Friday, August 12, 2022

A Peasants’ Revolt playing out in Serowe

Any history student would know the circumstances and causes of a public rebellion in England that came to be known as the Peasants’ Revolt. While high taxes were at the centre of the rebellion, there were many underlying causes of the discontent including official impunity, corruption and serfdom, which had consumed the villagers for a while, but which had, unsurprisingly gone for too long without being addressed by the royalty that had grown so disdainful as to regard subservience of ordinary folks a part of God-given clutch of privileges.

When it happened the revolt was like wild fire in its reach, impact and speed. Together with their court jesters a good number of the royalty were lynched. Not only were the royalty unprepared for unfolding events, they also could not adduce reasons to explain it. They were totally gob-smacked, so to speak. In many ways that is exactly what is playing out in Serowe today as the Botswana Democratic Party prepares to go for primary elections in a week’s time. The royalty is at a loss to understand let alone explain what reasons lay behind what by all measure amounts to an uprising by the masses. Not only is Serowe the heartland of the ruling BDP, it also is the nerve centre and seat of power for the party’s rulers.

Under normal circumstances Serowe should be the last citadel to fall. But these are no ordinary times. All indications are that Serowe will be the first to fall out of the sphere of the monarchy.

As we speak the rulers of Serowe are running scared ÔÇô literally – worried that in a week’s time they may be out of power, deposed not by other members of the aristocracy but by peasants who have found reason to produce new leaders amongst themselves who are plebs outside of the mainstream aristocracy. It is a protest movement that if not properly handled risks becoming a test tube experiment to be simulated by other places beyond Serowe. For the aristocracy the loss of power is a scary prospect. And they are not going to lose that power without a fight. Tshekedi Khama and Ndelu Seretse are fighting political battles of their lives. For ordinary souls the fight for survival by key members of the aristocracy is proving a marvel to watch, not least because it is happening right in Serowe. For the record, Ndelu and Tshekedi are not your average jacks. They are princelings of a ruling dynasty that has controlled the country and its major institutions since independence.

Of the two, Ndelu comes across as more polished, more graceful, more sophisticated and much more restrained. The cousin to the King, he is much more circumspect even as he faces political demise at the hands of one Kgotla Autwetse. It is Tshekedi, a younger brother to the reigning monarch that we really should be worried about. He comes across as a totally unpolished aristocrat of the ancient mould, with a shocking crude sense of entitlement that disables him to even start to hide his ambitions. In this day and age he seems to believe that as a ranking member of the monarchy he really should not be subjected to the kind of challenge he is receiving from one Prince Kgwaneng, a commoner who says he wants to take over the parliamentary seat occupied by Tshekedi because the incumbent has not been an effective peoples’ representative. With his campaign machinery in disarray, Tshekedi wants the party to intervene on his behalf and to stop Kgwaneng before primary elections are held. Though he would not say it in so many words, what he really wants is Kgwaneng to be shown his rightful place. How dare a pleb challenges a prince, Tshekedi seems to be saying.

Even his supporters are embarrassed by this crude behavior. Though instructive for it provides a glimpse of Tshekedi’s inner character , what is more important to us however is not his demand which is obviously churlish and indeed childish, but rather how the King, who is his elder brother and reigning monarch will react to the request. Will the King side with the people and with that democracy, or he will be unable to resist the temptation to award the entreaties of what looks like a spoiled little brother? The jury is still out. Whatever happens, the tone has been set. And things will never be the same again. If commoners can take members of the ruling family head-on in Serowe, what it really means is that the BDP as a party can be taken on anywhere in the country. There no longer are safe zones. Contrary to popular opinion, next year’s elections are not a smooth sale, much less a done deal for the BDP. If people of Serowe are no longer willing to put up with their beloved aristocrats how can it be that the BDP could be immune? Unbeknown to most of us, our country may very well be in the throes of its own version of Peasants’ Revolt.

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