Wednesday, April 24, 2024

‘Go tika lerago’ is a classist insult

It is always poor people whose buttocks rhythmically bounce up and down from getting nourishing food – never the rich even when they experience similar bodily change

The motlakase (basic twerking)dance introduced to Botswana at the turn of the century, is physiological proof that there is a similar set of muscles and bone structure that connect both buttocks (marago in Setswana; sing: lerago). Oddly though and within certain context, Setswana refers to both buttocks in the singular form. This occurs in the saying “go tika lerago”, which literally means to “throw a buttock” but actually means to fill out such that when one walks, their buttocks rhythmically bounce up and down. That is the literal meaning but there is a deeper and uglier figurative meaning.

Go tika lerago is now the subject of national conversation courtesy of a remark that President Mokgweetsi Masisi made when addressing a Botswana Democratic Party political rally last month. He was talking about members of the opposition being initially reluctant to get immunised against Covid-19. However, they finally relented and were given the shot. As a result of the latter, Masisi said in Setswana, their buttocks now bounce up and down when they walk.

Political opponents routinely and ritualistically say mean things about each other. However, there is a very strong feeling that Masisi’s remark went beyond the pale. There is very good reason for such outrage: go tika lerago is a classist insult and has always been.

 In 2020, the Maun West MP, Dumelang Saleshando, who at the time was Leader of the Opposition, predicted that “at the end of his term, Masisi will make it into Forbes magazine as one of the richest men in the world.” Being a president and a dollar multi-millionaire necessarily means that Masisi is in an exclusive club that the poor, a majority of whom belong to the opposition, are never going to belong to.

As commonly used, go tika lerago happens against a particular set of circumstances. If a poor person who is malnourished on the basis of their socio-economic circumstances suddenly gets access to food that is good enough and fills out, there begins snide commentary in their community about how their buttocks bounce up and down when they walk. On the other hand, if a rich or well-off person experiences the same bodily change, such commentary is not used because the social meaning go tika lerago (coming up in the world) doesn’t apply. That person is already up there and even when their derriere bounces up and down with fat when they walk, they are not considered to be doing so. All too often and in relation to the latter, it is rich benefactors who use this saying on poor people whose buttocks bounce up and down on account of the resources that they provided. In this regard, go tika lerago amounts to chest-beating by such benefactor. Thus the deeper meaning of go tika lerago is a self-congratulatory “I fattened him/her up.”

Buttocks are a very private area and to feel free to publicly talk about someone else’s is a clear sign of self-entitlement. It is common knowledge that the rich don’t recognise the privacy of the poor and can thus feel free to publicly talk about the latter’s private parts. The rich benefactor thinks that s/he is particularly so entitled because after all, it was his/her food that caused those buttocks to swell.

It is interesting to observe how Masisi’s use of go tika lerago in reference to opposition members dovetails with this description. On account of his wealth and status, he is in a position that most people in the opposition are never going to occupy. He casts himself (not the government) as a hero in the fight against Covid-19 and asserts that the buttocks swelled up because of the vaccines that he provided.

To be clear, even poor people use this insult on other poor people but then that would be a case of the former copying bad habits and bad language from the rich – or feeling a little jealous that someone who is in their social station is moving up in the world. All in all, what illuminates the true meaning of go tika lerago is its more common use on the poor and not the rich.

When it could have made a genuine case to haul Masisi over the coals for his poor choice of words, the opposition blundered into hyperbole and untruths.

From parliament, which is currently in session, Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, waged a short-lived campaign to get Masisi to withdraw his words.

Bagolo ba a ngongorega gore tautona ga a ka ke a ba raya a re ba tika lerago,” he said meaning that elders, whom he didn’t specify, are complaining that the president said that they are “throwing buttocks.”

The Acting Speaker, Pono Moatlhodi, promptly shut him down.  

Outside parliament, the Botswana National Front spokesman, Justin Hunyepa, put out a press statement saying that Masisi had “derogatorily remarked that Batswana ‘ba tika lerago’ [loosely translates to ‘Batswana have grown big buttocks’] after being Covid vaccinated.”

Both accounts are not helpful. The president referred to “baganetsi”, which means members of the opposition. On score of the fact that he didn’t qualify such description, it can reasonably be surmised that he was referring to all members of the opposition – who include the elderly. Mmolotsi’s reference to “elders” is not helpful because it wasn’t clear which elders he was referring to. Hunyepa’s statement is misleading because it refers to Batswana in general when Masisi had specifically referred to members of the opposition.

The false characterisation extended to the ruling party itself and the culprit was none other than Vice President Slumber Tsogwane. Speaking in parliament, he rightly began his contribution by stating that the opposition had quoted Masisi “out of context.” A split second later however, he did the exact same thing himself, claiming that Masisi was referring to opposition politicians who didn’t want to be vaccinated. That was Tsogwane’s own addition and not what Masisi had actually said.

The Vice President was understandably discharging a responsibility that comes with the position he occupies – defending his boss. However, as experience shows, that has become an impossible task because that boss routinely puts his foot in the mouth. In some instances, Masisi has indeed used crude and offensive language to basically refer to everyone. Hunyepa’s statement credibly quotes one such instance.

The BNF wants Masisi to withdraw his remarks and apologise – which could prove tricky for the party itself because such standard would have to be applied across the board. Ahead of the 2019 general election, BNF president, Duma Boko, used language that most frowned upon. Claiming poetic licence, Boko extracted demeaning language from a popular song by folk singer Ratsie Sethako and hurled it at the BDP leadership.

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