Bakwena breaks new ground
by Naledi Mokgwathi
How does it feel to know that the president is the one who appointed you? According to the media, no one suggested you to him. He had you in mind when it was time to appoint the ombudsman.
The presidency in accordance with the Ombudsman Act appoints the ombudsman, but of course, after consultation with the leader of the housing parliament. So one would not have been privy to the process before the appointment, but what pleases me immensely is the fact that whatever process that was involved, I was the one that was decided upon by His Excellency.
Q: Historically, the appointment of the ombudsman has always been met with mixed feelings. How would you put the hearts of Batswana at rest? I mean, the question on our minds is that would you be able to perform your duties as an ombudsman independently without feeling obliged to favour the Office of the President, where/when they are involved in the matters reported?
Actually I can understand why people would have mixed feelings about who appoints the ombudsman. It sounds as if the ombudsman should be appointed by God. But in real life and in the processes that we employ at the moment, you have somebody who is given the responsibility to do so. I believe when they choose, they have to look at someoneís integrity because it doesnít help the nation if they donít. It doesnít help them, the appointing authority, to get someone who will be easily influenced. Sometimes you may not even be influenced by the appointing authorities themselves. You may be influenced by groups of influential people in the country.
Q: With the journey you have taken throughout your life, one would say that you would be the best representative of the voiceless. How have you lived up to this expectation?
Ultimately, itíll be up to the people that you call the voiceless to say whether I have lived up to their expectations. I hope I am doing everything possible. The best way I know how it should be done.
Q: Is it easy for an ordinary Motswana to walk into your offices and demand to speak to you directly if they feel their complaints have been not been given the kind of attention they deserve?
I believe so. In fact, the office of the ombudsman has an open door policy but at the same time we have procedures that should be followed. When someone gets into this office, there is a process that they should follow. But if someone insisted that they just want to see the ombudsman, itíll be explained what he or she misses by jumping to see the ombudsman. But if they insist, yes, they can see the ombudsman directly.
Q: Doesnít the more you ascend the ladder make you less connected to the ordinary man? If not, how do you keep yourself connected to every Motswana?
As a person, you are not just a worker, even the ombudsman has relatives and all my relatives make the whole social spectra of the whole of Botswana. I have relatives and I have my own children that are ordinary Batswana and I attend social gatherings. So no, I donít feel that way. Especially, since I know and I believe that I am a Motswana thatís down to earth. Unless someone tells me differently. But, I donít believe I feel removed at all.
Q: Should we expect to see you moving into the world of politics?
This question I have been asked before and I was not ready for it. Now I am ready. People do say Ďnever say neverí but right now, thatís not where I am heading.
Q: I read somewhere where you said that you had an organization you belong to and that if it takes politics to make it a success, youíll join politics.
Yes. Thatís what I said when I was not ready. I was actually referring to an association that we have formed as the students of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. You can imagine that it is all very senior citizens. Itís an association that has big ambitious projects. We are looking at leadership development from two fronts, where you take children from very early childhood, 0 to 5, hoping that this is where you will inculcate the right values for leadership and citizenship. A citizenship that is not just of Botswana but a citizen of the region and a citizen of the world. This is what we benefitted by going to BOLESWA because it was a university owned by three governments. This is something for which I have passion for, and something of which when I am done with all active participation in the public office, I will retire into.
Q: As a woman in a manís territory, you will be expected to put in twice the effort in order to prove that you can do the job. How do you manage to do this?
I believe that leadership is for woman. It is not a manís territory. Leadership is for people who have compassion and women have a lot of it. Itís for people who have empathy and itís for people who have commitment and when it comes to commitment, we take the prize. Your questions is that do I work twice as much, the fact of the matter is that society has decided that if you are a woman you have to prove yourself beyond reasonable doubt. Yes, of course, you have to work hard. I have always known that I have to work harder right from my school days, sometimes not to prove myself but to satisfy myself because I believe in actualizing myself to the fullest. I am happy when I know that I did my best even if someone tells me that my best was not good enough.
Q: When you first started your career as a teacher in a secondary school in the 70s, did you ever imagine that you would get this far in your career?
I think I had a very clear vision of what I wanted out of life. First of all, I wanted a good education but I had it as a secondary school teacher, but I improved myself, after that. I also wanted to have a family and a good job. I believe that teaching gave me the experience I needed.
This is where you are given the opportunity to actualize yourself without boundaries. And it is a selfless job because it is not about you but about your pupils. You want them to do well. When you do your work well and people see you do that work, they give you another challenge on another level. One thing I have learned as a child is that I should always commit truly and do whatever I have agreed to do and give it my best. One thing you should know is that I was never accelerated in my job. I always took extra assignments on whichever level I was at. So when I progress to the next level, I was already ready for that level. I believe my vision prepared me to take the right steps at the right time. And to get to the highest level without rattling. I must say that I did foresee the appointment of the ombudsman. I was not surprised, because I took firm and good steps along the way.
Q: You have mentioned that you are a mother, grandmother and aunt, amongst other titles, how do you manage to tackle these duties and your work?
I come from a very big family. I come from a family of eight members and we all have children and grandchildren, and it is a family that is very close-knit and my husband also comes from a big family. One thing that we try to bring to our families is a good value system. We are a family that values hard-work and that everything you get, has to be earned. We also develop talent in the family like leadership. Since I am the oldest and my husband is the oldest on his side, we do what we call succession planning. We develop people to take care of things. It really helps to take off the load and as a close-knit family, you can never not know about a challenge in the family.
Wherever I work, I also make sure that I do that as well. You have talents in the workplace. You have people that can do the job, so as a leader; you have to delegate people. But people take care of themselves. They are not taken care of by me, necessarily, even though they may ultimately ask for advice from me. Another thing is that, I have two children, two grandchildren and the old man, these are people who are very supportive.
Q: How do you stay unfazed by the criticisms you may get in your line of work?
I believe very strongly that, there is Festinah the worker, and Festinah the Motswana from Molepolole and Letlhakeng. When a criticism comes and it is a genuine criticism, I donít have any issue with it. I listen and I make amends. But when a criticism comes and it is an unfair criticism, and itís not telling the truth I just tell myself that, that one is not mine because it is not telling the truth, but I generally, try to keep an open mind towards criticism.
Q: And what would be your words of advice to the young women out there who might be aiming for this kind of position in future? Or even the Presidency?
Like the Chinese often say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. You canít wait till you are my age, to start doing things. You start where you are. You have to have a good attitude even in your school work. If you are given work that awards 100%, you shouldnít get 50% and be satisfied with it. Who are you leaving the other 50% with? So the thing is to give your best in whatever you do. Actualize your potential to the fullest. It doesnít mean you will achieve everything but the satisfaction that you get, is that you have actualized your abilities and capabilities to the fullest. There is a quote in Chinua Chebeís Things Fall Apart that I like, ďWhen a child washes his hands, he can eat with the elders.Ē Washing your hands means proving that you can be given responsibilities at a high level.