For the past few years, a small group of Molepolole men and women have been on the phone and meeting to trade stories about the latest goings on.
They seem to be slightly improbable friends ÔÇô different ages, sexes, classes, races, clothes ÔÇô and some got to know each other, in fact, only a few months ago. But these days they are in touch with one another regularly, intensely involved with each other’s lives, sharing feelings of pride.
Barubi Morogolwane, Mokgoro Kwakwadi, Bojotlhe Lerako, Mmadikgomo Mosega, Obone Ntshene, Gagofele Ketumile are all parents whose children are either in Uganda or South Africa on Botswana Muslim Association’s Al-Hidayah Foundation scholarships.
Their children have names like, ‘Mustafa’, ‘Sherifah’ and ‘Ishmael’. They count, among their friends, scores of local Muslims who are a mixed bag of Batswana of Asian origin, coloured and foreigners from African Islamic countries.
Relating the story of her last meeting with Mustafa, her son, Obone Ntshene’s eyes light up the room. She retracts her chin, puffs up her cheeks and squares her shoulders. The young mother is demonstrating how fat and grown up her 14-year-old son was when he came home from Uganda for vacation.
“He was very happy. He likes that place,” she says.
Ntshene’s fleeting smile seemed out of place amid the sea of long faces hunched around an old wooden table in the cheerless library of the Molepolole Islamic Centre.
The group of parents met after the Friday noon prayer, meeting to trade horror stories about what may become of their children now that the head of Al ÔÇôHidaya Foundation, Sheikh Ismail Kayondo, is being deported out of Botswana.
Sheikh Kayondo was breaking the Ramadahn fast when his meal was interrupted by police and immigration officers who bundled him into a police van and took him to the Molepolole Police Station where he spent Thursday night.
“They came in just as he was having a glass of water to break his fast and ordered him into the police van. All they had was a letter from the Office of the President declaring Sheikh Kayondo a prohibited immigrant. No reasons were given,” reported a light skinned young man in a grey flowing Muslim galabiyya, who was pacing up and down the worn out vinyl floor tiles of the Islamic Centre.
No one has any idea why Sheikh Kayondo is being deported, or if the Al-Hidayah Foundation scholarship foundation will be terminated. But one thing is for sure, this is stoking poisonous conspiracy theories.
With the recent deportation of Muslim businessmen earlier this year, allegedly because they were linked to Al Qaeda and the government’s recent policy on the sale of halaal meat, most Botswana Muslims are joining the dots and a sinister outline is emerging; that the new administration is hostile to Islam and it is trying to contain its growth in Botswana.
“Why do you think the President decided to move the general election polling day from Saturday to Sunday? We know that he had been lobbied by members of churches that worship on the Sabbath, but they could not move the date to Sunday because that is the day most Christians go to church. The President, however, was not sensitive to the fact that Friday is the day of worship for Muslims,” charged Botswana National Front Youth leader, Arafat Khan, who is also a Muslim.
Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Ramadeluka Seretse, insists that the President has nothing against Islam.
“This is the first Islamic priest who is being deported, and do you know how many Christian priests have been deported from Botswana? Does it mean the President is anti-Christianity? Of course not,” Seretse soliloquises.
Seretse further said that the decision to move the polling day had nothing to do with either Christianity or Islam.
“The day was proposed and agreed on in Parliament. The President was merely carrying out the decision of Parliament,” he said.
As the debate around Sheikh Ismail Kayondo’s deportation gained ground this week, Muslim friends who were close to him were certain of one thing ÔÇô if he could see all the… He would hate the fuss. He has been called “quiet, low-key, soft spoken” and “easy-going”. But the quality that probably matters most at the moment is being “calm”.
Johnston does not do emotion, either in his teachings or his personal manner. The head of Al Hidayah was very much a committed Islamic teacher.
Scores of Molepolole parents simply refer to him as “Moruti wa bana – a teacher of children” in reference to his commitment to tutoring school going children.
In the five years that he has been in Botswana, he started the Al-Hidayah Foundation which, among other things, sponsored feeding schemes and raised scholarships for the Molepolole youth.
Currently, there are 18 Molepolole students in Uganda and South Africa who are on the Al ÔÇô Hidayah Foundation scholarship. He helped build a mosque in Ntswe-le-Tau and it was during his term that the Molepolole Muslim community became the fastest growing in the country.
“The Molepolole Mosque was built to hold 250 people. Now we can no longer fit in it and have to worship in the garden outside. This is how much the Molepolole Muslim community has grown,” explained Arafat Khan.
Government, however, it seems, was not happy with the Al ÔÇô Hidayah scholarship programme.
Bojotlhe Lerako, a young mother whose daughter was in Uganda on the Al-Hidaya scholarship, later transferring to South Africa, told Sunday Standard that plain clothes police visited her house about three times.
They asked questions like: “Why did your daughter transfer from Uganda to South Africa? What does she tell you about her schooling programme? Does she like it? They even asked to meet Sherifah, my daughter. They also asked who was responsible for the scholarship programme.
“I explained to them that Sherifah was moved to Durban because there was a girls’ school there and that she likes it very much. I also told them that Sheikh Ishmael Kayondo was responsible for the programme. They then asked to talk to my daughter. The first time they missed her because she had gone back to South Africa. The second time they came, Sherifa was in Gaborone. They came again for the third time, but she was out with friends”.
They were suspicions that government may be worried about the source of funding for the scholarship programme. Sunday Standard investigations, however, revealed that government had not interfered with the foundation’s bank account which is with the First National Bank of Botswana, and as at Friday evening it was still operating.