that intelligence had been picked highlighting security risks on the lives of President Dr. Masisi and Brigadier Magosi, the result of which is reported to have been the upgrading of the president’s security detail by recruiting retired members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF)’s special forces. The incident at Brigadier Magosi’s house is troubling in many respects. As some in social media have opined, it may have been staged by some in the DISS to give an excuse for it to crack down on suspected dissidents whom it suspects are aligned to Kgosi.

Alternatively, the incident may have been waged by someone in an effort to implicate Kgosi, especially in view of media reports that, during his arrest at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport this week, he made a statement that he will topple this government. In my view, it is very unlikely that the incident was waged by Kgosi or his associates. But either way it is troubling since it poses a security threat not only to functionaries of the state’s intelligence agencies, but also to the president himself.

The danger is that the incident, if not properly handled, may result in similar incidents or retaliatory incidents, something which may compel the government to declare a state of emergency. As you probably know, states of emergency forever cripple a country’s fiber since they have the effect of causing further civil strife. Our progenitors have bequeathed upon us an invaluable and timeless lesson that mafoko a kgotla a mantle otlhe. This adage, which promotes freedom of expression and speech, is at the heart of the virtue of tolerance.

Our forerunners have also bequeathed upon us the adage kgosi thotobolo e olela matlakala. Its morale is that a leader should be accommodative of all his or her subjects for they vary in make and character. Therefore, President Dr. Masisi has a decisive role to play at this time when our country is at cross roads. His is to put country above party; Batswana above BDP members; peace above positions and to unify our country, the pride of the world.

But it is not H.E Masisi’s duty alone. We too as citizens can, in our own little way, start by tolerating one another and avoiding divisive commentary, especially on public platforms. We should not underestimate the damage that one divisive tweet or Face Book post can cause. We live in a golden age where such ills as racism, xenophobia, tribalism and sexism have no place. These, together with other vices, are not a legacy we can be proud to bequeath to our future generations.

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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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