Friday, April 3, 2020

Even in death Kenneth Koma continues to divide his followers

I had wanted to take my laptop to Mahalapye to report on Kenneth Koma?s funeral.
I had to choose between it, a walking stick to nurse a broken thighbone that has not fully healed and a luggage bag.

All three would have been an insurmountable burden on a transport system that has started to attract highway robbers who travel north and southward targeting helpless passengers with luggage on offer.

My good memory and sharp ears made for a better option.

In any case, on my courses on rural reporting, I had also learnt that notebooks could also get in the way of informants who have not been trained to have their voices copied to tape or writing.

Besides, I had determined that journalists ? particularly pretenders to the trade such as me ? tend to dive for the comfort zone where they set the agenda by asking prepared questions to suit their anticipated answers.

I wanted to listen to the people of Mahalapye and hear what they had to say about Kenneth Koma, but also about their own immediate concerns.
A flowery tree offered a generous shade to the men?s kgotla at the home of the elder of the Koma brothers where prayers were held.

It would not have escaped the eye of the reporter who has been attending party congresses for a while that the bulk of the kgotla going population at Koma?s home were of the opposition.
They were united in their purpose to bury a great man.

They were equally confused by the fact that even in death he had divided them to the extent that they belonged in varying numbers to the Botswana National Front, the Botswana Congress Party, the National Democratic front, and smaller sprinklings of other offshoots of the BNF.

It was clear that they were absolutely distressed at the failure of the opposition party leaders to think as one.

They were even more irate that they were virtually helpless in engineering a working unity among all those who had been inspired by Koma?s word.
It would be near impossible for the BNF to win the Sefhophe by-election without the BCP and this would be the pervasive theme of the 2009 general election one predicted.

?And this is all due to the leadership. We on the ground have no problem working together,? the man said, ?and so I have found it folly to continue as a devout activist as a result.?

At kgotla, the discussions, as if by some intervention of remote control, circumvented direct reference to the disunity at the opposition, or even Koma?s role in it.

It seemed to offer the discussants much needed relief to, instead, point to the destructive role of the Botswana Democratic Party in first usurping rightful leadership of the independence movement from the Botswana Peoples Party and then refusing to take Koma?s advice on issues of development.
I name Rakhudu because he volunteered his identity.

?Koma brought the Batswana socialism in accordance with the principle of ?mafisa?. He believed that we could conquer poverty by sharing development resources in an equitable manner so that no section of the nation would be left behind.
?The (BDP) opted for the culture of individual usurpation of the nation?s assets which has brought all manner of inequality, but worst of all, corruption at every level of society,? he commented in Setswana, sprinkled with key English references to crucial concepts.

He had been an intelligence operative of the South African secret services and had traveled the world doing his job. He promised that the most advanced armies and intelligence forces were those of the United Nations, followed by Israel?s Mossad and the South Africans.

After all Rakhudu, a tenacious advocate of his beliefs by all accounts, had been present when the South Africans (and Americans) tested mighty bombs in the desserts of Namibia causing such mass tremors as to fell all who were within miles of the trials.

He has a pacer in his knee to regulate the nervous impulses caused by the shock to the body resulting from the bomb tests in Namibia.

The conversation returns to the Middle East conflict where another speaker wants to know: ?Who is responsible for provoking the other?the Palestinians or the Jews??

After some hesitation among the members of kgotla, the question is raised in simpler language: ?Fa re nosa mmogo ko sedibeng, yo mongwe a ba a raya yo mongwe a re ?ga o sa tlhole o nosa fa?, ke mang yo o rumotseng yo mongwe??

The speedy response arrived: ?The shepherd who is responsible for the provocation is the one who attempts to deny the other watering rights. In the case under discussion, it is the Jews?.

Adds another: ?You see, even if the Palestinians continue to suffer humiliation at the hands of the Jews today, it will not be forever.

?In the same way, even as our generation has suffered greatly at the hands of the rulers, the generation of this journalist and his children and grandchildren will not stand for it. They will ultimately find the tools to rid themselves of the oppression that we suffered,? he emphasised with a Godly conviction.

?They will have uncovered the conspiracy between our rulers with indirect rule by the British and the Americans,? the man said, pasting together his newspaper zol with saliva, allowing his adversaries a piece of the conversation only when he heaved on his homemade cigar.

Perhaps it should not have been alarming that there was consensus about the neo-colonial nature of the post independence government among Mahalapye?s elders who otherwise represent the generation ? in particular the women – on which the ruling party thrives.

Mahalapye would have been Koma?s first port of call on his return from the Soviet Union. These men ? perhaps even more than the women ? were the first generation of ideological proteges who wanted a way out of the foibles of the Peoples Party and K.T. Motsete?s scholarly aloofness.

It would have been easy for Koma to predict the collapse of the opposition at the 1966 general election, even if it was more difficult to anticipate the failure of his own proposed ?united front? to take root among the opposition.

It should have been pointedly put to Koma at the height of his organisational command of the BNF that modern phase of the Botswana revolution ? perhaps a microcosm of the Second Phase of the African Revolution ? was destined to fail.
It would fail for its failure to immediately harness the energies of the nascent proletariat and the radical sections of the peasantry which gave vigour to the anti-colonial struggle for a full confrontation with the class forces that were aligned to imperialism and neo-colonialism in the new Botswana.

Such an enterprise would be favoured by: –
the dominant tide of the liberation movement in southern Africa and the continent in general
the able resistance of the socialistic Soviet Union and a growing China to world domination by the capitalist world view relative reluctance of the western imperialists to enter into yet another battle on the ground in defense of a colony that held little or no economic prospects except to serve as a distant buffer against the spread of communism in southern Africa. The Boers were already doing a good enough job of that?indeed a much better job than Botswana could ever be capable of.

The relative frailty of the common economic interest between the capitalists (represented largely by Cecil John Rhodes and the Tati Company, small miners and the Botswana Meat Commission) the feudal political order and purchasable chiefs, the landlords and cattle barons.

Koma, perhaps on account of his respect for Mao Tse Tung?s prosecution of the Chinese revolution, appears to have taken the long way round.

He opted to sell the idea of the front to the chiefs who had been humiliated by the colonialists and were programmed for further abuse under the neo colonial government.

Mokgosi Mokgosi, and then Bathoen Gaseitsiwe were the first to respond to Koma?s overtures whilst Lincwe offered the ?social environment? for the launching of the ?front? idea.

The kings would set in motion a counter offensive to the cultural advantage that Seretse Khama had already secured in the feudal state of GammaNgwato.

The productive forces, Koma theorised, had not developed adequately enough to establish the material basis and the social relations that were a necessary prerequisite for setting in motion a direct confrontation with capitalism. And any attempt to do so would deprive the envisioned socialist dispensation without the material base for its existence, the revolutionaries reasoned.

Indeed the circuitous route began to bear fruit at parliament when Bathoen, resigned his seat as King of the BaNgwaketse to beat his tribal subject and Vice President, Quett Masire, at the early election of 1969 called deliberately two years before the regular five in order to deny Gaseitsiwe time to campaign nationally.

Some disenchanted sections of the state bureaucracy and the aspiring class of nouveau riche joined the populist parliamentary movement grabbing five seats in 1984, later raising that number to 13 in 1994 after suffering a setback in ?89.

The BDP majority was steadily whittling down whilst the electoral poll for the opposition rose though that was hardly reflected in the ratio of BDP and opposition seats in parliament.

As if this disproportionate representation in which a majority of one is as good as 2000 was not enough, the BDP contemptuously appointed members who were defeated at the polls to parliament often rewarding them with cabinet posts. This was the case when Bathoen defeated Masire and similarly when Koma defeated Peter Mmusi in 1984.

The mirage of rising fortunes of the opposition resulting from intermittent parliamentary success over ten years ? 1984 to ?94 – soon gave way to despondency among the youth and erudite urbanites who surrendered Francistown, Selibe Phikwe and sections of Gaborone to the ruling party.

The divided vote between the chronically quarrelsome opposition condemned all of them to a distant second at parliament, the councils, civil society and the disoriented voting population of the poor, youth, women and the larger rural population leaving GammaNgwato well beyond reach.

Koma understood over 40 years ago that lack of ?a common goal? among the opposition would lead to traumatic electoral defeat in 1966 and 1969.
Perhaps, even as he might have made the same observation after 1984, he seemed deluded by a sense of security arising from trust that ?patriotic? ruling party people would become interested in a ?coalition government? about which he said:
?It is important that we should have been the first to talk about it.?

He might also have been deceived by the seeming success of his shedding of the ?socialist common goal? (at least in the short term) in wooing some sections of the BDP constituency to the Front.
Not only that, even De Beers, some rich Batswana, and sections of the Asiatic trading community were willing to give the Front the benefit of the doubt; that despite their often muddled ideological positions, there was enough popular discontent with the BDP to give them a chance at governance.
The reality on the ground was fundamentally no different from that of the early 1960?s: the opposition had no common goal. But this time it has even more damning information; that it will be virtually impossible for another Koma lifetime, for any one of the opposition parties to defeat the BDP at the elections on its own.

It only requires a little arithmetic to reach that conclusion. Many in Mahalapye have reached the conclusion that only the unqualified dissolution of the BNF and the BCP primarily, and the formation of a new political animal with ?a common goal?, could salvage whatever diminished chances the opposition still retains to win at the polls. Or anywhere else for that matter!

Needless to say, the stakes are much higher today than they were 40 years ago. The altered international configuration of imperialism in the age of ?globalisation? requires definitive description of that common goal as precisely what Koma wanted; ?a socialist Botswana?.

Building such an organisation, difficult as it would be, would be far less painful than watching the opposition circus that refuses to leave town?for good, the advocates of ?a single goal? argue.

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