Basarwa communities and their advocacy organisations across the country will in April this year hold a special and the biggest conference ever in Ghanzi aimed at launching a crusade to mobilise other tribal groupings in Botswana against what they call structural oppression. Among issues that Basarwa want addressed urgently are; to have a Paramount Chief at Ntlo ya Dikgosi, to have Specially Elected Member(s) of Parliament and councillors, to have Basarwa who hold influential positions in the public service, to stop seizure of their land and relocations by the government and the recruitment of Basarwa social workers and teachers within their communities.
Basarwa pressure groups expected at the conference are – Kudu Development Trust, Kunka, Khwedom Council, First People of the Kalahari and the Dirawe Church Community among others. In a wide ranging interview, the spokesperson for the planned conference, Keikabile Mogodu, who is also the executive director of Botswana Khwedom Council said as Basarwa advocacy groups they have resolved to unite and take government and policy makers head on. “Preparations are underway to have the conference which will be held at the beginning of April this year.” Mogodu said they have unanimously agreed to bring together all Basarwa activists and representatives and deliberate on issues of common interests such as Bogosi, education, political representation and to engage government or policy makers. “It is not that we have been divided before as Basarwa; we have minor differences and we have resolved to rise above such differences and speak with one voice,” explained Mogodu. “We want to speak with one voice, not as a Mosarwa from, Nata, Khwai, CKGR or Maxhotai villages.
We are all Basarwa. We want to tell our oppressors that enough is enough. For instance if there is a matter that we intend to take up with the authorities, we will call a meeting and send a delegation, no matter whether it is Basarwa from Nata or Ghanzi or Mababe who are affected by that,” he said. Mogodu accused government of perpetrating stereotypes and tribalism. “For instance look at the names of the land boards in the country; they are all named after major tribes. Even the names of some streets are named after some people in the country but we have Basarwa who have contributed one way or the other to the development of our country but they have not been honoured,” he said.
Mogodu said there were some Batswana who discriminate against Basarwa. He cited an incident at Nata village in which students reportedly “arrived home from school crying after they were discriminated against on the grounds that they were Basarwa.” He expressed concern at the stereotyped public attitude and prejudice against Basarwa, some of it from high-ranking officials. “We are always exposed to a heap of prejudices and stigma associated with what is perceived as unbecoming behaviour by some in the society. For instance if someone does something that is not accepted by the society he or she would be rebuked that he or she behaves like a Mosarwa,” said Mogodu adding that there is need to sensitize and educate Batswana and even Basarwa themselves about discrimination and oppression.
“We believe that it is high time we did something about the predicament that we find ourselves in, which is man-made. For instance we don’t have a Paramount Chief at the Ntlo ya Dikgosi. We demand that we should have one who can raise issues that affect us as Basarwa, not someone to speak on our behalf,” he said. Mogodu said they only have headmen as tribal leaders while other tribes are fully represented at Ntlo ya Dikgosi by their Paramount Chiefs; this he says is a deliberate ploy to ensure that they remain oppressed. “In some instances, these headmen are underpaid as compared to their counterparts from other tribes. We also want to see some Basarwa tribesmen holding senior positions such as being directors in the public sector,” said Mogodu.
He said they intend to send a delegation to President Ian Khama to nominate a Mosarwa or Basarwa as Specially Elected Members of Parliament or Councillors. “We want to play a role in the development of this country so that the lives of our people can also be uplifted,” he said. The conference is also intended to address Basarwa’s common challenges so that they advocate their rights as a collective. Basarwa also want to establish sustainable community development programmes and that their tribesmen should be involved in decision making process and top management positions in the public sector.
“We are coming together and advocate for a society that respects the dignity of Basarwa from all parts of the country. We want to be consulted on what we need and people should understand that we are Basarwa and our grievances or challenges are the same. We want to promote our culture and heritage like other tribes in Botswana,” said Mogodu. He reiterated the need to introduce Sesarwa as a third main language and medium of instruction in schools in the country.