Called upon to resolve a bogosi dispute between two Tloaneng families, Kgosi Kgari II of Bakwena probably had to think no further than 19 years back when he was himself involved in a bogosi dispute.

At the time, Kgari was still working as a secondary school teacher when another Mokwena royal, Mokgalagadi Sechele, staked his claim to the Bakwena bogosi – inherited traditional leadership. The latter was the son of Kgosi Sebele II, who was controversially deposed by the colonial Resident Commissioner, Sir Charles Rey in 1931 and banished to Gantsi. In staking his claim to bogosi, Mokgalagadi made the clear that he would not himself assume the kgosi position but pass it on to his son, Kealeboga. Mid-saga, Mokgalagadi died in a car accident and Kealeboga continued the fight with the aid of his supporters.

The issue divided the tribe into two bitterly opposed factions. This factional rivalry was put on full display at a well-attended kgotla meeting that then Minster of Local Government and Housing, Margaret Nasha, addressed in Molepolole. Via a voice vote, she asked those at the kgotla to indicate whom they supported between Kgari and Kealeboga. Kgari won the vote but the issue was far from over. It proceeded to the High Court where Kgari also emerged the winner, with the court ruling that Mokgalagadi had taken way too long to stake his claim.

Almost two decades later, when Kgari is himself ensconced in his seat, there has arisen yet another bogosi dispute in a tribal territory whose tribal administration he is the official head of. In the small village of Tloaneng, which is 10 kilometres west of Gabane, two families are fighting over the village’s bogosi.  When Kgari visited the village a fortnight ago, it was for the purpose of settling the dispute. Apparently, some residents expected an approach different from one that Kgari chose because they made their objection known. As when Nasha asked Bakwena assembled at the kgotla to indicate their choice of kgosi with a vote, Kgari asked Tloaneng residents at the kgotla to indicate their choice with a vote. 

Despite its convenience, this type of vote will always be problematic for two reasons. Firstly, politics may be a factor. When he fought his own battle to ascend the Bakwena bogosi, Kgari had powerful Botswana Democratic Party figures in his corner – notably Molepolole MP Daniel Kwelagobe and Kweneng District Council Chairperson, Victor Kgosidintsi. This happened at a time that there were very few opposition office holders in the District. After Kgari won the vote, there was a rumour that most of the people at the kgotla were actually BDP operatives from Lentsweletau who had been bussed in to express support for Kgari. (Similar accusation was made two weeks ago when a group of white-shawled woman (“those were BDP members from Mahalapye and Shoshong”) cheered wildly when Masisi walked into the Serowe kgotla.)

Secondly, Section 6 of the Bogosi Act states that tribespeople assembled at the kgotla shall designate the rightful successor for a vacant bogosi post. Such designation shall be done “according to customary law or according to the established norm and practice of that tribe.” While customary law doesn’t recognise a vote, its continued use is establishing a norm and practice.