When the movement devoted to the political philosophy of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin (MELS) made loose talk about “going to the bush”, the government of President Festus Mogae just ignored it. In private conversation, a senior Tsholetsa House would explain that public criticism of such talk or punitive action would have legitimised what was mere gimmickry. At freedom square level, what MELS had said was reduced to a joke, with one speaker at a ruling party rally saying that had the Marxist movement actually gone to the bush, they would have so bungled their military campaign that it would have been very easy to lure them back into peaceful civilian life by bartering food for weapons. Denied the attention it craved, MELS stopped bush talk.
Many, many years later, an artist who has admitted using hard drugs but one with 180 000 Facebook followers has threatened insurgency of unclear nature. Singling out two Indian businessmen and one Iranian, A.T.I has delivered a single word command to all three men: “Run!”
During his national address on Btv last Thursday night, President Mokgweetsi Masisi expressed concern about “persons who, in their pursuit of a Botswana they say they yearn for themselves and all others, are dishing out unbridled promotion of hate and incitement directed at some race or nationality.” He didn’t mention A.T.I’s name but the youthful artist is the most high profile figure to have done what can be described in those words.
Mogae would likely have ignored A.T.I, who is really in no position to start any kind of insurgency because he hasn’t built any sort of structure, hasn’t articulated any ideology, doesn’t have popular support and is allegedly merely being used by some opposition politicians to stir up trouble. What Masisi said on Thursday night keeps A.T.I in the news cycle and heightens the profile of his campaign – such as it is.
However, Masisi is not the only person who should ignore A.T.I. The mainstream media and the opposition parties would also be very helpful in not giving him the attention he wants and in not amplifying his message. Besides, they know the demons that this young man has publicly admitted to fighting. In a court case in which A.T.I was charged with taking a picture of State House, the presidential mansion in Gaborone, the prosecutor said it plans to refer him to the S’brana Psychiatric Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
Masisi’s statement is remarkable in another dimension. While he criticised racial talk, he has himself been implicated in the use of similar talk. Speaking at a public event in early April as COVID-19 began to upend commerce and everyday life, the president lamented that some people who had come to Botswana wearing bo–rampeechane – sandals made from reuse tyres – but were now filthy rich, had shown that they don’t have national interest at heart. Those people, he added, cared only about milking Botswana of its riches and not the welfare of Botswana and their Batswana employees. He didn’t refer to any one race or nationality but he provided way too much detail as to compromise the identity of the race and nationality he was referring to. That is because he used the same set of words that is used in the street to complain about a particular race. As a matter of fact, there was public reporting about that race complaining bitterly to Masisi behind closed doors about the bo–rampeechane remark.