We have noted Rre Ntuane’s last article in which he says that the Botswana National Front (BNF) is crying louder than the bereaved when we disputed his assertion that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) contributed handsomely to the liberation struggle in South Africa. He also says we are misinformed to say his party is right-wing. It’s a pity that he decided to go on a frolic and deliberately sidestepped the facts. This is a classic case of cynicism. We will however remain fixated to the facts which prove that his party is reactionary and has worked against the liberation movements while the BNF was in solidarity with them. Our position regarding progressive politics is well known and does not need us to sneak into any international organistaion.
The BNF, a progressive democratic movement has since its inception instilled into its members the need for taking an active interest in liberation struggles in Asia, Latin America and Africa. It is not surprising that we continue to raise our voice regarding the release of the Cuban 5 and the lifting of the embargo by the US on the People of Cuba; We have called for the Independence of Western Sahara; we continue to campaign for the introduction of Democracy in Swaziland while the BDP leaders continue to exchange pleasantries with King Mswati; we join other progressive formations in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.┬á These and other instances show how seriously we take International Solidarity with those who suffer from injustice.
It did not start yesterday and it will not end tomorrow. This is one of our tenant principles. The BNF i its political rallies, seminars and educational pamphlets consistently hammered the idea that Botswana could not consider itself genuinely free and independent while the rest of the world was oppressed. In this way the idea of Internationalism and solidarity with popular liberation struggles then raging in Southern Africa was deeply engrained in the consciousness of ordinary members of our movement.┬á Most of its founding leaders and members were involved in the African National Congress (ANC) politics while migrant workers in South Africa. They risked their lives in the struggle for the liberation of that country.
It was therefore not by accident that many cadres from the ANC,FRELIMO, SWAPO, ZANU, ZAPU, MPLA were warmly welcomed into our borders by mostly BNF members who accommodated them in their homes, arranged transport for them to their destinations and assisted them in various other ways. To the BNF these were not isolated acts of benevolence but fraternal acts of solidarity with fellow African brothers.┬á “International solidarity is not an act of charity. It is an act of solidarity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objectives. The foremost of these objectives is the development of humanity to the highest level possible”, said Cde Samora Machel.
In the book, “Comrade Fish Keitseng: memories of a Motswana in the ANC underground”, the contribution of our leaders in elaborated.┬á Fish Keitseng (who provided shelter and helped transport Cde Mandela or Mr Motsamai,┬á worked very closely with Cde Joe Modise and other MK leaders like Chris Hani), Cde Klaas Moshidisi (a union activist based in Palapye), Anderson Tshepe (who had received military training in china), Michael Dingake┬á (former Robben Island inmate), Mack Mosepele (who took part in the 1946 workers’ strike and the Newclare protests in South Africa) were not outsiders in the South African liberation struggle. Other members of the BNF also identified with the struggle. This became our struggle. The ANC was much bigger than South Africa. Some of its leaders and members were migrants. A lot of Africans did not take these borders created by European powers seriously and have never seen themselves as outsiders both in real or imaginary terms.
On the other hand, the BDP whose formation was arranged by the white settlers did not openly associate with the African National Congress (ANC). This explains why its meager contribution to the ANC was only done through the liberation committee of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Rre Ntuane uses the words of Cde Thabo Mbeki uttered at a function in Gaborone where it is alleged that he acknowledged the country’s contribution to the liberation of South Africa as a lightning rod to buttress his point. You cannot depend on what Mbeki said as if it is the Alpha and Omega. This was a reconciliatory gesture.
Why if indeed the BDP supported the struggle did it ban literature from the liberation movements? Why did it put Chris Hani and 33 other comrades at Gaborone Maximum prison for two years? It is because of their incarceration at the hands of the BDP government that the ANC was forced to reduce its presence in Botswana.
Cde Dan Tloane who had moved to Lobatse in mid 1964 to work closely with Cde Fish Keitseng in taking care of logistics for MK cadres was recalled to Zambia. The┬á BDP government therefore dealt a devastating blow to the ANC military campaign. Rre Ntuane’s party engaged in a crusade against communism and the targets were the liberation movements and the BNF. The party of Rre Ntuane’s deep hatred for the left which he now claims to be their ideology confiscated passports of Leaders of Botswana Youth Federation (BYF), a precursor of the Botswana National Front Youth League (BNFYL) who were to attend World Festival of Democratic Youth in Cuba in 1978. The BDP said at the time that the youth were to undergo military training in Cuba. The BNF youth were to join the ANC youth in Lusaka and fly to Havana.
From the look of things, if ever the party will still be alive when the people of Swaziland are free from Mswati, the people of Palestine are free and the People of Western Sahara are liberated, the BDP, true to it its chameleon character will claim that it helped liberate them.
Rre Ntuane suggests that he does not understand why we are shocked at his party’s membership of Socialist International (SI) which the BNF was a member of until recently. In an article in Mmegi we mentioned that we could not continue paying huge subscriptions to SI when there were competing and compelling demands locally. Our engagement with the organisation’s Secretary General on the huge subscription fee was also mentioned in the article.┬á This Rre Ntuane is the only reason why we are not members of SI. We said further that it was a blessing in disguise that we are not a member of an organisation that can have a party like the BDP in its ranks.
We respect the decision of SI to accept whoever it does into their ranks but this does not take away our right to be surprised and express shock regarding this development. That the BDP is on the right of the political divide is not in doubt. In our last article we indicated how the party was formed. Its hatred for left-wing politics is well documented. It’s banning of progressive literature of the liberation movements and its writings in its own publication “Malomatsebe a Domkrag” is a fact that Rre Ntuane decided in his last article, not to touch. SI brings together parties that are supposedly on the left. We gave these examples to thwart any suggestion that we were subjective.
Rre Ntuane argues that his party subscribes to Social Democracy and hence their membership of SI. Rre Ntuane uses examples of education and health care, which are paid for though he claims are free, to suggest that they rightfully belong SI. It is the BDP that continues to charge fees at these facilities through what they refer to as “cost recovery”.┬á As far as we all know, the government as a matter of policy has increased the cost of accessing its services through the Policy of Cost Recovery pushing the BDP far away from being a welfare state. The facilities which he argues offer “free” services are the under resourced public schools and health facilities which are dumping grounds for the poor, out of which a few survive. The burden on the under-paid workers in these facilities is also huge.┬á So does it mean that if you have services that are rendered at below cost then you are social democrats? Not so easy Rre Ntuane.
Perhaps we should offer a bit of perspective to avoid confusion. Social democracy is a system that is about extending democratic decision-making to include economic democracy which guarantees workers and other economic stakeholders sufficient rights of co-determination.┬á Social democracy is against the excesses of capitalism which breeds inequality, poverty and oppression of different groups. It negates free- market or command economy.┬á It has its origins from reformist socialism as espoused by Ferdinand Lassalle and International revolution advanced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
The BDP therefore does not fit in this model. Rre Ntuane’s definition is influenced by convenience and political expediency. To describe the BDP as practicing Social Democarcy is an over-stretch.
Free and Compulsory education, Free Health care, Old age pension scheme are ideas of the BNF. The unfortunate thing is that after “stealing” these ideas the BDP has failed to properly implement them. Almost all the states in the world do not give education and health care at cost. It is nothing to boast about. Even Health Care for Blacks and Bantu Education in Apartheid South Africa was subsidised.
It is the duty of every state to provide services, but not all states practice social democracy. This reminds one of Hobbes who argued that before the state, individuals were concerned only with their selfish interests but since they were all roughly equal in their physical strength, it was difficult for any one of them to succeed and this created anarchy. He said man’s life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”┬á Hobbes argued that the state resulted to improve this situation and was a form of contract between the individual on the one hand and the government on the other: the individual agreed to give up his individual liberties in exchange for the protection offered by the state. The ability of the state to offer this protection was its code justification, and if it can no longer guarantee security and prosperity then it loses its justification for existence. Manifest failure to secure the safety and prosperity of their own subjects would eliminate the state claim to political authority of the government. The putative political obligations of the subjects will also disappear.
It is the appeal of the BNF policies which drove the BDP towards policy plagiarism. The BNF policies led to a decline in the BDP political authority. It was the BNF that influenced the BDP to increase its share of cost of education and health care and also to introduce old age pension scheme. It did so to avoid what Hobbes refers to as a loss of ‘justification for existence”.
Because of its poor policies, which are not social democratic, the BDP government is now a failed state. No matter how hard the BDP makes noise about its membership of SI it remains a right wing party. Its attitude towards the workers and failure to ensure that that there is economic democracy and justice makes it a fallacy to refer to itself as a Social Democratic Party.
It is wrong to say we are outsiders who cry louder than the bereaved. This a history that the BDP would like to everyone to forget quickly.. If there is an outsider or an arrogant gate crusher for that matter, it is the BDP. We have always been part of the struggle and we respect the right of other progressive formations to align with whoever, even right wing parties like the BDP. Its an of course embarrassing history but that is the reality
*Mohwasa is BNF Information and Publicity Secretary