Thursday, June 13, 2024

In the circus parliament last week

In direct translation from Setswana, the liver of the Francistown West MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, took the shape of a small knobkerrie (o ntse bete se molangwana) when Deputy Speaker and Tonota MP, Pono Moatlhodi, accused him of being late for parliament last Tuesday. Mmolotsi would get an opportunity to get back at Moatlhodi the following day when he praised Speaker Phandu Skelemani for a ruling he had made regarding the MP’s contribution to a parliamentary debate. However, such praise was laced with snark that Vice President Slumber Tsogwane didn’t approve of.

The praise was that unlike Moatlhodi, Skelemani makes proper rulings and that had the former been chairing the house’s proceedings at that point in time, he (Mmolotsi) would have been kicked out. With Skelemani not reacting to that remark, Tsogwane rose moments later to pronounce the MP “completely out of order.” Promptly withdrawing the accusation and apologising to Moatlhodi, Mmolotsi explained that he was still smarting from what the Deputy Speaker had said about him the previous day.

Both Moatlhodi and Mmolotsi are members of the Public Accounts Committee which is sitting concurrently with parliament and which the latter chairs. Mmolotsi said that Moatlhodi had left the still-in-session PAC to join other MPs in parliament, in the process forcing the quorum to collapse and hearings to be suspended. Resultantly, Mmolotsi went to parliament and was met with Moatlhodi’s accusation upon arrival. The accusation was unfair, Mmolotsi said, because Moatlhodi knew where he had been and only sought “to make the nation think I am irresponsible.”

Mmolotsi was saving his best for the following day when he tangled with the Minister of Youth, Gender, Sport and Culture, Tumiso Rakgare.

MCP-ing is essentially a cross-floor affair – Moatlhodi is a member of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party while Mmolotsi is a member of the opposition Alliance for Progressives. Another cross-floor duel involved two MPs from the Bobirwa area: Bobonong MP, Taolo Lucas and the Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry, Beauty Manake. Lucas is a member of the opposition Botswana Congress Party while Manake, who is a Specially-elected MP, is a BDP member.

In reference to what Lucas had said earlier, Manake unconvincingly claimed to have been “ashamed” by his words. She then offered reinterpretation of what Lucas had said which Lucas himself adjudged to be seeded with lies – “maaka” in Setswana. Across the indigenous culture spectrum, “lies” is considered indecorous and at the insistence of Deputy Speaker Moatlhodi, Lucas had to withdraw his use of the offending word.

Manake also used a Sebirwa term (“go dhadha”) which only a few MPs (including Moatlhodi) would have understood. It turned out that one MP who claimed to know the meaning of the term (Francistown West MP, Ignatius Moswaane) actually didn’t. Rising on a point of order of order, Moswaane said that Manake was out of order because the word “dhadha” describes the actions of a fool – “semata” in Setswana. Fortunately, the extraordinarily extroverted Moatlhodi, who is a Mokhurutshe, picked up enough useful Sebirwa in his decades-long social interaction to correct the record. He ruled that contrary to Moswaane’s interpretation, “go dhadha” means to brag. In confirming Moatlhodi’s interpretation of that Sebirwa, Lucas pointed out that Manake was herself not using the term properly.   

One of the major challenges that Moatlhodi and indeed Skelemani would be keeping up with (especially social media-origin) memes that are franchised into public lexicon that is then used in parliament.

Speaking at a politically rally recently, the Maun West MP, Dumelang Saleshando, gave President Mokgweetsi Masisi a new nickname – Matilda. Saleshando is quoted as saying that in his primary school days, there was a textbook about a pathological liar called Matilda. It would seem though that some in the Government Bench have turned the tables on Saleshando by sticking the name on him. During her debate, Manake used “Matilda” as an inside reference, causing other MPs to crack up and Moatlhodi to ask: “Who’s Matilda?” At a time that Saleshando had left the house, she would add a short while later that “Matilda has stepped out of the house.”

When she regained the floor and had to talk about the recent US-Africa Summit, Manake mocked the Opposition Bench (notably Mahalapye West MP, David Tshere) for being clueless about issues they want to make pronouncements on. Tshere had earlier said that very few heads of state attended the summit.

“Usually for security reasons,” Manake started, then switched to Setswana. “Ke gore ga le thaloganye dilo ka bontsi.” The latter means “You don’t understand a lot of things” and is ordinarily used as a snark in pop culture.

Manake was followed by Mahalapye East, Yandani Boko, whose MCP credentials have never been in doubt. Finance minister, Peggy Serame, had tabled a bill that sought parliament’s authority to borrow money from the African Development Bank. In a brief MCP-y remark (that he fully appreciated the minister’s request even though she was “applying make-up” on her face even as he spoke) which he quickly withdrew without any prompting. She was actually applying lip balm on her lips and Boko would say that he couldn’t find the right word to describe that particular grooming routine.

Boko said that he wants money from the AfDB loan to reach his constituency, including the health clinic where he received post-natal care as a baby and where, as he bragged, he broke the hanging weighing scale – “ke ne ka roba sekale.”

On a day that he was feeling particularly generous with apologies, Boko also apologised to Manake after he referred to “that lady with tinted hair.” The Assistant Minister has tinted her short hair a golden sunset colour.

Boko’s next target was Eric Molale, the Minister of Transport and Public Works. The Mahalapye East made a substantive point which he tag-ended with visual input about Molale “being on the phone.”

For purposes of dispensing with the raft of bills before it, Parliament had an unusually busy day on Thursday, extending its business hours into midnight. In the dead of night, when the Assistant Minister of Health, Sethomo Lelatisitswe, debated the Societies Amendment Bill, he singled out some opposition MPs whom he said had been hopping from party to party. One was Palapye MP, Onneetse Ramogapi, whom Lelatisitswe said had hopped from the BDP to BCP to the Umbrella for Democratic Change. In response, Ramogapi asked the Speaker to check where the parliament bar was closed because some MPs who claimed to be taking short breaks outside to stretch their legs may be stopping off at the bar to quaff one or two. Earlier an opposition MP had side-remarked that Lelatisitswe should be alco-tested with a breathalyser.

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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