Saturday, June 22, 2024

Does Masisi hate Kalangas?

On April 4, 2018, Dr Nevah Tshabang, a member of the Botswana Congress Party and a Chemistry lecturer at the University of Botswana took to Facebook with the following post:

“Masisi used to be a member of an anti-Kalanga group Pitso-ya-Batswana. They used to fight very strongly with pro-Kalanga group Society for the Promotion of Ikalanga Language (SPIL). Looking at the fact that Bokalaka is the only area with no full minister in his cabinet, coupled with the dumping of Edwin Batshu from cabinet, despite the area being pro-BDP, must tell a story that Masisi has no place for Kalangas. Watch this space.”

Dr. Tshabang is an active politician, having run and lost in the 2014 for Nkange Constituency under the BCP ticket. In the 2014 elections he was beaten by Edwin Batshu 6461 to 5874. Dr. Tshanamg was also for many years the President of the University of Botswana Senior Support Staff Union (UBASSSU). Tshabang is therefore no ordinary person that writes aimlessly on Facebook. He has a fair amount of experience as a leader, not just in the academic world, but also in his community and party with a substantial following. Therefore when Tshabang attacked President Masisi for having “no place for Kalangas” I was shocked and alarmed. I was amazed that a man with his academic credentials and social stature could publish such a reckless and tribally-divisive post on Facebook ÔÇô a post that threatened to fuel and aggravated tribal tensions between his followers as well as within the general national public. In this column I inspect the line of Tshabang’s attack on President Masisi in some detail and argue that it was unjustified and ill-informed. First, Dr. Tshabang accuses President Masisi of having, at some unspecified time, been “a member of an anti-Kalanga group Pitso-ya-Batswana”. This forms his first premise. The truth of this claim has been disputed by some, accusing Tshabang of confusing the Setswana newspaper, Mokgosi, with Pitso-ya-Batswana. Tshabang’s diction is most telling. He characterizes the cultural group Pitso-ya-Batswana as anti-Kalanga while the cultural group SPIL, which he identifies with, he considers it as pro-Kalanga and not anti-Tswana. Why doesn’t Tshabang characterize Pitso-ya-Batswana as a pro-Tswana group since one of its aim was to promote Setswana language and culture? I think that Tshabang chooses to characterize Pitso-ya-Batswana as an anti-Kalanga group because he is building a case to demonstrate that President Masisi is anti-Kalanga and that his anti-Kalanga sentiments have their roots in his time as a member of Pitso-ya-Batswana. This opening claim to his post is important because it situates every member of Pitso-ya-Batswana as an enemy of Kalanga people and culture, while members of SPIL are portrayed as benevolent language activists. This obviously serves the spirit of his post well. It is also important to note that Tshabang is not claiming that President Masisi is a member of Pitso-ya-Batswana. His claim is that he was. This past membership ascribed to him has therefore tainted him with hate against Kalangas according to Tshabang because “They used to fight very strongly (sic) with pro-Kalanga group Society for the Promotion of Ikalanga Language (SPIL)”. Dr. Tshabang then develops a two-part second premise: (a) Bokalaka is the only area with no full minister in President Masisi’s cabinet (b) Edwin Batshu has been dumped from cabinet, despite him coming a pro-BDP area. Why is this second premise important? It is part of an argument that Dr. Tshabang is to support the claim that President Masisi hates Kalangas. These premises can be restated in the following manner: (a) President Masisi hates Kalangas, that is why Bokalaka is the only area with no full minister in his cabinet (b) Edwin Batshu has been dumped from cabinet, despite him coming a pro-BDP area because President Masisi hates Kalangas. This line of argument culminates with the conclusion: “Masisi has no place for Kalangas” and a further promise more is to come: “Watch this space.”

The question that arises from Dr Tshabang’s attack is this: “Is there any evidence that ‘Masisi has no place for Kalangas’?” I don’t think there is. There are actually a number of Bakalanga in President Masisi’s cabinet, possibly more than any other group. Hon Biggie Butale and Hon Fidelis Mmilili Macdonald Molao and possibly many others. Dr. Tshabang provides none. He only arrives at his conclusion by way of three claims: “Masisi used to be a member of an anti-Kalanga group Pitso-ya-Batswana”, “Masisi has not appointed any full minister from Bokalaka in his cabinet” and “President Masisi has dumped Edwin Batshu from cabinet”. Mr. Oteng Chilume, a Kalanga man himself and a journalist, dismisses Dr. Tshabang’s claims thus: “My view is that, people have their politics which become part of their general outlook on any number of issues. If I observe that Never’s views are clouded by a subtle or open acerbic tribalism, I must speak about it as part of his character because that is the politics which influences his general bile… Questions of prejudice are influenced by a lot of personal choices, one of which is to openly and subtly fan hate and bigotry. But in the case of Never and his ilk, this stuff is then cloaked in academic platitudes or some such thing pretending to be. So, it becomes necessary to question these motives… In other words, it serves no real purpose for us to pretend Never made this comment as an objective academic, no matter the tone of academic authority he lends the view…”

Mr. Chilume argues further advises me: “Thapelo Otlogetswe You know fully well that Tshabang’s view is unsustainable and you know his core argument cannot be substantiated by any serious academic approach or method. This is why Joel Konopo is dismissive of his view as being that of an unsophisticated villager. I honestly don’t understand what evidence you expect from such a weak argument, what he presents as ‘evidence’ [Masisi’s PYB track record and Batshu’s removal] are just typical speculative tribal platitudes that we all know are merely used to register an over generalized grief. It then really becomes one of those streetwise views unworthy of any rigorous academic analyses…It’s not that you think he can actually produce any proof of his claims…it’s pointless.”

I have nothing further to add save the following: Nation building is a delicate process in which all national leaders must participate. There is need for leaders to avoid “fanning hate and bigotry” and to encourage nation unity. I am aware that there are those who when such tribal recklessness is exposed they run to the composition of Ntlo ya dikgosi, Bogosi Act and Sections 77, 78 and 79 of the Botswana Constitution. Such criticism is appropriate elsewhere and inapplicable to the current statement by Dr. Tshabang. Dr. Tshabang must be encouraged to exercise better judgment and avoid divisive statements which can “subtly fan hate and bigotry”.

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