Thursday, October 22, 2020

Botswana’s golden journey losing its lustre with time

Despite what some think about the official programme for the golden jubilee celebrations, the government has been successful in whipping up frenzy among a sizeable portion of the population.

More than five in 10 people that you encounter in the street are wearing a Botswana colors (“Zebras”) T-shirt and some enterprising Batswana are said to have tricked their Chinese employers into buying them these T-shirts. The citizens reportedly fibbed that the government has issued a directive to the effect that employers who fail to buy their employees the BOT50 T-shirts will be kicked out of the country. Mindful of what has been happening to their countrymen in the last couple of years but still desirous on doing business here, the Chinese employers fell for the trick.

Against the government’s own statutorily expressed intent to curb alcohol abuse, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport hosted a free “street bash” to enable alcohol abuse. Then again, this could have been another BOT50 trick, this one perpetrated by the government itself. A government that sees nothing wrong with using the police to raise funds to cater for their financial needs will have no compunction about using a street bash to lure its citizens into breaking road traffic law so that the police can fine them. Gaborone streets have also hosted a fashion show that saw a parade of models prance up and down Independence Avenue to showcase locally-designed clothes.

However, excitement about Botswana’s independence in 2016 comes nowhere near that of 1966. Having been born in a country with a foreign name that was led by foreigners, Batswana who were old enough in 1966 were ecstatic when the Union Jack swapped places with the blue-black-and-white flag of the new Republic of Botswana. The story is that in the immediate pre- and post-independence day period, “re a ipusa” (we are independent) was the stock phrase coming at the tail-end of customary Setswana greetings. When the phrase didn’t occur in such fashion, it was itself a form of greeting. Complete strangers encountering each other in the bush would exchange “Re a ipusa” and nothing else. The excitement about Botswana’s independence also manifested itself in a patently criminal way. To some people who would be in their 70s and 80s today if they are still alive, being independent meant that you could do whatever you wanted and not suffer the consequences of your actions. These people went around beating up others to show that re a ipusa.

In terms of entertainment, the street bash and the street fashion show pale in comparison to what was laid in 1966. One of the people who were around at the time of independence was an Englishwoman called Sheila Bagnall who was a teacher at Swaneng Hill School in Serowe. Bagnall recorded her experiences in a series of letters to a friend back home in the United Kingdom. The collection has been turned into a book called “Letters from Botswana: 1966-1974” and one of the illustrations is an Independence Day celebrations programme at Serowe. The programme lists two peculiar races – one for “fat men” and another for “fat women”. 

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