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In her earth-shattering autobiography, the Speaker of the Botswana parliament, Margaret Nnananyana Nasha, retraces the journey of her life from Kanye to apartheid-era Soweto where she learnt to speak fluent Zulu and back home to Bechuanaland to avoid collision with Bantu education. Decades later, she was handling high-profile diplomatic assignments in London, a leaderless Romania as well as in a tumultuous Lesotho held hostage by a military junta. At no point does she leave out any salacious or mind-boggling detail.
As a teenager, Nnanyana nearly fell prey to a romance-by-force practitioner called Molaso whose patience was fast running out when she wouldn’t say “Yes” to his love proposal. Word around the village was that this boy would beat up girls who spurned his amorous advances and so, even as she shook her head vigorously, she knew that such fate awaited her a few “Nos” down the road.
Molaso would wait for her at the communal stand pipe and when she appeared, would pimp-stroll over and start regaling her with a pack of lies about his undying love for her. The sexual harassment only stopped when she reported the matter to her elder brother, Stock, a highly accomplished bare-knuckle fighter who peppered the scrawny boy with a hurricane of full-strength blows one that left him crumpled on the ground, a bloodied unboyfriendly-looking mess. Right there on the ground that he had long used to hunt girls, Molaso’s undying love for Nnanyana proved to be mortal and he, slinked away, never to return to this particular standpipe.
After her Junior Certificate, she proceeded to Gaborone Secondary School where she was in the same class with Daniel Kwelagobe, Meshack Mokone and Ted Makgekgenene. Mokone, as she recalls, was a star footballer, much more agile than Kwelagobe. The latter “was a lazy player who did not want to run around the field of play. As one of the defenders, all he did every time the ball came his way, was to kick it very hard, sending it as far as the opposing team’s penalty area. Then he would sit down and wait for the ball to repeat the whole routine when the ball came back.” Neither did he study hard unless that involved having to lock himself up in a storeroom at the back of the classroom and listening to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Nasha and Kwelagobe would be reunited at the Department of Broadcasting which sent both of them to the United Kingdom for about three months to train as programme producers at the BBC. This was at a time that throwing up on airplanes was a standard flying experience for Batswana and so when after an old Dakota DC3 took off, Nasha fell sick all the way up to Jan Smuts International Airport in Johannesburg where she was to board a connecting flight to London.
The English city was also where a British lady at the BBC training centre “forced” Nasha to buy her first handbag because as the latter reasoned, it was unladylike for a woman to walk the streets not so accessorised.
Marriage was not a priority for her which is why she married Lawrence Nasha in 1975 after the birth of two sons and a lot of cajoling from parents on both sides of the family. However, this match was definitely not made in heaven as the book shows. Along the way, the marriage got a little too crowded.
“My job at the Department of Information and Broadcasting entailed a lot of travelling, both locally and abroad. Every trip I went on had to be preceded by an in-depth explanation. I had to explain the purpose of the trip, when I would be coming back, and with whom I would be travelling. You need not be a rocket scientist to tell why the issue of whom I would be travelling with was always brought up,” she writes.
The irony is that Lawrence was breaking his marital vows and doing a bad job of keeping that a secret. In one instance, Nasha did recon work to locate the house of the other woman and when she returned hours later, found the couple all lovey-dovey outside the house, with the woman’s breasts “hanging out for her partner in crime to enjoy.”
As she ricocheted around duty stations in the civil service, Nasha would end up at Foreign Affairs where her first assignment was as Botswana’s high commissioner to Britain. The counsellor at the Botswana mission was Sasara George, a tall heavily-built gentleman “who looked more of an ‘Excellency’ than the short woman with kinky hair standing next to him. In fact, very often I was mistaken for his wife.” The education attaché was Odirile Gabasiane, the founder of Ba Isago University College, who would accompany Nasha on visits to reputable universities in both UK and Ireland. The mission was campaigning for admission of students from the University of Botswana’s pre-entry science course (PESC) to study medicine and other science-based courses.
Back home in Botswana, Nasha went to work at the headquarters of the ministry of foreign affairs - as it then was. One day, President Sir Ketumile Masire sent Nasha and her minister (Gaositwe Chiepe) on a secret and highly dangerous mission to help quell the fighting in Lesotho. The army had toppled the government, one contingent had taken position atop a mountain overlooking Maseru, the capital city, and the situation was worsening by degrees. Nasha and Chiepe were flown into this war zone by two Afrikaner pilots (armed to the teeth) who had sent by President Nelson Mandela. Masire, Mandela and indeed all regional leaders, were quite anxious to have Lesotho return to normal. During the subsequent peace talks, the rebel leaders proved extremely difficult to deal with until Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe reminded them what the stakes were.
“Look here guys. If it is war you want, it is war you will get. I am now talking to you as a soldier. If you think you’re secure on that mountain, you are fooling yourselves. We will bomb out of there, and we shall not stop bombing until the mountain is flattened out. You think these are the days of Moshoeshoe of old?” the book quotes Merafhe as saying.
Coming out of the civil service, Nasha waded into politics and for her, this phase marked the fulfilment of ambition she had harboured for years. She aligned herself with what came to be known as the Kwelagobe’s faction, attending her very first (secret) meeting at a Tlokweng house where she was asked to run for chairperson of the women’s wing and assured of victory. When she won against a more experienced candidate and with never having campaigned, she began to ask herself serious questions about her new vocation.
In 1999, she defeated Michael Dingake for the Gaborone Central parliamentary seat but lost it to Dumelang Saleshando in the next election. President Festus Mogae brought her back as specially elected MP and appointed her to cabinet as local government minister. Having changed factions, she supported Lieutenant General Ian Khama for the BDP chairmanship at the 2003 national congress in Gantsi. Khama won and when he began to assert his authority, it was only then that even his supporters began to realise what they had done to themselves and their party. Through his effective time management, Khama curtailed party debates and by extension, freedom of speech.
Nasha writes: “I think therefore, it would be fair to say that a sizeable number of Madomkrag have been left disillusioned about President Ian Khama’s leadership of the BDP. The troubling thing is that they will not talk openly about it. They just simply won’t. Instead they prefer to talk about their frustrations and disagreements with the status quo in private. Behind closed doors, so to speak. In short, they prefer to gossip instead of talk in BDP forums about their concerns, with a view to correcting what they believe is wrong in the party - and that is a serious cause for concern.”
Fittingly, the book ends in the here-and-now where Nasha is speaker of the Botswana parliament, a position she vigorously campaigned for while she was still MP, and hopes to return to after this year’s general election.
The title of the book, “Madam Speaker Sir” comes from what was actually said by MPs who had known male speakers all their parliamentary careers and were having a hard semantic time adjusting to the new order. As speaker, Nasha says that she has not shied away from making unpopular decisions when she felt she had to.
‘I do not, and will not make unfair and skewed decisions based on partisanship and I believe that this approach has earned me respect across party lines. My principle is that as speaker, I should never make decisions that I cannot explain, and that has worked for me,” she writes.
The book, which was published by one of Botswana’s largest publishing houses, Diamond Educational Publishers, was officially launched last Thursday evening at the Gaborone International Convention Centre.