Following Gomolemo Motswaledi’s death, Botswana Government finds itself in a peculiarly unenviable state where it is held guilty until proven innocent. It is a bizarre twist of what should be the case in ordinary and normal legal processes. But then there is nothing normal or ordinary about unfolding events in Botswana.
Those in power have somewhat vaingloriously tried to dismiss it by attributing it all to the impending elections. They are wrong. It is an ingrained and infinitely substantive change in traction that started long before there were any elections in the horizons to talk about. It is about something deeper, much bigger and ultimately with effects much more lasting and far reaching than just elections.
It is something that has a whiff of Zimbabwe about it. It is a loss in moral campus. And unless we deal with it we honestly we shall never be able to regain our conscience much less our innocence. Under the unfolding circumstances ordinary citizens no longer find the need to pay attention to what the authorities are saying. In the case of Motswaledi’s death, the state says the police are investigating. But nobody is convinced, much less prepared to wait for the results of the said investigations. Ordinary citizens have reached a conclusion that he has been killed; and they are sticking steadfastly to it. It is all because ordinary citizens find themselves in a situation where they can no longer take the state at its word. Citizens have become belligerent and bellicose.
To them those in power cannot be trusted because they lie all the time. In all of it the recurring theme is a breakdown of trust. The adherents of the establishment like to say all of it is predicated on some people’s personal hatred for the ruling party, its government and its chief priests. The truth however is that it isn’t the matter of hate so much as distrust. Instead of entrusting their lives to those in authority, the citizens are rebelling against authority. It did not start this week with Motswaledi’s death. His death has only served to galvanise, fast-track and make this long simmering and long evolving relational dynamic much more apparent for all to see.
In the eyes of the citizens the authorities have long been villains of the piece. They are at the centre of all that is going wrong about the country. Sadly our government’s recent record in public trust has been too damning. No effort has been expended to inspire public confidence. Instead a culture of impunity has been allowed to entrench and flourish. The upshot of it has been pervasive mistrust and distrust. The air is forever contaminated with suspicions that the state, especially its security agencies always resort to cover-ups to hide murder. There is always a suspicion, very often never proved, that state investigations against crimes are often dressed in legalistic overcoats as a pretext of providing them with much needed but totally underserved respectability.
This has had the effect of eroding the legitimacy of our government institutions. With Motswaledi’s death, it is not about to get any better. Instead it will become harsher and more unremitting. The most worrying phenomenon is that in ever increasing numbers even those people who are known to be deeply sympathetic to the establishment, in private conversations they talk in ever growing disappointment at how far down the tube our country has slipped. Put bluntly, the public response to Gomolemo Motswaledi’s death resets into a sharper and proper perspective, the narrative contested by our authorities that our moral fibre as a country is neither as great nor cohesive as it once was.
On Friday the youth league of Motswaledi’s UDC went public and declared that they treat his death as murder. It is not just an outpouring of wanton grief by followers at the death of a hero. Rather it is an echo of broadly held sentiments reflecting a point that the public is simply not willing to buy the official line on the causes of Motswaledi’s death are. UDC youth’s defiance of authority mirrors the greater public’s feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Like the general public, for the UDC youth, defiance is all that they can hang on to.
Their suspects, added the UDC youth are the security agents. Again this is very much in line with a majority of the citizens who feel the official accounts for Motswaledi’s death cannot be taken seriously. A few months ago UDC activists talked of the existence of a hit list the purpose of which was to purge their leaders. Security agencies took turns to dismiss UDC leaders as mentally deranged.
To a public immersed in such pervasive distrust of the authority, the allegations of a hit list followed shortly by Motswaledi’s tragic death a few months down the line are just too remarkable to be dismissed as coincidence. UDC leaders are deliberately pushing the boundaries. They know what is at stake. They are confident that they have on their side overwhelming public sympathy that the state and its agencies lacks. Clear-sighted UDC Youth can sense that this is their moment. Occupying such a moral high ground they perceive themselves as self appointed vanguard of a movement that Motswaledi has left behind. They see it as their divine duty to follow in his footsteps. Like him they see it has as their high ranking obligation bust political falsehoods.
They may be wrong on the causes of Motswaledi’s death, and the state correct, but to them that that is simply does not matter. The truth is that which they believe in. That belief is that for them embodied in political victory in Motswaledi’s name, which as things stand will be the greatest honour that they can pay to their departed angel, so that wherever he is, he would look down at them in smiles fully confident that for all his unfinished work, the young tigers he left behind are afterall worthy the gracious struggles which bedeviled his eventful life and ultimately cut it short when everybody least expected it.