Sunday, June 16, 2024

‘Go tika lerago is a sign of good health’ – Tsogwane

The Ministry of Health is forever urging people to stay healthy. However, after listening to Vice President Slumber Tsogwane’s definition of “healthy” in parliament, some would not want to fall under the sort of healthy that could expose them to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s typically rough-edged barbs.

Go tika lerago mo Setswaneng go tewa go bo o le healthyo tshela senteo sa thole o na le matshwenyego a a ka bong a ka dira gore o lathegelwe ke mmele. That is a figurative language, not morogano,” said Tsogwane when answering part of a question posed to him by the Maun West MP, Dumelang Saleshando.

Elaborating a point about figurative language much later, Tsogwane said that the president had only used figures of speech (“dipapisapuodinatetshapuo” – metaphors, euphemisms) through which ordinary language is manipulated to create a literary effect. He did indeed use the term “euphemism” which is used when one wants to say something in an understated manner, often to avoid unpleasant or embarrassing topics.

Interestingly, “go tika lerago” is anything not a euphemism but its direct opposite – a dysphemismIt is a Setswana saying which literally means to “throw a buttock” but substantively means that one has so filled out such that when they walk, their buttocks rhythmically bounce up and down. This saying is now the subject of national conversation courtesy of a remark that Masisi made when addressing a Botswana Democratic Party political rally in February this year. 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. 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.

Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi challenged Tsogwane’s assertion about “go tika lerago” being a euphemism (“lenatetshapuo”), adding that next he would be saying that “peperepepere” is also a euphemism. The latter is a new hit that the president just dropped.

The government of Botswana and De Beers have been renegotiating a diamond sales agreement which has been scandalously skewed in favour of the latter. Where these negotiations have historically happened quietly, Masisi hopped on a soapbox at kgotla meetings to advocate for the need to ensure that Botswana gets a fair deal. When negotiations were concluded and Botswana got a much better deal, the president began bragging about this breakthrough. He mostly emphasised his personal role in such breakthrough than that of the actual negotiators – whose identity is still not publicly known.

In an overly self-indulgent speech to a kgotla meeting in Sese in which he recounted how the diamond deal was reached, Masisi described De Beers as “cruel” and referencing a childhood during which he laid traps for doves, he said that he “set a trap” for the company.  He added that a squab (“lemphorwana”) called De Beers can be no match for him. At the negotiations, De Beers had attempted to push a hard bargain (“ba kile ba a re peperepepere”) but the government ultimately prevailed. Far from being a euphemism as Tsogwane had sought to justify Masisi’s choice of words, peperepepere is not a euphemism but an onomatopoeicdysphemism. 

An onomatopoeia, from which “onomatopoeic” comes, is a word (like clap and crack) that sounds similar to the noise that a word refers to. “Peperepepere” imitates the sound of farting and, in Setswana, can be used figuratively to describe the act of someone engaging in elaborate but ultimately unsuccessful verbal effort.

Realising that he couldn’t justify the president’s use of peperepepere, Tsogwane sought to weasel out by detracting to snide remarks about how the ruling Botswana Democratic Party helped the now “pompous” Mmolotsi become an MP: “Yo go tweng Mmolotsi yo re mo thusitseng ka maemo a e leng gore gompieno a a mmelahatsa.” The context was not very clear but Mmolotsi first came to parliament as a ruling-party member and later defected to the opposition with the BDP seat.

This was the second time in just five months that parliament had debated the specific topic of “go tika lerago” – which was reintroduced via a question themed “Use of Inappropriate or Uncouth Language by the President and Uttering of False Statements” that Maun West MP, Dumelang Saleshando asked Tsogwane. The issue was first raised in March this year during the budget meeting when Mmolotsi launched 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. Tsogwane 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.

Outside parliament, then 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.” 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.

Go tika lerago” is a classist insult that the rich typically hurl at the poor, often 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 (Saleshando has remarked that he will end up on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest), Masisi is in a position that most people in the opposition are never going to occupy. He cast 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.

From a medical perspective, “go tika lerago” can be a sign of bad health that manifests itself in the form of obesity.


Read this week's paper