Speaking in 1985, Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the first time called for implementation of international economic sanctions against South Africa.
In addition to economic sanctions, he called for disinvestments from companies that had ties to the apartheid regime.
It was not a decision that had come easily to the revered clergyman. South Africa was going through its darkest hour. Apartheid was at its pinnacle. And a cloud of darkness hovered over the black race in that country. And, as Tutu himself put it at the time, he was not too optimistic about “prospects for change.”
The famed light at the end of the tunnel was not in sight.
Tutu had given a hint a year earlier when touring the United States that if the gridlock remained between the liberation movement and the government he could be on his way to calling for sanctions against South Africa. He knew that meant arrest, prosecution and incarceration. It did not matter to him.
Perhaps more than anybody, Archbishop Tutu knew fully well that the black people on whose behalf he was calling sanctions would be the ones worst hurt by his decision.
Many of them would lose their menial jobs that were their only source of livelihood. And many people reminded him of that. And it irritated him because while true, the concerns were not wholly genuine.
“For goodness sake, let people not use us [black South Africans] as an alibi for not doing the things they know they ought to do,” he said. “We are suffering now, and this kind of suffering now seems to be going on and on and on. If additional suffering is going to put a terminus on our suffering, then we will accept it.”
In further response to white people who argued that economic sanctions would hurt black South Africans, Desmond Tutu had this to say: “When did white people suddenly become so altruistic and suddenly become so concerned about black suffering?” he asked.
But he maintained that first a “catastrophe” had to be avoided after which jobs would come back, accompanied by dignity.
All liberation leaders of consequence were either in jail, in exile or banned from speaking.
And he also said there was a likelihood that he too would be prosecuted for treason.
According to Tutu the sanctions had to be “punitive, coordinated and immediate.”
Desmond Tutu knew as early as then that privileged interests in South Africa were not going to give away their privilege voluntarily, much less without a fight.
I was reminded of the anecdote above as I sat pondering about the difficulties facing young indigenous Batswana trying to go into business.
Today indigenous Batswana business people trying to sell their products in their country face similar conditions of despair like the black South Africans did in 1985.
The only difference is that while blacks in South Africa had a Desmond Tutu to hold the sky for them, indigenous Batswana trying to penetrate the Botswana market are all on their own as the Competition Authority is aiding and abetting their exclusion.
Indigenous Batswana are up against an iron wall made up of big business and naturalized Batswana that run chain stores.
These interests are ostensibly colluding with the Competition Authority that is either powerless, scared, unwilling or refusing to act on the side of indigenous Batswana.
A boycott would in a way force Competition Authority and those with power to work at breaking the stranglehold enjoyed by a few chain stores and also liberalizing the market.
Cartels, monopolies and cabals have to be broken down first.
After the boycott a market would naturally emerge that would empower indigenous Batswana not just as consumers as seen by current owners of chain stores, but employers too.
Archbishop Tutu said any boycott had to be “punitive, coordinated and immediate.”
This is the spirit with which indigenous Batswana have to approach the corrective boycott that they anticipate to use to achieve a market parity for their products as a means of getting out of a culture of tokenism. It is a life and death undertaking. It has to be resolved or we face a catastrophe similar to that which Tutu talked about in 1985. As my old schoolteacher used to say, there is a lot of work for us to get through!
All that, however, is for another day.
If there was no lockdown declared on Thursday night, this week had been set aside to celebrate the life of Gomolemo Motswaledi.
If he had lived, he would have turned 50 years in June.
He died only a few years ago, but it is very unlikely that he would recognize this country were he to rise from the dead and join us.
Since he has been gone the country has been turned up-side-down, in many ways really.
Ian Khama is out of power. He has been succeeded by Mokgweetsi Masisi.
To everyone’s surprise and amusement Khama and Masisi are now not in speaking terms.
The two men are in fact at each other’s throat.
They are telling whoever can listen about their mutual contempt for one another.
It is a sight to behold!
It actually all started the same day they exchanged power which happened over two years ago. And everybody is still struggling to make sense of it. Neither of them is willing to disclose what deal they had between them. It is a soap opera that has riveted the attention of the country.
In short, Khama reads betrayal in all of it. Masisi for his part says all he did and said when he was vice president was to take the bullet for all of us. It is hard to believe either.
The BDP issues are not the only ones that would shock Motswaledi.
Today his BMD (Botswana Movement for Democracy) has been expelled from the UDC.
I doubt that he would even be able to recognize the UDC.
He had worked so hard and suffered so much to create both the BMD and also the UDC.
He travelled long distances, worked long hours and spent sleepless nights all to create both the BMD and the UDC.
It would hurt him deeply to learn that the same UDC he had created has now expelled the BMD, also his creation.
For him no reason would be sufficient justification for such drastic action.
He would also be deeply surprised to learn that Botswana Congress Party is now a senior partner inside the UDC, with Dumelang Saleshando now sitting as Leader of the UDC in parliament.
Motswaledi would be surprised to know that multitudes of his political descendants at one point chose to break away from BMD and form the Alliance for Progressives.
His question would be to establish why the AP then never joined the UDC.
I suspect he would be appalled to learn that the same UDC he created was now openly embracing and consorting with Ian Khama.
There is no longer any talk of sending Khama to jail.
Like many of us, Motswaledi would be befuddled to hear that ahead of 2019 elections, UDC leaders were all smooches with Ian Khama, even calling him a very good and honourable man.
Motswaledi was a gifted politician with a strong political antenna. Maybe he would afterall make sense of political developments that we the lesser mortals are struggling with.
Rest in eternal peace Sir G.