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18 Nov 2018

For a few months now, since his inauguration, President Masisi has been under sustained attack from all fronts. He has faced fierce attack from some in the BDP itself, some in the opposition block and most recently from a select brigade of journalists. I have been impressed by his fortitude of character and composure in the midst of such unwarranted assault on him. Recently I was recently shocked by an article by Ryder Gabathuse from that other newspaper. It is titled: Masisi’s appointments a southern affair. The article is linked to a front page graphic with the title: “Masisi appointments raise eyebrows” whose story appears on page three. It is easy to see through the story though. It is a made up story dressed up as reporting. What it does is expresses the prejudice of the writer from Francistown by gathering and interviewing a few of his friends who have a hostile view of President Masisi. There is no research, no statistics to support the claims articulated in the article except some unsubstantiated perceptions of an unknown population. The story is purely bogus and lacks any merit. Here are its central claims. It claims that President Masisi has appointed many people from the “South” – we will return to this matter of the south later. Examples of persons who have been appointed by the President are The Secretary of the IEC (who was actually appointed in 2016!), The Police Commissioner (who was not appointed by President Masisi), Commissioner of Prisons (not appointed by President Masis), The BDF Commander (Again not appointed by President Masisi), The Attorney General, and a few others. The accusation is that most of the President’s appointments are from three villages of Kanye, Moshupa and Thamaga. It is false that many of these appointments were by President Masisi. Many predate his presidency. Why are we asked to look at the village of origin of government appointees and leaders of parastatals? Does it matter? It’s a proxy for tribalism. We are actually asked to ask: From which tribe is this individual? The issue is actually not new. On April 4, 2018, Dr Nevah Tshabang, a member of the Botswana Congress Party and a Chemistry lecturer at the University of Botswana took to Facebook with the following post:

“Masisi used to be a member of an anti-Kalanga group Pitso-ya-Batswana. They used to fight very strongly with pro-Kalanga group Society for the Promotion of Ikalanga Language (SPIL). Looking at the fact that Bokalaka is the only area with no full minister in his cabinet, coupled with the dumping of Edwin Batshu from cabinet, despite the area being pro-BDP, must tell a story that Masisi has no place for Kalangas. Watch this space.”

I was amazed that a man with his academic credentials and social stature could publish such a reckless and tribally-divisive post on Facebook – a post that threatened to fuel and aggravated tribal tensions between his followers as well as within the general national public. Dr. Tshabang then develops a two-part second premise: (a) Bokalaka is the only area with no full minister in President Masisi’s cabinet (b) Edwin Batshu has been dumped from cabinet, despite him coming from a pro-BDP area. The argument was obviously false since there are actually a number of Bakalanga in President Masisi’s cabinet, possibly more than any other group. Hon Biggie Butale and Hon Fidelis Mmilili Macdonald Molao and possibly many others. Mr. Oteng Chilume, a Kalanga man himself and a journalist, dismisses Dr. Tshabang’s claims thus: “My view is that, people have their politics which become part of their general outlook on any number of issues. If I observe that Never's views are clouded by a subtle or open acerbic tribalism, I must speak about it as part of his character because that is the politics which influences his general bile... Questions of prejudice are influenced by a lot of personal choices, one of which is to openly and subtly fan hate and bigotry. But in the case of Never and his ilk, this stuff is then cloaked in academic platitudes or some such thing pretending to be. So, it becomes necessary to question these motives... In other words, it serves no real purpose for us to pretend Never made this comment as an objective academic, no matter the tone of academic authority he lends the view…” I believe Mr. Chilume was right.

I must however return to the fake North-South divide – the infamous Dibete divide. We need to reject the simplistic division suggested by some that Botswana has only two cardinal points: North and South and that by some mystery it lacks both East and West. It's a foolish division. Palapye, Mahalapye and Phikwe don't lie in the North, they are in the East. Ghanzi and Charleshill are in the West. The true South is Werda, Kang, and Khakhea, with Lobatse, Gaborone and Mochudi being on the South East. That whole stretch from Kasane to Mohembo is north. The CKGR is Central. I know that Dibete is supposed to be a North-South boundary. But why would anybody accept such a division when Dibete is really South East? If you wanted to slice Botswana into two halves you would have to slice it somewhere between Tshootsha and Ghanzi right through to Bobonong and Phikwe being in the Southern half. We have accepted these divisions without question to the point that a man from Mahalapye thinks he is from the North when he is actually from the East! Babirwa and Batswapong are not from the North, they are from the East! But do these divisions matter? Not much. Those who seize on them – like Mr Ryder Gabathuse use them as a proxy for tribal identification and another attempt to divide the country along non-existent boundaries. They claim false homogeneity of the so called South versus the so-called North. They are asking us to look at each other not as a single nation but along tribal lines – along regional lines. I shudder that once we take this view seriously and start seeing each other along these lines; we will write our national history in human blood and misery. It must be stated that the “southern affair” story is a typical exercise in selective reporting. It ignores appointments of individuals from other regions which have been made by President. It ignores that President Masisi has appointed Gobe Pitso Ambassador to Mozambique. It ignores the appointment of Hon. Bagalatia Arone, as Minister of Basic Education, the appointment of Hon. Bogolo Joy Kenewendo, as the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, The Assistant Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Hon. Machana Ronald Shamukuni, Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Hon. Nonofo Molefhi, Minister for Defence, Justice and Security, Hon. Shaw Kgathi, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hon. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Hon. Dorcus Makgato , Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs and His Honour the Vice President, Mr. Slumber Tsogwane.

Gabathuse goes further to expose his bigotry by arguing that “People are used to the dominance of northerners in the appointments to key positions in government therefore, a sudden change with no sufficient information on the logic of such moves is filled with suspicion and nagging doubts in the minds of people” Gabathuse’s writing is no journalism – it is a pathetic attempt to try and argue for and justify what he calls “dominance of northerners”. He is asking us to ask of every appointee: Where does he/she come from? He is begging us to be tribalists and judge each other on the basis of place of origin. This we must reject and fight for a unified Botswana. I am actually tempted to compare the previous administrations’ appointments with the current one – very tempted. Unfortunately I don’t have the space or the time.

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