Mahalapye East MP, Yandani Boko, has never been shy to brag about his academic qualifications. Sadly though, all too often that is in the context of asserting his elevated position in the educational pecking order in contrast to that of his political opponents in parliament.
Last year, the Mahalapye East MP turned the Botswana parliament South African after making a remark that the Government Bench found deeply offensive. When seconding a motion by the Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, the Sefhare-Ramokgonami MP, Boko said, in Setswana, that no intelligent MP (“ga go na ope yo o bothale”) would disagree with a motion seeking emergency presidential authorization to use a drug called Ivermectin to treat Covid-19. Mabuse Pule, the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development and Mochudi East MP, interjected on a point of order to object to what Boko implied: that those who would oppose the motion were stupid. Himself speaking in Setswana, Pule used a uniquely Sekgatla word (“setomo”) which means stupid, to make the point that Boko was using an insulting word pre-emptively.
In response, Boko said that he never used “setomo” and conveniently sidestepping his earlier statement about how opposing the motion would be unintelligent, refused to withdraw “setomo” because he had never used the word and didn’t even know what it meant. Thereafter, Boko would rebuff entreaties by the Deputy Speaker Pono Moatlhodi, who ruled that the MP had used words that didn’t accord with the dignity of the house and should, in line with the standing orders, withdraw such words. He refused.
Similarly-purposed interjection by then Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development and Specially-Elected MP, Kgotla Autlwetse, was also initially resisted. Unlike Pule before him, Autlwetse quoted Boko’s exact words back to him and at a point where Moatlhodi wanted to suspend the proceedings and play back a recording of the relevant part, Boko caved in by withdrawing the offending words – only to repeat them in English. Those who would oppose the motion, he said, were “intellectually challenged.”
There have been many more instances when, in asserting his academic pedigree, the Mahalapye East MP has reminded his colleagues in the Government Bench that he is streets ahead of them. A version of that happened last Friday when Boko was debating a motion tabled by the Gaborone Central MP, Tumisang Mangwegape-Healy. The motions called on the government to dissolve and reconstitute parliamentary committees because there has been movement between parties as well as between the frontbench and backbench of the ruling party.
Giving an example to back up the argument he was making, Mangwegape-Healy said that having rejoined the backbench, former minister Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, “an economics guru”, is a member of a committee chaired by a non-economist in Palapye MP, Onneetse Ramogapi. He wondered how, “for goodness sake”, Ramogapi could chair a committee that deals with financial matters while Matsheka, who is a financial economist, “sits on the side lines.” Likewise, he said that former foreign affairs minister, Unity Dow, is an ordinary member in a committee that deals with foreign affairs.
At this point, this was just another motion, another Friday and another opportunity for MPs to make to make sitting allowance. That changed when Boko make his own contribution a few minutes later by pointing out that specialised knowledge is not a factor in appointing MPs to committees or as chairpersons of such committees. He specifically mentioned Mangwegape-Healy among MPs without such knowledge – “dithuto tse di ko godimo” was the Setswana he used.
“You asked for it; don’t be crying,” Mangwegape-Healy said cryptically before continuing with a submission interspersed with interjections from other MPs, mostly those in the Opposition Bench.
In summarising his debate, Mangwegape-Healy rebutted opposing points that had been made by opposition MPs – then came after Boko.
Mangwegape-Healy prefaced what would turn out to be a vicious attack by snitching on the target of his ire. He said that Boko, a lawyer, seems to be confusing court with parliament because he doesn’t always attend parliament, is often at court “and when you get here, [your mind] gets clouded.”
In responding to what Boko had said, the Gaborone Central MP said that he wanted to explain the issues he was raising in his motion in layman’s terms in order that people in Palla Road could understand. A small village along the A1, Palla Road falls under Boko’s Mahalapye East constituency.
“Go lebega dithuto tsa gago di go ile thogong. Bathophi ba gago ba Palla Road ba ba se nang dithuto tsa gago go lebega o ba lebela ko tase,” said Mangwegape-Healy in Setswana that translates as “It seems your education has gone to your head. You look down upon your constituents in Palla Road because they don’t have the same education as you.”
The statement would most definitely have benefitted from elaboration because it needed one. Mangwegape-Healy didn’t say when Boko ever said that he looked down upon his constituents. However, it was clear that he was referring to what he perceives to be Boko’s general attitude towards MPs who don’t hold the same academic qualifications as he does.
Mangwegape-Healy paused to recall the somewhat humorous post-election sight of an emotionally overwhelmed Boko crying uncontrollably after learning that he had won the Mahalapye East seat. He interpreted the crying as indication that Boko didn’t expect to win and added that the same Boko now “despises those who brought you here.”
He added: “I want you to know that those people matter. My supposition is that without this education that has gone to your head, you would be a herdboy in Mmaphashalala.”
The latter is a small village south-east of Mahalapye.
In interjecting to ask Moatlhodi to protect him from Mangwegape-Healy, Boko also made a cryptic remark whose illumination may be days, weeks or possibly months away. He refuted the charge that he looks down upon his constituents and added said that for reasons that he will give in the future, he has decided to not go toe-to-toe with Mangwegape-Healy. Ironically, the latter indicated that he wanted to go mano a mano with Boko. The latter is Spanish for “hand to hand” and is used to refer to two parties confronting each other directly.
Mangwegape-Healy said that it was ironic that Boko was complaining when he (Mangwegape-Healy) had warned him to not step on his corns.
“Now you are crying – like the crybaby that you are,” he said of Boko, repeatedly using Setswana for crybaby – “setete.”
At least from what the Facebook livestream showed, “crying” was figurative because Boko appeared to be sulking, not crying.
Moatlhodi and other MPs would interject to either defend Boko (in the case of opposition MPs) or set the debate back on course but Mangwegape-Healy, who said that he wanted to resolve with this issue “once and for all”, was not nearly done with Boko. When the new Leader of the Opposition, Dithapelo Keorapetse, attempted to intercede on Boko’s behalf, Mangwegape-Healy said that he (Keorapetse) had said nothing when Boko was “mocking me, trying to make an idiot out of me.”
He relaunched one attack with “Boko, back to you and your education, which seems to be the greatest achievement of your life. It seems whenever you open your mouth, you want to tell us about your education credentials. It seems without your education, my boy, you would be nothing.”
Boko made another point-of-order interjection to protest the use of “boy” on him: “I am not a boy, I am an honourable member in this parliament. I am a father and a husband to somebody. I am a leader in my constituency; I can’t allow Honourable Healy to call me my boy.” He added that he was also not going to apologise for his academic achievements.
“No, I am proud that I have made it in academics,” he said.
On Moatlhodi’s instructions, Mangwegape-Healy ended up withdrawing the “boy” reference and its variants: “small boy” and “my boy.”