The image of a former world leader kneeling in honour of an African-American man who was murdered by a white police officer as a camera rolled, should be powerful, humbling symbolism. However, one that General Ian Khama shared on his Facebook page has only served to excite scorn and bitterness.Hashtagged “BlackLivesMatter” and posted to the “Seretse Khama Ian Khama” Facebook page, the image shows the somber-faced former president wearing a black T-shirt with “Black Lives Matter” written on the front and kneeling using the right leg. What should have been a non-controversial show of solidarity with a black man murdered under the regime of a racist president has pleased some and greatly displeased others.
“Thank you Baba [father] Khama, please have the children of the Kingdom of Matebeleland and Mashonaland in your thoughts and prayers,” reads a post by a commentator whose name (Vusumuzi Gumbo) and sentiments strongly suggest he is Zimbabwean. Adding three heart emojis to reinforce his feelings about Khama’s post, Gabriel Olebogeng Fana Modise stated: “You are the Man! Always mean what you say, you are always content you are not fake neither a chameleon … you are firm and consistent.” Himself adding an emoji of five clapping hands, Ponatshego Pearl Modimoodirile wrote: “Let them judge you, let them young ones curse themselves by insulting you, let them satisfy themselves, at the end no one is a saint, continue advocating for the less privileged.”
Indeed there was no shortage of what the young generation calls “judging” by another camp. Floyd died from asphyxiation that was caused by the white police officer kneeling on his neck for a tragically long period of time. In the video, the dying Floyd can be heard complaining, “I can’t breathe.” Some 33 minutes after Gumbo’s posted his comment, Alfred Tlalenyane posted his own: “For 10 years you had your knee on our necks and throats.”
In other words, like Floyd, we couldn’t breathe. Tlotlang Setlhoka summed up what many more in this camp were saying: “Hehehe e kare ba2 ba sule ka bontsi jaana under yo SOE ya ten years. Don’t fool us John … Ijo ke lebetse hao John o Solomon … [LOL! But so many people died under your 10-year state of emergency. Don’t fool us John; I forgot, you are not John you are Solomon.”]The biblical allusion makes an unflattering comparison between John (good) and Solomon (bad) and associates Khama with the latter. “SOE” is an abbreviation for state of emergency, which Khama’s successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, has invoked following a constitutional vote in parliament. That Khama supposedly imposed a 10-year SoE when he never sought parliamentary authority to do so, is designed to make the point about his autocracy. While there was no declared curfew, police officers would routinely shut down house parties during Khama’s administration – which action should rightly happen during a constitutional SoE.
Only a year into Khama’s rule, a Gaborone man called John Kalafatis was killed at the “Dotcom” shops in Extension 12. It would later emerge that Kalafatis’ killers was made up of a hit squad from the military intelligence, that he had been shot dead at close range with anti-terrorism bullets that a newspaper revealed cost more than P100 000 and that these type of bullets and the type of guns they were fired from were used in “kill” (and not “apprehend”) operations. Minutes after the killing, the founding Director-General of the Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security, Colonel Isaac Kgosi, a long-time confidant of Khama who had been his aide–de–camp in the army showed up and congratulated the killers with “Good job guys.” In the resulting trial, the High Court found the killers guilty and handed down a custodial sentence.
However, Khama invoked his executive powers to both pardon the men before they could serve their sentences out and reinstate them in the army – which, as president, he was the ex-officio commander-in-chief of.With specific reference to the Kalafatis saga, Dals Tie Tie wrote: “Good gesture but wrong forum. The Kalafatis family require just that … it’s not too late.”Under Khama, DISS was a law unto itself and when he testified to a parliamentary committee a month after Khama stepped down, Kgosi said that he was not answerable to anyone in the country, “not even the president.” Many more people besides Kalafatis died at the hands of DISS agents and during a live debate on Btv ahead of the 2009 general election, the Deputy President of the Botswana Congress Party, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, challenged then Vice President Mompati Merafhe about these killings using very strong Setswana characterisation: “matsholo a itshereletso a tsweletse ka go ganyaola batho.” Good source say that privately, Merafhe, who died in 2012, expressed very strong opposition about DISS’ murderous rampage but a public forum couldn’t enable him to that.
As president, Khama shunned both the United General Assembly and African Union summits, once telling CNN that he preferred to stay at home and attend to the needs of the poor. The AU was a special matter because those who formed it (as the Organisation of African Unity) had in mind a grand plan to speak with one voice when constantly reminding their former colonial masters that black lives mattered. Not only did Khama not attend AU summits (all the time delegating his vice presidents), he also differed with fellow African leaders on some contentious issues. When an AU summit that he typically hadn’t attended resolved to withdraw from a treaty which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), Khama reaffirmed Botswana’s commitment to it.
“We will continue to support the ICC and cooperate with its operations,” said Khama at the opening of a parliamentary year following the AU’s resolution.On the whole, Khama, who was born of a white mother and black father, reflexively found himself in the west’s corner each time interest of former colonial masters clashed with those of Africans.One very important of the Black Lives Matter movement is economic justice that proves that black livelihoods matter. However, a former minister in Khama’s cabinet, Dorcas Makgato, has publicly stated that as president, Khama prized white livelihoods over black ones. This happened after Makgato, who is now Botswana’s High Commissioner to Australia, had an ugly public spat with Khama.
She essentially said that while Khama performed a Good Samaritan role to black audiences by giving the poor flattened dumplings (diphaphatha) and blankets, he was quietly awarding highly lucrative concession areas to whites in the Okavango Delta (high-end tourism) and Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (minerals, including diamonds). Makgato was basically saying out loud what some had always whispered in private for decades.