The Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa, stirred a hornet’s nest in parliament by suggesting that the Media Practitioners Act was made by “angry” legislatures hell-bent on getting even with the media.
The MP launched into his debate by stating: “What I have realised is that most of the time we are angry when we make laws and when we do that, such laws become useless to us as the nation of Botswana. I believe that the Societies Amendment Bill that we passed a few days ago is of an angry government. I believe that those who made the Media Practitioners Act that my colleague want repealed were also angry. I believe they were angry because when you look at the media, journalists have a big responsibility …”
He didn’t go far because at this point, the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, interjected on a point of order to complain that the MP was imputing improper motives by saying that the Act was promulgated by an angry government. The Standing Orders don’t permit imputing improper motives.
“The purpose of this house is to make laws and the way in which we passed the Societies Amendment Bill a few days ago was in keeping with the procedures as stipulated by the rules of this house. I am not sure that it would be fair to conclude that because that Bill passed, it was because we are angry. What about the hundreds of others that we passed? I want to ask that the honourable member withdraws that, because it has the effect of imputing improper motives on the part of those on the ruling benches,” said Masisi who is the Leader of the House.
In endorsing the vice president’s view, Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, cautioned Nkaigwa to be careful with his choice of Setswana words. The MP was debating in Setswana.
“When you say people were angry, do you want us to ask you for evidence of such anger because laws have been made with no anger being apparent. Continue with your debate without using provocative language,” Molatlhegi said.
While he accepted that correction and withdrew his words, Nkaigwa pointed out that they were prompted by what had been said earlier by the Minister of Presidential administration and Public administration, Eric Molale. Contributing to the debate, the latter had said in Setswana: “Fa ba sa itsamaise, re dire gore jaanong mongwe a ba tsamaise; A ba gagamaletse setoropo.” He basically meant that if the media people couldn’t regulate themselves, then someone else should do so and be strict with them. Nkaigwa said that his understanding of “a ba gagamaletse setoropo” denotes anger on the part of someone taking punitive action.
“When I was growing up and my mother would say to me, ke tsile go go gagamaletsa setoropo, I knew she was angry. It shows he [Molale] is angry,” said the MP, adding that some of the words that his colleagues used would come back to haunt them.
It would appear that Molatlhegi’s appreciation of “go gagamaletsa setoropo” is outside common understanding of this saying. The Deputy Speaker said he understood the phrase to mean “being serious-minded about a task and not being angry when going about it.” His precise words were: “Honourable Member, gone go gagamatsa setoropo ka Setswana go raya gore o ya go dira o tlhwaafetse, e se gore go o a bo a bo raya gore o ya go dira o tenegile.”
That is not the definition that a Setswana lecturer at the University of Botswana provides. Setswana gets “go gagamaletsa setoropo” from the practice of training draught cattle. During days when Batswana used cattle to pull ploughs in the ploughing fields, part of the process of taming wild ones was to harness them to a plough with a hide rope and tighten the noose when these animals resisting the task they were being put to. Tightening the noose (go gagamatsa setoropo) was meant to “break these cattle down” as it were, to make them tame and obedient and naturally entailed starving the animals of oxygen. The UB lecturer’s definition of “go gagamaletsa setoropo” is taking stern action that is almost always motivated by anger. Freudian slip or not, Molale’s choice of words may come back to haunt him if the debates on the Act returns to the floor.
The motion, which was tabled by Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, has been deferred.