No doubt, His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, has won the hearts of many, with some adoring him almost to the level of fanaticism.
For his die-hard supporters, especially those who hate his predecessor, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, with a passion, Masisi can do no wrong. He can say no wrong. He can think no wrong. He is mokgweetsi-the driver they have long awaited to take control of the vehicle which had lost direction under the reckless tutelage of Khama the dictator, an exact antithesis of his great grandfather, Khama the Great. According to them o abetswe botautona. Leadership has been bestowed upon him. To them he is God’s favored son is as far as leadership is concerned.
He is perhaps the only president in the world who is called a ‘boy’ since many of his supporters affectionately call him Sisboy, a name he seems to relish because it makes the youth identify with him. During his inauguration it rained so hard that the ceremony which was initially planned to be held outside Parliament was held inside Parliament. On 1st April this year, one year since his inauguration, it drizzled.
To his supporters, this showed that Masisi is in God’s favour. Such statements as Go Masisi have been uttered to show that his being brings reverence and serenity. Multiple songs have been composed in his name by his party, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). With just over a year in office, his party has published a book in his honour. His hitherto critics have become his praise singers. Trade Union veteran, Johnson Motshwarakgole has, at the risk of alienating his base, publicly praised him and, in fact, stated that he can vote for him.
BDP stalwarts who had been alienated by the Khama regime have publicly stated their unequivocal support for him, especially during the build up to the party’s presidential elections from which Dr. Pelonomi Venson Moitoi withdrew on the 11th hour, stating that the elections were a sham and had already been rigged. The question is: is Masisi’s popularity sustainable? To assist you to answer this question we consider the case of Khama and South African former president, Jacob Zuma.
Let us start with Khama. During the dawn of his presidency, he was so loved by many that he had attained a status of a demi-god. Many people, especially the elderly, used to be so overwhelmed by love that they cried when they saw him. His impromptu walk-abouts and house to house visits endeared him to thousands of Batswana who regarded him as the savior they had long awaited. I remember one elderly woman who, after shaking hands with him, stated, on live television, that she will not wash her hands for some days so that Khama’s touch soaks in her.
The old men who used to sit with him around his popular bond fires used to be so elated that they would cry. One of them, also on live television, stated, in tears, that he never thought he could ever bite a piece from the same meat (Lesuhu) that a president ate from. Khama, affectionately called Tshetha from Tshetha ya dikgwa, meaning lion of the jungle, had become so popular that his preferred fisher men’s jacket became the thing to wear, even in offices.
Masisi himself, especially when he was Minster of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, leading the poverty eradication programme, was the dress code’s ambassador. Even today, he wears it. If you did not have the jacket and the farmers’ hat you were not a person. Bachelorship nearly became the in thing since several of his proteges remained unmarried. Those who were married either divorced or became estranged from their wives.
If you spoke ill of Khama you risked being beaten or purged, at least. Desert racing, cultural events, Bakgalagadi’s Polka dance, grass root sport in the form of constituency tournaments, et cetera became the in thing because of his patronage. We turn to Zuma. He used to mesmerize the masses with his singing, especially the popular liberation song ‘A o lethi Mshini wami’, loosely translated to mean bring my machine gun.
His popularity, especially among his tribesmen, the Zulu, was so unprecedented that some believe it even surpassed that of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Even when he faced one of the most heinous crimes, rape, his supporters were undeterred, even threatening harm against his accuser, the late Fezekile "Khwezi" Kuzwayo. Being charged with corruption in fact made him a celebrity, with thousands of his supporters bracing unforgiving weather conditions to gather around court every time he went to court.
The African National Congress (ANC) recalled his predecessor, former president Thabo Mbeki, simply because he had removed Zuma as deputy president because of the corruption scandals he was facing. One of the charges he was facing was with respect to the Arms Deal, which charges were reinstated by former National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Shaun Abrahams, in 2018 after former NDPP, Advocate Mokoteti Mshe, dropped them in 2009.
There is one thing common about Khama and Zuma. When they left office, they were very unpopular, with Zuma suffering the same fate that he engineered against Mbeki when he was recalled by the ANC and resigned as state president, with only six months before the expiry of his constitutional term.
When Zuma was recalled by the ANC and resigned as president many of his cheer leaders abandoned him and aligned with his then deputy, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, whose political career nearly came to an end when Zuma, among others, peddled propaganda that Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sixwale were planning to overthrow the government. Though unlike Zuma, Khama finished his term, many, including his political proteges have forsaken him and are riding the Go Masisi wave. Masisi, who, by all accounts, owes his presidency to Khama, is today Khama’s nemesis.
Khama is no longer referred to as Rraetsho, but he is called with derogatory words that are not worth repeating in this article. But, why has Zuma and Khama suffered this fate? In the case of Botswana, former president Festus Mogae was far less popular than Khama, but after leaving office he did not suffer the humiliation that Khama is suffering. Similarly, in the case of South Africa, Mbeki was not even half as popular as Zuma, but his dignity has remained intact post his retirement.
In my view, the difference is that, by and large, Mogae and Mbeki’s leadership was guided by principle and not sheer political expediency. Of course, like all humans, they erred, but their presidencies were not characterized by folly. Like all politicians they made promises, some improbable to achieve, but they seldom exploited the peoples’ ignorance and trust. Put simply, they did not take the people for granted.
Mogae, for instance, was well known for calling a spade a spade. If, based on evidence, there was no case for salary increments, for instance, he made none despite the political ramification that would ensue. When the Tsolamosese squatters had to be evicted, he ordered their evictions despite the fact that, at the time, the BDP desperately needed to win at least one constituency in or around Gaborone. When people hurled slurs at him, he said le nna ke a le ikomanyetsa, meaning that he will also hurl slurs at them.
That notwithstanding, he has continued to enjoy respect among Batswana more than ten years since he retired. The question is: will Masisi’s popularity endure up to the end of his presidency and beyond? Just this week, after he stated he will not rest until Kgosi Kgafela comes back to Botswana, many Batswana began to question his sincerity. Many asked why he will only do that now when he is in fact the person who contributed to Kgosi Kgafela’s escape to South Africa when he was Minster of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration.
Many wondered why he is only saying that now at the eve of the general elections when he failed to do that for the past one year. They wondered whether this is not a ploy to lure Bakgatla to vote for the BDP. Some posed the popular Rapitsenyana question ‘one o le bokgakala bo kae’ when Kgabo was forced to flee his country, leaving his tribe without their Kgosi. Others referred to one of Masisi’s inaugural promises that he will, as a matter of priority, table the long-awaited Declaration of Assets & Liabilities Bill, stating that more than one year since he assumed office the Bill has not been tabled.
In my view, because of Masisi’s over promises; his insincerity at times, his propensity to ride on division, even tribal division, and, in some instances, taking Batswana for a ride for political expediency, his popularity may not last his term and beyond. Already, beyond the Kang euphoria, some are beginning to realize that there was nothing after all. Of course, he, especially within the BDP, still has momentum because of the forthcoming general elections.
But, beyond the elections, things may change. Batswana are going to start demanding the jobs and better life Masisi has been promising. By then, the Khama question may no longer be the distraction he currently is. Some of his ardent supporters will have been disappointed by not being appointed ministers, specially elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and nominated Councilors, and they would have switched factions.
If things do not change and he lasts his full term, which is likely because of the melancholic state of the Opposition, his lame duck days may be worse than those of Khama. But, that is assuming the BDP will win the forthcoming elections. Things may get worse for Masisi should the new Khama led party be formed. This may result in a hung Parliament, and a coalition between the new party and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) or Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) or Alliance for Progressives (AP) may relegate the BDP to the opposition benches.
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.
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.
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.