Wednesday, July 17, 2024

In the circus parliament last week

Exactly one week after Vice President Slumber Tsogwane justified the use of a snarky remark that straddles the literal and figurative that President Mokgweetsi Masisi made about members of the opposition last year, an MCP battalion in the Government Bench attacked an opposition MP for also using figurative speech. Masisi said that on account of the Covid-19 vaccines that his government procured, the buttocks of members of the opposition bounce up and down when they walk. “Ba tika lerago,” he said in Setswana.

Last Tuesday, the house was debating a bill which, in part, will increase the remuneration package for judges. Rising to support the bill, Palapye MP, Onneetse Ramogapi, decried what he evidently sees as inadequate remuneration for judges – who sit at the helm of one of three arms of government. He then fatefully used two Setswana proverbs (“pudi e hula ha e bofeletsweng teng” and “khudu e nyela morwadi”) to drive a point home. In the process, he provoked fake outrage in the Government Bench.

For some inexplicable reason, a portion of proverbial Setswana tends to be lavatorial and among the language’s users, there is understanding that these proverbs are used figuratively.

The first proverb literally means that a goat grazes around where it has been tied up and substantively means that pushed to the limit, one will take advantage of opportunities that are available to them. Ramogapi used this Setswana to make the point that if judges are not paid well, they may be tempted to accept bribes from people whose cases come before them. The second proverb literally means that a tortoise will defecate on someone bearing it and substantively, is a rebuke against ungratefulness. The Palapye MP didn’t quite explain the context of his use of the latter.

Minutes later, Takatokwane MP, Tshoganetso Leuwe, interjected on a point of order to ask Ramogapi if, with his use of “pudi e hula ha e bofeletsweng teng”, he was suggesting that judges are corrupt. No, the latter responded, he had just used that proverb to drive his point home and not make any accusation against anyone.

However, the Minister of State President, Kabo Morwaeng, would return to the issue the following day when he debated the bill that the Minister of Justice, Ronald Shamukuni had presented. In doing so, Morwaeng made an issue out of a non-issue, in the process MCP-ing himself for longer period than was necessary. He derided Ramogapi for using incautious language – “a bua a sa seketetse mahoko.

“Can an MP, speaking in parliament, really compare judges to goats?” posed Morwaeng who then quoted the proverbs that Ramogapi had used the previous day.

Seconds later, Bobonong MP, Taolo Lucas, interjected to call the minister to order, asking him in the process: “Why are you doing that when you are an adult?”

However, Morwaeng was adamant that Ramogapi had compared judges to goats and tortoises. Another interjection by Serowe South MP, Leepetswe Lesedi, also failed to convince Morwaeng (who is also Molepolole South MP) to quit his antics.

At times like these, it is the Speaker who has to judge who is right or wrong and duly make a ruling. However, Speaker Phandu Skelemani – who is not culturally Tswana, declared himself helpless. Ironically using idiomatic Setswana, he stated that he would leave the matter to those in the house who have “suckled Setswana” from their mothers – “ba ba amuleng Setswana” – meaning those whose mother tongue is Setswana. Much later, when the MCP from Molepolole South harped on his false accusation against Ramogapi and two more opposition MPs interjected, Skelemani would reveal that he was only introduced to Setswana at Standard 3 in primary school.

On a normal day, the Minister of Defence and Security, Kagiso Mmusi, is serious-minded and keeps a low profile but last Wednesday was clearly not such day. The Gabane-Mankgodi MP sits right next to Morwaeng and so the latter’s on-air microphone was able to amplify the side remarks that Mmusi made. When Morwaeng moved on to the next point, the MCP from Gabane-Mankgodi used figurative language to implore the former to return to the goats-and-tortoise (fake) charge with, “Sa tswe mo pudinge gameRe e game pudi eo.” (“Don’t leave the goats issue, milk it. We should milk that goat.” The MCP from OP obliged, stating moments later that use of “khudu e nyela morwadi” in parliament in reference to judges is highly inappropriate.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fidelis Molao, would also MCP himself, fake-arguing that Ramogapi can’t hide behind Setswana proverbs when Setswana places a high premium on the use of decorous language. Interestingly, as Morwaeng would know and would have argued when he appeared before a Botswana Democratic Party committee in Molepolole in 2008, that same language also places premium as high on context.

In that year, Morwaeng, who had rejoined BDP from the Botswana Congress Party, was hauled before the Kweneng Regional Committee by Kabo Sebele after both men had launched their electoral campaigns for the 2009 general election. Via a complaint letter, Sebele had reported Morwaeng to the Committee for “incessant attacks, verbal abuse and insults directed at me, even in my presence, at political rallies.”

Sebele said that Morwaeng used “rough Setswana idioms such as ntja e beletswa fa e phinyeditseng teng and masepa a ntja a dujwa a sale molelo.” Both sayings, which refer to a dog’s excretory functions, express the wisdom of nipping a problem in the bud and suggest that Morwaeng saw Sebele’s candidacy as a problem that had to be nipped in the bud. The first literally means that a dog that farts should be punished by beating right on the spot where it does so and the second that a dog’s faeces are malleable while still fresh hot.

Morwaeng’s melodrama could have been a ploy to distract attention away from himself. In debating Shamukuni’s bill and when making a point about judicial independence, some oppositions MPs had (without mentioning Morwaeng’s name) referred to allegations made against him by a Lobatse High Court judge. The judge alleged that the minister had called him after hours to get him to rule a particular way in a case he was presiding over.

While its times are indeterminate, the Circus Parliament sits every day that Parliament proper is sitting and MCPs and their sitting allowance is not deducted for the period they engage in their antics. These parliaments share the Speaker.

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