This article attempts to reflect on the success and failures of the Group of Elders founded in 2012 by the late Matlapeng Ray Molomo, Letlotlo Kopong and others with a view to bringing sanity to the troubled Mochudi. In last week’s opinion article headlined “Ray Molomo: A Champion of freedom of speech”, I mentioned this group but did not go into the details of what it achieved and where it failed. Similarly, the article mentioned just in passing the other group which enjoyed unlimited access to the Deputy Kgosi Sekai and the kgotla system. Documenting these issues is crucial in the sense that they form part of the history of Mochudi in the present millennium. Doing so will be helpful to researchers coming to the village in future to re-write the history of Mochudi and its people. In the past, the history of this village got distorted because there was no documentary evidence to support what came from the memory of those being interviewed. If these issues are available in the archives, researchers will only come to Mochudi to fill the gap. Remember people will one day write books, papers to be presented at international conferences and students will write thesis for their university degrees. What I have started documenting will be of paramount importance to their work.
As I mentioned in that article, the Elders’ Group known also as Lekoko existed against all odds. It wasn’t an easy sailing as an infant but face a barrage of opposition from several quarters as it matured. Deputy Kgosi Sekai welcomed it and later dumped it after he had presumably been advised by his supporters including chief representative Montshiwa Mabudisa who called the group “dirukutlhi” (criminals) tse di tshwanetseng tsa nyelediwa (which must be decimated) He said this despite the fact that none of the group’s members has criminal record. In saying so, Mabudisa was exposing himself to defamation suit for referring to group members as criminals. Mabudisa is not a sophisticated person.It is easy to understand and interpret his remarks as an attempt to impress his master, Kgosi Sekai.
At first, the group had to deal with the radical faction of Mangana Regiments led by a man calling himself “Matlhoakgosi” (chief’s eyes) because of his proximity to Kgosi Kgafela II. Again it had to ensure that the royal brothers and uncles understood what they really were after. For a very long time, they were denied access to the district headmen whom they wanted to engage. At some stage they were told to never use the kgotla’s open space for their meetings. However, they resisted the eviction order saying it was illegal. They wanted whoever wanted them expelled from the kgotla to secure a court order.
On 6th July 2013 Sekai told a kgotla meeting how the royal brothers deserted him, He said, “Mmusi a simolla go dumallana le bo rre ba. Phefo e, go re e re tsene e, re e tsentswe ke go re ba kgonne ba ntlu ya rona ya bogosi. Ba tsamaya le bone, ba dumallana le bona” (the problem is that Mmusi including the entire royal house, now agrees with this group of elders). If what Sekai said was anything to go by, then that was the group’s major coup. It had wonderfully presented its message in a language that right thinking people understood. But on the other hand, it may be because of lack of realisation on the part of Sekai that the royal house consists of very strong personalities. They are dynamic. They are not like some of the royal uncles who never change their positions even if the conditions which made them arrive at such positions no longer applied.
Morena Mmusi had shown his maturity at a meeting with Minister of Local Government and Lands Peter Siele in Gaborone on 21st May 2013. At that meeting which was also attended by the members of the Elders’ Group, he told the Minister, “this meeting as constituted will deepen the already strained relationship between us and the Elders. We need time to mend our differences. There are fundamental differences. We are taking steps to harmonise the two sides” he said.
Morena Mmusi’s intervention was translated into action immediately after the meeting. On June 5th, the Elders Group was at last given access to the headmen, something which they had been denied despite repeated requests to those in power. The meeting was at the kgotla in Mochudi on a Wednesday afternoon. In the morning of that day, the headmen had attended a debriefing session at which they were given a wrong impression of what to expect from the Elders Group. Some headmen even readied themselves for fireworks. They were getting impatient for the two o’clock meeting saying they wished the time could be rescheduled for the morning instead of an afternoon encounter. In their view, a showdown was eminent and they were expecting to tear the group into pieces.
Things at the meeting did not go the way they had been debriefed. The chairman of the Elders Group’s deliberations, Letlotlo Kopong started the ball rolling by giving a detailed plan of how life could be returned to normal in the village. When he was done, Kautlwale Moreti took the floor confirming that what Letlotlo had just said was indeed the Group’s position.
The third and last was myself since I was also a member of the Elders’ Group. The purpose of my intervention was to tighten the noose so that whoever tried to punch holes in Kopong’s presentation found it difficult. Indeed it was so tight that instead of causing anger amongst the headmen, they were pleased with it. I said to them, “what you have been hearing from my colleagues is that this Group of Elders has found a workable solution. It does not mean that their plan is the panacea for all the problems currently besieging the village. You may be having alternative ideas which are better than what has been presented before you distinguished leaders. That would be great. I am looking forward to your presentation if you have one. From the onset, I want to assure you that if your presentation is better than what Mr Kopong has just told you, we are prepared to abandon our plan and go along with yours”.
The audience was highly attentive and I could see others whispering to those next to them in a sign of appreciation. As I was still on the floor, I counted eight heads belonging to the headmen nodding. I ended my intervention by urging the headmen to have no fear about the existence of the Elders’ Group which others in the village saw it as a threat to Sekai’s position, adding that heaving such groups appealing for normalcy was healthy. I told them of the 1958 group of 33 men called “Mphetsebe” (lend me your ear) during the leadership of Kgosi Mmusi. That enjoyed the support of the one known in the archives only as the “Powerful Johannesburg Group” led by Letsebe Pilane. The Johannesburg group held its meetings in Sophia town and later moved to Mogorisi Street in Dobsonville near Roodepoort. Interestingly, the Mphetsebe group of 33 had in its ranks, a Mr Hosia Lephogole Lekoko who was the father to Thomas Lekoko who was present at the meeting as headman of a sub-ward at Manamakgoteng Ward. He was not aware of that part of his father’s history but appreciated it.
Contrary to what they had been told during their debriefing that morning, headmen were elated about the Elders’ Group’s presentation expressing the wish that their intervention should have come much earlier before things worsened. The first was headman Mohutsiwe of Olifants Drift. He said the way he understood the group’s presentation, they were not in a fighting mood. “These are peace-makers” adding that headmen should have long been pro-active as leaders. He welcomed the group and its ideas.
Letuwe Mosweu was equally overjoyed describing Kopong’s presentation as highly impressive. The next speaker was Kgosana Joel Mpete of Dikwididi who is one of a few who are closer to Sekai. He was also delighted about the ideas of the elders. He said, “mabaka a borre ba ga a ntshe mokwala” meaning that he had no problem with what the elders had presented to them. He however, suggested that they be given time to interrogate the ideas presented to them thoroughly before making a determination. He said as soon as they would be through, they would revert to the Elders’ Group for a second round of talks. Headman Molefi of Mabalane was of that opinion.
Strangely, Kgosi Sekai and Kgosi Segale attended that meeting although the Elders Group did not expect them. It was very clear that their attendance was to intimidate the headmen into saying what they did not want to. That was at the time both Kgosi Segale and Kgosi Sekai had teamed up.Segale later dumped Sekai opting to toe the government line apparently after realising that they could be on a wild goose chase. As it turned out, Sekai was unimpressed by the headmen’s responses which he probably had not expected. This is what he said towards the end of the meeting, “Borra, borre ba ba lekoko ga ba le bolelle boammaruri. Ke tsile go sala ke senya sengwe le sengwe se ba sebuileng ba sena go tsamaya”. Among the headmen, was a brave and brilliant Phiri Pilane who told Sekai that “it is not time to dismantle, it is time to mend”, adding that “when the village is in an ungovernable state like ours, it needs concerted efforts for sanity to prevail”. From what transpired out, Sekai’s word carried the day because to-date the headmen have not come back to the Elders Group for another joint meeting as they had promised. Ray Molomo did not speak at that meeting until after the meeting when he and Rre Batlokwa Semele congratulated Kwapeng Modikwe for having “leleme le le borethe” (Persuasive tongue).
Meanwhile, the radical faction of the Mangana Regiment was consolidating their grip at the kgotla where every individual who tried to speak, was expected to say what was favourable to the faction and its sponsors. They ordered everybody who did not speak their language to “shut up and sit down” without the kgosi protecting the victim. To their credit, the faction worked tirelessly for the re-employment of Sekai as deputy chief. Sekai had not been dismissed as the faction wanted people to belief. Similarly he was not reinstated. He had retired due to compulsory retirement age of 60. He applied to be employed on contract and his application was declined. He is in his position by virtue of him having been re-employed at the insistence of the Mangana faction.
Having been re-employed, he wanted to be a member of the Ntlo-ya-dikgosi. Unfortunately the move was done behind Kgosi Kgafela II and it failed. How Kgosi Kgafela received that is unclear. However, logic shows that he would not take it kind hearing that people he trusted were now going behind his back to achieve a certain goal by hook or crook.
By the way, it was reported by a local newspaper a week or so after last year’s general elections that Kgafela II had not congratulated his younger brother Mmusi for winning the elections in the Mochudi West Constituency. Whether the source of the story emanated from a faction of the Mangana which had been abusing Mmusi and his elder brother, Morena Bakgatle is not clear. But the failure of the newspaper to write a follow-up until the story reached its logical conclusion is unfair and unrealistic in journalism. In a situation where there had been protracted efforts to undermine Morena Mmusi, the behaviour of the newspaper concerned is suspect.
For the benefit of readers, Kgosi Kgafela reportedly congratulated his brother during a meeting in South Africa before Christmas. He is said to have warned that his brother be given space to discharge the duties of his ministerial position without anybody interfering and that his brother would obviously be a link between him and the Botswana Government. Obviously this is the news the Mangana faction or the “Matlhoakgosi’ as the group is also known does not like. They had been a source of discordant views between the royal brothers.