Once when contributing to a parliamentary debate during his stint as Palapye MP, Boyce Sebetlela praised Botswana’s opposition parties for having eschewed an option all too eagerly pursued by their counterparts continent-wide.
From Jonas Savimbi to Alfonso Dhlakama to Joseph Kony, Africa has not had a shortage of mostly pot-bellied war-mongers swaggering about in camouflage fatigues trying to reach the state house via the short-cut route that passes through the bush. Exercising such option has been described with an English phrase which has come to acquire a distinctly Third World meaning: “going to the bush.” South of Botswana’s border, a cantankerous youthful politician whose capacity for civility went south a long time ago also threatened – not too long ago, to go to the bush.
Had Botswana’s opposition ever opted making that journey, as the main opposition leader and with his international connections, Koma would have been central to such military campaign. Had he indeed ordered an insurrection against the government, the bulk of the maintenance work carried out by the Department of Building and Engineering Services would at some point have involved caulking government buildings pockmarked with AK47 bullet holes. He never did and one real possibility is that coming of age, Koma outgrew an infantile proclivity for indulging some middling physical bullying.
In a pre-climate change era when ploughing fields didn’t have to lay fallow for long periods of time, schoolchildren would troop as a party to farm lands on weekends. In the case of the young Koma growing up in Serowe in the 1940s, that meant joining a human train that meandered some 30 kilometres southwards on Saturday mornings to a farming hamlet called Tshethong. The journey had to be made within a certain period in order to arrive in good time. The story is that if the Koma got tired, he would order everyone else to take a breather. At least by the account of an elderly woman who was in his victim pool, the future Botswana National Front founder would slap around those who dared disobey him. Fortunately, upon growing up he realised that he could deploy a much deadlier but penal code-compliant weapon to devastating effect: his bountiful gift of the gab.
However, while Koma may have contributed immensely to Botswana’s sterling record as a peaceful and stable democracy, his writings in “The Experience of Vietnam on the Multi-Organisational United Front” will unsettle some readers. To be clear, nowhere does the book advocate for the use of violence to overthrow the government but he leaves no doubt in one’s mind about how a real revolution comes about. The book illuminates the historical context which saw the Indochinese Communist Party under Ho Chi Minh topple the French colonial government in August 1945.
“The lesson here is that in a country dominated by imperialists, the seizure of political power necessarily involves revolutionary violence to counteract counter-revolutionary violence. The best preparation for armed struggle is first and foremost the mobilisation of the people politically and infusing the people not only with political enthusiasm but also political motivation,” Koma writes in reference to the August Revolution.
He eddies in and out of this point noting at the most controversial juncture that when there is a threat of transfer of power from the ruling classes to ordinary people, it is a given that the former will put up a “bitter and bloody” resistance.
“That is why it is necessary that a communist party must be organised to make a revolution; and to organise revolutionary violence, if needs be, to meet counter-revolutionary violence. The slave owners have never out of charity and philanthropy or love ever willingly got off the backs of slaves,” writes Koma, incorporating a Lenin quote at the end: “An oppressed class which does not strive to learn to use arms, to acquire arms, only deserves to be treated like slaves.”
The book expresses views as contrarian about the judiciary and disciplined forces. In Koma’s conception, the courts, army as well as the police and prison service “are not by any means the instruments of law and order as the masses are made to believe, they are instruments or the machinery of force for the subjugation and suppression of the masses of the ordinary people.” In a time period in which the Broadhurst police in Gaborone arrested two women associated with a movement behind the #IShallNotForget hashtag for doing no more than publicly protest against the sexual terrorism that the condom-shunning of society’s powerful and lustful have unleashed on underage schoolchildren, the latter sentiment will resonate very strongly in some quarters.